On Giants' Shoulders

Monday, September 06, 2010

Irrevocable Choices

I've been lately re-reading Rumer Godden's incomparable book In This House of Brede. I read it many years ago before becoming Catholic and frequently recommended it to my daughter after she loved China Court. Abby very deliberately chose not to read it until after she got married. She was certain she had a vocation towards marriage and was afraid that a book about nuns might confuse her. She's recently read it and discovered, as I had before her that a book about nuns actually does have relevance for those of us who are called to the vocation of marriage and motherhood.

One of the things that has struck me in this re-reading is the idea that some choices are irrevocable. There are points where nuns can decide not to take the next step in the process, but once the final choice is made it is an irrevocable one. That seems odd in light of the number of vowed religious and priests who left their vocation in the 1970's, but there is a sense in which running away from an irrevocable choice does not change it's character. Those former nuns, those laicized priests (since once ordained a man is a priest forever) have something unsettled about them. The ones I've met have a grudge against the Church, wanting Her to somehow be as changeable as they themselves.

We live in a time when nothing seems terribly certain. Large numbers of children grow up in fractured homes, large numbers of spouses find themselves abandoned by those who promised to be faithful til death. People hop from church to church, from job to job, from community to community, from hobby to hobby. Restlessness seems to plague us, we need constant diversion, new thrills, new forms of entertainment.

The life of a Benedictine is one of vowed stability. Once a Benedictine enters they stay in that community for life, unless a special mission has them temporarily assigned elsewhere (a pretty unusual occurrence it would appear). In marriage we are supposed to be vowed to stability as well. My parents, my in-laws, nearly all of my aunts, uncles, cousins seemed to understand that concept. My uncle married a woman later diagnosed as a schizophrenic, yet he stayed married to her until the day he died. Her trials were his trials, and sometimes a bigger trial to him than to her.

A sacramental marriage is irrevocable. It intrinsically changes both partners. While people can choose to walk away from the relationship, it does not mean that they can go on to make another sacramental marriage. Any relationship they have from then on until their partner dies is in fact an adulterous one.

Having children is irrevocable. A baby can be given away for adoption, yet there will always be a tie to the biological parents. I saw this with my friend who spent many years yearning to know the parents who gave birth to her. The baby you have may not be the baby you dreamed of. The child you give birth to may turn out to be a personality you don't particularly enjoy, but they are irrevocably, unalterably your child.

When I stood at the altar and signed my name in the book, I knew that becoming Catholic was one of those irrevocable choices. I will be Catholic forever. I could be a Catholic who ends up in Hell because of other choices, but if that were the case I'd still be a Catholic because of the sacraments I've received.

Lately there's been a lot of grousing about how the Catholic Church should change, should follow in the wake of the Episcopalians and allow homosexual marriages, abortion, divorce and remarriage, the ordination of women. The thing that people currently have against the Church is that She won't change. Yet the thing that they have against the world much of the time is that it does change so rapidly that as Yeats said, "the center cannot hold." Change can be for the good, or it can simply be an unending restlessness and dissatisfaction.

Those Benedictines knew something. They knew that stability is the thing that causes the change in us that is necessary to bring us to maturity, to sanctity, to charity. Only when we can't run away from a problem can we truly face it. Only when we recognize that some choices are truly irrevocable and are God's way of refining us will we settle down enough to allow ourselves to be refined.

There have been very few decisions in my life that were irrevocable. Getting married, having children, choosing to baptize those children, becoming Catholic. Those all were irrevocable. Each of them altered who I am in a fundamental way (yes, even choosing to have our children baptized as infants changed me as well). I can't go back to who I was before any of them. There are decisions we make that can be altered. We can decide to change majors, change jobs, change houses, change cars. There are choices we make that fundamentally change who we are. Those choices are like indelible ink on our souls. That stability is an invaluable gift in a restless world, if we'll only embrace it.


At 2:16 PM, Blogger Wendy said...

Excellent post! All very true.


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