|Blessed Sacrament Church in Seattle|
In July 2014, I went on a work trip to a conference in Seattle. After praying that the Lord would give me grace to see Him present at the conference, my mind was filled with interesting thoughts regarding a theology of science. It reminded me of a small group of Dominican Friars formed to address the relationship between faith and science. I recognized the freedom that these friars have to pursue God in all things, a freedom I do not feel like I have in my present position, and began to imagine my life as a Dominican Sister. To my surprise, the more I thought about it the more I felt drawn to the Religious life and it seemed to fulfill my deepest yearnings, including:
1.) a public vow of celibacy
For quite a while I have felt called to celibacy for the sake of the kingdom, recognizing that living the single life leaves a person free for the matters of God, as St. Paul pointed out (1 Cor 7:32).
2.) a spiritual family
One of the obvious downsides of lifelong celibacy is not being able to start a family of my own, but I saw that living in community provides a spiritual family where a spouse and biological offspring are lacking.
3.) community support of my faith
Nowadays it can be difficult to stand up for the faith because so often it feels like I'm standing alone. In community, we can bolster each other's faith and be more courageous in our witness.
4.) radical modesty and physical witness through the Religious habit
Nowadays, simply wearing a religious habit makes a strong statement of faith.
5.) living with Jesus in the Eucharist or within a few minutes walk
After having spent time in retreat houses with tabernacles, I desperately wanted to have such easy access to Eucharistic Adoration on a regular basis.
6.) prayer as a priority and greater discipline
In the Religious life, one has access to Mass and the Divine Office and the rosary every day and regulated penances, and plenty of opportunities to share the fruits of contemplation.
My previous complaints started to seem silly. I had complained that modern-day religious orders are not penitential enough; however, the consecrated life demands many difficult sacrifices that my current life does not. And certainly God is capable of sending whatever suffering necessary to make me grow in holiness! But my biggest concern was that my family needs my financial and emotional support. However, surely when a woman enters Religious life her relationship with family grows deeper and the Lord provides for them in the ways that she no longer can. My final argument had been that the vow of obedience would not leave me fully apostolically available to the Holy Spirit. Essentially I was afraid that my superior may not be guided by the Holy Spirit and that God would not be free to lead me directly if I were under a vow of obedience. But nothing can stand in the way of God's will. The Religious life started to seem a little bit less scary and a little bit more possible.
A couple of times before, I had wondered about Religious life but brushed it aside by rationalizing that I couldn't even consider such a thing while my grandmother was alive. At the time I had thought that she had many years left, but the Lord knew differently. Now just one month after her death I was already thinking about it again. This week, each morning before the conference, I woke up with this idea in my mind. One morning I planned to go to Mass at Blessed Sacrament Church, which had adoration then Divine Office then Mass then rosary. That morning in the shower, as I was again pondering potential Religious vocations, I picked up my foot to step out of the tub. My other foot flew out from under me and I fell into the bottom of the shower after smashing my head on the wall. I didn't seem to have a concussion, but I wondered if maybe the devil either didn't want me considering a vocation or he didn't want me getting to this church (or both). Feeling tempted to skip Mass, I pushed myself to go anyway.
The first day I attended Blessed Sacrament was the Feast of the Birth of St. John the Baptist. Father talked about how John the Baptist went to the desert and grew and became strong before beginning his ministry to the Israelites. Father said that sometimes we will go years or even decades simply growing and becoming strong in our faith before God calls us to a mission. But we should pray for the mission to be revealed to us when the time comes and work at growing stronger in the meantime.
During the week of the conference, I went to this parish for three days and every day I was surprised anew at the beauty of the Divine Office chanted by the priest and some parishioners. I felt like I was experiencing some of Heaven on Earth and yearned to be able to have such an experience every day. It renewed my love for the liturgy and gave me a deeper sense of longing for the consecrated life.
As I mentioned before, our local priest had encouraged me to look into some active communities, so one night I decided to watch some vocational discernment videos on YouTube. It actually threw me into turmoil! For example, the video showed Sisters joyfully playing volleyball and I had repeated flashbacks to volleyballs smashing the glasses off of my face. I also saw a wonderful Sister doing an amazing job of teaching an elementary school class. But teaching elementary school is one thing I feel almost certain I am not called to do. After watching the video, I felt sure that if I were to become a Sister I would be forced to be a kindergarten teacher who plays basketball every day and that I would never be happy. This threw me into a sort of depression. At this point I had heard of active communities and fully-cloistered contemplative communities and I didn't feel called to either. I didn't realize that there were other options in between.
On Wednesday, having obsessed for over a day about vocational discernment, I realized that the Lord doesn't want me to lose my peace and that I don't have to determine my entire future in the period of a few days. And so, again, I set aside any discernment and left the matter in God's hands.