Religious life is not the only vocation
By Sister Maria Gemma, OSF
I often visit schools as part of my vocation work for our community. When I visit I ask the students, “How many of you in this room have a vocation?” Then I ask those who have a vocation to raise their hands. Usually there are one or two students who have the courage to raise their hands. Occasionally there will be a student who sees through my question and encourages the rest of the class to raise their hands also. I love asking this question, because the truth is that each and every person has a vocation. This is good news! It means that God is calling each person to love Him in a specific way. This means that God loves each of us so intimately and uniquely that he has something in store for our lives that will make us infinitely happy!
So, why has the word “vocation” become such a frightening word that people seek to avoid? Why is it that today we tend to look at a vocation more like getting the plague than receiving a beautiful gift? Often people associate the word “vocation” with priesthood and religious life, and rightly so because those are vocations; but they are not the only vocations, nor are they the only paths to holiness. There are three reasons why the word “vocation” seems to be taboo in our world today: We don’t know God, we don’t know ourselves and, because of the first two, we are unable to make a sincere gift of ourselves.
Discerning a vocation in today’s culture is difficult, because we tend to see God as a taskmaster who can never be satisfied. Our relationship with Him consists in doing what we think He wants so that maybe He will leave us alone and let us be happy. We tend to focus on doing His will, rather than on loving Him and letting ourselves be loved. If we shift our gaze to contemplate His face, we will find a merciful Father who loves us dearly; a Father who will do whatever it takes to be with us.
It is also difficult to discern a vocation if you don’t truly believe that you are good and worthy of love. This is a very difficult truth to accept, because a love that is unconditional is hard to imagine. Yes, we all sin, but no sin is outside the Father’s gaze of mercy. God manifests His power in showing mercy. His love is absolutely without conditions. What then keeps us from this love? We keep ourselves from it. We don’t believe that we could be loved in such a magnificent way, so we close the door. God will never force His love upon us. He will wait patiently until we are ready to receive it.
Human beings are not created to live in isolation. We are created for communion with God and each other. This is difficult to realize today, because we are inundated with the idea that our purpose in life is to satisfy ourselves, and that doing this will lead to happiness. The Church has a different answer and beautifully lays this out for us in her writings: “man … cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” (Gaudium et Spes, 24) We were made to look outside of ourselves and towards the other. It is only through sacrifice that we are truly fulfilled.
If we can let down our guard with the Lord and allow Him to show us who He is, if we can receive His love and begin to share that with others, then a vocation is not frightening but beautiful. Once this happens, our vocation becomes not a life plan that we ourselves did not choose for ourselves, but rather a beautiful flower that has actually been blossoming in our souls from the moment of our baptisms. Our Father knows our heart better than we do, and He knows what will make us infinitely happy. We must be grounded in our identity as beloved sons and daughters of the merciful Father, and then anything will seem possible.
Sister Maria Gemma, OSF, is assistant vocation director, Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, Mishawaka.