Priesthood and a Parable of the Absurd
is rather true that I am married.
It is equally rather true that I am a father.
From roughly 7 AM to 5 PM (and later into the night occasionally) I
am a married man with all the obligations incumbent upon that state
of life. This is undeniable.
As a father from roughly 7 AM to 5 PM (and later into the night occasionally)
I am obliged to embrace the duties of fatherhood, and this, too, is
equally undeniable. After all, I am a husband and a father. That is
Typically, however, the hours after 5 PM are mine to do with as I
wish, and the erstwhile obligations that bind me to wife and child no
longer obtain. After 5 PM I am no longer married or bound to the obligations
of my vocation to marriage or to fatherhood. My life is then my own
to do with as I please — whatever the plight of wife and child. It must
wait until 7 AM until I resume my vocation.
What is more, I have 3 to 4 weeks vacation every year in which I am
totally free, 24/7, from marriage and fatherhood, and any of the obligations
that had attended either or both. Wife, child, both will have to await
my return. I am not to be troubled, accessed, vexed, or in any way deterred
from my vacation from my vocation.
After all ... I am only a man ...
The terribly odd thing about this predicament, however, is sorting out
who and what I am between the hours of 5 PM and 7 AM – and, of course,
while on vacation. I do not hold the obligation to marriage or fatherhood
– to a sick child at an unwelcome hour or a distraught wife “after hours”
— to be universally binding upon me. That is to say, my putative vocation
as husband and father can only be predicated of me conditionally,
and not ascribed to me indefeasibly.
Something clearly is askew.
Considered carefully, we find that the distinction of which we speak
is precisely the distinction between a “job” and what we have always
understood as a “vocation”.
Apart from some dusty and discredited corners of academia, Marxism has
largely fallen into disrepute, and with it the curious notion that man
articulates his meaning through work. It nevertheless remains the closest
proximation, in a profane sense, of our understanding of the relationship
between a job and a “vocation” as articulating the axis around which
our lives revolve, and in light of which they become coherent. In either
case, considered as a job, or as a vocation, we are left empty-handed
— at least for 14 hours of each day (vacations apart) — as to what we
really are if we are not "fathers and husbands".
Most sane men will argue that such an assessment is more than absurd:
it is a mockery.
Marriage is not a job. It is a vocation.
Fatherhood is not a job. It is a vocation.
The priesthood and Religious life (the lives of consecrated nuns,
of friars, of monastics) are not jobs. They are vocations.
The difference, simply put, is that jobs are essentially temporal
in nature, which is to say, they are defined, circumscribed, by
time: by hours, days, constraints, contracts, vacations, wages, provisos
– in a word, they are delimited. One is not an engineer the way in which
one is a father. One can cease being an engineer. One cannot cease being
a father. An engineer closes the door to his office at 5 PM. A father’s
door is always open. A contract can be deferred, but not an ill and
can always recapture the highlights of the football game, but not the
soul desperate for Christ who rings at the door in need of the Sacrament
of Penance or spiritual guidance in a crisis overwhelming his life —
and whom Christ Himself has brought to the door as the last measure.
One can be recaptured. One can be lost.
Do we agree that there is not just a distinguishable difference, but
an essential difference between a job and a vocation?
We hold this to be true of parents, of spouses, of Religious. There
is no time when they cease being “fathers”, “mothers”, “priests”,
“nuns”, “friars”, “monks”. There is no “time off” in a vocation —
in any vocation. Ask any parent. Ask any consecrated
To bring the point to absurd relief, visualize the following: Jesus
Christ calls Peter, Andrew, and John from their boats, and this is His
commission to them: “Come follow me — 9 AM-5PM — lunch hour excluded
— and I will make you fishers of men — except on your “days off” as
Apostles, and of course, excluding your vacation days. See how reasonable
I am. I know that you are, after all ... just men ...”
To whom, then, is this absurd parable addressed?
To anyone — and especially priests — whose vocation
has become just a job ... a mere obligation ...
to fools who cherish time as their own, as though they could wrest it
from God, use it to their own ends, and keep both in the bargain ...
The next time you peek before you answer the door, you may find that
it is God knocking ...
Geoffrey K. Mondello
Boston Catholic Journal
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