Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Admirabile Commercium

Our late Pope John Paul II, when he wasn't writing dense treatises, wrote in a poetic language that sings of abandon, steeped in love and awe: from "Gift and Mystery", on Admirabile Commercium:

"The priestly vocation is a mystery. It is the mystery of a 'wondrous exchange'—admirabile commercium—between God and man. A man offers his humanity to Christ, so that Christ may use him as an instrument of salvation, making him as it were into another Christ. Unless we grasp the mystery of this 'exchange', we will not understand how it can be that a young man, hearing the words 'Follow me!' can give up everything for Christ, in the certainty that if He follows this path, he will find complete personal fulfillment.

In our world, is there any greater fulfillment of our humanity than to be able to re-present every day in persona Christi the redemptive sacrifice, the same sacrifice which Christ offered on the Cross?"

One can sense the awe, from this short reading of his reflection (from many!) of the gift of vocation to the priesthood, that in this commercium, man is clearly getting 'the better deal'!

When I contemplate the meaning of vocation, I always remember the first time the question is presented to me, in a somewhat unusual fashion, because it really questioned the fundamentals: What is the question? It was during the CHOICE weekend, at the very first question in fact, when I as a participant was asked to look beyond myself, beyond my own inward-looking search for self, beyond the world's definition of "self-actualization".

When the focus of identity is shifted away from self, it was disconcerting to say the least. Glancing at my "Draft" posts in this blog, I saw an unfinished, unpublished entry about one of those philosophical conversations I had with my university friend (then also my housemate). She remarked to me, "Because you don't know what you want, your life seems, I'm sorry to say, to have no purpose". It hurt me, perhaps my pride more than anything, to have someone say this to my face. I was at that time still struggling with creating vision & running a young start-up navigating the rough waters of mobile business. I was pretty sure then (still am now), that a company is a vehicle for spreading economic good. So equipped with what skills my partner & I had, we started the start-up company in the hope that someday our product will be be beneficial for many in the world and profit as a necessary consequence, will be fairly shared amongst all those in the company who have contributed. Simple and noble?

But running a company, whether struggling or successful, is not it. I've had a taste of small victories & joys, as well as bitter defeats & discouraging moments. Sometimes, like these past few weeks, I can say that I feel the wood of the Cross close to me and very keenly too: its texture, its weight and its promise. No matter how successful, I think the reward from this enterprise will never be sufficient to fulfil a deeper longing, a longing which I'm more convinced is a part of my identity, hence a form of vocation.

And this is where the worldly vision of self-fulfilment falls short in my quest. At the time of that conversation, I happened to read Jonathan Kwitny's biography of our late Pope, and was struck by a theme that seemed to resonate throughout his life: he had plans, good plans, but Love struck him such that he abandoned himself, lost himself(!), to the plan of God instead. This is where we see again the sense of awe that permeates his book "Gift and Mystery". One who is not convinced of the existence of an eternal vocation from God would say that putting aside our own plans to heed this 'call' is either a great cowardice or a great folly!

A few more years since that conversation, I've become more convinced that to know and to fulfil God's design for us is the ultimate reality; living the life of a creature according to the design of its Creator is the creature's fullness of life! A few more readings I encountered lately seemed to confirm that this is quite a central part of the Church's faith:

Faith is obedience; it means that we relearn the essential form of our being—our nature as creatures—and in this way become authentic. It means that we recognize the relationship of responsibility as the basic form of our lives and that as a result, power changes from being a threat and a danger to hope.

This obedience is directed to God Himself—on the one hand it presupposes an attentive and vital relationship with God, and on the other hand it makes this possible, for only the obedient person perceives God.
--Joseph Ratzinger, in "God's Power—Our Hope"

Conversion means to seek God, to walk with God, to follow docilely the teachings of his Son, Jesus Christ; to be converted is not an effort to fulfill oneself, because the human being is not the architect of his own destiny. We have not made ourselves. Therefore, self-fulfillment is a contradiction and is too little for us. We have a higher destiny.

We could say that conversion consists precisely in not considering ourselves "creators" of ourselves, thus discovering the truth, because we are not authors of ourselves. Conversion consists in accepting freely and with love that we depend totally on God, our true Creator, that we depend on love.
--Pope Benedict XVI, in Ash Wednesday address 2007
(All emphases mine)

So after this long rambling reflection, I am still not clear what specifically God is calling me to be, except that it is important to know and to live this! But I could see now the journey to that escathological identity had started: from a tabula rasa, to a 'baby' Christian, to a 'cafeteria' pro-choice Catholic, to a lukewarm pro-life Catholic, and hopefully one day, to a child of God enjoying the beatific vision of Him.

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