My life was programmed right from my early school years. Immediately after leaving school those who believed they had a Religious Vocation entered an initial formation-programme. If ever there were a programmed life this was it. Every moment of each day was pre-determined from the summons to rise in the pre-dawn darkness to the lights-out when healthy young men would be stepping out.
At the time I accepted this without question, because this was the 'required thing.' Looking back over many years I see that my life from birth to young adulthood was very much like a bird in an aviary..able to flutter around in a confined but not too cramped space. Of course there was that absolute freedom to fly away from this kind of life so that I could live my life on my own terms. Such escaping never occurred to me.
I was freed from the responsibility of deciding what I should do and when I should do it. At times I was so frustrated at my not being the one to decide how I should occupy myself. I had no doubt that this restricted existence was imposed upon me by the will of God.
Some might say I was being kept in a state of immaturity. It has taken me many years to realize that I was being taught a most crucial lesson...not by word of mouth, not by the example of others, but by my lived experience. I state this boldly:
MY LIFE BELONGED TO GOD -IN ALL ITS DETAILS
without there being any time off from God.
The programming of my life, with all the directives and the need to request permissions, had one purpose -to create a docile person -not one who was an efficient, skilled person, learned but determined to be self-determining.
Of course this pattern of life was never meant to last forever. There came a time when the rather petty restrictions of my life were removed. The aviary door had been opened. It was then I enjoyed the freedom of the wild bird in the forest or meadows...within the confines of an aviary the size of the universe itself -the extent of the Lordship of God over my life and the whole of creation. Within these boundaries I had committed myself to carrying out the will of God according to the dictates of my vocation.
The implication of this came home to me forcibly when as a young priest I was given charge of my first parish..living alone in the presbytery. Certainly plenty of work came my way without my having to look for it. But there remained a fair amount of open space which I could decide to fill either according to my whims and fancies, or what I perceived to be the will of God for me at that time. Within this frame-work one of the most responsible choices I had to make was about how much leisure time God wished me to have and what form that should take. I didn't see God wanting me to be a workaholic...go, go, go all the time without easing up at all. Also, since it was a huge temptation for me to go for the most congenial work, I had to ensure that my feelings and inclination were not to dictate my choices.
Now that I've reached the age of retirement from the office of parish priest and have been relieved of many of the commitments that used to fill my life, I can say there has been much joy and personal fulfillment through having my life circumscribed by the will of God. On reflection I think I have come to understand a little of what St. Paul meant when he wrote of
"the glorious freedom of the children of God," (Rom 8. 23).
This answering the call within the environment of the will of God, as His beloved children, is open to all of us as baptized people. My vocation, and, in deed, your vocation, is to follow Jesus who said, "my food is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to complete His work," (Jn. 4. 43). I think of how the Lord said through the prophet Hosea (6. 6), "Faithful love is what pleases me, not sacrifice; knowledge of God, not burnt offerings."
Across the board, we, as baptized persons -Laity, Clergy and Religious -are to discover fulfilment, what today is called 'job satisfaction,' in faithful love, with daily expressions of love, that amount to re -commitments to living according to the will of our loving Heavenly Father.
Far from being oppressive, this is liberating...Jesus Himself never found it easy. He never told His disciples it would be easy. This is how I have come to understand LIVING BY MY DECISION TO BECOME A DOMINICAN ... mywaygodsway in the mid twentieth century and to remain a contented and fulfilled one right into the early years of the twenty first century.
Next week a lobster will help Isidore to meet God.
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