Vocation, suffering, and the call to total love

Novelist Léon Bloy once wrote, “Man has places in his heart which do not yet exist, and into them enters suffering, in order that they may have existence.” These places, precisely, are where one grows in charity. In a like manner, Saint Maximilian Kolbe has said, “The Cross is the school of love.”

There are recesses in the depths of each person which lay dormant until passion awakes and opens up a space in one’s heart to grow ever deeper in love. The greatest act of love, after all, was Our Lord’s Passion and death on the cross where He laid down his life for each one of us. That is what real love looks like. When we give of ourselves to what or whom we love, suffering is inevitable. Paradoxically, the very thing that causes us pain also redeems, and even saves, us.

The suffering which I wish to address specifically is that of when plans go awry.

I began discerning the religious life at the beginning of my junior year of high school. And I had planned, at the end of my freshman year at Notre Dame, to leave school and join the Dominicans.

I was sanguine then about “finding my vocation.” At that point, I was convinced that I had indeed “found my vocation.”

There’s a tendency among young people to rush into finding their vocations. “Vocational discernment is a marathon,” a Carmelite priest once told me.

At the same time, young people wonder if they should do this or that vocation, and their prolonged indecision fills them with anxiety. Yes, I’m looking at you, perpetual discerners.

Young people search aimlessly for their supposed vocation, thinking that God has one very  specific vocation in mind for them that they must somehow discover, that it’s “God’s will” to go down a specific path in life.

If one defines vocation in the broad sense of “calling,” God has a vocation in mind for each and every one of us. We are called to love God and keep His commandments. When it comes to “vocational discernment,” all else is superfluous.

And the thing is, one doesn’t “find” their vocation. One chooses it. We choose — in conformity with God’s will — that which helps us love God the most. Fiat voluntas tua. Let Thy will be done.

One needn’t deliberate too hard on what Our Lord wills. If one feels drawn to one vocation, one should just pursue it. In the case of religious life, St. Thomas in Question 189 of the Secunda Secundae states, “it is certain that entrance into religion is a greater good, and to doubt about this is to disparage Christ Who gave this counsel… there is no room for doubt about the entrance to religion, since those who enter religion trust not to be able to stay by their own power, but by the assistance of the divine power.” One does not have to overthink pursuing a vocation that is so good. Trust in God, and He will give you the grace to do the rest.

There is, moreover, no certainty when one initially goes down a path towards a vocation. You can travel down that path and God’s Providence can sweep you off your feet, leading you elsewhere. A man is not certain that he is to be a priest until the day of his ordination. A couple is not certain that they are to be married until the day they receive the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. One must take a leap of faith, knowing that Love will see him or her through.

While I say all this, I understand it is difficult to relinquish one’s desires for what one had conceived as the right path. This is something I myself struggled with when I thought I was pursuing a good that God desired for me. Fr. Jacques Phillippe touches upon this in Searching For and Maintaining Peace. He writes, “Because the thing that we want is good, even seen as desired by God, we feel justified in wanting it with that much more impatience and displeasure if it is not realized.” Remember that all we have is a gift from God, and one cannot force themselves into a vocation in some inorganic way. In abandoning our will to God’s, we need to receive what He offers to us, come what may.

Only by the grace of detachment can we save ourselves from this internal grief. In a letter, my friend, a Benedictine monk, once wrote, “It is very painful in the moment to see our plans fall apart, but in time we see that God’s plans are for something much greater and more joyful than we imagined.”

We must trust in Him. Think of Our Blessed Mother who stood at the foot of the cross while her son hung dying. There our stabat mater dolorosa stood sorrowful but, in her fiat, faithful.

The fourth joyful mystery of the Most Holy Rosary, the Presentation, reminds us of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart. Simeon prophesied that Her heart would be pierced by a sword. In praying this mystery, we are asked to imitate a heart that loves and suffers much.

In that way, the Immaculate Heart of Mary is like the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Our Lord revealed to St. Margaret Mary the importance of devotion to His Heart: “Behold the Heart which has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify its love.”

To love is to give of oneself. As God has given us all that we are, it would only be fitting to give Him the entirety of ourselves in return. Ask God for the grace to give all that you are back to Him, in whatever state of life you live.

Bea Cuasay is a senior studying Philosophy and Constitutional Studies. She withdraws to her monastic cell ever more frequently these days now that end-of-the-year projects are piling up. Oremus pro invicem (let us pray for one another).