Sunday, 29 January 2012

A better vocation?

The second reading at Mass today (1 Cor. 7:32-35) seemed very apposite with the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord occurring on Thursday. That feast is kept in the Catholic Church as a day of prayer for consecrated life.
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; 33 but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
What this passage describes - and it should pehaps be read in the context of the account of married life that St Paul gives earlier in this same chapter of his letter - is a preferential love for the Lord of the one who is unmarried. I do not believe that this passage refers just to those who are single simply by circumstances of life; rather, in its reference to those who are "anxious about the affairs of the Lord", I think it refers to those who have consecrated themselves specifically to the Lord in the evangelical counsel of chastity/celibacy.

This preferential love for the Lord represents a better vocation: not in the sense that those who live it should, by virtue of their consecrated life alone, be seen as more holy; but in the sense that the vocation itself is a higher vocation that therefore makes a higher demand on the consent and love of those who live it.

I sometimes wonder whether, in times and circumstances now past, a poorly understood sense of the higher nature of the vocation to religious life might not have created a social pressure or status that meant that some entered that state of life when not really called to it. This might well have been rightly balanced in more recent times by an increased awareness of the dignity of the lay state in the life of the Church.

But I do think that it is unfortunate that an anxiety not to undervalue the lay vocation in the Church  can all too readily lead us away from speaking of the vocation to consecrated life, that is, to a life characterised by the vows of the three evangelical counsels, as being a higher vocation in a proper sense.

No comments: