By: Ryan M. Williams
Domus Porta Fidei
Thinking about my vocation is a lot like thinking about my heart. I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. Had I lacked it even for a moment, I never would have arrived to “now.” Yet most of the time I don’t give it a second thought. Even more rarely do I attribute to it my successes or failures; though without it I would not have those either. Furthermore I have also wished to have a different one so to avoid certain challenges or pain associated with it. So as I reflect on my vocation the question of where to begin is difficult to answer; since I have never existed without it, nor has it ever existed without me.
I suppose I must use the experiences of my life to understand it a bit more. This yields another observation: the lens through which I look to the past shows a quite different image than when I look through it to my future. The former shows a clearly outlined road, one that is sharply defined and that leads right to my very own feet. The latter reveals practically nothing; there is only the hint of a single step into the unknown darkness of what will be. Thus I can only comment on the past; that is, I can only talk about my vocation so far…
The view to the past shows me my education in a Catholic high school run by the OMI’s, and my personal friendships that for years arose under the banner of St. Augustine’s Carthage. These I acknowledge act as a foundation or a source of healthy regret. From high school I moved away from home to receive my intellectual training from the Jesuits at BC, and to be introduced by them to philosophy. There I happily “learned” about the mind’s ability to dominate all things; its “causal role” in the nature of the real world; and the “delight” to be had in the satisfying notion that I am responsible for making myself into me.
Stop there and what do I see? I see a sum of experiences that makes a person content with understanding the world in a way that allows him to do what he thinks is the right way to handle oneself. He is wrong, and the bitter taste of that life lingers to prevent a second sip from such a cup if ever I wonder whether he was right.
Leaving Boston, I move to Nairobi. A daydream of mine was to wrestle a lion, until I saw how big lions actually are. I also developed a philosophy school, and I learned that a 22 year old makes many mistakes when attempting to do such a thing. Who knew youth does not know everything? Nonetheless the school was a success. I saw poverty; I saw its ravaging effects on the bodies of children, and its ennobling effects on the souls of their mothers. I discovered at this time the seeds and the seedbed of community: need. In Kenya the need was material; the seeds of community sprouted bringing a great wealth of joy that transcended the limits of poverty because people shared what they had. Everyone in that place knew want; as a result of that knowledge, in that place, no one wanted for anything. It was surreal for me to witness this. Poverty is the seed of community; community is the source of wealth. The awareness of this was itself only a seed in my mind at the time. The hope today is that this seed grows according to its soil. In Kenya it grew in the soil of material poverty, supporting the material needs of an impoverished community; here it will hopefully provide for spiritual needs amidst our spiritually impoverished culture.
As this thought was seminal, it seems a good time to mention that I left Kenya and entered the seminary in Rome. What better place to study the heart and mind of the Church than in the city which is its heart and serves as the home to its head? The Dominicans trained me in theology. Through providence, what I had previously “learned” was revealed to be a partial truth. Human will reveals more about what the mind can grasp, and if I wish to ignore reality then my mind will never be able to understand it. Nor could I “cause” anything by thinking it to be so; to be human is to conform oneself to the nature of man, not to define it. This does not occur through arbitrary choice, but by stepping into the light of truth and allowing it to cultivate that humanity. Lastly I realized that my “delight” had been, at its best, a lack of guilt and at its worst the lack of shame.
So I learned theology from men who love God, the Pope, the world, and their brothers and sisters seeking the Lord. What else did I learn? That living with seminarians is different than living with my other friends. Seminarians are scandalized; they even use that word. I learned that it is ok to acknowledge right and wrong choices; that such things are influenced by a community; that tolerance comes by actually believing in something; and that my notion of what “ought to be” had been hamstrung by the inundating chorus of a culture that fails to acknowledge the purpose for life. In Kenya I learned that poverty is the seed and the seedbed of community; in Rome I learned that Christ left us community as the seedbed for our perfection.
I got married in Rome. I moved to Washington D.C. I could not help but notice the stark contrast between the two cities. On one side there is Rome, the heart of the Church that encourages its members to do right, to live simply, and to love God. On the other side there is DC, the heart of a culture that mandates malefaction through law, shapes desire to be satisfied by the “more”, and projects into the hearts of its subjects the sentiment that to be God-less and to be intelligent are one and the same.
I became a father; I learned patience and that there is a reason God gives us time though we likely do many things that irritate Him: love.
I met people who wish to destroy the Catholic Church; those who sneak about looking for ways to do this with their words, their offices, and their contacts. Worse than that, I saw holy people sinking under the strain of perceived isolation, a tool frequently used by the enemy to make convictions lapse for the sake of a kind word. It was there that the seed of the seed began to sprout. The necessity of our community for the health of the Church grew in my mind. Community is a basic need that shapes individuals. If Catholics are to remain Catholic in this world then they must live in Catholic community. Furthermore, this community should serve not only as a place of repose, but as a staging ground, preparing each member for the public witness to which Christ has called each of them.
I suppose then, that if I had to describe my vocation it is this: God’s gift to me of my identity that began at the moment of my conception and which has been ordered to my salvation until the end of my earthly life; His continual formation of me through my choices, and in particular His mercy to let my formation occur through the bad choices as well as the good; the awareness that my singular identity is this journey from birth to death; that, though stretched in time, it is also God’s singular act of creating me whereby I receive this identity; that God has shared my identity with me by granting me an active role in its completion; that this participation in time is a real gift of ownership whereby I am in the process of being given what is truly mine, myself. (LK16:12; Rev 2:17) Thus my vocation, insofar as it is all of that, is really me.