For six years of my life I supposed that I would join a celibate order of priests in an ancient faith, and thereby find a niche that was, like me, rare, deep, mystical, and heroic.
When that house of cards began to falter, I looked instead to the monastery, which lacked the priesthood's offer of sacramental powers and responsibilities, but for this was rarer still, and perhaps better suited to my refined (albeit still flawed) self-understanding. I could have what my heart longed for: the company of friends and brothers, a solid life purpose, and external structures to buttress up my weaknesses.
There is a certain irony here. In the very path of studying for priesthood and flirting for the monastery, I learned to appreciate the rarity, depth, mysticism, and heroism of the domestic church, of being a family man, more than ever before.
It was not simply a case of the grass being greener, because for me the grass seemed perfectly green everywhere (although the diocesan priest's lawn perhaps needs the most expert care). But that is exactly it. Up until recently in my life I had an unfair picture of the family's grass as being quite dry and uninteresting (or perhaps the false green of astroturf). Yet the last few years have seen a total reversal in me.
Here is an insight I learned in the seminary:
It's true, there is a certain rareness in finding one's vocation in the celibate orders of Catholic ecclesial life. Just look at the numbers. No one will accuse a young priest or a religious of being unoriginal.
However, the rarity of marriage has a twofold edge. First, while marriages are a "dime-a-dozen", Catholic marriages that involve prayer and that follow the teaching of the Church are an absolute anomaly.
But second (and perhaps more importantly), each marriage is a true one-of-a-kind vocation. Lots of people get married. No one else will marry *this* woman. No one else will be her knight. No one else will be for her what I may be called to be.
To an extent, I have learned that the constant evasion of cliches and commonalities is itself a giant cliche. While the masters of irony lampoon stupid pet names, I lavish them on my love without any irony at all. My little flower. My sweetheart. My dove.
And that is a large part of my critique against what calls itself "counter-culture". Not that they are overly rebellious (with all of the typical "shocking" accoutrements), but that they are not rebellious enough. Total individualism is not individualistic enough. The shared (nearly slavish) fear of convention takes the shape of an unwittingly lock-step group-think. The irony is that, self-amputated from tradition, the victims of this zeitgeist lack the reserves of human thought buried deep in history, by which they might have actually learned how to think for themselves.