Sunday, January 4, 2009

Women and Vocation

So, now that I'm done ranting about my infertility-related psychoses, I'm ready to return to my general meditation on the subject of living as an infertile person. Way back when, before I was married, I was thinking seriously about becoming a Catholic nun. I did quite a bit of reading on vocations and the religious life and spirituality (I'm going to have to dig up some of that reading, because it was good stuff). Anyway, one topic I remember being discussed extensively - about women religious, not priests so much - was the idea of "spiritual motherhood." It was mildly interesting to me then; more so now. I've started thinking about it again and over the next days or so I'm going to see if I can sort out some of my thoughts and put them here.

In that vein - last night I was reading some of St. Edith Stein's essays (OK, full disclosure: I finished one. But I'm going to return to that book and read the whole thing) given me by a wonderful friend. She (Edith, that is) was an amazing woman (and the late JPII freely cribbed from her - with attribution, you know - in his writing on women and spirituality. True story). The introductory paragraphs seemed, in my current train of thought, to be written just for me to read. Here they are:

In everyday usage, the hackneyed word "vocation" retains little of its original connotation. When young people are about to graduate, one wonders what occupation they should pursue; the question whether women should enter the professional life or stay at home has been controversial for some time. [misfit notes: the author died in 1942.] Here the term designating vocation does not convey much more than gainful employment. The original meaning of the word survives only in particular allusions, i.e., when one says that a person has missed his vocation or when one speaks of a religious vocation. These idioms signify that a vocation is something to which a person must be called.

Yet, what does to be called mean? A call must have been sent from someone, to someone, for something in a distinct manner. We say that a scholar has been
appointed to a professorial chair. The offer initiates at an institution through the respective school; it goes to a man who is apparently called because of ability and education for that to which he is being called, i.e., to work as scholar and teacher. The offer is made to him by way of an invitation in prescribed or customary linguistic forms. I have most certainly used a peculiar turn of expression here: "he is called to that to which he seems to be called." [misfit: remember this is in translation from the German.] According to that, the appointment by a human institution evidently presupposes another call which these people believe recognized and therefore declared "called through ability and education." He himself and many others worked toward his formation, voluntarily and involuntarily; but it developed on the basis of his ability in the deepest sense of the word [misfit: I suspect the German here was "Faehigkeit," which means something akin to "capability" or "capacity" - more of the being than the having, if you will.] - all the gifts which he inherited. Thus his call, as well as his vocation - i.e., his works and creations to which he is destined - is prescribed in human nature; the course of life fructifies it and renders it recognizable to other people so that they are able to declare the calling in which he might happily find his place in life. But the person's nature and his
life's course are no gift of trick or chance, but - seen with the eyes of faith - the work of God. And thus, finally, it is God Himself who calls. It is He who calls each human being to that to which all humanity is called, it is He who calls each individual to that to which he or she is called personally and, over and above this, He calls man and woman as such to something specific as the title of this address indicates. What man and woman are called to does not appear to be easily recognizable, as it has been a controversial subject for some time. And yet there are any number of ways by which we receive this call; God Himself declares it in the words of the Old and New Testament; it is inscribed in the nature of man and woman; history elucidates this matter for us; finally, the needs of our time declare an urgent message. A diversely fibered texture is presented, but the design is not so complex that we may not isolate a few clear lines within it by viewing it clearly and objectively. So we may thus attempt to answer the question: to what are man and woman called?
From the essay "The Separate Vocations of Man and Woman According to Nature and Grace," which forms the second chapter of her book Woman.

I'd be interested to hear if it's clear to anyone else why this seems to me related to the question of infertility and identity. (If I don't get any comments, I'm going to assume that it's crystal. One of the advantages of being a new blogger!)

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