A reflection on Mother Mary Clare’s presentation at Vespers At Lourdes on February 12, 2015
The Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus cheer on the local baseball team (photo from their official website).
I’ll admit it, I was expecting the token Nun Talk. You know what I mean. A woman dressed in an overabundance of cloth gets up and talks about how much she loves Jesus and then tells us how if we just prayed more rosaries then we too would want to give up sex for the rest of our lives, just like she did.
Even when our speaker, Mother Mary Clare, began her talk by saying, “I’m not going to talk about religious life tonight,” I wasn’t convinced. She probably says that all the time so then she can sneak it in when we’ve let our guard down. Then we leave bummed out because we all feel like we have to be celibates now.
But to my great surprise, she didn’t. In fact, she went the other direction. She described how a major part of her and her sisters’ ministry is to help the laity understand their vocation in the world, and that her goal of the evening would be to help us understand ours.
She described how many lay people feel like they need to have some overtly churchy job like youth ministry or faith formation and then feel guilty if they don’t. Or they try to make up for it by going to daily mass or otherwise imitating the spiritual lives of the ordained or consecrated. Count me as one who has felt like that for a significant portion of his adult life.
To help clarify this issue, she read from the Vatican document Lumen Gentium where it describes that it’s the “secular nature” of their vocation that sets the laity apart. It’s actually their job to “engage temporal affairs” and order them “according to the plan of God” (para 31).
What does that mean, though? Obviously, that means we are to transform the world. “To engage the things of the world… and order them to the divine realities,” she said. But as Mother explained, “That doesn’t mean that you need to start a Bible study at your office… [or] pray a rosary during your lunch period.” While she admitted that those wouldn’t be bad ideas per se, that’s not so much the point.
It means, simply, to uphold the common good in society, particularly in politics and the media. She went on to say: “It means, actually, living well, living faithfully life in the world, and witnessing faithfully. It means being lawyers and doctors and medical professionals, technicians, plumbers, janitors, housewives. It means engaging in the normal occupations and professions of the world, and not be afraid of that.”
About ten years ago, I first really embraced my Catholic faith and made a conscious effort to live it, and so naturally I thought about how my long-term plans ought to be re-oriented to God’s will. I specifically remember thinking that getting married, having kids, and working at a “normal” job simply wouldn’t do. It wasn’t holy enough, it wasn’t radical enough, really, it wouldn’t be hard enough for me. Like I would be taking the easy way out.
So I went to the seminary and explored the possibility of the priesthood, in large part due to that line of thinking. Clearly, there is a great holiness, a truly counter-cultural nature to the priesthood, and believe me, it would be hella hard for me, especially the celibacy part.
But if there’s anything I’ve learned about being a lay person, particularly in the six-plus years since leaving seminary and entering the professional world, it’s that being a lay person dedicated to the Lord’s work is plenty difficult, and I’m not sure it’s any less radical.
And as far as holiness goes, God doesn’t give you bonus points for picking a vocation that you’re not actually being called to, just because you think it would be more holy. In fact, I’m pretty sure the opposite is true.
Furthermore, I’ve been told that I should wait until I actually do have a wife who expects me to act like a man all the time and a baby who won’t let me get my precious 7.5 hours of sleep every night before I pronounce Holy Matrimony to be the easy way out.
As Mother Mary Clare explained, it wasn’t until her brother had a baby that he finally had to quit being so selfish. Family life seems to have a way of sanctifying us, as if it was designed that way by God so that lay people could become holy too.
If Mother Mary Clare was supposed to give the token Nun Talk that I have in my head, she utterly failed. Luckily, nobody asked for that. The juxtaposition, in fact, couldn’t be more effective: there’s nothing “token” about the Catholic vision, and the vocation to the lay life is no exception.
How fascinating it was for me to hear a woman pledged to poverty, chastity, and obedience while dressed in an overabundance of cloth teach me how to live my life in the world. But as she said, that’s kind of her job.
Meanwhile, it’s my job to actually live that life in the world.