First, a little confession: yes, from time to time I do use online personals to meet girls, or sometimes I'll strike up conversations in pubs and such. All in all, it hasn't been that bad, but it hasn't been that great either. Upon hearing this, however, a friend reported to me, "You're farther away from the monastery than I thought." I don't know whether, or how much that remark was meant sarcastically, but regardless, it gives me pause for thought.
Truth be told, I am far from the monastery. But that's not a situation which I am inclined to celebrate. In some ways I recognize that I have not lived up to what I know is right, and in that respect I have not lived up to my humanity, let alone a lofty and uncommon vocation. But I know that I could. As a lay Catholic I have found that the temptation to "let myself go", to grow lax and lazy, has been too attractive to resist completely. But, stretched between a past clerical aspiration and a current lay career, I can see the landscape a little more clearly.
Let me enumerate the biggest issues which factor into my discernment at present.
- I don't have a very strong personal prayer life, and I know that this, at least, is part of my present confusion and darkness about God's will for my life.
- I still value the freedoms of the lay life. Although my sleep schedule is beyond monastic (typically 8pm to 4am), I won't lie about the fact that I enjoy making an income, having a pet cat, buying computers and gadgets, visiting pubs and fast food restaurants at will, meeting girls, using the apartment hot tub, sleeping in on Saturday, and throwing on jeans and a T-shirt when I'm not at work. None of these are sins, though they are all luxuries, and all of them together sort of make me into the wealthy young man of the Gospel. I resist now giving up all of these worldly things. But the question is not whether I'm called to enjoy these things or not (I am not). The question is whether I am called to religious life, or something else--and the deciding factor must be something deeper than cats and hot tubs. It isn't like I couldn't live happily without these things--I did, for six years. What is at stake is, rather: where will I finally find peace? And I can say sincerely that I am not in a peaceful state right now, but I don't know how meaningful that feeling is, given that first-year teachers are not expected to be at peace.
- Teaching has revealed to me even more clearly the vices and issues that I tend to carry with me wherever I go; it has also been an occasion for improvement. Teaching is good for me, and the last semester has served as a purgatory in the most positive sense of that word. I have chipped away at my procrastination habits--though they still remain--and the other areas I need to work on have become strikingly clear. However...
- I am weary of this life after five months. This is nothing to fear, so I'm told--so far I have not experienced anything out of the ordinary for a first-year. But the work of teaching has been brutally more difficult than I anticipated, and the rewards scarce. I'm a happier person than I was one year ago; just also a tired one.
- I'm caught in a classic vocations dilemma: on the one hand, there is the desire to purify my reasons for desiring monastic life (and proving to myself and others that I have the ability to make a sober, enduring, responsible life choice). On the other hand, there is the slightly more romantic wisdom that says that the heart has its reasons which the mind does not understand; or as St. Benedict urged, to listen with the ears of the heart. I'm caught between a Pauline distrust of the passions and a Petrine impulsive enthusiasm. It is only because of my awareness of my own sins that I trust my feelings so little--but "sober" reason, fueled by pride (the desire to appear strong and self-controlled), can also be fooled. In Brideshead Revisited, Sebastian Flyte winds up a sorry alcoholic mess, stumbling in and out of the hospitality of an infinitely tolerant monastery--and that is his salvation (admittedly not a sainthood to aspire to, but a glory to God's mercy and better than the most prestigious damnation). By the mercy of God, the graces of the Church can supply, over time, what is lacking in individuals who at least say "yes" with whatever freedom they have left. But this encouragement is tempered by a warning: as long as there is breath in my lungs, life will be difficult, and no mere change in states of life will alter that fact. The question becomes then, is the difficulty in my life now the difficulty which God has been calling me to embrace since before I was born; is it his gift; is it my real cross? Or is the difficulty in my life now not the cross which was intended for me, but rather the merciful signpost that I am not where I belong? How do I tell the difference between these two difficulties?
- I miss study. Admittedly being a teacher has given me a great opportunity for study; I have tightened my catechetical knowledge, and I continue to connect everything back to what I learned in seminary. I review old notes, and I read books which I purchased in the seminary but never read (I am still chugging through St. Gregory's Pastoral Care). But I miss the seminary, I miss the classroom, I miss writing papers and drawing connections through every class. I miss feeling like each hour was bringing me closer and closer to an authentic understanding of the human person, of the pattern of our salvation. It's true that my perfectionism and procrastion damaged my ability to continue through the seminary; but it's also true that I was never quite so happy and thankful to God as those moments of inspiration and discovery. I still have those, from time to time, but who can I share them with here? I recently asked a young Dominican sister to talk to my students about religious life and sacramentals. The chats that she and I had between classes were an experience I hadn't had in years. We spoke the same language. I had forgotten what it was like to talk theology without carefully pruning it for an audience to avoid confusion. I long for more of that.
- Whether I entered the monastery or not, I want to give my life over to study, perhaps be a professor, and certainly to write books. I will not be satisfied until I've read everything and written everything. I want to participate in the Spirit's mission to "prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness;" I want to unfold the Sacred Mystery until it blankets the whole dying earth. Indeed, it had entered my mind that the monastery could conceivably be an easier path toward that dream, though I have no intention of treating any vocation merely as a means to anything. Indeed, the Rule and constitution do a fair job of eliminating that impulse through the postulancy and novitiate. Whether I remained a lay Catholic or entered the monastery, it would be a couple of years yet that I would remain out of the classroom. The main difference is that, in lay life, I have the distracting consideration of having to make a career out of it.
- There's more...