Sunday, November 11, 2007


It has been quite a few days since I have "blogged" or, in fact, written anything at all other than my usual emails to friends and "business" emails at work. I've been fairly preoccupied with other things: family health issues, work issues and with the idea of vocations, my own in particular. How do we discern our vocations? How do we know what God wants of us?

I suppose that many go about their daily lives without ever wondering about these things. But certainly we all do, or should, wonder about our purpose in life. We Catholics may, in some regards, have it easier than others. We know that our purpose in life is to know, love and serve God. Yes, but. . . exactly how do we, each in our own vocations, do that?

For many years I breezed through life believing that I should believe everything that was current and feminist, everything that was "pro-woman's rights" and everything, especially revealed in my writing and other women's writing, that was personal, confessional and "emotionally true." Having come to the craft of writing in the 70s, my attitude was, I suppose, a normal result. Suddenly, women were "liberated." There was "the pill" (which I couldn't take--it made me throw up), and there were "consciousness raising groups," and there was, in church, in homes, in general, a gradual breaking-down of tradition, respect and obedience. The liberation of women politically and emotionally wasn't all bad. But it sure wasn't all good. Now, all these years later, we are reaping the "rewards" of those heady and too often mindless and Godless days.

Which brings me back to the idea of vocation. I still believe that my vocation in writing is to be a witness to the suffering of patients and to the work of caregivers. No conflict there. But what about my actual day-to-day vocation as a nurse practitioner who is also a Catholic? I am now, although I wasn't always, a pro-life nurse. I understand how both contraception and abortion work and I also understand the desire of women not to become mothers before they are ready to become mothers (although now I also have a new understanding of the word "ready"--now I know that we become mothers when God is ready for us to become mothers). As a Catholic, as a nurse practitioner, I have a moral duty to make sure that my patients have correct information about both contraception and abortion. Note that I said correct information. Not the understated information that often issues forth from drug manufacturers or pro-choice groups and politicians, and not the sometimes overwrought information that might come from pro-life groups or politicians who are earnestly trying to steer women away from danger. Somewhere in the middle lies both the scientific and moral truth. They are not incompatible.

The truth about contraception and abortion is pretty simple. Both can destroy living human life. At the moment of conception, the fertilized egg is a living human being. The egg, once fertilized, "turns on" the human genome. This fertilized egg, from its one-cell existence, contains all the genetic material that this human being will have throughout its lifetime, from birth to death. It has acquired half its DNA from the mother's egg, and half from the father's sperm. It will grow and divide and, left alone, it will become a human child. It can't become anything else. (For more excellent information about the "humanity" of the earliest form of human life, the fertilized and then rapidly developing embryo, look up the writings of James L. Sherley, MD, PhD.)

So, you're thinking, what about vocation? If I am a nurse practitioner who sees many female patients a day, and if almost every one of those patients is on the pill or the patch or using the vaginal contraceptive ring, and if these same women might choose abortion if they do become pregnant on their contraceptives, how do I live out a holy vocation? How do I, in the 20 minutes per patient alloted me, both care for their illnesses and inform them about how the pill works, about the possibility that any pregnancy conceived on birth control will probably not implant in the uterus but be aborted during the next bleeding cycle? How do I tell these women, women who I may never see again, women who are most often Catholic, women who have grown up believing all the feminist tracts, both the true and the false, that they are going against the Church and against natural law by using contraception? Women do not read the package inserts with their contraceptives. Most women do not consider the pill "medicine." Most women do not know how the pill, the patch, the vaginal ring, the IUD, the progesterone implant, works. Nobody wants them to know. Contraception is a huge business.

Making my vocation more difficult, my employer doesn't discourage the use of the pill. In fact, I work in a Catholic health center in which we do not prescribe the pill (wink, wink) but enable women to obtain the pill elsewhere. Pharmacies deliver the pill to our health center; the women then pick up their pills and go on their way. Because I object to this, I don't have to participate. But don't I have the obligation not only to inform women of the moral risks they incur with contraception (then of course they are free to decide how they will respond) but also to try and correct the very un-Catholic actions of my Catholic employer? How far do we go in our vocations; how far do I go in my vocation? Are we, am I, willing to risk 1) being criticized 2) being fired 3) being thought too "zealous"?

In the same vein, I wonder about the idea of blogging. Is this part of my vocation or simply a vanity, a way to present myself as not only a pro-woman writer but also a Catholic writer whose way of looking at the world has changed since those feminist days? Surely I could work out these questions and issues in essays--in fact, am I wasting valuable time and energy blogging when I could be putting this same energy into writing essays that might be published more widely or at least read more widely in nursing or medical journals?

How do we "do" our vocations at work? How do we know how far to go, how zealous to be, how counter-cultural (and being Catholic, really Catholic, is certainly counter-cultural) to be? How do we "do" our vocations through blogs or websites or other forms of the written word? How often do we mistake what our vocations are, doing what we like or feel comfortable doing when God is waiting for us to do His will? How do we discern God's will for us?

For myself, I'm trying to find ways, kind but firm ways, to inform contraception-using women about how those contraceptives work. I am trying in small ways to show my employer that being Catholic means not winking at contraception. I'm writing more about pro-life issues. I'm trying to do what the Church guides me to do even when doing that is extremely uncomfortable for me. Most of all, I pray for the grace that I may do God's will, whether I know I am doing it or not.

And so now I go off to Mass, the greatest prayer of all.


Jennifer F. said...

You post such great questions in this post. So interesting.

I found the books He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter Ciszek and Finding God's Will For You by St. Francis de Sales immensely helpful in discerning these topics. I HIGHLY recommend both of them. I also wrote some summaries of He Leadeth Me that you might enjoy here and here if you're interested.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this post. I'll be linking to it!

Alicia Nin said...

I came to you from "Et tu?". You're making me and other people think, and that's always a good thing. Thanks!