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A Call Within A Call

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Jan. 30, 2012

By Brother Robert Chiulli, O. Carm.
As Vocation Director for the Order of Carmelites - Province of St. Elias, Br. Robert Bathe has the important task of helping young men discern their vocation to religious life. He prayerfully walks with these men as they discover what God is calling them to do with their lives. His is not an easy task as he has to encourage candidates to be still and quiet enough to feel what God is stirring in their hearts. As someone who was once a candidate myself, I can attest that there can be so many distractions and so much external and internal noise around us that it can be difficult to hear God speaking to us. But once we do, there is a sense of relief and excitement to know that, yes, this is what God is asking of me.
I’ve learned, however, that God doesn’t call us only once. He continues to call us ever more deeply into our own particular vocation. Mother Teresa said that as a young sister she felt a “call within a call”; she discerned that God was asking her to serve Him in a particular way within her vocation as a nun.  She founded a new religious community, the Missionaries of Charity, to answer the call and serve the very poorest of the poor.

In my case, I knew with some certainty that I was called to serve God as a Carmelite, but I wasn’t quite sure exactly how. Would it be as a parish priest? In a retreat house? As a hospital chaplain? It was only when I was assigned to teach in a high school that I discovered my “call within a call.”  I would never have chosen to teach, but this is how the Holy Spirit often works:  He challenges us to walk through doors that he has opened.

Thankfully, I was blessed to have mentors at the school who taught me the “art” of teaching, and I gradually grew into the identity of “teacher.”   Ask any teacher and they will tell you emphatically that teaching is a true vocation, a true calling that is done for the well-being of others. Yet, I feel especially blessed that I am able to teach in a Catholic school. Archbishop Dolan wrote an impassioned article in America magazine last year supporting Catholic education, arguing that Catholic schools enrich their students spiritually, academically, and communally. I can now say, after ten years of teaching in Catholic high schools, that I find this to be 100 percent true. Catholic schools offer something to young people that cannot be found elsewhere, and they allow the Church to be in contact with an age group that isn’t usually terribly interested in religious matters.

Whenever students enter my classroom for the first time, they are surprised to see me in my brown habit and to discover that I am to be their science teacher for the year. A brother can teach religion, but chemistry? Then the question is asked, the question I am asked by every class, every year: “How can you, a religious person, teach science?  I thought religion and science were opposites!” I have yet to discover how this erroneous idea has infiltrated the minds of today’s teenagers, but it is a pernicious one that shows no signs of abating. Even though I hear this question every year, I do not dread it because I feel it is part of my vocation to break down this false antipathy between science and religion and to help my students understand that science is a way to help us understand and appreciate God’s creation. In our society, it is a common opinion among the educated and enlightened that religion is little more than an irrational superstition for the simple-minded, a crutch for those who refuse to accept that science will eventually be able to solve all mysteries.
One way I help students see the complimentary relationship between science and religion is to mention famous scientists of faith. Galileo, the famous astronomer, remained a believer to his deathbed (and the controversy between Galileo and the Vatican is not quite the “science vs. religion” debate most think it was); the father of modern genetics, Gregor Mendel, was an Augustinian friar; Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a paleontologist who studied evolutionary development and applied it to faith, and Monsignor Lemaitre was a Belgian physicist and astronomer who is credited with proposing the big bang theory of the origin of the universe.  If these brilliant men—far smarter than me and most of my students—found belief in God credible and not at all contrary to their scientific research, who are we, then, to casually dismiss religion as simplistic and naïve?
In the same way, I encourage my students to wrestle with their faith and to not be afraid to ask the difficult questions. If science has no fear of the truth, neither does our Catholic faith. What is true is of God and will not be contrary to what has been divinely revealed.  Sometimes my students think religion is just memorizing bible stories and random facts about the church, but I hope they develop into young men who understand theology as a rational and systematic way of understanding God and His revelation.  Many times after school, as I am cleaning up after the day’s laboratory experiment, students sit in my classroom and ask me genuinely insightful questions about their faith: What is really true in the Bible? Is the bread at mass really Jesus? What happens to us when we die?  They have these questions and enjoy discussing them in an informal setting, which ultimately leads to more questions, and . . . this is good!  I would be far more concerned if they had no curiosity about faith and religion at all.
And that is how, as a Carmelite brother and science teacher, I am able to be a visible witness of the Church to the many students in my school who rarely go to church.  I am someone they can easily approach with questions about science or faith, and in turn I, too, can learn something about their struggles and the crosses they carry. While the days in a classroom can be exhausting (and at times frustrating), they are never boring and are usually grace-filled.
I leave you with a quote by Werner Heisenberg, a physicist we study in class when we look at the development of atomic theory: “The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”  I pray that you will discover what God has waiting for you.
Order of Carmelites – Province of Saint Elias
P.O. Box 3079
Middletown, NY 10940
(845) 344-2225