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Lord, I Am Open to Your Will. Now, Can You Give Me What I Want? Part II

August 9, 2009
On a Road Trip through the States…of Life
Last time we looked at the word vocation and learned that we all have one. Our common vocation is to love, and it is a call which shapes the very structure of our being. We are activated to live this call by our baptism. The way we love is expressed in and through our state in life. There are two states in life: the consecrated state and the married state. That gets us back up to speed. Now we’ll take a brief ride through these states — and look at whether those of us who are single are part of the Union, or simply in a foreign territory with or citizenship.
Before we get on the road to travel these States, we should remember that our common vocation to love is the state in which we all live, that is, the Christian state. The Christian state is the place where we love and offer the gift of ourselves every day, in everything we do, in every encounter we have with another, and in every prayer and act of worship directed toward God. We must always remember that it is God who gifts us with the capacity for love, and He enables us to love. When we enter into one of the specific “territories” of the Christian state (the consecrated or married state), we do so knowing that we cannot navigate where those roads may lead us without Him.
The vocation to love as expressed in the married state has its basis in a vow; three vows, to be exact. Vow is not simply a legal term, or the name of a pledge that forces us to accept an obligation. Instead, the vow is the basis for love, it gives love its form. The vow makes space in one’s heart for another. In the Sacrament of Marriage, man and woman (by virtue of their baptism) enter even more deeply into the life of God through a permanent, covenantal relationship. In this covenant they vow to be faithful to each other (fidelity), for life (permanence), and to be open to the gift of children (fruitfulness). Marriage is a way of responding to the vocation to love which is in some way mediated through another — namely, one’s spouse. This means that, if I am married, my point of reference for loving (my spouse, my family, my neighbor and my enemies) is the covenant I made with my spouse in the Lord. Thus, my love for my spouse teaches me to look outside of myself and care for the good of another. I travel on the road toward holiness with my spouse, and I help him/her on that road, too. Marriage is a school of love — of self-sacrifice, prayer, personal growth, and forgiveness — in which my spouse and I, and our children, are students at the feet of the Divine Master. We are at the same time called to be “teachers of love” in how we relate to others. Our school of love prepares us for and nurtures us in loving all those we encounter in the world. This love is called spousal, not only because it originates in the covenantal union of the spouses, but because it is naturally oriented toward a self-gift that is fruitful. Marriage is, then, a real way of holiness, and it becomes a sign to the world of God’s own faithful, enduring and fruitful love.
The vocation to love as expressed in the consecrated life is a very similar kind of love — one which is grounded in a vow and is spousal — but it is mediated differently. That is, the consecrated man or woman is enrolled in a school of love in which he or she is also teacher and student of a love that is spousal, that is, one that demands the gift of oneself to be directed outward for the good of another. But the consecrated person focuses his/her gift of self directly to Christ through His Bride, the Church. Thus love is mediated through the Church to his/her Beloved. Just as the spouses learn to love their family and the world through the covenant they share with each other, the consecrated person takes the love received in his/her family and communal experiences, and sees it refined and deepened through the love of Christ. Therefore, if I am consecrated I make a gift of myself through prayer and the charism to which I have pledged myself. If I am in a religious order, my obedience to my superior and the work I do as a member of the order teach me to love and make opportunities for me to love. My closeness to the Lord allows me to love Him more and more in the service I make to others. My love is certainly spousal, in that I give myself completely to my Beloved, and through Him and His Church, to the whole world. But it is also motherly, because I seek not only to be of service, but to cultivate and nurture love in others.
Similarly, it is fatherly, as when a priest gives himself through his ministry and prayer life for his parish. The gift of self a priest makes to the Lord is in and through his gift of self to his parish. In loving the People of God, the priest cultivates and nurtures their love for Him. As a consequence, the consecrated person receives the gift of self offered by those whom he/she serves. In this way, the consecrated person is also a sign of God’s faithful, enduring and fruitful love.
We discussed what love is in our last article: presence (being attentive to and oriented toward another); openness (making space in my heart and my life for another); and gift (offering myself to another and seeking his/her well-being before my own). We have also learned that love is fruitful. If it is authentic it is life-giving, and it cannot be contained and horded like secret treasure. It is made to be shared and to grow. The family is the first school of love. Spouses learn together, and then teach others, presence, openness and how to share the gift of self. It is in the school of love of the family that men and women then choose to be continuing students as well as teachers of love in either the married or consecrated states.
This brings us back to where we started: if there are two states in life — married and consecrated — but some of us are neither married nor seem to be oriented toward the consecrated life, where do we fit in? Is there a “third way” called “the single state” where we belong? A Swiss theologian named Hans Urs von Balthasar, who wrote a book about the states called The Christian State of Life, says that there is no “third” way. Instead, he proposes that the Christian state — our vocation to love God and neighbor and to make a complete gift of self — is the foundation for the expression of love in the married or consecrated states. The one who finds himself in neither state is not “off the hook” in terms of being called to love and self gift. Nor is he/she somehow “marked” by God as one who is not called to express the vocation to love in a specific way. Instead, the person who is single must love fully and well in the place where God has put him/her at this time. For many single people, this is a place of discernment, praying, seeking counsel, and deciding whether God is leading them toward marriage or the consecrated life. If one is called to the married state, this discernment includes prayer, seeking counsel from Godly men and women whom one trusts, and, of course, dating. If one is called to the religious life, the discernment continues by talking with priests and religious, visiting monasteries or seminaries, and finally entering into that life. Some may not be sure where God is calling them, or they may have discerned that they are to be married. In these cases, the single person finds him/herself in a state of waiting: anticipating the Lord’s call with a stance of openness to whatever He has in store.
This stance of anticipation and openness can be most fruitful and joyful; but it is also often the most frustrating and even sad part of being single. Anticipation can turn to confusion and even desperation. The journey toward holiness on the path of love can become arduous as we wonder into what strange territory God is leading us. If we are not firmly planted in the soil of one or the other states of life, are we then destined to be foreigners? Will we be nomads all of our lives, searching but not finding a home? The answer to these questions is, in a word: NO!!! The Lord hears the cries of our hearts, and He has a home chosen for us, namely in His own heart. Our search may not immediately lead us to our destination — or that the journey might continue until we reach our final Home — and this is something with which we must come to terms. For now, it must be said that the single person (especially one who believes he/she is called to marriage) is not left on the sidelines watching the rest of the world pass by. Rather, the single person must travel that road of love both in the “here and now,” and in the “is to come.” That is, the single person must give him/herself completely as a gift to family, friends, parish, community, etc., while at the same praying for and living in joyful expectation of his/her spouse. The most important thing a single person can do as he journeys on the road of love is (as Balthasar would affirm) be open to whatever the Lord desires for him/her. This requires great trust, which is not always easy to muster. The Lord is certain to call us to great things during this time as a single person. He always fulfils the desires of our hearts, and often does so in unexpected ways that far surpass anything we could have dreamed.

In our next article we’ll look at this time of waiting and anticipation, and how we can better pay attention to what the Lord is calling us to — and how we can respond to Him with an open and loving heart.

Ann M. Hanincik, M.T.S.
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