God and the World is the second book that arose out of conversations between Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and Peter Seewald. (The first was Salt of the Earth.) Here are a couple of excerpts from their conversations, on the general topic of flexibility, vocation, and following one’s inclinations:
[Seewald] People nowadays, in contrast to these disciples following Christ, have the idea that they can work out their path, put their lives together, by their own unaided efforts. They think that in any case no one has any clear identity any longer. Life is a flowing stream of illusions, according to what task or what scenario confronts us–or what desire. An either-or decision is in any case passé in the modern world; instead of that there is the new possibility of neither-nor.
[Ratzinger] Flexibility has become the all-sufficient watchword. we want to be able to react to new demands, and we hope, by changing jobs fast, to be able to climb the ladder as quickly and as high as possible. But I think there are still callings that demand the whole of a person. Being a doctor, for instance, or a teacher, is not something I can do just for two or three years, but is a calling that requires my whole lifetime. That is to say, even today there are tasks that are not a job that runs alongside my life, so to speak, in order to ensure I have money to live on. For a true calling, income is not the criterion, but the practicing of some skill in the service of mankind.
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[Seewald] To stay with paths in life: many people have the notion that their life is a kind of film. And in this biographical filmstrip they suppose they should be able to make all the cuts and supervise the production of each scene themselves. One cannot avoid the thought: Why should I go out of my way in life, make special efforts, seek anything out, show self-control or faithfulness? That is, set out on this difficult path that the disciples follow with Jesus. Why should my life not just be simple and easy?
[Ratzinger] That is something only those people can afford who are born to luxury. That is a fantasy of people with property, which takes no account of the fact that, for the great majority of mankind, life is a struggle. On those grounds I would see this idea of choosing one’s own path in life as a selfish attitude and a waste of one’s vocation.
Anyone who thinks he already has it all, so that he can take what he wants and center everything on himself, is depriving himself of giving what he otherwise could. Man is not there to make himself, but to respond to demands made upon him. We all stand in a great arena of history and are dependent on each other. A man ought not, therefore, just to figure out what he would like, but to ask what he can do and how he can help. Then he will see that fulfillment does not lie in comfort, ease, and following one’s inclinations, but precisely in allowing demands to be made upon you, in taking the harder path. Everything else turns out somehow boring, anyway. Only the man who “risks the fire,” who recognizes a calling within himself, a vocation, an ideal he must satisfy, who takes on real responsibility, will find fulfillment. As we have said, it is not in taking, not on the path of comfort, that we become rich, but only in giving.
Source: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and Peter Seewald, God and the World, trans. Henry Taylor, Ignatius Press 2002.