Vocation Grasped in Retrospect

Today is the feast day of St. Edith Stein, a Jewish-Catholic saint and martyr born one century before me and to whom I have special devotion and affection.

In fact, I even spent one month a few years ago living in her former childhood home in Wroclaw, Poland (formerly Breslau, Germany).

Edith Stein was a German Jewish philosopher who became a Catholic nun and patron saint of Europe. Martyred in the Holocaust, she has been on my mind as I reflect on the meaning of vocation.

Her life was certainly circuitous and, while there is a pattern in the divine logic, I think that she is a good witness to fact that our vocation is not so much something we find as something that finds us.

Too often, I think, we confuse “vocation” with having enough 5-year plans to last us as long as we live.

The following words are from Stein’s splendid meditation, “The Hidden Life and Epiphany”:

And And God does not permit a deficiency. The greatest figures of prophecy and sanctity step forth out of the darkest night. But for the most part the formative stream of the mystical life remains invisible. Certainly the decisive turning points in world history are substantially co-determined by souls whom no history book ever mentions. And we will only find out about those souls to whom we owe the decisive turning points in our personal lives on the day when all that is hidden is revealed. […]

This is how it was with the persons and events intertwined in the mystery of the Incarnation. Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth, the shepherds and the kings, Simeon and Anna—all of these had behind them a solitary life with God and were prepared for their special tasks before they found themselves together in those awesome encounters and events and, in retrospect, could understand how the paths left behind led to this climax.”

The meaning of our lives is not, finally, something for which we opt; rather the grace of its meaning is something received only really in retrospect.

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