THE DOWAGER COUNTESS of Downton Abbey rather famously asked, “What is a Week End?” Ascending high enough up the ladder of nobility, at a certain point the difference between work and life no longer matters: one is always The Dowager Countess of Downton even when other folks have “down time”. Vocation is like that: one is always the (fill in the blank) of the Parish Name even on (especially on) the Weekend. This comes to me now: the boundary between work and life are blurred, but in an entirely healthy way. I nearly never stop praying about work or worrying about guests, wondering if I should change something or thinking about the situation in the parish. This is not to say I should be on call 24 Hours (or that any parish appointee/employee should be) but if it’s a vocation rather than a job, then there is no time when one is not one’s job.
Boundaries are always something that has been important to me: I need to see where work quits and where life begins. But in the case of vocation that’s not the question. One is always whatever one’s vocation is: even when one is at work, one is at play, one is still whoever one is in God’s eyes at all time. It’s like marriage in that sense: there’s no moment when one is not married to your spouse. To wake up and pretend otherwise (even for a few moments) is literally preparing for sin.
Speaking of sin, the question of celibacy has been weighing on me. To be ordained as a deacon, I have to take a vow of celibacy. This means forswearing the good of Marriage. That said, I’m surprised at the number of folks who say I can’t get married nor can I forswear Marriage because of same-sex attraction, as if experiencing a certain temptation means one cannot participate in the Mystery of Matrimony. I’m surprised at how widespread that idea is: as if I’m ontologically unable to make vows. For millennia men and women who experience SSA went out and got married. They also had children. These men and women are no different from the men and women who do not experience this temptation. They are the same human persons. Marriage is as much a salve for their souls as it is for anyone else. In fact, it may literally be the answer for most Catholics with SSA. God gave us all of the sacraments, all of the Holy Mysteries, to bring us to him, to make us like him.
The Sacrament of Matrimony is not a permission to have (or a blessing on) sexual activity, but rather an action of salvation in the world. We misuse some of God’s gifts outside of Matrimony, yes, but the end and purpose of Matrimony is not to sacramentalize those gifts. Rather those gifts feed into Matrimony to make it a mystery that speaks of Christ and the Church. Matrimony is a sign, a sacrament. It is the Ordinary form: a sign of Christ and the Church. But not all are called to it: there is an extraordinary form, also a sign of Christ and the Church, and it is a vow of celibacy. This last is an eschatological sign, a sign of the Church in heaven and eternity. It can be lived here and now by God’s grace. One forgoes the ordinary form of the sign to participate in the extraordinary form. One freely gives up the channel of grace provided to every man and woman – monogamous heterogamy – to engage in a vowed state of aloneness, what is called in Greek, μονᾰχός monakhos, which has come to mean “monasticism” but originally meant “singleness” or “aloneness”. St Ephrem the Syrian is one of the first “monakhos”, but he was not a vowed monastic as we understand that term. He simply wished to forgo the goods of marriage an explorer a closer relationship with God. It is (as it was) a mystical state of a man or woman living in the world alone with no one else except God. And therefore, available to share God’s love with everyone.
He was also a deacon.
But if one imagines one’s identity to be beyond the pale of marriage, then one cannot make a vow of celibacy. Since all humans are called (in nature) to Marriage, to place oneself beyond marriage is to make oneself unnatural or contra naturam (Latin.) or παρα φυσιν para physin (Greek) as St Paul says. One has crossed the boundary into something else. (Please note that the naturam or φυσιν here does not imply “things that happen in nature”. Literally anything that happens happens in nature. Rather what is implied is within the natural law: the use of things as intended by God and evidenced in nature. Fallen nature does a lot of things not intended by God.
Within nature, one can engage in one’s fallen nature, making up new identities and whatnot. Or one can seek to elevate nature beyond what is now normal, and even beyond what is now the intended (but generally rejected) divine order of things. One can seek to elevate oneself to a higher order: that of the eschaton even in this world.
I got a couple of cool things: this translation of The Imitation of Christ from the 1930s (reprinted in the early 1960s). It has a thematic plan to read the whole thing in a year.
Also, I got this rather wonderful Cross from a Deacon friend:
I think it’s carved, but I guess it could be formed or sculpted of some kind of material. It’s a lovely representation of the Holy Face on the Cross. It’s now in my icon corner.
It’s still hard to be the one in charge. Today was no exception. Tomorrow I have a homily to present and a BBQ to attend. It’s the weekend. after all.
I’ve been watching an Israel Comic and trying to read/listen along. I hear some words – but I don’t get any jokes yet. I like when he does his mother’s voice, though.
Update OK… I totally get the part about the kholodetz.