“I guess you have to do what you have to do”, my father said when I finally told him about my desire to join the Carmelites. We were walking under the autumn trees on my farm in Oregon, talking face to face for the first time in nine years, and I wanted to tell him my plans while we had this time together. His response was not surprising, although I have to be honest and say that it was hard to receive his ambivalence at my news. We walked back to the house in silence under trees ablaze in red and yellow, our steps through the fallen leaves uncomfortably loud.
I am currently planning to enter the Carmelite pre-novitiate next year after discerning my call to religious life for the past three years. During that time the spirituality of Carmel has taught me that nothing is wasted. Even awkward moments can be moments of clarity and grace. God walks with us and leads us by pain and joy, discomfort and peace, to Himself, and to our own authentic selves, if we are willing to follow Him. In the few weeks after speaking with my father, I thought about that moment and used it to look at my expectations around my vocation and my family: How do I expect them to react to my decision? How can I explain it to them? I finally realized it is not my family or my father’s job to understand or validate my vocation. Still, my disappointment came from a glaring realization that my feelings toward my vocation and my father’s understanding of my vocation were worlds apart. I wanted to bridge those worlds so it would make sense both to me and those I’m close to.
My family’s relationship to faith is pretty diverse and open ended. My two teenage nephews have never been told about God, Jesus, or the Church. Their knowledge of God is entirely shaped by the media. Not surprisingly, both of them doubt the existence of God and reject the notion of salvation. My oldest brother and his wife believe there is a God, but their belief constellates around a sort of benevolent new-age agnosticism, seeing God as an essentially positive, albeit unintrusive, energy floating around in the universe. My vocation is, for me, a powerful sign not only that there is a God but also that he cares enough to personally invite me to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him; and, if I get myself out of the way long enough, I can actually apprehend His will for me and do something about it. For my nephews, this attitude makes me the eccentric uncle, not altogether crazy but interesting in a relic-from-a-bygone-era sort of way. For my oldest brother and his wife, my vocation has been compared to everything from cult behavior to a religious addiction. Recently though, as they begin to think about the future of their newborn twins, they are reluctantly conceding that they don’t want their children to be raised without some faith tradition and the Catholic Church is the one they respect the most. I choose to believe that even my small witness can sometimes give the Holy Spirit a foot in the door. [More]