Over the past weeks, I have been pulling thoughts from several documents that deal with the topic of transitions. Most especially I have been pulling from the US Bishops Conference’s book on on-going formation. It possesses a good amount of truth and wisdom about vocations in different phases of life.
It is now autumn, a transitional time of the year. We have been looking at the topic of “transitions” within the context of vocations. Why? As we grow older, our life situations change. As life changes, so do our vocations. Parallel to that, our relationship with Jesus Christ changes. We need to discern what Christ wants us be and do as “disciples.” Changes need to be implemented. This is integral to the life of a well-formed disciple. Within the context of these transitions come new and different temptations and graces. What do these temptations and graces look like? This week we will examine the temptations. Next week we will delve into the graces.
The transition into a new vocation and new ministry of life is not simply a transition into a ”new job.” It marks a place on the journey of spiritual transformation. This moment has particular temptations. It offers grace. It has a need for discernment.
So, what are some of those temptations for someone at the beginning of a new vocation? They come in the form of disillusionment, struggle, or even crisis. It may occur from three to eighteen months after the wedding, ordination or consecration. Sometimes, it represents a brief moment. Other times it is more protracted.
The shape of temptations varies. It may take the form of doubts about one’s abilities. A person might question the human and spiritual skill set needed to perform their duties. It may have to do with the new “home” in which one finds themselves. This includes living conditions and a lack of privacy. It can include a difficult or idiosyncratic spouse, pastor or superior. The “foreignness” of a new neighborhood environment can be challenging. The shape of temptation may be related to the difficulty of finding one’s role in this new vocation. It may be connected to a sense of separation and distance from peers and important friends. A deepening awareness of the extraordinary responsibility of being a husband/dad, wife/mother, priest, or religious sister can be frightening. Grasping the idea that one’s vocation is Christ’s can stir up a deep sense of inadequacy and discouragement, if not panic.
Priests, husbands, wives, religious sisters come face-to-face with multiple demands. They encounter unrealistic expectations of even well-intentioned people. This can push a person into rigid behaviors. This is done to try and bring order to the new world around them. This is a poor psychological adaptation. It is also a spiritually regressive move. It places control of circumstances over surrender to God’s will.
A final form of temptation is connected to the multiple, complex demands that rush upon newly married, ordained, or consecrated. Their life is complex and intense. They may react strongly and emotionally towards life and people. Fear and frustration can cause a disproportionate reaction to their situation. These temptations can also lead to very destructive behavior. This can include violation of sexual boundaries, substance abuse, gambling, or unhealthy forms of recreation. These will require particular attention and support for the new husband, wife, priest, or sister.
Spiritually, the experience of temptations is a critical moment in the ongoing formation of the beginning stages of a new vocation. Jesus experienced temptations at the beginning of His public ministry. They were an occasion to anchor His identity as the obedient Son of the Father. He was fully willing to carry out the mission entrusted to him. The experience of temptations for the newly ordained, newly married, and newly consecrated can be a similar occasion. It is an opportunity to deepen and consolidate your commitment. Prayer and sacraments play a huge role here. One should schedule time for prayer and quiet time. One can make a “prayer appointment” in their daily calendar. This is an effective way to ensure that prayer time becomes a virtue (a word whose roots translate as “good habit”). Eucharist (every week!) is a non-negotiable. This will feed and fortify the new vocation. It will also keep away the “wiles and wickedness of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). Finally, Confession is indispensable. It is a blessed “reset button.” It should be used frequently. The grace of this sacrament provides spiritual strength, nourishment and insight. It possesses the human element of dealing with the emotional, and psychological aspects of dealing with this new transition.
Besides temptations, new vocations also possess many graces. We’ll examine them next week.