I know that, generally speaking, it is not a good thing to ponder the "what if's" of life. But there is some fruit, I think, in looking at the big picture. For instance, take vocations. A good friend told me the other day, “You cannot mourn a vocation that you clearly never had and, right now, don't have.” I don’t think that’s right. No one can say with any certainty that I never had that vocation, just because I ended up married with children. Personally, I think I did have that vocation, but it sort of never had a chance. For one thing, I wasn’t even raised Catholic! But I can give you lots of examples of incidences in my life that indicate, retrospectively, that I was called, but did not or was not able to respond.
But apart from the personal aspect, does it really make any sense to say that we always choose our vocation correctly? I don’t think so! Look at the stories of men who left seminary because of the homosexual presence they found there. Did they not have a vocation? Maybe some did not, but probably many did, and it was thwarted. God allowed that, and His reasons will be evident for those involved at some point, I suppose. Are there men who are priests (and bishops) who were not called, but managed to get there anyway? I suspect so, looking at some of the priests and bishops I’ve known or heard about.
I think the concept of the distinction between God’s antecedent and consequent will comes into play here. God wills some things antecedently, but when our own human will does not cooperate, His will prevails consequently. For instance, St. Thomas Aquinas says that while God antecedently wills all men to be saved, He also consequently will some to be damned because of their own actions and because justice demands it (see the second quote below).
Here’s a quote from St. John Damascene:
Here’s a quote from St. John Damascene:
The first then is called God's antecedent will and pleasure, and springs from Himself, while the second is called God's consequent will and permission, and has its origin in us. And the latter is two-fold; one part dealing with matters of guidance and training, and having in view our salvation, and the other being hopeless and leading to our utter punishment, as we said above. And this is the case with actions that are not left in our hands.
But of actions that are in our hands the good ones depend on His antecedent goodwill and pleasure, while the wicked ones depend neither on His antecedent nor on His consequent will, but are a concession to free-will. For that which is the result of compulsion has neither reason nor virtue in it.”
St. Thomas Aquinas put it this way, using salvation of souls as an example:
In the same way God antecedently wills all men to be saved, but consequently wills some to be damned, as His justice exacts. Nor do we will simply, what we will antecedently, but rather we will it in a qualified manner; for the will is directed to things as they are in themselves, and in themselves they exist under particular qualifications. Hence we will a thing simply inasmuch as we will it when all particular circumstances are considered; and this is what is meant by willing consequently. Thus it may be said that a just judge wills simply the hanging of a murderer, but in a qualified manner he would will him to live, to wit, inasmuch as he is a man. Such a qualified will may be called a willingness rather than an absolute will. Thus it is clear that whatever God simply wills takes place; although what He wills antecedently may not take place.
So God might will antecedently that certain souls have a certain vocation, but it is possible that they will not if we do not cooperate with His will. I think I was called to religious life, but it didn’t happen for a number of reasons. Why did God allow that? Well, from my own imperfect and extremely limited perspective I can see that, had I had a solid Catholic upbringing and then entered religious life, I probably would have been absolutely devastated by Vatican II. I know women who had entered religious life and left after Vatican II; they saw priests and nuns leaving religious life and marrying each other, and that was traumatic. One of them was also told that her order was not going to wear a habit any longer, and since she insisted that she wanted to, she was invited to leave. Neither of these women sought to enter another order, for various reasons.
Anyway, as for me, I thank God that I was protected from that experience. In addition, I think I have always been called to the solitary life. Still, it all didn’t happen early in my life, and I didn’t even actively want it then. By the time I knew anything about Catholicism and monastic life, it was too late…sort of. I do lead a “monastic” life, and I believe that it is in accord with God’s consequent will. It’s been a long, crooked path, but He got me here, and it is pretty clear that I’m doing what He wants me to do. It helps to have a good spiritual director!
I regularly tell the Lord what I want, but I just as regularly assure Him that I know His will for me is perfect, and I much prefer that to my own will. So even though I get sad about not being able to live just as I would choose, I don’t stay sad about it for long any more. I only have to remember that God sees the “big picture” and He knows what He’s doing. I don’t. So I pour out my heart to Him and let Him comfort me (or not, as He wishes), and I just move on. I can see lots of reasons why God has delayed my “vocation” this long, and why He might delay it forever. The important thing is getting to Heaven, and I realize that right now, my path to holiness includes my current vocation as wife to a good husband.
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.