Dear Auntie Seraphic,
Hi! I enjoy your blog very much. I just shared it with a friend of mine who appreciated it too!
So, I'm wondering what to do when priests cannot seem to find another topic to talk to young women (people) about than "Wow, you would make a good nun. OR maybe you should find a boyfriend. Have you LISTENED to God about what he wants for your life?"
In all respect to their (probably) kindly and fatherly intentions ,I find this insulting because it seems to imply 1) that I'm in my mid-twenties and haven't even THOUGHT about what God wants from me or 2) that somehow I am weird and less a person/Catholic/devoted to God because I'm not in some kind of life-long commitment yet.
So how does one respectfully and yet abruptly end such conversations without appearing rude/getting angry/bursting into tears?
I'm of the opinion that even priests don't need to know your whole life story unless they are your confessor/spiritual director or close friends. It just makes life too complicated when you have to answer off the cuff "Yes I have thought about it but discerned X was not for me and was then dating Y but he broke up with me to join the seminary" etc etc.
How does one kindly and respectfully but firmly end such conversations?
Does that question imply in it the hopelessness for our generation that it seems to?
Dear Vocations Victim,
As someone who married at 25 and divorced at 27 and got an annulment at 28 and didn't marry again until 38, I do not like the panicky climate of vocation angst that has prevailed since the 1980s.
I think it stems from the loss of thousands of priests and nuns in the 1960s and 1970s, who abandoned their responsibilities, communities and vows, either to get married or, in some cases, to have a good time. Somehow subsequent generations are expected to pick up the slack. And I suspect we are are expected to pick up the reproductive slack for two generations of Catholics on the Pill, too. And all this without the wider, confident culture of the pre-1963 era that honoured priests, religious life and large families.
If you restate this in your own words to the next priest who gives you a hard time for not being a nun or a married lady, that might give him pause for thought.
I see that you are worried about having appropriate respect for a priest. As a fellow Catholic I understand this. However, as a fellow Catholic who has been around priests quite a lot, in theology school, for example, I understand that the best way to respect a priest is to speak to him as truthfully as you would to any other adult. Say exactly what you think, and make it short and snappy, with no hemming and hawing or life story. Anger--which can be a virtue (see Thomas Aquinas)--is useful here.
If you think you would love to be married, but the men of your generation all seem to expect premarital sex as a normal part of dating, tell him.
If you think you would love to be a nun, but your parents despise nuns, tell him that.
If you think he is being terribly rude and inappropriate, tell him you think he is being terribly rude and inappropriate.
If you wonder why he would assume you have not thought about your vocation, ask "Why do you assume that I haven't?" If you feel insulted, say "I feel insulted."
If you feel like bursting into tears, there are few things men hate more than women bursting into tears. I think women underestimate the power of our tears. Of course, this can be manipulative, so only do it if you can't help it or it is the only way to express yourself without shrieking. Crying is okay; shrieking is not.
You might also ask him what he personally is doing to help his young Catholics meet each other or religious communities. Has he thought of organizing a parish dance? Has he thought of organizing a parish visit to the local monastery? How old was he when he was ordained? Were his parents supportive? What if they hadn't been?
What I am suggesting takes an awful lot of confidence. However, part of becoming an adult--and how the post-Vatican II era bangs on about the laity "becoming adults"--is asserting oneself before officious adults.
I realize what you want to do is stop the conversation without rocking the boat, but acting as though a priest were just an ugly but precious piece of china you'd prefer to keep at a respectful distance is not the Christian, Catholic way. It's his job to help you, and if he's doing it all wrong, it is respectful--and loving--to tell him that.
I hope this is helpful.
Grace and peace,
Sociologists would have a field day if they examined the ways priests and young people, especially young women, interact. (Actually, that would be a field day for a sociologist.) If a middle-aged man you barely knew told you you would make a good nun or asked why you didn't have a boyfriend, I very much hope you wouldn't feel you had to tell him your life story. Of course you don't. And, indeed, you shouldn't. In fact, I bet the average Scottish twenty-something lassie would look at such a man with venom and say, "P*** off." And off would toddle the middle-aged man with his tail between his legs.
Now, obviously we can't say "p*** off" to a priest because a priest does not deserve such a curt (but effective) dismissal just for doing his job. His job is saving our souls, and he has been taught that the way to do this is to get us to hear God's voice calling us to religious life or marriage, not just to love Him with all our hearts, all our souls and all our minds, and to love our neighbours as ourselves. And, to give the seminaries credit, both marriage and religious life do indeed free us up for the Commandment of Love because once we get the Sex and Marriage Questions settled, we can stop worrying about them.
As Catholics who want to have our souls saved, we have to help priests do their job. And the only way to do that is to speak to them honestly, as adults. That does not mean telling them our life stories. That does not mean apologizing for ourselves. That certainly does not mean uttering a few platitudes as if stuck with our father's most boring friend at a cocktail party.
By the way, one of the most simple and devastating questions in the whole world is the word "Why?" If any priest, inspired by my obvious and perhaps distressing lack of children, told me that I would make a good mother, I would say, "Thank you. Why?" I would not feel I had to tell him how I old I was when I married, or how old I am now, and what the doctor said, and if I have considered adoption, and blah blah blah.
That reminds me, "You would make a good nun" is not in itself a bitter insult in Catholic circles and should not be regarded as such. It is not the same thing as saying "You look like a sexless being no man would ever want." That is not what a nun is, no matter what pop culture says. If anyone tells you that you would make a good nun, say, "Thank you. Why?" Unless, of course, it is a complete stranger whose advances you have rejected, in which case, if he looks too old or timorous for violence, consider your local version of "P*** off."