David Archuleta, of American Idol fame, recently announced that he is taking a hiatus from his pop-star career to serve the Mormon Church as a missionary, and in his faith tradition, David's story is not unique. Is there a Catholic equivalent to this commonplace religious commitment? Maybe we should create one. Rozann Carter explains.
The December 30th issue of the Wall Street Journal ran on Op-Ed piece about David Archuleta, the American Idol Season 7 Runner-up who is putting his musical career on hold for a 2-year stint as a Mormon missionary in a foreign country. “A pop star trades the stage for 10-hour Bible-teaching sessions in a distant land,” read the article’s sub-title, which went on to cite “roughly a third” as the percentage of young Mormon men (average age 19) who elect to serve as missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
David Archuleta, because of the “idol” stature of his sacrifice, was painted as a hero by some, a fool by others, and at the very least, an anomaly by the remainder. But, within his own faith tradition, as evidenced by this article, his decision is 1-in-3. His choice is commonplace. His pronouncement, barring the fact that it was made on a concert stage, is somewhat routine.
And, I would argue, therein lies the beauty.
David Archuleta stands in a long line of young Mormons who, shrugging their shoulders and taking the uncomplicated, none-too-overanalyzed next step, offered a portion of their lives for their church’s mission, and in turn, for their own. Perhaps they viewed it as noble, perhaps as theologically sound, or perhaps as the hurdle before freshman year of college. One way or another, they approached this “what I am going to be when I grow up” juncture in life with the strong expectation to first consider service to their church as missionaries, so strong that it was humbly posed as somewhat of a duty, a responsibility, just what you did when you turned 19. Something in their formation framed this decision as the norm rather than the deviation.
I don’t agree with the theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Nor am I advocating that charity, service, and evangelism should be mandated, like some sort of religious draft. But, there is something here, something in the Mormon faith, that speaks of another era, something that we, as Catholics, would do well to recover.
It seems to me that somewhere along the line, between what journalist Tom Brokaw termed “greatest generation” and today, duty and responsibility lost their mundane-ness, their everyday quality, their non-complicated expectedness and began to be valorized and assigned a level of heroism that would have seemed utterly foreign to the “responsible” and “dutiful” of an earlier day. Doing what one should do, rather than being something praiseworthy, was commonplace. I would argue that living in the “should,” even if subconsciously, was a majority position—there was a general consensus on what was expected and these expectations went relatively unquestioned. Working hard, accepting blame for shortcomings, loving loyally, and committing to tasks and relationships independently of emotive fulfillment were characteristics that were, at least as a cultural norm, accepted without fanfare. The commonplace was not revered; rather, what is praiseworthy now was commonplace then.
The Mormon faith, as evidenced by this article, has a spark of this elevated commonplace that should be recovered across our cultural tradition, and more specifically, would do a world of good for our young Catholic men and women confused about their vocation (or who may never have contemplated that they actually have a vocation). Its missionary strategy speaks to bygone definitions of duty and responsibility that lacked the negative connotations they often carry today, connotations that rob them of their proper place in our formation.
In our Catholic tradition, granted, there exists a qualitative difference between a year of service as a missionary and the discernment of religious life, which is not a career or a particular social bent. Rather, it more closely resembles a marriage, a life lived in freeing commitment, submitting wholly to the love of Christ and the service of his Church, anticipating heavenly union with the Divine here on this earth.
Of course, the religious life is a calling, and as a logical implication, not all are called. But, I would argue, knowing that there exists a calling, whether by still, small voice or flashing billboard, makes even the alternative callings more fruitful. A marriage that springs from a hearty consideration of the religious life has a healthy awareness that the true goal of marriage is to get one another to heaven, that through each particular marital union, God’s purposes can be more fully accomplished than the two parties would accomplish on their own, that the couple participates in God’s ultimate creative gift- making possible yet another beautiful opportunity to know, love, and serve Him. However, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could create a Catholic culture wherein a “hearty” consideration was more than dabbling in theoretical ideas, greater than a passing glance toward the roman collar, deeper than a journal-entry notation that memorializes the afternoon’s contemplation? The Mormons have inadvertently laid down the gauntlet.
Consider this: what if every young Catholic, as opposed to merely those long-recognized to have monastic sensibilities, pious tendencies, and a particular propensity for long hours reading Thomas Aquinas while speaking in tongues and wearing a hair shirt, gave the religious life a year of their time? What if the question of religious vocation was so commonplace that the topic of conversation between Catholics-of-a-certain-age included the “Dominicans or Franciscans?” “Archdiocesan or Jesuit?” “Missionaries of Charity or Little Brothers of the Lamb?” What if we, as Catholic mentors, parents, and even young people, changed the course of our Catholic conversation to allow this consideration, now deemed the stuff of bing-ing halos and adoration chapel whispers, of hush-hush spiritual director meetings and nervous confrontations with grandchild-ready parents, to be posed, somewhat dutifully and with a sense of healthy responsibility, by every Catholic parent to their child.
Today’s first reading from the Book of Samuel, follows the young man whose very life was an answer to the fervent prayers of his mother, Hannah. Having finally conceived a son in her old age, she offered him back to the Lord in elated thanksgiving, presenting him at the Temple to be raised by the Temple priest, Eli, and to serve the Lord. Her gracious gift, and her acceptance of the will of God for her child, enabled Samuel to answer the Lord’s call in the text of today’s biblical passage with the words, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” May our elevated commonplace, our second-natured offering to God of our own lives and the lives of our children, enable them the same freedom.
“Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect."
Rozann Carter is an Administrative Assistant at Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.