I received my letter of obedience from my provincial this week and I am extremely excited for what’s about to come. Besides the fact that I will be finishing school and devoting myself full-time to ministry (which is a gift unto itself no matter where I live), I have been assigned to live and work at the Catholic Center on the campus of the University of Georgia. Far from the tiny liberal arts college I attended for undergrad, a place that had around 25 people at a weekly Catholic meeting and 50 or so students at mass on Sunday (in a chapel we shared with the other organizations and could only use at a reserved time), this behemoth, 38,000-student state school has its own building just for Catholics, own church with multiple masses, and enough of a budget to have two full-time friars and a staff!
Yeah, this will be a slightly more involved experienced than I had as an undergrad.
Besides that, the province has supported my desire to evangelize and catechize online as well as to further my work in the ministry of the word, meaning that I have been given permission to include that in my ordinary work each week (rather than a “hobby” I do in my free time and on vacation). The friary and Catholic center have some extra rooms available, and I’ve been told already that I can have one for a dedicated studio (which will be soooo nice to have a bedroom that’s actually a bedroom again and not filled with lighting equipment everywhere!)
Fraternally, the guy I’ll be living with is a great friar, one who has always made me laugh and been a joy to be around. He also just so happens to be an accomplished chef… so that doesn’t hurt either. While some friars would be hesitant to be a part of a community with only two people, I’m actually looking forward to it. I’ve mentioned before that I prefer smaller, more intimate houses, and with just the two of us, it has the feeling like I’m a part of something new. Rather than joining a house of 8 in which I’m the only new person and so would simply adopt the preexisting culture of the house, we have the opportunity (and responsibility) to build a fraternal life plan from scratch. That is an intriguing concept.
So, yeah. Obedience. What a horrible thing, right? In this process, I did not request UGA. I didn’t really request anything. The province asked if I had any top choices, which I didn’t, but I was able to share some values I had for ministerial and fraternal life. They thought about it, weighed the needs of the Church and Order, and handed me an assignment. This was not a democratic process. It was not one in which I could have the final say. It was a conversation in which my provincial listened, thought, and then directed.
Which, for many people, sounds absolutely terrifying and horrible. While poverty and chastity are strange concepts to most, oddly enough, I get the most confused and interesting questions around the vow of obedience. The idea of giving up one’s will and doing what someone else wants is just unacceptable to most. There is this sense that we are blind followers of an autocrat, lemmings running off a cliff with no reflection. Who would ever give up their will and accept the commands of another outright? So ridiculous! So un-American! You must fight to be in control and only do what you want!
And yet, I have to say, it was actually a pretty encouraging experience. There is something genuinely great about a vow of obedience, even a sense of tremendous freedom in it. Forced to come up with my own path, to choose what was best for me at this time, I don’t know what I would have chosen. I don’t know if I would have made a good decision, to be honest. In letting go of my need to be in charge and to make every decision, I was forced into a position of trust, to recognize that someone else cares about my well being and might actually have a better sense of what’s good for me and the world than I do. My duty in this was not to waste time making big decisions or worrying about the overall picture; all I was asked to do was to go out and faithfully do my job, loving those I encounter and building up the kingdom of God.
I think we place too much emphasis on the big questions of our life (what am I going to do, where am I going to live) and we let it get in the way of the experience itself. Too focused on worrying if we’re making the right decision, we never fully invest in what we’re actually doing. That… is never a problem for someone with a vow of obedience, and, as ironically as it may sound, I find this to be such a liberating experience.
Bring on the obedience. Also, go Dawgs.