Thursday, April 20, 2006

God or the Girl

By this point, many of you have seen the A&E produced series God or the Girl. I've managed to watch all four of the as-yet aired episodes and I plan on taping the fifth installment on Sunday so that, when I return from Denver, I'll have something to watch after dinner on Monday night.

The response to the show has been very interesting. In one ear, I've been attentive to the criticism heaped upon it, most especially by other Jesuits. "It's too much about sex!" [meaning the centrality of choice of being celibate/priest or married] "Where's the spiritual director?" "What about the psychological exam?" These questions are born, to be sure, of our own arduous experience of applying to the Society and the many steps we had to take in order to begin even the application process.

It is true that the centrality of the dichotomy between God and Girl takes center stage. I'm un-impressed with the two American priests and, were I to have been told that I ought to lug an 80-pound cross twenty miles, I'd probably have skipped over the lumber section of Home Depot and headed for Starbucks. Part of the simplification I've taken exception to is that it seems these men (or the producers) are expecting signs and wonders of an epic proportion that are meant to lead these men in making a decision. I can only speak from experience, but it was often the "still small voice" of God speaking in the depths of my soul, in the dark times as well as the light, that led me to where I am today and continues to lead me toward vows.

Nevertheless, the show is not without merit. The harsh criticism I have heard ought to be chided for being less-than-charitable. For I have received numerous emails and had numerous conversations this last week with people who have been captivated by the series. It is raising up for the public to see - albeit at times in an exaggerated manner - something of the struggle people go through in discerning a vocation. In telling these stories, there are many whose own chords are struck and who are moved to wonder "What would it be like if I..." or "I wonder if...." To see them struggle with deciding between two goods, with uncovering what is of value in each one's life, this is undoubtedly a good thing.

No series, I suspect, could capture all the intricacies of vocational discernment. I don't even know that the producers tried. But what excites me is that, insofar as young men and women may begin to think of a vocation to the religious life, this becomes an opportunity for us to witness to them. In my own life, I was attracted to the Society not because I read about them, but because I was taught and befriended by them. If this show creates even the smallest aperture through which we might enter and engage in conversation, then we must seize this opportunity.

Br. Jim Boynton, the vocations director for the Detroit Province, has a great line that he uses when he gives vocation talks. He acknowledges that many of the young men to whom we are speaking will probably go on to get married. But each of them may know someone who embodies the traits we would desire in a good priest or nun. He encourages his listeners to tell that person, to share with him or her that he/she might make a good priest or nun.

Just about every Catholic boy thinks about being a priest at some point in his life. For some, the thought never really leaves. But it's easy to be scared into silence, to quash that thought, especially in a world where it is common to equate priests with pedophiles. But if we as mentors and friends and family members see something special, something that should be shared with God's people, present in someone's life, then we owe it to that person and to the Body of Christ to say something!

Simply put: If you know someone who is thinking about a vocation to religious life, or has gifts that you think would lend him/her in that direction, please tell that person. At the very least you've paid the person an enormous compliment. But perhaps your words will give courage and comfort, will give pause to thought, and will enkindle the imagination and draw the person to wonder what it would be like to serve as a religious.
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