Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Religious Vocations in the EC

What do you think when you consider vocations in the church? About priests, monks and nuns? Many people, when asked this question, will describe a person who is inhumanly pious, clean of all sin, and the ideal of perfect in every way, like someone straight out of a Roman Catholic "Lives of the Saints" collection.

It is rather surprising to most people when they find out that the image of saints gliding around grand cloister hallways in their strange-looking robes, at peace with everything and everyone could not be further from the truth. On the contrary, the monastic vocation emphasizes the humanness of each person, rather than their piety.

The word "vocation" comes from the Latin word, meaning "call". For those pursuing a religious vocation, there has been a call from God, and most times, this call catches the most unsuspecting people. Ask any priest about their discernment process leading up to the priesthood, and they might illustrate to you a long and grueling process in which they had many arguments with God.

Over the years, I have spoken with about 100 monks and nuns, and have heard countless times the phrase "Why God picked me, I will never know." Weather they are rich, poor, educated or not, straight or gay, each one of them gave a similar comment concerning their vocation. It seems that God chooses the most unlikely people in order to keep us on our toes.

One of my biggest fears when I felt the call to monastic life was that I would never find a community that would "let me in". I was sure that I would be doomed to wander outside the circle of those who were blessed with an outlet to pursue their desire to make prayer their full-time profession. In fact, just the opposite has happened. I often asked myself "Why did God have to pick me?"

It was surprising to me to find out that about 75% of all vowed religious I have spoken with (that's not to say that the ratio is accurate for all vowed religious) are self-identified as gay or lesbian. Many monastics have commented to me that Religious Orders have been safe-havens for LGBT people through the ages, despite what the public thinks.

I have also noticed that monastic houses are safe places for people who don't otherwise fit into the rigid categories of gender found in secular society. This shows both in the taking of religious names (For instance, Br. Christopher-Mary, or Sr. Barbara-John) and in the treatment of monks who are effeminate and nuns who are masculine. Often times these characteristics are never made fun of, and often encouraged, many times being seen as one of many forms of personal integration.

One of the principles of a monastic vocation is self-knowledge. This leads to a better understanding of our relationships with others and with God, and allows us to grow continually into the person that God had in mind when each of us were created. (This principle is often applied in therapeutic relationships as well.)

Being someone who is transgendered, this process is all to familiar. The feeling of personal integration has been a very healing, spiritual thing, although the process leading up to it can be quite treacherous. That being said, both the process of transition and the process of continual conversion have been great instruments in deepening my relationship with God and with others, and who can find fault in that?

I don't think that we will ever know an accurate set of statistics concerning gender-variant or gay and lesbian people who have pursued some kind of vocation within the church. From an "inside perspective", I'm not sure such a statistic is really relevant, considering most monks and nuns actively choose a life of celibate chastity and thereby make gender mostly a non-issue.

In closing, it is an important fact that people's perceptions and reality are very different from each other. Almost every one of us can identify with that, weather we are secular or monastic, ordained or lay.

So, next time you consider yourself outside the sphere of God's love, or unwanted by the church, remember that much of the glue that holds the church together is made out of people who may be in your very same position.

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