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Visum Monachae…On Finding a Calling

Sister Edith Bogue
ebogue@css.edu

At the end of the presidential campaign four years ago, I wrote a column encouraging everyone to vote. “Even if you are not enthusiastic about either presidential candidate,” I said, “your vote in state and local elections makes a difference.” I gave special encouragement to those eligible to vote for the first time. Casting that first vote is a gift to your future self. It sets a pattern that leads to a lifetime of civic engagement. As this brutal campaign season concludes, I repeat that encouragement: vote! Then call on each person elected to end government by gridlock.

Decisions. We make dozens each day. What to wear or eat, which courses to take, movies to see, friends to make– most decisions go by almost unnoticed. We may ponder more over a low-consequence decision than an important one. We optimize our Netflix queue for hours but drop majors or hobbies with a snap decision. Human beings have a hard time choosing with the long view in mind. Don’t believe me? Read Kahneman’s “Thinking: Fast and Slow.” Be prepared to discover that your rationality is more limited than you thought.

We are not defenseless, however, in the face of our impulses, appetites, cognitive biases, and the other vagaries of the human condition. We are not doomed to fall prey to advertisers’ wiles and the latest fads. Cognitive psychologists have demonstrated scientifically what the great spiritual masters have known for centuries: we can make choices about even our split-second unconscious decisions. We do it by consciously developing strong, ingrained patterns of thought, action, and response. If you have any doubt about the strength of these patterns, remember the last time you tried to change a long-standing habit.

We’ve all been inspired by a teacher who explains tough concepts patiently, no matter how long it takes. Or the colleague who always has a friendly word, or pitches in when there’s extra work to be done, or the mentor whose probing questions and insightful comments broaden our perspectives. We’re also familiar with the person who doesn’t clean up their dirty dishes, comes to the meeting unprepared, always has a complaint on their lips, or simply doesn’t show up. The path from the second group to the first runs through a spiritual fitness regimen: ten reps of empathy, five of being reliable, with reflection as a cool-down. Repeat daily; increase the reps as you get stronger. Like any kind of exercise, you will begin to feel the difference immediately even though it won’t be visible for quite a while longer.

Next week is National Vocation Awareness Week. It asks one question: Who is God calling you to become? Beyond specific vocations – mother or father, Sister, husband or wife, single person, priest, deacon – is a unique vision, God’s dream for your life. Ask God to share that dream with you. Believe in it. Talk to a friend or mentor about a spiritual fitness plan. Work your plan. Grow into your divine calling.

Sister Edith Bogue is Associate Professor of Sociology at CSS and Vocation Director at St. Scholastica Monastery. Send comments or column ideas to ebogue@css.edu