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Vocational "Mistakes"

“A young man once exclaimed to a friend, ‘Suppose I make a mistake! I could not bear the disgrace of leaving a religious order after entering it.’ Having wrestled with this thought for some time, he finally determined to try the religious life, with the result that after taking the habit, he was too happy to dream of ever laying it aside.

“However, it is not wrong, but highly prudent, for anyone to consider whether he has the courage and constancy to persevere. Religious life is not a pathway of roses. It is meant only for true men and valiant women, not for soft, languid characters, nor for fickle minds, which change as a weather vane. Marriage also is a serious step, for it brings much ‘tribulation of the flesh,’ and so he who would enter on it must earnestly consider whether he can live up to the obligations it entails. But because marriage has many cares and responsibilities, is that a prohibitive reason against embracing it? A soldier’s life, too, is hard, and a farmer’s; in fact, all pursuits and vocations in this world have their somber side. But he who would win success in any career must be ready ‘with a heart for any fate’ to meet and overcome all the trials and hardships that await him.

“On one occasion Our Lord made use of the following parable (Luke 14:28): ‘Which of you having a mind to build a tower, does not first sit down and reckon the charges that are necessary, whether he have wherewithal to finish it: lest after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’?’ This parable Our Lord seems to apply to those who have the call to the Faith, and He concludes with the words, ‘So likewise every one of you that doth not renounce all that he possesses, cannot be my disciple.’

“But His advice is also applicable to one who contemplates a closer following of Christ by the pathway of the counsels. Certainly, by all means, deliberate before taking any step of importance in this world. Never act on inconsiderate impulse in any matter of moment, but weigh carefully the obligations you are to assume, and consider whether you have sufficient strength of character to persevere in any good work you are undertaking.

“Still, when all is said and done, it remains true that timidity is not prudence, nor cowardice caution. Nothing great was ever accomplished in this world without courage. Prudence and caution may be overdone, and easily degenerate into sloth and inactivity. In a battle he who hesitates is lost, and life is the sharpest of conflicts. Had Columbus wavered, he would not have discovered America. Close followers of Christ must be brave and noble souls, willing to risk all, to sacrifice all in the service of their leader. If you are excessively timid and fearful of making a misstep in your every action, it is a fault of character, and unless you overcome it you will never do great things for yourself or others.

“When reason and conscience point the way, plunge boldly forward, trusting to the Lord for all the necessary helps you may need to carry out your designs. He will never desert you when once you enlist under His flag. When it comes to ‘supposing,’ there is no end to the dreadful things that might happen, but never will. Little children have a game called ‘supposing,’ each one making his own supposition in turn, but even they do not anticipate that their creations of fancy will ever prove true. A man once said: ‘I have lived forty years, and have made many troubles, but most of them never happened,’ meaning that he had often anticipated and dreaded evils which never came to pass.

“Let us, however, grant that occasionally a novice leaves his order: is that such a disgrace? By no means; he, at least, deserves credit for attempting the higher life. He is far more courageous than many Christians who are too timorous even to try. After all, what is a novitiate for, if not to discover whether the candidate has the requisite qualities? And judicious superiors will be the first to advise a young man or woman to leave, if he or she has wandered into the wrong place.

“There is, moreover, a danger on the opposite side that wavering souls often fail to take into account. What if they make a mistake by not entering religious life? Is it better to err on the side of generosity to God, or on the side of pusillanimity? If one make a mistake by entering religion he can easily retrace his steps before it is too late, but once he commits himself to worldly obligations, he can seldom break their fetters; and many a man, when overwhelmed with the cares and anxieties of life, has regretted, when all too late, that he had not hearkened to the voice of grace that invited him to the calm and peace of the cloister.

“St. Ignatius thus forcibly expresses the same thought: ‘More certain signs are required to decide that God wills one to remain in the secular state, than that He wishes him to enter on the way of the counsels, for the Lord so openly urged the counsels, while He insisted on the great dangers of the other state’ (Directory, c. 23).

“The devil, who employs every ruse to wreck a vocation, has one favorite stratagem, which unfortunately succeeds only too often. When he cannot induce a person to give up entirely the idea of following Christ closely, he frequently induces him, under a variety of pretexts, to postpone its execution. If he can get the person to wait, to delay, he feels he has scored a victory, for thus he will have ample opportunity to lure his victim to a love of the world, to present the vanities of life in such enticing colors, as finally to withdraw him altogether from his first purpose. This disaster, unfortunately, is only too common, and many a one finds out, to his cost, that unseasonable delay has destroyed in him the spiritual savor, and made shipwreck of his vocation.

“If, then, you see clearly it is best for you to tread the pathway of the counsels, go boldly on without delay or hesitation, and if difficulties loom big before you, they will fade away at your approach, like the fog before the sun; or, if they remain, you will be surprised at the ease with which you will vanquish them, for when the Lord is with you, who will be against you? You will be guarded against possible rashness in choosing the higher life by consulting a prudent director or confessor, at least, so far as to get his approval of the step you propose to take. For the knowledge such a one has of the secrets of your conscience gives him a specially favorable opportunity to judge whether you have the virtue and determination of character to persevere in the pathway of the counsels.” (Rev. Francis Cassily, SJ, What Shall I Be?, ch. 7)

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