Thoughts on Come Rack! Come Rope! and vocations

During the ritual of solemn profession in the Benedictine order, the candidate voices his intent to make promises of stability in the community, fidelity to the monastic way of life, and obedience to the Rule of St. Benedict.

After the intent for such vows is voiced, the candidate is asked: “Do you hope that if you ever act otherwise you will be condemned by him whom you mock?”

It’s a question that really gives one goosebumps.

This came up in a discussion this afternoon of Robert Hugh Benson’s Come Rack! Come Rope! We were discussing the extent to which a vocation is binding, inescapable, and irrevocable.

God plants such vocations in us. We simply know what we have to do. Those who seem to “not know” have simply not answered the vocation. The death of a vocation, our rector says frequently, is the unanswered question.

How to answer that question is a topic for another time.

But Benson suggests that indeed there is one vocation per person: a man called to be a priest had better be one. One not called better not be.

Made me think of Brideshead Revisited, when Cordelia tells Charles that she hopes she has a vocation. Charles, not begin Catholic, doesn’t know what she means by this. She says something like this: “It means you can be a nun. If you haven’t a vocation it’s no use pretending you have one no matter how much you want it. If you have a vocation, there’s no escaping it no matter how much you hate it.”

To refuse a vocation–and all it implies and demands–is to mock Christ. The Benedictine quote above, together with Benson’s novel, suggests that to do do–to mock Christ by rejecting one’s vocation–leads to condemnation.

A question for thought: what does it mean for one who knows his vocation and its demands, and yet rejects it, to hope for such condemnation?

Benson’s novel is very much about Robin’s vocation. But the overarching plot has to do with the Reformation and its implications for Catholic in England. In a time when so many were giving up and walking away from the faith–including Robin’s father–some stick to it.

Why? Because they knew it was the only thing they could do. To do otherwise is to deny oneself and, more importantly, God. And that leads to condemnation.

A lengthy paper could be written on thsi book! Sadly I haven’t the time.