By Father Roch Kereszty
Special to The Texas Catholic
In the last column I mentioned three great challenges of faith in adolescents: developing authentic relationships with people, deepening one’s faith beyond fleeting emotional experiences and committing to a profession. In place of “profession,” I should have written “vocation” as our choice of a “profession” should be the response to a call from God. Here I want to focus on one such vocation.
God calls everyone to respond to his love and share in his own joy. But he has built two different roads to reach him. He leads many through the road of married love, and some through that of religious life and/or the priesthood. The first leads through the life-long faithful love of a spouse, in some sense, through his or her very body and soul. The second invites others to embrace Christ and his service directly, with all the spiritual and psychological energies of the soul. The first road leads through enchanting meadows with their flowers and streams, but it may charm one to the point that he or she stops, becoming intoxicated by the fading beauty of the meadows and forgetting about reaching his or her goal—sharing in God’s own joy. The other road is, perhaps, more like a mountain trail, leading beyond the delightful meadows of this world to tall peaks of grandeur and light. To reach the heights, one must overcome the fear of steep trails and dense thickets in order to reach beyond the tree line.
In this column I will reflect on the second road, that of religious life and the celibate priesthood. One telling sign of such a vocation is a singular intensity of passion for God which manifests itself in various forms: in yearning for something greater than this world can give, in gratitude to God, in readiness to serve Christ and his people. In other words, a good vocation always has the potential to develop a passionate “adventure of love” with God. The vocation happens in many different ways, but it is always the same basic experience: the one who is called knows that there is no greater joy than loving God. In comparison to his beloved, nothing else counts. Such a soul will appreciate the prayer of St. Francis, “My God and my all,” or the words of St. Thomas Aquinas answering Christ who offered him anything he wanted, “only you, Lord.” This love may not be always aflame at the very beginning, but the soul must have the desire to love God and be ready to pay any price for learning it.
In Christianity the love of God and the love of neighbor are inseparable. We can easily delude ourselves about our standing with God. We may enjoy a sweet, heartfelt peace and think that we are in love with God; but if we do not care about the people around us, we are deceiving ourselves. A genuine vocation always includes the desire and the ability to love others for their own sake rather than as objects of our good works. If one is incapable of honesty in personal relationships and is merely playing a role, if one cannot sincerely give and receive, religious life and the priesthood will only aggravate his problem.
But if one feels that he or she cannot love but has the desire to love, there is no reason to despair. God is ready to do miracles for one who has faith the size of a mustard seed. “Ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find; pray and it will be given to you. (Lk 11: 9-10). God can heal even the most timid person who has withdrawn from others for fear of rejection. He can make us overcome our dread of loving and being loved.
If we persevere on the trail of a celibate vocation, we will leave behind the dark forests of confusing passions as well as the lush meadows we left behind in the valleys, but we will come upon the flowers and streams of sunlit Alpine meadows. In the light of God all creatures will reveal to us their beauty.
Father Roch Kereszty, O.Cist., is a theologian and monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving. His column will appear occasionally in The Texas Catholic.