Last week, I spent a few days at FIAT, a retreat sponsored by the Diocese of Arlington for high-schoolers interested in religious life. Along with the Daughters of Charity, the other religious communities present included the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, and the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará.
A phrase repeated during the vocations stories of all of them (including myself) and the later Q&A, especially in regards to choosing a community, was "I just knew". Even Father commented on how he knows the advice "you just know" isn't helpful at all to discerners but yet it's so completely true.
How did I know the Salesians weren't for me? I just knew. The Sisters were great and some continue to be some of my best friends. I loved working in the orphanage with them. But I just knew somehow that it wasn't for me. After leaving the Salesians, the idea of religious life was still in the back of my mind but I ignored it until last summer, when I spent a good month visiting my Salesians in Latin America and somehow, upon returning, I just knew that religious life could just be for me and I needed to do something about it. I could have picked a variety of different religious communities to get in contact with. But I knew I had to contact the Daughters of Charity. Why? I just knew. Why did I ultimately decide that they were THE community for me? I could cite all the things I love about the Daughters - their mission, their founders, the Sisters, their ministries - but really, it was that I just knew. I just knew that this was THE ONE. I just knew that this was where I belonged all my life.
We can never explain the things God does for us - neither the how or why. And finding your vocation is one of those inexplicable miracles of God. I remember on discernment retreats as a college student hearing vocation stories, which never quite satisfied me. All of them seemed to skip that part where they ultimately realized this was for them - you know that big sign where they knew that THIS was it. I remember asking (or allowing someone else to ask) "Well, how did you know?" And the answer was always a frustrating "I just knew." Now that I've matured (or maybe because I've myself experienced that 'I just knew' moment), I love hearing vocation stories.
So if you're discerning religious life, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is "you just know" is probably the most frustrating advice you want to hear on this journey. The good news is that it's true and that God loves us so much and is so good to us that it's beyond explanation. So, keep journeying and you'll find that, as hard as this journey may be, one day you'll just know.