Interesting article at First Things about how celibacy, even though not voluntarily chosen, can be a vocation. The author quotes from Pius XII:

[But] this vocation, this call of love, makes itself felt in very diverse ways . . . The young Christian woman who remains unmarried in spite of her own desires may—if she firmly believes in the providence of the heavenly Father—recognize in life’s vicissitudes the voice of the master: Magister adest et vocat te — the Master is at hand, and is calling you. . . . In the impossibility of matrimony, she discerns her vocation.

I like the piece, although it’s more statement than argument. It proposes a way of thinking about celibacy without going very far towards convincing us that we should think of it that way, or showing us how to think of it that way. But that isn’t nothing.

It reminds me of a quotation whose source I can’t remember: Love can always transform necessity into choice.

This comes to my mind most often when I’m in the middle of a depressive episode and the pain won’t stop. I ask myself: “Is this something I would voluntarily take on if I knew it would help my friend [x]?” And if the answer is Yes, then the question of whether it’s voluntary or not becomes moot, since the result is the same: I accept it, I will it, and it bears fruit, both in my life and in the lievs of those I love.

This idea of offering up suffering is so important to my life, and so central to my understanding of Catholicism, that I was astounded to notice Andrew Sullivan, a lifelong Catholic, had apparently never heard of it. I’ve been reading Sullivan’s Love Undetectable, and while my fingers fairly twitch with the urge to respond to a lot of what I’ve read, I don’t want to respond in full till I’ve finished. Still, this passage deserves a look:

Abstinence forever; abstinence always; abstinence not for the sake of something else, but for its own sake…Jesus’ suffering was at least for something [emphasis added], for forgiveness, for universal redemption, remaining in his desperate isolation on the cross a symbol of human brokenness who opened his pinioned arms to everyone. It was an act of eternal solidarity with the suffering, not an arbitrary invitation to the ordeal.1

Dear God, man, every one who’s ever been born has been issued an invitation to that ordeal. And who said it’s arbitrary? And Jesus came, not just to suffer for us, but to present to us a means of lifting up our own suffering. Forgiveness, universal redemption, solidarity with brokenness — these are all things which, because of Christ’s sacrifice, our suffering can mean and does mean. Here’s John Paul II on the subject:

Every man has his own share in the Redemption. Each one is also called to share in that suffering through which the Redemption was accomplished. He is called to share in that suffering through which all human suffering has also been redeemed. In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.2

As awesome as this is, it’s also Catholicism 101. Where on earth has Andrew Sullivan been all his Catholic life that he hasn’t heard of this?

1 Page 43 in the paperback edition.
2 From his apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris. Full text here.

15 thoughts on “What Do They Teach Them In Schools These Days?

  1. M.

    Steve, I dare say that most who call themselves “Catholic” couldn’t pass Catholicism 101, myself included, and I’m probably a bit older than you are. (Thank whoever was in charge of your catechesis.)

    If these same folks could pass Catholicism 101, I daresay again that most of them would be faithful to the Magisterium and defend the Faith. My learning about the Faith (and I still have a steep learning curve) is what brought me back.

    Please keep being the light that you are in this fallen world.

    Reply
  2. Patty

    You’re right, Steve, it’s basic Catholicism, and it helps. Or at least it helps me, to believe that I can offer my suffering to God as a sacrifice, to join Christ in suffering, to even rejoice to know (as the early disciples did) that my suffering can be joined to Christ’s. See Acts 5:41, which reads, “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”
    Hope Andrew sees your blog post.

    Reply
  3. Julie

    I realize it’s only Tuesday, but if this is a preview of what’s to come with Fridays being your dedicated writing day, all I can say in anticipation is TGIF!!!! (almost) :)

    Reply
  4. momofthree

    And…this is the problem for many who think they know Catholicism and do not. But…the irony is that many of those same people willingly enter into activities such as extreme running for the achievement of pushing through the suffering.

    More and more young Catholic children must be taught that life is suffering, but we can choose to elevate it when we cannot stop it, rather than fall into a hole of nihilism.

    Good show man!

    Reply
    1. Mark from PA

      I don’t agree with the statement that Catholic children must be taught that life is suffering. I think of all the Catholic kids that suffered abuse from clergy and how suffering is usually a bad thing. I remember reading about children who had been sexually exploited confessing it to a priest and being told to offer it up. I was amazed to read of many cases like this. I can’t imagine the priest not telling the child to never let it happen again. I wonder how many priests warned parents to keep their child away from “Father So and So” when they found out that a priest was abusing kids. Sadly, it seems this rarely happened.

      Reply
  5. mikell

    Lonelyness is my suffering. And due too my SSA and Catholisim I have been alone on this planet for a long time. Yet I drive people away, even family. So I don’t know what I want. I hide in Christ cause I don’t have anywhere else to go.

    Reply
    1. P.J.

      Mikell — I feel the same way. In fact, this is weighing on me more and more with the passage of time. Currently, it’s nearly crushing me

      Is this an issue for anyone else?

      Sometimes it seems like “SSA Catholics” don’t exist (and I’ve been a member of Courage Online for 10+ years, so I should know better) — or if they do, they’re super well-adjusted and not having an issue with the emotional isolation which seems to come with this (at least for me).

      Does anyone else feel this way?

      Reply
  6. Kristen

    Mark from PA,

    do you think it advances discussion to take the argument to a point that you must KNOW none of the participants would agree with?

    It might be true that a distorted mind would turn the Christian theology of suffering into a complacency about evil, or a sick masochism landed on the most vulnerable.

    I also know that Steve has posted COUNTLESS times — it seems one of his biggest themes — about the difference between accepting suffering in union with Christ’s sacrifice, and seeking out suffering as a part of an unhealthy cycle.

    No one here would ever suggest that children be taught not to report serious sexual, emotional, physical, or other abuse. The failure to report abuse of children (and the most vulnerable) is a wide-ranging and complex social problem that reaches into EVERY corner of our society, not just the Church, and certainly not just the confessional.

    What’s happening here is an entirely different conversation about denying oneself different satisfactions — or better, simply accepting certain deprivations out of love of Christ or brother.

    Reply
  7. momofthree

    Mark from PA

    Sorry to be away for a bit. I reread what I wrote and it was too blunt and not fully detailed. I know that many children did suffer abuses and that they were told to minimize it…I guess I am just looking around at the other extreme which I see today around me: spoiled kids who want entertainment 100% of the time and who eat loads of sugar and fat and are allergic to work. I just want to teach my children that no person on earth escapes all suffering while they are here, and that great character can grow from learning to push through pain and difficulty.

    The loneliness comments disturb me greatly. I do think we are suffering horribly in this country from rampant loneliness, and some of that has to do with our infrastructure. The average household occupancy rate has plummeted and the suicide rate is up. We all want our space and our time, but we actually need to have human contact regularly.

    M. Scott Peck (towards the end of his career) devoted himself to fostering more community. We all need it, not just those with SSA.

    That said, I do think it must be very hard to wish greatly for a life-partner.

    Reply
  8. Mark from PA

    Mom of three, I agree with some of what you said here. I think in our country there is too much emphasis on material things and in some 3rd world countries for example, people don’t have as much materially but have more of a wealth in their relationships with family and others. I think of how in our country since I have been younger that there has been a great increase in wealth but it has become more concentrated and many middle class people have ended up more and more in debt keeping up with technology by spending money they don’t have. Kristen, it depends on what kind of deprivations you mean. It annoys me sometimes when Catholics who dislike gay people feel that others should deprive themselves of things that they wouldn’t deprive themselves of. Kind of a do as I say, not as I do mentality. Actually, I think God wants people to be happy. When I read about people who were into self-mortification it makes me cringe. I can’t imagine God being pleased by something like that, I can see him shaking his head at how foolish some people are. We need to share the “Good News” of Jesus.

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  9. Heloise

    Our culture–many of my friends and family and most of those folks on the TV anyhow–seems so fixated on satisfying every urge for pleasure, denying any pleasure has become for most of us the equivalent of inflicted injury. When was the last time any of us heard someone in our schools or work or commercials advocated “self-discipline”?

    Life is suffering in many ways and I’m afraid teaching children everything will go their way “if they just try hard enough” or “just pray enough” is false. (Not to mention something that forms many of them into neurotic perfectionists or spoiled brats.) We all suffer at many points in our lives, no matter how comfortable the fortress of material goods or emotional goods or even enjoyable relationships we build up around us. Eventually we stop enjoying the stuff and we will (sorry to say it) lose most people in our lives one way or another. Pretending this isn’t true is a vicious disservice, not that we need to be so blunt with children, and prevents us from being properly grateful for such immense blessings.

    Christ didn’t promise us we would never suffer. In fact, He tells the disciples they will suffer greatly, especially for His sake. He promised He would never leave us, no matter what. And that is where we can find the real joy in life.

    Bless you, Steve, for your writing. I have struggled greatly with my own loneliness as a faithful Catholic, in desiring to understand my vocation as a (practically speaking) celibate woman entering her thirties. I long so much for a family, but coming to recognize the great loneliness in so many around me–even those with loving spouses and children–and trying to be there for them have helped me much to channel my frustration.

    And then there is the overabundant love of Christ, which I seek in daily communication. Whatever our loneliness and pain, when we bring them to the foot of the cross, we can have hope in what God can make of them as gloriously as He made the resurrection out of the passion.

    Reply
  10. Sorcha

    I’m a mother of, Catholically speaking, four (one sent blessedly early to the arms of my dearest of Mothers, two hopefully asleep and one not yet two months into its wee existence on this earth) and the middle of five kids (truly eight, but you get the cultural point) and was always raised to “offer it up”. Only after marriage over five years ago did I really start to understand what that meant (go figure!); and only after my first born did I truly understand Redemptive Suffering. Of all the things I’ve undergone in life, child-bearing and child birth is truly the epitome of redemptive suffering and gives the most glorious opportunities for me to offer up my aches and discomforts and sicknesses. When I figured that out, I was amazed how simple it was to hand the arduous pain of giving birth into the capable hands of our most Blessed Mother so she could pass it on to her Son. Yeah. Mama Mary: midwife and Saint Gerard as her acting assistant.

    Reply

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