Back in July, on the day before I was to move to Macon and become a prepostulant, I headed to a church in Baltimore to listen to a famous Catholic author speak. And I did something totally uncharacteristic of me - after he was done, I raised my hand, stood up and asked a question...in front of a very crowded church.
That author was Father James Martin SJ and the question was "what advice do you have for those entering religious life?" It was an egotistical question since I'm pretty sure no one else was joining the convent the very next day and as I asked the question, I even added that I was joining religious life the next day. A selfish decision on my part (and one that later embarrassed me) since I knew that in an audience of faithful Catholics, I'd get applause and maybe even the admiration of Fr. Jim.
Fr Jim, in his wisdom, gave me three snippets of advice. I put them in the back of my mind but soon forgot them. Since then, I've lived out eight months in the convent - six as a prepostulant, two as a postulant - and have learned so much about myself, about others, and religious life than I ever did in my six months in my former community. And today, as I was driving down the highway back to the convent, my mind was taken back to that Baltimore church and his voice told me once again those three pieces of advice.
See, in these past few months, what has been challenged is my definition of the word "vocation". I used to think of "vocation" as categories, as if God was sorting us in piles like laundry. My mom when she did our laundry always sorted them into rows and piles so maybe that's where the image comes from. I imagined "religious" in one pile, "married" in another, "single" in another, etc. And then there were piles for occupations too - teachers, nurses, social workers, etc. For the past few months, I've been trying to figure out which pile I belong to.
But eventually, I've learned vocation is a lot deeper than that and that God knows nothing of categories (in fact, He's not a big fan of them) Vocation is not linear, it's more like a tangled piece of string. Vocation is more than your marital status, vocation is more than your occupation. Vocation is a calling to be who you truly are. That means each person's vocation is different - doesn't matter if they're both Sisters or if they're both teachers. God is calling them to be different people and truly live out who they are - their faults, their gifts, their personality, what makes them laugh, what makes them cry. I know I've mentioned "everyone has their own personal vocation" on this blog before, but only recently have I "gotten it".
A lot of people have said that vocation is becoming who God wants you to be. I don't think it's becoming anything. I think vocation is a deeper awareness of who you already are. I think that's our vocation. If you become a priest, if you become a Sister, if you get married, it's because there's something in who you are that comes alive. But it's not simply that. Our vocation is not just a category - if it were, we'd be stretched out in a million different categories. Our vocation is realizing that we are a unique gift of God and those things that set our heart afire, those things that make us feel more alive are parts of that vocation. It's more than a martial status, it's more than a career, it's everything. It's not only accepting who I am, it's wanting to be who I am because I am made in His image.
So what was Fr Jim's advice? 1) Be joyful, 2) remember no one's perfect (including those Sisters you live with) and 3) don't forget to live your own personal vocation.
Thank you, Fr Jim. I finally got it....eight months later.