Choose Your Own Vocation
When today's saint was a boy (like you summer-campers), before he became a saint, he was home-schooled along with his sister. Then when he became a teenager his family sent him away from home to go to high school in another city. There he was especially good at learning rhetoric, which is the art of speaking and writing beautifully.
But Benedict noticed that a lot of the other boys at school were getting into a lot of bad things, especially sins of impurity and greed. They were using what they had learned in rhetoric class—how to speak well and persuade people—they were using that skill to persuade girls and boys to do bad things with them.
At that point Ben’s life could have gone in many different ways. He could have joined with the other boys to seek pleasures and riches of the world. But he didn’t. “Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good.”
Ben decided not to go to college, even though he had gone to a college prep school. Instead he hiked up into the mountains where he found a holy hermit living alone, and he asked that hermit to teach him how to be holy.
So Benedict became a novice, and he learned a new way to speak beautifully, by speaking the words of the holy Bible. He would repeat the words of the holy Bible over and over until he learned their lessons well. “He that offers praise as a sacrifice glorifies me; and to him that goes the right way I will show the salvation of God.”
When St. Benedict had become a young man, he had learned these holy lessons so well that other boys and men came and asked him to teach them how to be holy, too. And when he began to teach them what he had learned, St. Benedict learned another lesson: that it is even easier to become holy when a bunch of men live together to do it, than it was living alone as a hermit. And so they all became monks living together in a monastery, helping each other to become holy.
Eventually St. Benedict wrote down his main lessons about how to live as a holy monk in a rulebook of guidelines for a monastery. In his Rule, St. Benedict took some lessons from earlier rules for monks, such as the Rule of St. Augustine (whose monks are called canons), and some lessons he had learned from his own teacher or had figured out for himself. Then he put to use the rhetoric he had learned in school, the art of speaking and writing beautifully. So he wrote a masterpiece of spiritual wisdom. This morning your counselors all read part of the beautiful Rule of St. Benedict in the Office of Readings.
Now, there are two things I want you to notice about this story:
First: St. Benedict was not a priest. We pray for more holy priests. This is good. But the life of the religious brother, who is not a priest, seems in recent years to have been forgotten.
The second thing to notice: St. Benedict did not have to become a monk. He chose to. He could have chosen some other good thing instead.
The truth is that each of us, by nature, is called to marriage and family. I also, a celibate priest-monk, have a “vocation to marriage” according to what God has given me by nature.
And God’s invitation to the monastic life as a religious brother is not merely some private, special thing for a select few. It’s a public invitation, written in the Gospel: “Come, follow me. Let anyone accept this who can.”
For example, my brother Dominic made a vow of marriage; I made a vow of celibacy. My brother and I are very similar. We both like board games and craft beer and Star Wars. We both need to be virtuous in order to live rightly and become holy and get to heaven.
I could have gotten married to some nice Catholic girl, and it would have been a good and holy thing for me to do. Dominic could have entered a monastery, and it would have been a good and holy thing for him to do. But we chose differently. And for either of us, now, it would be a sin to break the vows that we’ve made.
So, you too, are free to choose any good thing you wish, so long as it doesn’t conflict with a duty you already have, like the duty to finish high school.
If you’ve made a vow—of marriage or of religious profession—then you are obliged to keep it. If you haven’t made a vow, then you are free to choose one or not.
So, if you can and you want to, dude, just ask your girlfriend to marry you.
If you can and you want to, just apply to enter a monastery. You don’t need any special excuse or fireworks, for God has revealed in the Gospel that it’s a good thing to do.
This is very important to remember when we shall, as sometimes we must, have difficulties, crosses, arising from, on account of, our state of life. The presence of the cross does not mean that we are in the wrong state of life, but that we are in the right one, following our crucified savior to the joy of heaven.
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”
One last point: I said that you were free to choose between the good life of marriage or the good life of the monastery. I didn’t say that they were equally good. For over a thousand years the monks and canons and friars have been the guardians of wisdom and charity in the Catholic Church. It’s obvious to everyone that it’s far easier to become far holier if you dedicate your life to it in a monastery. We’ll live in heaven for an eternity longer than we’ll live on earth, so it’s better to live the way that’s more heavenly.
Of the seven sacraments, two regard the states of life of Christians: Marriage and Ordination both introduce one into a new state of life. But the religious vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience are not a sacrament. Why? Well, the sacraments are for us to grow in holiness in this life. We won’t have them in heaven. In heaven we shall be immediately with Jesus, and so we won’t celebrate Mass, absolve from sins, or anoint the sick. There will be no marriage. Of course, those who in this life were spouses will still be joined by a special bond of charity, but they will not come together as husband and wife. Heaven will have better sorts of joys.
But you, I, and all of us in heaven, will possess nothing, but God alone. We shall be pure, as the angels. We shall be perfectly obedient to God’s holy will. The vows of religious life are not a sacrament, because they are not for this life. They are a beginning, to live here and now on earth the life we shall all live in heaven, for those of us who just can’t wait.