Gina was an idealistic and religious young lady. She grew up in God-fearing family which counts among its members a cousin who became a priest and two aunts who became nuns. She looked to them as her models and little by little an attraction for the religious life grew - from an inkling to an overwhelming desire. She dreamed about it. She imagined herself with the habit, dedicating herself to long hours of prayer, helping and caring for those who are in need and teaching young children about God and the bible.
Coming of age, she grabbed the first opportunity to answer that call for sisterhood by joining a search-in for religious nuns. She passed and for her it was a confirmation that she was indeed called by God. She became a postulant, and two years later a novice. She loved every bit of her life as a sister and hoped that one day she will become professed, taking perpetual vows. Only one thing bothered her though - the community. She could not stand their prioress - she was old and conservative. She could not stand the sister assigned with her in the sacristy - she was too clumsy. Her seat mate in the chapel makes unnecessary movements disturbing her meditation. She murmured her complains to herself which later grew to short but ugly outbursts of anger. Still later, petty bickering started in the community with her at the forefront. And it was not long before she harbored resentments in her heart. She could not stand them anymore, her life became a constant escape from these people and convent life became boring, dull and even a burden. Finally she said to herself, “I could not go on anymore.” She quit.
Gina could be any person and her story could be anyone’s vocation story - a religious who could not stand the community; a priest whose work in the parish becomes boring, dull and burdensome; or a wife whose husband becomes too clumsy, too old or someone she would readily escape from if given a preference. Gina could be any person, in any vocation, who one day woke up and said, “I could not go on anymore.” And quit. Why? Spiritual directors say that most (not all) do because of their inability to love.
Vocations are not meant for the honor of it. The call is never made for self-satisfaction. Self-fulfillment yes, but it is a fulfillment which is the result of self-giving and service to the other or others. Both are the fruits of loving. Motherhood is a vocation whose fulfillment comes from giving birth to and caring for a child. A husband shares his life and gives his all to his wife, becoming one flesh. A religious forgoes marriage so that he or she can become “one flesh”, dedicating his whole life, his energies to Christ and his people. Vocation is “to be with” and this entails a loving relationship and failure in our vocation is most probably (discounting failure in discernment) the inability to make this loving relationship work. Thus, in an article I wrote two weeks ago I stated that it is indeed difficult to respond to our second vocation if we have not first responded and trained ourselves in responding to the first call which is to love.
Am I capable of loving?
To really love another in the context of commitment and vocation is not as easy as teenagers do when “falling in love.” Sustaining that love, or real love is not that easy. Love at first sight is not even a guarantee that that love will be sustained when we look again. Rodney Dangerfield has a way of expressing this in answer to a query about his relationship with his wife when he said, “My wife and I are happy for twenty years. Then, we met.” Real love is not an emotion. It is borne out of our will. Falling in love is just the beginning of a loving relationship but what counts most as essential is the pains we take in growing in love - a love that is permitted to mature. This is were commitment to a person or persons - to a vocation - comes in. Here I would like to outline the stages of loving - of growing in love in any vocation. There are three stages, and in marriage ( though it could be true to all vocations as we shall later see) there is a corresponding ring to each stage.
The first stage is when we say “I like you.” Attraction begins. “You’re nice to be with. I think I will be happy with you. I need you.” The corresponding ring is the engagement ring.
The second stage in loving is when we say not just “I like you,” but “I love you.” “I am so happy with you. Cloud nine! The honeymoon stage where everything is so idealistic. “We have so many plans. We are raring to go. And nobody could stop us - no, not even . . .” The corresponding ring the wedding ring.
The third begins when we say not just “I love you,” but “I really love you.” Real life! Real attitudes which I could not easily stand. Failures. Boredom. Burdens! The corresponding ring is “suffer-ring.” Yet despite of this and in spite of you, if I could still say “I really love you,” then one has indeed grown in love. This is the level of commitment - real love and the test of all vocations. To sustain one’s vocation then one has “to grow in love” and not just to remain in the level of “falling in love.”
Let me end this little reflection on sustaining one’s vocation by telling a story taken from a book by Cardinal Martini which he took from the writings of the desert Fathers.
A dog saw a rabbit and he gave it a chase. He followed the rabbit as it ran through the meadows. When the other dogs saw this dog running they also run. Not having seen the rabbit, they have no inkling as to what this particular dog is chasing. All they knew was that this dog was chasing something and so they gave “it” also a chase. However, after getting tired running for sometime, these dogs, who have never seen the rabbit, drop out one by one until such time that only the dog who has seen the rabbit was chasing it.
The moral of the story is this. People fail in their vocations and “drop out” because they have not really seen the “rabbit”. They run because everybody else does. They get married because all their friends did or they thought that it was about time that they do so. And sometimes people go into it without understanding commitment, or what love entails - “without seeing the rabbit”. Some become priests or nuns because their aunts and uncles became one. Well, we may say that God whose call is as mysterious as He is, may have used such occasions to make known to us His call. But He leaves it to us to make that love grow unto maturity - to see the “rabbit” for ourselves - to shed off those superficial and impure intentions and motives, and really see the “whys” and the “whats” of our calling. When this happens love becomes mature, commitment grows, one’s capacity to love despite and in spite the other grows and vocation is sustained in faithfulness.