Written on: March 11, 2015
Over the years that I have been a vocation director, people have often looked at me with a mix of skepticism and curiosity. I admit, the idea took me by surprise at first. You see, I am a married woman with 4 children and a very alive husband. I’m not a Sister, or member of any type of religious congregation other than my home parish.
But, I distinctly remember the day I received my “call”. It was a bright fall day and I found myself pulling into a parking spot in front of a beautiful provincial house as my gaze caught the magnificent red tiled roof. As I looked up at the bright roof silhouetted against the brilliant blue sky I thought, “Dear God. I have no idea what you are sending me in here for.” In that moment, I realized that I had simply been invited to this interview with the words, “We have something else in mind for you.” I hadn’t paused to ask what that something else was, but had responded yes without hesitation. Truly, I felt the Holy Spirit had brought me there on that day.
In the past fifteen years I have come to deeply appreciate how God does call each one of us, no matter what our vocation ends up to be. Jesus often recommended to people that they, “have no fear.” But, it is so hard for a young person with a multitude of wonderful, amazing choices in front of them to truly let go and let God lead them without fear of “What if?”
As they travel to high schools, colleges, and various other youth events, vocation directors carefully consider what parts of their personal story of call to share with the day’s audience. Since we do travel together quite a bit, we get to hear each others’ stories. In listening during those early years in this ministry, I realized, I too had a story of being called that I could share.
As I looked back over my own life I could recall all of the wonderful consecrated religious men and women who influenced me. I could identify specific skills I had received as gifts from God, and how through education, training and cultivation, I had grown those skills. That in this ministry, generally reserved for a member of the Congregation, I could be my unique self in a special way giving glory to God’s great generosity to me.
At a high school recently, I explained to the students that God does have a plan for us, but it isn’t a road map, detailed-kind of plan. In general, God wants us to be happy and to be happy using the gifts we’ve received to improve our own lives and the lives of others.
I shared the image of “God’s plan” being like going on a trip that someone else has planned. We need to pack and prepare, but we might not be quite sure of all that we will be facing, what the weather will be like, and what activities we might need to prepare for. So, we wander around throwing things into our suitcase. Then, when we arrive, we may realize we forgot something important, or over-prepared for something else.
So, too, in our lives. We gather many relationships and experiences. Some will be needed for our future, some may help us avoid a troubling situation that is looming. Some people and experiences we may forget, and others which seemed insignificant at the time will become very important. Eventually, all may be found to be useful in one way or another so that we can truly enjoy where our trip has brought us. I concluded with “no one aspires to be a vocation director” which drew laughter from my colleagues, but what I hoped to convey to these young people was to be open to where God is leading them. It might be way more exciting and fun than the life they are trying to imagine for themselves!
As we celebrate the Year for Consecrated Life and National Catholic Sisters Week, consider that the people we celebrate weren’t always sure where they were headed, or where God was leading them. They simply said, “Yes” to an invitation and allowed God to work through them. Some founded Congregations, others opened schools, but the vast majority just went day to day, as they still do, being the best “self” God created them to be,showing the rest of us a different way of being in the world.
Consecrated women and men aren’t sideshow curiosities of a former way of life, they are real flesh and blood people attempting to live authentically as God created them. They deserve our gratitude, respect, admiration and emulation. To me they are mentors and friends, who lead by their example, just as Jesus did.
Maryellen Glackin has ministered for 2 different Congregations of Women Religious during her 15 year career in Vocation Ministry. She was the first lay woman to be a Board member of the National Religious Vocation Conference. She lives and ministers in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and is looking forward to Pope Francis’ visit in the Fall. A version of this post also appeared on Seminarian Casual, a blog from St. Charles Seminary in Philadelphia.