Will Shields and the Objective Superiority of Consecrated Life

As Pope John Paul II affirmed in his 1996 apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata (Consecrated Life), “Christian tradition has always spoken of the objective superiority of the consecrated life” (no. 18).

In today’s “tyranny of relativism,” there is a built-in suspicion of any and all claims to objective truth. But in this particular case, even some faithful Catholics have difficulty accepting the truth that consecrated life, and also the sacred priesthood, are objectively higher callings than vocations to marriage or to the single life.

At the same time, Vatican II rightly emphasized the “universal call to holiness” of all baptized Christians. In other words, we’re all called to be saints, and we all therefore have a vital role to play in the Church’s mission.

We need to balance, on the one hand, the “objective superiority” of consecrated life, and on the other hand, the “subjective superiority” of being faithful to our personal vocation in Christ, whatever it may be.

As a long-standing, diehard Kansas City Chiefs fan, I need to trot out my Will Shields analogy:

We all know that the quarterback is objectively the most important position in football. Quarterbacks handle the ball on every play. They are typically acclaimed when the team wins, and they are blamed when the team loses. They make the most money, and they get to do most of the commercials, especially when they’re “6’5″ with laser-rocket arms” like Peyton Manning.

Meanwhile, offensive linemen do much of the grunt work in relative obscurity. They’re rarely noticed except when they commit a penalty or the defensive lineman they’re suppose to block crushes the quarterback.

Will Shields, a long-time offensive lineman for the Chiefs, just retired last year. He was named to the Pro Bowl team about a dozen times (after awhile I lost count), and one day he will be enshrined among pro football’s elite in the Hall of Fame, having achieved a level of greatness on and off the field that very few quarterbacks have achieved.

In a real sense, he embraced his calling and used his gifts appropriately and well. Surely if he insisted on being a quarterback at 300+ pounds he would never have had anywhere near the same level of success. The offensive line was his particular path to football immortality, and he fully embraced it.

Similarly, the “superior” vocation for any given individual is the one that the Lord has chosen for us. Fidelity to our own calling and gifts is our road to sanctity. We need to emphasize the personal vocation in Christ given to each and every Catholic at their Baptism, yet without denying the objective beauty, desirability, and yes, “superiority” of a life fully consecrated to Our Lord.

Together as a Church we have to come to a proper balance on all this, as the Church has many members, but is truly one Body.

4 responses

  1. Great post. It seems that many of our clergy are actually denying this superiority under what appears to be a false sense of humility.

    I was saddened when I read a recent article about the decline of vocations in Ireland. One of the statements that struck me was made by Dublin’s director of vocations: he said, “some priests are reluctant to offer priesthood to people as a valuable way of life. It will take a long time to increase this confidence.” I think we are also facing this problem in the U.S. and particularly in other western countries. The article on vocations in Ireland can be found at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article3441821.ece.

  2. Good point, Pete. That’s another case-in-point of the importance of presenting the excellence of priesthood and religious life so as to inspire a new generation of vibrantly faithful priests and consecrated religious. Doing this would strengthen the Church and strengthen the laity, so I think a fear of devaluing the lay vocation in the process is misplaced and in fact plays into the hands of dissident Catholics who want to restructure the Church in their own image.

    Kyle, my reference to a “tyranny of relativism” is taken from a famous homily by Pope Benedict shortly after JPII’s death. That expression has become for Benedict what “culture of death” was for JPII.

    Relativism is in the air we breathe; it’s not like I can point to a particular “tyrant” like Castro who is forcing it down a defenseless society. Rather, it’s more of a cultural phenomenon that pervades academia, media, public opinion, etc.

    A “tyranny of relativism” is not hospitable to Christian metaphysics, and so a reference to the “objective superiority” of consecrated life is almost as unintelligible as it is objectionable to modern man and, indeed, many modern Catholics.

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