“I am called to live my life with a special dependence on the Lord to care for my interior life, which receives the joy of worldly goods and the troubles of worldly cares. I am called to have a special reliance on the One Who loves me to lead me in the undercurrent of my heart while my head must swim with the questions of the day. I am called to be still even in a whirl of activity, quietly attentive to the Voice which speaks to my heart in tender love.
And this is not just my calling, but yours too.”
I have been thinking about getting a second pair of glasses. Not exactly a great moral problem, but I have been going back and forth about it all the same. I don’t strictly need a second pair; I love the pair that I have. But, I would like to get a pair of glasses with blue light filter for screen fatigue and to hopefully help my body more naturally transition to sleep at night (hello fellow insomnia sufferers). And, I would love a pair that is more understated. My current pair is bold and dramatic (which I love), but sometimes I just want to be more subtle and feminine, you know?
But, here’s the thing: there is also a part of my heart that wants a second pair because I think that having a less intense appearance will make me seem more approachable, and more attractive, as if putting a new pair of frames on my face is going to somehow provide for something I lack.
Now, I know that isn’t true. I don’t need new glasses to be beautiful and attractive. I am already a beautiful and beloved daughter of God, and the progression of my vocation and fulfilling my desire to start dating again certainly doesn’t hinge on a piece of plastic. But I am free to choose, or not to choose, to get new glasses anyway. I am free to enjoy the good things of the world, in a way properly governed by prudence and right judgment.
This is the specific freedom of the laity. Those who take religious vows renounce the freedom to enjoy many worldly pleasures at their own discretion. The vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience remove some worldly pleasures entirely (such as marital love and monetary security) and restrict others to those granted to them by the Divine Providence of God. This is a good and beautiful thing, and it is the specific way that the Lord desires for them to reach heaven and achieve sanctification. But what about the laity? How are we sanctified, since we have the freedom to choose the good things of the earth and to use our own judgment in that process?
Sometimes I wish the path of sanctification for the laity was more straightforward. Sometimes I want there to be a total renunciation of worldly goods, because in a way that’s easier. You know what to do. There’s a blanket statement to follow, and the security that you are following the right path. But that’s not what the Lord wants us to do. He wants us to live in the world, to enjoy its fruits, to enjoy good food and good company and to have a piece of chocolate every once in a while to remind us of how good He is and how He provides for us. I honestly find this way very challenging because it’s easy for me to get overwhelmed with worrying about what I should do, what moral decision to make, even about simple matters like glasses. Things don’t get to be as cut-and-dry as I want them to be, and that’s frustrating.
But, I think it’s the fact that it is frustrating, that there is no clear path or obvious decision, that is itself a way of sanctification. We must rely on God to show us, to help us govern our passions and teach us to evaluate our own motives. We must ask Him to purify our desires and grant us detachment of heart since we are not asked to be detached in truth. The road is different, and gentler, and requires a closeness to God that is different in some ways from the closeness of those who choose to be His spouse or the spouse of the Church in this world. And it is this road that the good Lord desires most of us to take.
People striving to love and serve God faithfully in the laity feel the struggle of this call. We want our lives to be dedicated to Christ. We want to be in communion with Him always and to do all things for His honor and glory. But how do you stay connected to God when you walk into your secular job, with your secular coworkers? How do your actions glorify God when they aren’t being done in obvious service of the Church? How do you dedicate a normal, average, everyday life to Him?
I think part of the answer can be found in accepting this call on our lives, this call to be in the world but not of the world, this call of gentle prudence instead of outright renunciation. We accept that this call is uniquely challenging, and with it comes unique graces. I think about the mom who has to carry her crying baby out into the narthex during the Eucharistic prayers, or the dad who has to miss communion because he needs to take his daughter to the bathroom. Both give up obvious forms of devotion (and in the dad’s case, reception of the Eucharistic sacrament) in order to faithfully fulfill their call as parents. I can imagine they would have rather stayed to pray, to participate in the mass in the usual way and receive the graces of our Lord through that service. But instead, the Lord Who promises that within our lives we will have everything we need to be holy sees the sacrifice of these parents with great joy and gives them grace out of that faithful sacrifice of duty. It is a less obvious route, but it will make them holy.
When I go to work in my PhD lab, preparing bacterial cultures or running protein modeling software, sometimes I get annoyed that what I’m doing isn’t a clear way to serve the Church, and that it’s hard for me to be prayerful in that environment. But this is where I’m called to be. When I sing for mass, there are distractions that at times make it difficult to pray as I would like. But this is where I’m called to serve. And if I am called to be a mother someday, then I will be sanctified in that call to renounce my desire to pray the way I want in order to take care of my own children, and to trust that the Lord will give what is needed even though I can’t participate in the way I would prefer. Because this is the life I’m asked to live, and this is how I am to be sanctified.
I am called to live my life with a special dependence on the Lord to care for my interior life, which receives the joy of worldly goods and the troubles of worldly cares. I am called to have a special reliance on the One Who loves me to lead me in the undercurrent of my heart while my head must swim with the questions of the day. I am called to be still even in a whirl of activity, quietly attentive to the Voice which speaks to my heart in tender love.
And this is not just my calling, but yours too.
There is a particular challenge in living life in the world, one of learning gentle governance and self-mastery, of learning to receive worldly goods with a joy that is rooted in God, and of assenting to a life with an abundance of worldly cares that can make it more difficult to be with the One Who loves us in the way we desire. But this is the way He has chosen for us. This is how He wants us to find Him. This is how He wants us to love Him. And He has promised that it will be enough. Who am I to say no to that?