The semantics of vocations awareness

A.M.D.G.
J.M.J.
A.T.C.

Laudetur Iesus Christus!
Nunc et in æternum! Amen.

Baptism of the Lord

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Merry Christmas!  With the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord we find ourselves on the last day you can wish people a merry Christmas so I made sure to take advantage of that!  I hope you did!  You shan’t be able to do so for another eleven months!

In the United States, this week is Vocation Awareness Week so one probably heard some mention of vocations at Mass,  be it a full homily tying in the feast or a passing reference.  Of course, everyday ought to be a day when we foster and pray for acceptance of all the vocations of Holy Church.  We can’t just isolate it to one week.

There has always been one thing (all right, actually two) that has gotten under my skin when it comes to vocations:

-How so many places pray solely for priestly and religious vocations.
-How so many places pray for an increase in vocations.

And if you were to take my two issues and boil them down, all one would have left would be that delightful little thing called semantics.  According to the source of all that is true and legit, Wikipedia, semantics is the “study of meaning” and it focuses on the “relation between signifiers” (such as words, signs, phrases, and symbols) and “what they stand for” or their “denotata.”

Basically, it’s the meaning of the meaning of how words are used, arranged, etc.

Let’s look at the first pet peeve: “Let us pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.”

-At first blush, it looks just fine.  A very laudable prayer.  A prayer we all should be offering EVERY DAY.

Except for one thing.  It’s quite exclusive.  And by “exclusive” I don’t mean it in the way that the nutsy-koo-koo wymynprysts and others of their ilk mean it: the Church is so exclusive, it puts down wymyn, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals, transexuals, genderqueer individuals, asexuals, metrosexuals, omnisexuals, etc., etc., etc..

No, I mean it in that, while the intention is good, it’s cutting out a whole huge chunk out of the Church’s vocations!

Oh, if I could tell you the discussions I have been in with a dear priest of mine about the semantics of this prayer.  How it annoys the crap out of me.

Yes, we need to pray for priestly vocations.  You’re fine there.

You exclude married and single life.  Add those.  Those are vocations.  Without faithful married couples, you can kiss the rest of your vocations goodbye.

Without faithful single people, the Church would be at a loss for the many gifts they have to share with her and her people and the world at large.

I take most exception with the prayer for vocations to religious life.

You’re missing the mark by being too specific.  Sorry, but I like the right kind of precision.  This is just sloppy use of terms.

*gets out Codex Iuris Canonici*  (Imma use my hard copy for this because there is something I lurve about paging through my Latin-English Codex and my beefy commentary.)

According to my 1999 translation of the 1983 Latin-English CIC, “life consecrated through the profession of the evangelical counsels” is a

stable form of living by which the faithful, following Christ more closely under the action of the Holy Spirit, are totally dedicated to God Who is loved most of all, so that, having been dedicated by a new and special title to His honor, to the building up of the Church, and to the salvation of the world, they strive for the perfection of charity in the service of the Kingdom of God and, having been made an outstanding sign in the Church, foretell the heavenly glory.” (Can. 573 §1)

“The Christian faithful freely assume this form of living in institutes of consecrated life canonically erected by competent authority of the Church.  Through vows or other sacred bonds, they profess the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience, and through the charity to which the counsels lead, are joined in a special way to the Church and [her] mystery. (Can. 573 §2) (I have a thing about calling the Church “it”)

The state of those who profess the evangelical counsels in institutes of this type belongs to the life and holiness of the Church and must be fostered and promoted by all in the Church. (Can. 574, §1)

I’d say that sums it up pretty nicely.  Now, let’s look at a particular form of consecrated life that is very near and dear to my heart: consecrated virginity (more on why in a bit).

“… the order of virgins who, expressing the holy resolution of following Christ more closely are consecrated to God by the diocesan bishop according to the approved liturgical rite, are mystically betrothed to Christ, the Son of God, and are dedicated to the service of the Church.” (Can. 604 §1)

Now, we’re going to look at the canonical definition of religious life (institutes of religious life):

“As a consecration of the whole person, religious life manifests in the Church a wonderful marriage brought about by God, a sign of the future age.  Thus the religious brings to perfection a total self-giving as a sacrifice offered to God, through which his/her whole existence becomes a continuous worship of God in charity.” (Can.607 §1)

“A religious institute is a society in which members, according to proper law, pronounce public vows, either perpetual or temporary which are to be renewed, however, when the period of time has elapsed, and lead a life of brothers or sisters in common.” (§2)

“The public witness to be rendered by religious to Christ and the Church entails a separation proper to the character and purpose of each institute.” (§3)

If you compare the section on consecrated virginity to these sections on religious life, you see similarities:

-both are vocations where one dedicates one’s life to Christ and the Church.
-both call the person to perfection after the model of Christ (we all are called to Christ-like perfection, regardless of vocation).

However, there are differences:

-Consecrated virgins live in the world whereas religious, canonically, must have some form of enclosure (cloister) that separates them from the world according to the purpose of their institute.

-Consecrated virgins are to be self-sufficient.  Religious profess a vow of poverty (along with chastity and obedience) which almost always entails the fact that they depend on their congregation/order for even their most basic needs.  When they enter novititate/make vows, they sign everything over to the congregation/order (or they dispose of it to family).  A consecrated virgin is not taken care of by the Church on the merit of her consecration.

Many consecrated virgins “work for” the Church and because of that receive pay and benefits from the Church.  If she were single and unconsecrated or married, she would still receive the same benefits if she were employed by the Church.

Common life is a big thing with religious life.  It ought to be.  It’s in the Code.  I know, many more … progressive … orders don’t live in common anymore (many members live on their own in apartments, etc.) but it’s there in black and white: they are to live in common.  Consecrated virgins are not bound to live in common.  In fact, the vast majority (to my knowledge) do not.  If a group of consecrated virgins were to decide to live in common, that would be their personal decisions, it would not be a matter of following Church directive.

-Not expressed in these sections cited but also a difference: habits.  Religious are to mark themselves off with a habit of some kind.  Some external sign of religious life.  Consecrated virgins wear secular clothes with their ring which they receive at their consecration but they are not to don a habit.  Some consecrated virgins I know wear a veil when in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament but, as far as I know, that is not a hard and fast rule, it’s more a matter of preference.

-And another thing not covered expressly in the cited canons; obedience.  A religious professes obedience to their superior.  A consecrated virgin makes her consecration to her local bishop and maintains a relationship with the bishop but she makes no vow of obedience to him per say.  She is to work with him since that is an integral part of her vocation but when that ring goes on her finger, she does not make a vow of obedience to the bishop and his successors (like how priests make their promise of obedience to the bishop and his successors).

After all of that explanation on the meaning of consecrated life (and consecrated virginity) and religious life, do you now see why I can be such a stickler when I hear prayers for vocations to the priesthood and (just) religious life?

Religious life is a specialized form of consecrated life.  Religious life is a form of consecrated life.  Consecrated life is not necessarily religious life.

If you’re going to pray for vocations, pray for them all!

Now for the next one: “Let us pray for an increase in vocations.”

This one won’t be nearly as long because it’s pretty straightforward.  Of course, the last one could have been shorter but then I would not have been able to go hog wild with my Code and it’s so seldom that I get to do just that with two of my favorite books in the Papist library o’ epicness (ask any of my friends, I would bring just bits of my Theology library with me to college and they would be in awe.  Even the Lutheran had respect for my Popery.  I love you, Catt!)

So, again, the prayer looks good at first glance but what can be seen as implied by the wording?

“Let us pray for an increase in vocations.”

Yes, we want vocations.  We need vocations.  We should pray for them.

But an increase?  Doesn’t that kind of infer that God hasn’t provided enough and that we need to send Him a memo to send us more?

That’s what pops into my very analytic mind when I hear that.  There are better ways to word it that do not diss the Providence of God.

How about: “Let us pray for increased acceptance of the many vocations of the Church.”?

Something like that.  God has given us all the vocations we need.  They are out there.  We just need to foster them.  God planted the seeds and He probably put a bit of Miracle-Gro on them but it’s up to us to nurture them further.  We can’t put the blame on Him if we don’t help them grow and develop, or worse, if we kill them in various ways (including contraception and abortion).

For someone to pray for an increase in vocations is like saying, “Yeah, Lord, we’re in trouble.  We need vocations.  You haven’t sent us enough.  How about you send us more?”

He probably looks down, smirks, and says: “You know, I sent you just the right number of vocations.  You need to foster them.  And stop killing them, too.”

“How are we curbing or even killing vocations?  Why would we do that when we need them so very desperately?”

“You kill them when you don’t come out and condemn abortion and contraception for the intrinsic evils that they are and thus lead some into the dark mentality based on faulty faith formation.  Do you know how many vocations you have killed with those two evils?  Countless.  You curb and kill them when you don’t proclaim the fullness of the Truth that I gave you from the pulpit and in the marketplace.  You curb and kill them when you don’t emphasize the regular and fervent practice of the faith.  You curb and kill them when you tell people that sins are not sins though they are, objectively.  You curb and kill them when you treat My Son’s Real Presence with disdain, irreverence, and apathy.  You curb and kill them when you treat My Son’s Mother with disrespect or when you flat out ignore her rather than encourage people to go to her.  You curb and kill them when you spit on the Church my Son founded like she was just any other institution and not the Bride of My own Son.

Quit it.  Straighten up and fly right.  Then, I assure you, you will find the vocations you so desperately seek.

Oh, and quit putting the trads down.  Last time I checked (like God needs to check anything being omniscient), the more traddy seminaries and religious orders are busting at the seams while the ones who are more lukewarm to just plain heretical are dying out.

Just sayin’.”

I think that gets the point across.  Kinda irreverent but I am getting tired and my filter is going to sleep (as I should soon).  Yes, I did take on the mentality of a God-like figure.  Not as blasphemy but to illustrate a variety of points that I think are pretty clear the reasons why the vocations we do have, that God HAS sent us, are not being fostered while others are.

Yes, I am aware that there are seminaries that are filled to capacity (including Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary where they recently had to re-renovate space that was once a dormitory but then in the dearth of vocations (they were there but they weren’t fostered as they should have been) was turned into storage but now, when they are seeing an increase in seminarians, is being turned into living space once again!  Laudetur Iesus Christus!).  Yes, I am aware that there are religious communities that are also bursting at the seams with young vibrant vocations.  But there is always need for more.  The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.

Instead of making this post longer, Imma write the last part of this post tomorrow as its own post.  It’s on consecrated virginity (one of my favorite theological topics at the moment) and the delightful little development that came up this past week in the AOD.  Yay-ness with a fresh hot batch of lemon poppy seed or banana nut angst muffins (collegiate inside joke).

But it’s after midnight.  I have Mass in a few hours.  I am teaching Catechism this week so I better be well-rested.  First graders can be a bundle of cuteness while at the same time being utterly exhausting.  lol

Nighty-night!

About Ms. Allie

I am a Catholic young woman who works as a Theology teacher at a Catholic high school in the Archdiocese of the Detroit. In Spring of 2015, I graduated with an MA in Theology with a concentration in Systematic Theology. My MA thesis was titled: "Mary as Woman of the Eucharist in the Theology of Pope Saint John Paul II." I also hold a BA in Theology (with a dabbling in Philosophy) and is a member of Theta Alpha Kappa (θΑΚ), the National Theology/Religious Studies Honor Society. Prayers are appreciated.
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One Response to The semantics of vocations awareness

  1. It’s funny how big of a difference there is between vocations in traditional vs more progressive parishes. In my opinion two big factors are the parents’ attitudes during mass and presence of servers. We finally found a parish that celebrates the TLM and I’ve noticed my two yr old behaves much better during the Latin mass than at other masses, which I think can be attributed to the reverence displayed not just by us but the rest of the parishioners as well. More progressive parishes don’t have alter boys/servers which also kills vocational discernment because boys cannot get that involvement in the priest’s job the way altar boys can.

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