Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Discerning God's Call: Part 1

Me and gramma at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore

My mom recently became friends with a young lady from Africa who asked how I came to consider the possibility of religious life. Below is Part 1 of I'm not sure how many posts on the topic.

"It's good that Sarah has faith. I just hope she doesn't go overboard and become a nun!" Later on, my grandmother decided she shouldn't have said that because "I guess it's suppose to be a good thing when somebody becomes a nun." But the idea of becoming a nun seemed so impossible to me that I couldn't imagine why my grandmother was worrying about it.

Of course, I have noticed the big push to get teenagers and undergraduates to visit religious communities and for the guys to learn about the priesthood. The idea is to encourage young Catholics to consider these vocations which they might otherwise think of as 'too hard' or 'great for someone else but not for me'. And in fact, many young people are surprised to find that they are inexplicably attracted to religious consecration. However, I became Catholic at age 29 with a career in research science. Making a bunch of visits 'just in case' really wasn't feasible for me.

And so, discerning religious life is not something that was really on my radar. I often prayed for direction in my life and for God's will to be made known. I even prayed that God would give me a specific vocation; you know, maybe I would open a halfway house somewhere. However, every time I asked God, I seemed to get the same non-answer: "Now is not the time to ask this question. Keep doing what you're doing and come back later."

It's not that I felt certain that God would not call me to religious life, but I didn't see much point in exploring the option before feeling called to it. It's not a vocation that one can choose. The call has to come from God. And God wasn't answering with what I might be called to do.

At the end of 2013, instead of meeting with my primary spiritual director, I started meeting with a local priest for several months. We got talking about vocations. When I told him about the amazing way that Divine Providence had led me to a career in research science, he figured this meant I was called to the secular life and not religious life. I wrote a letter explaining this to my grandmother who was pretty sick with cancer, knowing she would be comforted.

It was kind of nice to have that door closed. But after a few months of getting to know me, Father was singing a different tune. He was beginning to think that maybe I actually am called to a religious vocation. He started recommending that I visit some active communities. Unfortunately, this was the worst time for me to visit anyone. My grandmother's situation had gotten considerably worse and now she was in the process of dying. I used all of my vacation time to see her as much as possible and I was so stressed out! Cutting out any unnecessary activities was the only way for me to stay sane. Not only did I not visit any religious communities, but I stopped spiritual direction altogether. However, I did respect Father's advice and left the door open to the possibility of visiting some communities in the future.

The door was back open, but I still didn't have any sense of God calling me. So I continued to hold off on any kind of vocational discernment pending further direction from the Holy Spirit.

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