Climbing Carmel
The Saint Who Never Was

| February 21, 2013

inside-cropYou’re really nice. I don’t know anyone that is that nice. You must be some kind of saint or something.” At my work we have started a new product line that requires my department to inspect and clean plastic lens covers that go over the little TV screens that are installed into the back of the seats of passenger airliners. We ship 1,400 a week, every week. And every one has to be perfect, picked from a mountain of rejects like a needle in a haystack, and then cleaned and packaged by hand. Usually, we have about four or five people cleaning at a time and inevitably a sewing-circle type discussion begins that meanders from topic to topic in a sort of group stream of consciousness.

This time the discussion fell on me: how I decided not to go be a monk-thingy so I could help take care of my brother’s twins, which then resulted in my co-worker’s statement semi-accusing me of being some kind of saint or something. How could my co-worker know that her statement almost mocks me twice: once because it so nonchalantly unveils the goal of everything I am and strive to become and twice because it rings so hollow and dissonant from what really I am that it reminds me of how far I have to go. At the time, I think I responded quickly that I was not even close to being a saint, but that I was blessed to be the right person at the right time and place to help someone in real need. The topic passed on without slowing down, leaving me behind, still trying to unravel why, despite its charitable appearances, my decision does not feel nice or saintly at all.

I think a vocation to anything is ultimately a call to conversion. If the call is not compelling enough to change and form one’s heart to be closer to God in a radical new way, then I believe it is an interest more than a vocation. My vocation to religious priesthood has always had that quality of conversion: it draws me out of my old patterns of perception and behavior toward a new way of responding to the world. At first, I can remember consciously thinking in terms of the popular phrase “WWJD: What Would Jesus Do”. My actions were an imitation of what I thought a Christian should do if he was discerning a religious vocation. Looking back, I think that for me this was a valid first step into living the faith and conforming myself to Christ as I understood Him, at least externally. For me, there was a sort of “fake it until you make it” process that went on in which my “nice” actions helped me to internalize the faith from the outside in.

Our Mother of Sorrows

Our Mother of Sorrows

As I began to learn more about the Carmelites, my heart began to grow up. Paradoxically, my relationship with Christ began to increase as I decreased, to paraphrase John the Baptist, and this self-effacing process has continued throughout my discernment. Even now, my decision to help raise my brother’s twins, while de-railing my own goals to become a Carmelite friar, doesn’t feel like it has anything to do with being “nice” or “Christian” or “saintly”. My response is possible not because I am trying to “be” something but because I think I have finally started to make some progress in detaching myself from being anything. As I empty myself of what I want to be or want to happen in my life, I become free to “be” whatever is needed. If Christ lives in those who suffer as we are taughtand if He truly suffers with them, then I best conform myself to Christ when I conform myself to the service of those who suffer. I am learning that my vocation is not necessarily to a specific state of life or religious community but rather it is to a way of life, the Carmelite way of being, or rather not-being, that allows me to be all things in response to the suffering Christ that appears before me in my family, in my friends, in the Church, in the world.

Early on in my discernment, I prayed to God to put me on the front lines of human need, to use my vocation to allow me to stand with those who suffer and show them the love of Christ. I believe He answered my prayer. The front lines were closer than I had ever imagined, but no less desperate. I am no saint, but I stand by my response: I am blessed to be the right person at the right time and place to help people in real need.

Chris Sedlmeyer
Chris Sedlmeyer
Chris Sedlmeyer works as a Quality Assurance Director and lives on a 15 acre farm in Oregon. He has a Master's Degree in English Literature with a focus on Medieval and Renaissance literature, mythopoeic literature, and archetypal criticism. His scholarly work and poetry reflect his emphasis on archetypal psychology and Catholic spirituality. Chris has been discerning a call to religious life for the last 3 years and has specifically pursued a call to the Carmelites for the last year.

7 Comments

  1. Dolly Yannacci

    I enjoyed your message and question whether my Third Order Carmelite calling is a vocation or an interest. I hope and pray it is a vocation. I guess you will know by how devoted you are. I am in Phase II and have a ways to go both spritually and timewise. May God continue to bless you.

  2. chris sedlmeyer

    Dolly:

    I love the story of our Father Elijah, the first Carmelite (1Kings18-19) because so much of what we are as Carmelites is contained in that story. Watch how Elijah seems to move and rest, move and rest throughout the story. One moment he is alone at Carith, then he is confidently challenging the Priests of Baal, then he is running for his life, then wishing for death and doubting himself, then on the move again to Mt. Horeb, then quiet again at the mouth of the cave where he finally encounters the presence of God. This is no accident–Elijah’s story is our story of discernment. We are driven forward with zeal for the Lord and then doubting if we have a vocation at all. All these different emotions are not a sign of a weak vocation, but rather the sign that the vocation is doing its job–turning over the stones in our mind and heart and soul.

    A vocation is a call to conversion–let your call do its job and be willing to change and grow. The fact that you can say that you have a way to go spiritually tells me that your vocation has made you aware of a larger potential you can see in yourself. Sounds like your vocation is doing its job. If I can feel my current path making a change in me, forcing me out of my comfort zone, challenging me to put God first–then the path is a good one, even if I don’t know exactly where it will lead.

    I have been discerning a long time, and it feels like by now I have touched just about every type of spiritual life in the Church–one thing I can say from my experience is that I may not always know when I am on the right path (I think God makes it that way so we go forward and grow in faith), but it has always been VERY clear to me when I’m on the wrong path or when I need to make an adjustment. So the fact that your soul is still giving you the grace to pray that the Carmelites are for you is a good indication that you are where you supposed to be. God bless.

  3. Jill Fitzsimons

    Hi Chris,

    Just wondered if you would mind if I used some of your Feb 21 comment in my Yr 9RE class at Whitefriars College in Donvale, Victoria, Australia? (Whitefriars is an all boys school run by the Carmelites)

    We are studying Elijah and reading through 1 Kings 18-19 and I think your lovely reflection will help them a great deal in understanding Elijah’s connection to the Carmelites .If you have any other insights on Elijah you would like to pass on to my students (all 25 of them) that would be super.

    Many thanks,

    Jill

  4. Jenny Gregory

    Hi Chris,
    i so resonated with your story of 21 Feb.. Actually, I could vision the production line you wrote about too. I had many connections with manufacturing in my previous career with a aviation firm in Iowa. But it was your decision to do God’s will in the present moment rather than pursue what you thought His will for you was. That is truly what we are meant to discern, the now, here and present moment. What God presents us in the immediate is what we should ask His guidance and grace for.Only one day at a time.
    Blessings, Jenny

  5. Colleen

    Your writing illustrates a mosaic rather than an expected arrival of destination. Our culture challenges the mosaic presence by highlighting graduation points. The decision to care for twins with your brother is a large element rather than a sidestep. The beauty in the choice as it illuminates the outcome of listening in stillness to the invitations of our openness to Spirit. May we all embrace a mosaic of life in Christ as you have and I strive in my life- from being married to being a widow with small children. The ideal family is recreated and reshaped by His hand. Bending and allowing his art to emerge through us is work and prayer in motion by grace alone. Thank you for your blog, it always speaks to me.

  6. Gustavo Elias

    Taking care of persons in need is a way of being and staying in touch with Jesus. See His face and His suffering through them is working in a vocation permanently. I feel I’m blessed for being able to do so in my two jobs in Health Service. Thanks for your story (real live) that seems to be a way to heaven. Gus.

  7. Lori Pepka

    Dear Chris,
    God certainly had blessed you with the gift of your vocationThe writing you share is very inspirational for others to accept, appreciate, and follow their own vocations as gifts from God. Thank you for sharing your journey to and through your vocation.

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