If you’ll recall, my conversion-in-earnest began in March 2006.  April 2006 would mark the 1-year anniversary of Patrick’s death.  And for the first time, I was starting to wonder: “What do I do with myself now?”  Being Catholic, there were new avenues to explore: religious orders, sisters, nuns.  I thought that I should at least be open-minded to the possibility that my future might involve my being a religious.

It just so happened that one night at my priest’s scripture study for singles class, the subject of religious orders and religious vocations came up.  I learned that women could be sisters or nuns.  I’d heard the terms used interchangeably, but our priest explained that nuns live cloistered lives, while sisters work in the world as teachers or in hospitals, for instance.  He then discussed some of the religious orders and their characteristics.  He spoke rather highly of the Dominicans and said that they place special interest on study and the intellect.  That immediately appealed to me, and I set out to learn more about the Dominicans.

I learned about Dominican sisters and Dominican nuns.  I also learned about lay Dominicans for the first time.  That rather mystified me; I had never heard of lay people being involved in religious orders!  (Since then, I’ve learned that most other lay people have never heard of that either.)  At that time, I didn’t really pay much mind to the lay Dominicans.  If I was going to be a religious, I was going to go all the way.  I felt most attracted to the Dominican nuns.  I liked the idea of cloistered, contemplative life.  It seemed so radical, so far away from the world as I knew it.

My attraction to consecrated religious life was quite tentative and conflicted from the beginning, however.  Here is a journal entry from 24 April 2006:

I’ve still been pondering my own life calling… turning things over and over (and over) in my head. Not that I would make any major changes any time soon (it’s still much too early for that). But I’ve definitely been thinking and praying about it. I have to say that a religious calling has occurred to me more than once. But, after reading this article, I realized that probably the real reason I was thinking of religious life is that I am full of fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and despair. Afraid I won’t find another husband. Afraid of even trying. Afraid that even if I do find another husband, I will lose him too. Afraid that I will end up alone. Completely, utterly WRONG reasons. Not to mention that I am still so enamoured with the idea of being married and having a family. So… I’m sort of stuck somewhere between really wanting to marry and being terrified that I won’t get to. And I’ve been imagining the religious life as a possible easy exit. But it’s not.

The fact that I’ve come to realize this has given me some peace of mind. For now, I guess I’ll just keep on going the way I’m going. And trust that God is there, steering me true. And that He is not going to let my life be wasted. I’m still having trouble with the whole submit and surrender thing, as you can tell. I never realized before that I have such a need to control everything, and that I go so crazy when I have no control! *sigh*

Looking back, I think it was clear that I didn’t have a vocation to the consecrated life.  I recognize now–and I think I had some sense of it back then–that desire and peace of mind act as very good navigation tools when it comes to finding and pursuing your vocation.  But what if my desires were selfish and did not conform with God’s wishes?  What if I was just deluding myself?  I struggled and worried greatly with those possibilities.  I had been through so much and come so far–remember, this was shortly after I came out of my 10 months of darkness.  I was not willing to take any risks.  I was going to be very careful and make sure that I was following God and not myself, or worse, the devil.

So, I refused to immediately rule out consecrated life.  In June 2006, I learned of a Vocations Awareness Program hosted by the diocese, and this reawakened my interest.  In fact, I actually felt that the Holy Spirit might be calling me to attend that program.  Entry for 3 June 2006:

I think I’m getting signs that I need to more seriously consider a religious vocation.

First, I went to Confession before Mass. Part of my penance was to try to be more open to things that God is trying to give me and things He is trying to do in my life. To let down my guard and my expectations. To be patient and have trust. To not be stubborn or self-centered. To try to get beyond wanting things on my own terms, according to my own designs.

Granted, that’s general good advice that could apply to anything at all. But then…

I went out to the vestibule to the restroom before Mass. I happened to see some brochures for a Vocations Awareness Program being held next month at the local seminary, for men and women. It’s sort of a weekend retreat and information session. It’s free of charge, but includes lodging and meals. No pressure or commitment expected. Basically, no reason not to attend.

I didn’t think too much of that, either. But then…

At the end of Mass, there was a man from the local Serra Club, an organization that helps foster religious vocations, and he gave a little announcement about–what else?–that Vocations Awareness Program!

Maybe it could be coincidence. But maybe it’s also an answer to my prayers to know the will of God and to submit to it with humility and courage, whatever it may entail (this was one of my intentions for the Novena to the Holy Spirit I’ve been praying).

[…]

You know… that’s the really hard part about discerning my vocation. Either [religious life or marriage] would be good, and important, and blessed! Maybe I should go to that vocations program. I mean… it might also tell me that I am not called to religious life. Or in any case, it might give one of the two an edge.

Heaven forbid, I guess I could also be called to just be single… a librarian… a writer. I may or may not get to do those things as a monastic or a mother.  […]  Although I despise being alone, I have worked awfully hard to become a librarian… and I feel that my writing talent must not go to waste. I feel that I do, and will, make a difference to the world by my career. They are not exactly common skills and talents. Maybe I could join a lay religious order or apostolate…

So, the lay religious life began to creep a little more into my consciousness, even as I was more concerned with whether consecrated life or marriage was the way to go.  It was still just sort of an “If not, then…” scenario.  I think I continued shutting it out as a serious possibility because I felt it only served to confuse me more.  And I did not need any more confusion!

Finally, here is what I wrote on 19 June 2006:

I did it–I registered for the vocation awareness retreat. I thought the deadline had already passed, but it hasn’t. I was lying in bed last night before going to sleep, and I was remembering that I had made a vow to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead if only He would give it to me. I still felt a strong pull to this retreat. So, I told myself I couldn’t ignore it, couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by. If I did, I would regret it. I would feel like I had broken a promise to God. And the very thought of it broke my heart! I couldn’t possibly be so treacherous!

So. We’ll see how it goes. I am sure something good will come of it! If nothing else, it can serve as a way of showing God that I am open to Him, and serious. It can be an offering.

[section where I reflect on the ups and downs of the past months and conclude that I’ve made a great deal of progress]

But even now, I’m still poised just at the threshold, the threshold to the future. Like a starship about to embark on her maiden voyage. Everything until now has just been preparation, planning, designing, construction, testing, tempering, mending, reinforcing. Finally, it’s nearly time to take to the skies, and to the unknowable vastness of space. It is unnerving, frightening, liberating, and exciting. There is much to learn, much to discover, much beauty to behold, and untold rewards to be obtained. However, there is also fear, anxiety, complacence, and a kind of homesickness… all of which make gravity feel much stronger than it is.

I was very close to choosing the easy option, the effortless weight of gravity. But I thought of the Pilot I have chosen for myself. I trust Him. I love Him. In His honor, and for my own greatest good, I’ve taken a step forward… one small step… one giant leap.

I like this entry because it shows that a real bond of love, trust, duty, and discipleship had grown between me and God–and particularly the Holy Spirit.  I had just recently celebrated my first Pentecost in many years, and I had pledged myself to letting the Spirit guide and transform me just as He had the very first apostles and disciples.  My relationship with God had finally become serious and mature.  For probably the first time in my life, I was willing to put Him first.

There is a lot more I could say about my relationship with the Holy Spirit.  It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, and still isn’t, very often!  Suffice to say, that the newly-blooming love and devotion would bear great fruit in the coming months and years.  Stay tuned!

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