It has never been easy to discern a vocation, but it is especially difficult for people in the current milieu because modern society is complex and messy. Yet it’s precisely in the complexity and messiness where some of the most important answers in life are found. The good news is no matter how confused we feel, our own unique purpose in life lies deep within our own soul:
Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God. (Fr. Thomas Merton, O.C.S.O)
Just the idea God has a plan for each of us should be thrilling, but modern Catholics struggle with exactly how to live faithfully the teachings of the Church while remaining true to themselves as members of contemporary society. Any vocational decision seems to clash with contemporary concepts of feminism, masculinity, and success. Life as a religious or a priest is a laughable waste of time if one views monks, nuns, and priests as retreating from the world. A celibate single person faces derision from a culture obsessed with sex. Women whose heartfelt desire is to become mothers, feel dismissed and ridiculed for wanting to embrace this most sacred, natural role of women as nurturing mothers.
The problem with discerning a vocation is most Catholics do not even have a sense everyone has a divine purpose in life. Catholics simply have a vague idea only a few holy people are called by God for something special. Even worse, many are afraid to even begin to seek their vocation, fearing what God will force them to do.
Any devout Catholic girl assumes God wants her to be a nun. Decades ago, I too was secretly terrified Jesus would ask me to be a cloistered nun, especially when I heard the nearby monastic community of The Sisters of the Precious Blood was interceding for me. A priest who was conducting a retreat at the monastery had asked me to share my conversion story. I was shocked when he guided me through a latched iron gate in the chapel then turned a corner where I suddenly faced twenty sisters dressed in black veils, white tunics, and long scarlet scapulars, sitting in individual choir stalls, with their heads bowed in prayer. I had pictured sitting in a circle, sharing my story informally. Instead, I stood awkwardly, without a lectern, wearing a casual top, jeans, and sandals. Soon these serene nuns were not just smiling but laughing; one sister actually doubled over with mirth when I recalled my grandfather’s horror at my conversion to the Catholic Church. “My God, how did she get herself into that mess?”
After my talk, I was sure I would soon be entering this monastic community even though it was not my heart’s desire. I wish I had been able to hear the words of Pope Francis as he constantly tells us a dedicated Christian life is one which sets us free to become fully who we are.
“Do not be afraid of what God asks of you! It is worth saying ‘yes’ to God. In him, we find something new — joy“ (Pope Francis).
Copyright 2018 Melanie Jean Juneau