Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Do we have a Prostestant idea of vocations?

If you've ever had a scriptural debate with a sola scriptura Protestant, you will inevitably come to a point where the clear sense of scripture and the early history of the Church seem to have closed the deal for the Catholic doctrine, say, of the Eucharist. (I always debate John 6, since the Eucharist is the heart of the Church.) When confronted with this, my Protestant interlocutors will inevitably say that it is obvious that Jesus is speaking metaphorically, and when I point out that the early Church universally celebrated the Eucharist as Catholics and Orthodox do today, my opponents will say that reading scripture in the Spirit shows them that the Eucharist is just a symbol.

There is no argument with "in the Spirit": how can I prove to them that God hasn't spoken directly to them?

This view of the action of the Spirit is totally mistaken and non-incarnational. God doesn't, as a rule, speak directly to individual believers, but speaks to human beings through the natural ability of their minds, through their arguments with others, and most of all through the Church. To read scripture spiritually doesn't mean to turn the lights down and burn incense; it means to read it in the living tradition of the Catholic Church, as found in the liturgy, writings, music, and art of that Church. As St. Josemaria Escriva says somewhere (although I can't find the quote): what are you waiting for a divine inspiration for? Why do you think you have a mind? Your intelligence is a spark of the divine, and is how the Holy Spirit talks to you.

What does this have to do with vocations? We have an idea these days that a religious vocation will be manifest to you in much the same way as the correct interpretation of John 6 was manifest to my Baptist friend: one simply gets a really strong feeling about the way something is. Such inspirations are by nature personal and incommunicable: either you have the strong feeling or you don't. It is something private. But private inspiration is not a Catholic idea, and I say that private Vocation is not Catholic either. If you have a vocation or call to the priesthood or religious life or both, it isn't a private call in your heart, but a public call by God manifest in the public face of the Church inspired by God. The Church calls you, and it can be obvious and public.

Consider the example of how vocations occurred in the early Church. Here is a story about Augustine from the Catholic Encyclopedia: Augustine did not think of entering the priesthood, and, through fear of the episcopacy, he even fled from cities in which an election was necessary. One day, having been summoned to Hippo by a friend whose soul's salvation was at stake, he was praying in a church when the people suddenly gathered about him, cheered him, and begged Valerius, the bishop, to raise him to the priesthood. In spite of his tears Augustine was obliged to yield to their entreaties, and was ordained in 391.

St. John Chrysostom even brags a bit about using trickery to get a friend ordained, and in the Eastern rite of ordination, the ordinandus is still shepherded up to the altar by force, in case he should panic and run away. Vocations come from the Church, and one's own strong feelings are not necessarily the best guide. In fact, given the depraved state of modern society, one's own feelings might be treacherous. The little old lady who says to you "You should be a priest" might be the voice of God.

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