August 3, 2011

Vocation and Sinking

Due to the aligning of the Sunday and weekday readings cycles this week, as well as my friary's lack of a Roman-Franciscan Lectionary, I got to hear Matthew 14:22-36 twice this week. The passage has been on my mind, especially in light of the religious profession of our novices last Saturday.

Professions are always inspiring. They always remind me of the simpler zeal and more bare desire I like to think I once had, before all the interior compromises and makings of peace with pet sins and lukewarmness that I have allowed to pile up in me over the years.

Matthew's account of Peter walking on the water is a great comfort to me in this regard. It doesn't matter that Peter falters in his journey from the boat to the Lord's presence. Crying out for salvation when he finds himself sinking, Jesus stretches forth his hand and catches him immediately. The Lord's call is fulfilled. Peter gets to Jesus on the water even though he doubts and slips, and maybe even because he does.

Two things matter in living the vocation we have received from the Lord.

First, that we answer and set out boldly. This is true not only in the great ceremonial moments of vocation, but also in our daily resolutions to be faithful. Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. He boldly set himself to doing something ridiculous, impossible, and unnatural. The world would laugh at you if you tried to walk on water, just like the world laughs at you if you decide to embrace the evangelical counsels, desire to become a consecrated celibate, or consent to give yourself in marriage until death. No matter. The Lord calls, so step out of the boat.

Second, when we slip, falter, and fail, we must call upon Jesus for salvation. His hand will be there.

Notice that such slips and failures do not compromise our vocation. In the end they don't really matter.

When it comes to the call given to each of us, God is not 'set it and forget it.' It's not as if God gives the grace of a vocation which we are then to execute with our own power, like some kind of agonistic project which God watches from afar, either approving or disapproving of how we've done with it. God is with us all the way, ready to have us bring the cry for salvation out of the misery of our sins. We're characters made up of desire for faithfulness mixed with faults and sins and stupidities, but it doesn't matter. We make it to Jesus across the water not because of us but because of him.


Brother Charles said...

Just to anticipate a just objection to the post: our sins might not put our salvation at risk if we use them to convince of ourselves of our need for salvation, but they certainly do matter in the sense that we not only hurt ourselves with our sins, but hurt each other.

In these days we know all to well the dangers of failing to consider the social and human cost of those who sin in unfaithfulness to their vocations.

In one sense, repentance must include reparation. On the other hand, the best thing we can do for those whom we hurt by our sins is to stop sinning. In other words, consenting to salvation and sanctification is the best reparation. Apologies and resolutions are great, but the best thing is to be able to help the Lord in what we died and rose for, that is the reduction and ultimate destruction of misery in the world.

Lee Gilbert said...

This is somewhat tangential to your post, but this is the first time that I have seen anyone relate Our Lord's call to Peter with a theology of vocation.

For years now this has seemed to me a very obvious solution to a very big problem, the problem that so many young people have in finding their way, especially in discerning their vocation. So much introspection, seeking of counsel, reading, prayer, visits to various orders!

Yet St. Peter simply called out to Our Lord, "Lord, if it is you, bid me to come to you upon the water." What is that but to pray for a vocation? Yet no one suggests this. Maybe I am wrong, but my guess is that this would simplify things a great deal.

Who ever says to young men, "Pray for a vocation to the priesthood?" or to young women, "Pray for a vocation to religious life"?

In fact, just the other day I read of a Cisterian nun in Spain, a woman of 103 years, Sister Teresita, whose father wanted her to enter religious life. She did not want this at all, but because of her father's desire, she prayed to the Virgin for a vocation. And as she says now, "She surely gave me one!" In the strength of that call she has been walking on water for 84 years.

Often in reading the lives of the saints, or even secondary literature like the works of Thomas Merton or Mother Mary Francis, one gets caught up in the romance of religious life. It can be a kind of enchantment that floods one’s mind and heart. One book leads to another, one visits the monastery, talks to some nuns or monks, and is charmed even further. Perhaps one even tries the life. Yet all of this does not add up to a vocation if in fact the Lord has not bid one “to walk upon the water. “

After several months or years, when one is finally driving away from the monastery in tears and wondering, “Lord, what was that all about?” the answer might be very, very simple: “You receive not because you do not ask.” I wonder how many of the defections from religious life over the past decades might be attributable to the fact that there was no prayer for a vocation in the first place, that the whole venture was premissed on a pink cloud of religious romance. Maybe I am wrong, but I wonder.

KimQuiltz said...

Yes, yes and yes. Thank you for this post and for the comments, too. I am boarding a plane tomorrow morning to fly across the country and interview with an Episcopal order of sisters. Vocation and my own shortcomings and a heavy burden of worries and fear and excitement has been swirling around in my mind all day. But now? Now I feel as though I can roll up my sleeves, step boldly forward and welcome what is or isn't.

I must step forward boldly in my everyday work life, trying (and sometimes failing) at something new and unfamiliar so often that I would think it should be second nature by now. But it's a decision we have to make at every turn, isn't it.

Thanks again!!