by Fr. Basil Harnish, O.Praem.
At some point in time in your life you have probably heard someone tell you that “imitation is the highest form of flattery.” On one hand it can provide a peace-keeping-tactic designed to diffuse the ticking time bomb that might erupt from such scenarios as: Your next door neighbor getting the exact same shoes as you, wearing the same shirt to school, and all of sudden liking the same music as you.
On the other hand, the imitation of our friends, even in merely secular affairs, manifests, nourishes, and reciprocates our love. That is, if we have a certain maturity. To imitate someone is to whisper to them ‘I love you and I desire to be like you.’ Concretely, this desire for unity manifests itself in the unique vocation which God has planned for us and which he has moved us to accept.
Vocations create a unity by uniting the One Who calls and the one who is being called in a bond of love. This unity brings together a multiplicity. Ultimately, God’s goodness brings together the kingdom of God through each person’s unique and unrepeatable vocation.
Marriage, as a vocation, unites a man and a woman in a life-long bond, for the sake of procreation and education of children, and in order that the multiplicity of the family may be unified for all eternity by the attainment of the vision of God. In this way marriage shows forth the unity of Christ and His Church; the sign of Christ’s everlasting fidelity. The unity of marriage is therefore strengthened in the bearing of children. Children unite, in themselves, the biological complexities of the father and the mother. They manifest character traits, personality, and general propensities which although unique and diverse, nevertheless show forth and accentuate the beauty of that man who is rightly called father and that woman who is rightly called mother. Even among the parents we often witness the strange unity that develops, even physically, between spouses whereby they grow together in such a likeness that it would be a grave evil for them to be separated even in this world. For this natural vocation the caper berry goes a long way…but inevitably it will fail if the grace of Christ cannot enter in to heal and raise up the marriage to be an image of fruitfulness, permanence, and fidelity.
The vocation of the religious and priest are summed up by two points in today’s Gospel. The Lord tells His disciples and therefore all of us, “Pay attention to what I am telling you.” And secondly, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.” The supernatural vocation of a religious must be founded on the fallen individual’s willingness to listen to Christ even when we do not get the big picture. Our attentive listening in prayer is not practiced for the sake of locutions, images, phantasms, delusions, or the like. Instead, our time spent with the Lord becomes fruitful when the Holy Spirit takes what we have heard and breaks it open in our hearts. This unraveling sometimes happens over a long period of time with frustrating darkness, emptiness, and a lack of tangible results. Our vocation calls us to persevere in running the race even if St. Paul will surely outrun us because he just walks faster than we can run. The imitation of Christ found in the spiritual life of a religious is founded on love and should fill us with so much hope that we are willing to be decorated with stripes, to be spat upon, to be put on display as poor and naked, to accept the Victor’s thorns, to be flagellated, mocked, and lastly, to become the one we love: Christ Jesus our Lord. We imitate him not merely to be united to him according to the flesh but to suffer a union whereby we proclaim: Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. The sign here is the reality, we are to imitate Christ in a way that makes Him present for each other and to the world. Our bridegroom is Christ. Our God leaves us with the question, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men, will you follow Him?”
And if you think I forgot the Blessed Virgin, frater Giovanni, let it be known that our sweet Queen of paradise is the only creature to have ever lived both the married and religious vocation with utmost perfection. Therefore, the unity of her children can be nothing other than awesome. Totally awesome.
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