This is the fifth post in a series I am writing about my reversion process. If you haven’t already, check out the rest of the series by clicking here.
I hope this post wont be terribly boring for people who aren’t parents. I also hope its not theologically flimsy (but then again, I highly doubt anyone reads this blog for my famous theological prowess!). That said, I always invite friendly commentary, especially for the sake of clarity. If I’ve missed the mark here, dear reader, do let me know.
You see, I only recently became aware of the term vocation within the context of Catholicism. I use to think it was a word you would only use in reference to a trade or technical school or something. But within Catholic teaching, the word vocation refers to each person’s particular calling. We are speaking specifically of a calling to God’s service: in other words, you may indeed feel called to become an excellent rapper or funeral director or garlic farmer, but that is not your primary vocation in the Catholic sense of the word. A vocation is God’s invitation to serve Him. And as far as I understand it, the Church teaches that no one is ever off the hook for serving God.
Not everyone will find peace in the Catholic notion of vocation and I am perfectly aware of that. After all, there are only four vocations and many people in our culture would proudly paint themselves outside of these lines, perhaps rejecting the lines altogether. I get that. The four vocations, detailed below, include the Priesthood, Religious Life, Marriage and Single Life. I am writing here about my own vocation, the vocation of Marriage/Motherhood. In the future I will unpack my thoughts on the other three vocations.
I recognize that I am coming at this with privilege: I was already a married, heterosexual mother when I came upon this teaching. Thus, I was able to scan the short list of vocations and say, “Oh, there’s me! I have a vocation!” Knowing that not every person will see themselves reflected in that list, my goal here is not to convince you to apply this doctrine to your own life. I don’t write this blog to evangelize. As I repeat often, I am only speaking to my own experience. I take joy in sharing the things that have brought me comfort.
The thing that surprised me most when I began learning about this whole vocation concept is that all four vocations are of equal value. To put this another way, I am just as important as Father Joe at my parish. Father Joe is a warm-hearted, mystical Irishman who hears confession, baptizes babies, performs marriages, anoints the dying and leads hundreds of people in prayer. I, Chelsea, a woman who spends her day wiping butts and telling my children not to lick food off the floor, I am of equal value in the eyes of the Church as this Priest, indeed, as any Priest or Nun or dedicated Churchlady.
What?! Why? How, do you ask? However can this be?
Father Joe brings people into the Church, yes.
I bring people upon the Earth. Together with my husband and by the grace of God, I bring souls earthside.
I do something that Father Joe, as a celibate male, is entirely incapable of doing. In like manner, I would be unable to serve a whole parish of human beings the way that he does because, as a married woman and mother of two, my loyalty and dedication would always be elsewhere. My family would always come first, would always come before all those people I intended to serve. Marriage and Children are considered a big deal in Catholicism: a person would not be able to fully give themselves to both Priesthood and Parenthood because one of these arenas would ultimately suffer, or fall behind the other. I liken this to the several close friends that I have who prefer to seek out midwifes with grown children because they can rest in the knowledge that their midwife is a free agent, that while she is attending a birth, she is not distracted by her desire to return to her own baby as soon as possible. (Side note, if you are wondering how a feminist like myself can discuss the all male priesthood in such a cavalier way, please sit tight because I do plan to share my thoughts on the matter in the weeks to come.)
Returning to the original point, does this mean that I lack deference to the Priests that I come into contact with now that I know my vocation is equally valued? No. Emphatically, no. Actually, my deference for men and women in religious life may actually be a little too heavy. I remain deferential, loving and respectful because the Church in Her wisdom has afforded me this same love, respect and deference. While the dominant culture sees me as “just a mom”, the Church sees and values my unique queendom, however small it may be.
There are Nuns, Brothers, Priests, and lay people who serve God by serving the hungry, the lost, the forlorn. They get tired, dirty, overwhelmed. Maybe they even get bored, confused, disenchanted. I’m sure they screw up from time to time. Still they serve. They have sacrificed their personhood in countless ways by living out their calling, their chosen vocation.
The word sacrifice seems to be always on the lips of Catholics, who insist that self-sacrifice is precisely what real love looks like. Sure, its all good to feel lovey and get butterflies in your stomach but those yummy feelings must withstand the bigger challenge of fully giving oneself up. This is why most of us wholeheartedly honor those who enter religious life, those who choose poverty and chastity and devotion, those who have freely given themselves up to God. We honor their choice because we see their sacrifice.
As a wife and mother, my work is also sacrificial. I feed my children, I bathe them, I carry them, I scold them, I do my best to educate them. I hold keep them close as they wake up to vomit for the third or fourth time. I endure their best and worst parts. Motherhood involves a deep sacrifice that I am only slowly beginning to comprehend. But thankfully, the Church in all of her glimmering wisdom understands and acknowledges this sacrifice. The Church sees me. Yep, Holy Mother Church seeks to validate that feeling that we earthly mothers so often share: damn this is hard.
Yes, it is! Vocations are hard. Vocations are hard simply because they are service, they are work. The vocation of marriage and parenthood is an enormous undertaking. It is an office to be respected. I feel relieved to know that the Church acknowledges the depth of this service and sacrifice, especially within a culture that sees children as accessories to life, always to be considered in addition to a more important, income-generating career lifestyle. In our materialistic, self-gratifying culture, marriage seems to have been similarly defrocked, and appears to be mostly about two people living together and going to Home Depot constantly until that eventually gets boring and they have to find a new person to go to Home Depot with.
I won’t comment on staying married for life because I am practically a newlywed after only five years of marriage. But I will say that I have slowly come to re-envision both marriage and motherhood now that I have a clear understanding of the four vocations.
Because honestly, y’all, I bust my ass at this gig. Before I was considering becoming Catholic, my work felt invisible in many ways. I was doing all of the things our foremothers so badly wanted to escape: I had unmedicated births at home, I breastfed exclusively, I cooked and cleaned. No one in my personal life burdened me with these tasks or insisted upon them: I felt called to do these things, to nurse my babies, to make my home my own, to eat real food at my table. And while in my heart of hearts I always felt good about my choices, I frequently felt stripped of any glory that might have come from them while in the public sphere.
Mainstream society presented motherhood to me as this yucky, unimpressive thing that a person must get through swiftly (read: two kids or less). Kids are gross, expensive, inconvenient. Mothers are sad, dull, martyred, unglamorous. When people asked me if I was a Stay-At-Home-Mom, I quickly relieved their concern by saying Oh no no no, I am a childbirth educator. This is bogus, by the way, because yeah, I teach childbirth ed but I only teach one evening a week. So the real story is that yes, I am at home with my children. And yet whenever some curious person asked if I was Just A Mom, I was always eager to assure them that oh no, fear not, I am Something More. Maybe there was indeed an era in which mothers were seen as these marvelous beings to be deeply honored, but thats not an experience I’ve known in my lifetime.
Now that I have come to understand and accept my vocation as it is, to see myself as the Church sees me, I am not so willing to sell myself short.
Now don’t get me wrong, my reversion has not transformed me into a placid, glowing Mother Mary figurine.I still cook and clean and I still bitch about it (on the regular, y’all). And I often agree with society that kids are annoying and gross. (Actually this is a recurring theme on this blog, isn’t it?) But having an institution like the Church see me and my work as meaningful, even in a world that largely dismisses it, helps me to keep my head up. I am blessed that these two souls have been placed in my care, I see that now. The Church teaches and affirms that my noisy, sticky, mischievous children are the jewels in my crown.
And I am willing to believe Her.Or at the very least, I am willing to try to believe Her.
If interested, here are brief notes on the four vocations:
- The Priesthood: a Priest is a celibate male who has dedicated his life to prayer and service. Most Priests will serve as “Father” to an entire parish of people, others will choose to serve as chaplains in hospitals, prisons, universities and other industries.
- Religious Life: this term includes Priests, Brothers, and Sisters (nuns) who share in the spiritual mission of a given community. They embrace the call to poverty, chastity and prayer. Those in religious life serve in myriad was, most often as missionaries, contemplatives, and social workers.
- Marriage: the sacrament of marriage is a live-giving relationship “ordered towards” the creation of new souls. Ideally, it involves a self-sacrificing love in which the couple serves their partner and their children, creating a domestic church in the home.
- Single Life: the single person may live alone or as part of the community, without choosing to join a religious order of any kind. Those who have embrace this as their vocation live chastely and with devotion to God in a variety of expressions.