Write Me Off

One of my favorite stories about the Saints does not involve an act of heroic courage or gruesome self-denial but rather involves a starkly honest admission by St. Theresa of Avila directed to God after St. Theresa fell down into the mud on her way to her convent during a storm: “If this is how You treat your friends, no wonder You have so few of them!”

One element of Catholicism that keeps me tenuously hanging on (like four or five fingers) is the understanding that, pace those damn televangelists, living well does not guarantee an easy and blessed life. In fact, if history can be trusted, those who strive to live transcendentally are often the ones who suffer the worst. Hence, St. Theresa’s comment. However, suffering is never suffered as a brute fact; it always possesses the potential to be redemptive. I have found no other system of belief that can give suffering a place in the grand scheme of things. The flip side to this is the drama that attends what most people mindlessly amble into: vocational choice.

One of my priests recently called me back into the vestibule to ask me if I have ever considered religious orders. What Catholic guy has not at some point? I laughed (and so did he) as I said, “Oh, once or twice.” He then proceeded to ask me how old I am and remind me that I am not getting any younger. Well. Being one of the few people my age at the parish interested in the Latin Mass may make me a vocations target. Also, given that I am not already married, there must be something greater at play–as I was actually told by another priest.

I used to think about holy orders very often. Once, as I saw a man leaving confession with the most profound look of peace of his face, I said to myself: I want to bring peace like that to everyone person I meet–and I want to meet everyone. However, my heart grew cold and distracted, I suppose. Perhaps, as I heard it once put in a fiery trad homily on vocations, I literally kissed my vocation away.

Much weight is placed upon our vocational choice regarding happiness in this life and the next. Thus, not only are we expected to follow the exoteric rules, we are also expected to plumb divine secrets and figure out that specialized individual calling–or else.

Perhaps I should have been more open when I was younger to holy orders. I also understand the concern from priests and parents alike that I am remaining a bachelor simply because I find the lifestyle convenient. Perhaps, though, I am not married because I have not been financially secure enough to warrant my pursuit of marriage and family. A few of us chronically seem to avoid getting our shit together until later in life. I am getting to that point, though. Furthermore, I know now what I enjoy doing and must do–write. Yes, I know that writing and holy orders are not mutually exclusive, but I have no desire to write, as would probably be the case, religiously didactic material or bad Catholic fiction for Fatimists.

I would like to think that if a good person (I refuse to say “right,” as that smacks too much of the unsound notion of soulmate) came along, I would be open to self-sacrificial love and children. In fact, that is what I want, and I think that it has taken me this long to get to a point where that is now feasible. Even if that does not work out, is someone who may find himself single yet involved in the life of his family, friends, and community and working on literary pursuits only respectable to the degree that he is willing to consider either religious life or marriage?

I am sure that Protestants and unbelievers have their own respective sets of troubles, but Catholics have the monopoly on vocational anxiety.


About Bourbon Apocalypse: A Whiskey Son of Sorrow

"If you can't annoy somebody, there's little point in writing." ~ Kingsley Amis
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8 Responses to Write Me Off

  1. Philologos says:

    “I have found no other system of belief that can give suffering a place in the grand scheme of things.“ Not Judaism? Not Buddhism? Not Stoicism, however, which is occasionally popular in some quarters. It is true that Catholicism makes a better use of suffering than does Protestantism; that it is the only religion to make good use of suffering may, however, be one of those clichés that isn’t quite true. Interesting to see that you’re back to Catholicism—and with a rhetorical authority that one might easily mistake as flowing from unwavering devotion.

  2. Definitely not unwavering. Perhaps Judaism, but I think that the book of Job or Ecclesiastes would lead, ultimately, to nihilism–at least for me–if not for the New Testament. Regarding Buddhism’s contention that all suffering flows from desire: that proposition comes across as sound, but the solution is untenable: eliminate all desire. Right. While Christianity may give a comparable diagnosis, the remedy is much different: redirect and transform those desires that will always remain with one. I am actually quite partial to Stoicism, though I may contradict myself as Stoicism seems like a Western modulation of Buddhism.

  3. Philologos says:

    But Judaism is more than (Christian interpretations of) the Ketuvim. There is a very rich medieval Jewish literature, to say nothing of what has been written since the Holocaust. Certain sects of Buddhism go beyond the Stoic insistence that one fight against desire; they say rather that suffering purifies, which is not entirely unlike the Catholic teaching about Purgatory. Right you are: the Stoic is calling the Buddhist unrealistic.

    Which leads me to wonder: Is one excused from the fault of inconsistency by admitting that one is inconsistent?

  4. Any suggestions for medieval Jewish lit? As for certain sects of Buddhism, while they may hold to to the purgatorial nature of suffering, would they not still agree that, at the end of the philosophical day, it is better not to desire at all? Per your, I trust, rhetorical wonder: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

  5. Philologos says:

    One needn’t go even to medieval Jewish lit: what do the canonical prophets teach if not the redemptive nature of suffering? But for later writers, Maimonides—who really does contain multitudes—and Isaac Luria, among many others. Still a dodge, in my opinion: being utterly fussy about contradiction is pointless, but self-contradiction on major matters is significant—if one is writing to and for others. Of course, if one writes only to express oneself, then contradiction matters only in so far as it bothers the self doing the expressing. But such writing ain’t very interesting, at least not to this reader.

  6. Don’t play Socrates with me–what do those prophets teach? Anyway, as the kids say, “lol”–yet, you keep leaving comments on my contradictory writing, which must make it uninteresting to you. However, I’m glad you do, Philologos; no one else does. Really, if we were to hash it out in person, I’d pay for the first round of drinks–and maybe the third.

  7. Philologos says:

    Contradictory doesn’t necessarily = uninteresting, though it certainly does = unable to induce assent. As for what on this blog is interesting to me, those pieces that are not primarily about the author are naturally the most compelling.

    Well, the prophets, major and minor, are full of the insight that through judgment and trial God purifies a remnant that will after that process and because of it finally remain faithful. This is a powerful strain in later Jewish thought (Singer, Malamud, and any number of the writers of Yiddish fiction). Buddhism, both the lesser and the greater, also teaches that suffering—dukkha—has its uses.

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