Today was the funeral of Sean’s younger brother, so I was back in town once again. Turning out to be an odd retreat, this one! But this wound up being my last occasion to play hooky.
I drove in with another Montreal priest who is spending a few days at Oka, Fr. Ray Lafontaine. When he first arrived a few days before we chatted out on the lawn of the monastery, near the grotto of the Blessed Virgin, and he asked me how the retreat was going. I explained that the core of my retreat was an exploration of “total obedience”, and that at the present time I was examining my “devoir d’état” (roughly translated: duties of one’s state of life). Ray kidded me that I really was a student of the Sulpicians, who ran the seminary I had attended, and that he really only heard the term once he started being on staff a year ago.
To be honest, though, I like the concept of a devoir d’état. It means that if I am married, that my devotion to my marriage has to be a primary focus for my spiritual life. If I am a priest, the proper devotion to my calling as a priest has to be part of my spiritual life. I think St. Francis de Sales expressed it well in his Introduction to the Devout Life, chapter III:
I ask you, my child, would it be fitting that a Bishop should seek to lead the solitary life of a Carthusian? And if the father of a family were as regardless in making provision for the future as a Capucin, if the artisan spent the day in church like a Religious, if the Religious involved himself in all rnanner of business on his neighbour’s behalf as a Bishop is called upon to do, would not such a devotion be ridiculous, ill-regulated, and intolerable ? Nevertheless such a mistake is often made, and the world, which cannot or will not discriminate between real devotion and the indiscretion of those who fancy themselves devout, grumbles and finds fault with devotion, which is really nowise concerned in these errors. No indeed, my child, the devotion which is true hinders nothing, but on the contrary it perfects everything; and that which runs counter to the rightful vocation of any one is, you may be sure, a spurious devotion.
To pay attention to one’s devoir d’état means being able to find God where I’m at, rather than thinking I’ll only find him where I’m not. I find the concept very liberating, actually. As well, it makes sense in the context of a reflection on obedience, because obedience (properly understood and lived) is meant to liberate, not restrict.
Ray saw my point right away. In fact, he even joked, saying “You may have saved the concept for me!” Deo gratias!