I have a buddy, a religious, who discerned his calling at the United States Military Academy at Westpoint. He was just a child, and he had been invited with his family to a cousin's graduation. Seeing row after row of marching soldiers, he realized that he wanted to be part of something bigger than himself. He joined his religious order at 18.
I have another buddy, a married man with a houseful of children, who discerned his vocation at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. His parents had sent him down there with, if I remember this correctly, hopes that he would become a priest. But there he met a pretty girl in Oregon. They married soon after graduation, when he was 22.
That's nice, isn't it? It's great when you know your vocation so early in life. You see something or someone and--wham! Revelation. But for many of us--maybe most of us-Catholics of the 21st century, it's not that easy.
Vocation has taken on two meanings. First, we use the word to mean our careers or jobs. These are the answer to "What do you want/have to be when you grow up?" Happy are those who hang onto the idea they had when they were little kids! Second, we use the words to mean our "state in life": married or single, and, if single, clergy, religious or hmm....
Confusion arises because to a certain extent, we get to choose what we do for a living. We can say, "I want to be a engineer" and then study hard and go to engineering school. But we do not get to choose our state in life in the same way. We have to discern. We have to wait for God's say-so. We have to wait to be called.
Waiting is hard.
There is some controversy over whether being Single is a vocation or not. Some argue that the only vocations are Married, Religious, Priest. However, there are people, consecrated virgins, consecrated widows, and men and women in institutes, who take vows of perpetual virginity or celibacy. That to me certainly sounds like a serious Single vocation. But is the unvowed Single life a vocation?
I think it's a vocation, a calling, to wait and listen.
When I was still Single and becoming Seraphic about it, I called this "waiting for my marching orders." And it was supremely hard. Sometimes I surfed the dating websites. Sometimes I surfed the religious order websites. I dated. I was tempted to marry the next great Catholic guy who came along (whoever he might be). I was tempted to join the Dominicans (whichever bunch would have me). But having been unhappily married and divorced in my twenties, I knew that jumping the gun on one's vocation is a terrible, terrible mistake. Better to wait, to pray and to listen.
And then-WHAM!--right on the cusp of middle age, definitely over the ideal age for having babies, I met my husband. I was on vacation, a trip to meet some of my British readers, and I was staying with one of the Scottish ones. We had exchanged emails and comments, but there was no real expectation (on our part) of romance. But after two days of chatting, I had three thoughts:
1. This guy is great in about a hundred ways.
2. This guy needs a Nice Catholic Girl to marry him.
3. I'd love to volunteer for the job.
But I kept my mouth shut, because it really wouldn't have been smart to blat all that out after two days' meeting. (It would have been crazy, and healthy men are allergic to crazy.) So I waited, I prayed and I listened.
As my vacation raced merrily on, though, it became increasingly clear that I was actually where I was supposed to be. Surprisingly, my vocation was to marry this guy! I had got my marching orders.
After all these years, mistakes and dead-ends, they were definitely worth the wait.
This week's Seraphic Single is Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888). Louisa May Alcott was an American fiction writer and a veteran of the U.S. Civil War. She is most famous for her series of books about the March family, beginning with Little Women. She is probably most beloved by women for her creation of Jo March, a woman who longs for the freedoms and opportunties given to men of her class and time. Bowing to public pressure, Alcott provided Jo, whom she meant to leave a happy Single, with a "funny husband." But Louisa herself preferred to remain unmarried, and made sure to include Serious Singles amongst her many female characters.
Alcott loved her birth family deeply and kept the bonds strong. She devoted herself to her philosopher father, and died two days after he did. I've made her our first Seraphic Single of the Week because her work influenced me from a very early age and, with the exception of many saints, was the first permanently Single woman I knew about.