This reflection was supposed to be about how I became a nun. As I left the Catholics on Call conference in August of 2008, somewhere in the back of my mind I was already writing a future article about how CoC helped me discern my call to religious life. I even thought it might make a good novel some day! As I have now been married for 11 weeks something must have changed…
A year ago, I got my first real “grown-up” job as the Director of Religious Education at a parish in Pittsburgh. My vocation to ministry was revealed to me in small “aha” moments that eventually created a path. At my first diocesan meeting as a DRE, I bumped into the woman who was the DRE at my parish when I was a child, who had greatly inspired me in many ways. She shared something with me that I had completely forgotten. In 6th grade we had an assignment in school to interview someone in a career that we might want some day. I interviewed her.
When I was student-teaching in a fourth-grade classroom in a Catholic school, I taught four different subjects, but the children repeatedly referred to me as their religion teacher. Those were the lessons I took the most care in planning and taught with the most passion. Without prayer and reflection, moments like that would have slipped by. Through the guidance of mentors, spiritual directors and great friends, I was able to focus on those moments filled with “holy energy” and follow them. For me, there was no real struggle to decide what to do with my life, I just lived.
One of the great quotes I heard at CoC that stays with me always is from spiritual writer Frederick Buechner: “The place to which God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Working in Religious Education is one of those places for me. I love my work, and when a first grade student hands me eighty-seven cents and tells me it is for the poor, or when a seventh grader talks about meeting Christ face to face in the Eucharist, I know that my job is serving a hunger in the world.
I know that my life seems like one nice big Catholic fairy-tale, and that is what it feels like too! Not all vocations are so easy to live one’s way into. Many require extensive prayer, tears, and leaving other things behind. Cue day one of grad school at CTU four years ago: I am excited to be at orientation, starting this new chapter of my life in a new city, ready to learn new things about theology and the Church, and then I see him. I see my future husband and feel an instant connection. The only problem is that this drop-dead-gorgeous Jesus-doppelganger was wearing a brown habit and white cord.
From that first day through the next two years, Galen and I embarked on a heart-wrenching journey of discernment. What did these feelings mean that we had for each other? How could we support one another’s vocations as friends? How do we know what God really wants for us? There were many tears (on my part) and many prayers. Our individual discernment was different, because I was not yet committed to any particular life. I was faced with healing a broken and confused heart. He was faced with a community to which he had committed himself for the past two years of formation – a life to which he felt called, but with which he was struggling every day for reasons beyond his feelings for me.
I’ll never forget that phone call in the summer before my final year of grad school, when Galen told me he was leaving the friars. I was excited, but I was also terrified. Love can be very scary when it suddenly becomes real.
Galen and I started living forward in a pretty seamless transition from whatever our relationship had been before. There were tears and prayers when I discerned if I still needed to discern with a religious order. There were more tears and prayers when it came time to job search and figure out where we wanted to eventually live. And again when we talked about being open to having children someday. And there are still more as we try to figure out how to be married to one another. But the difference with these tears and prayers is that we cry and pray together, knowing that we will work through life as one.
God has called us to this place together, which brings us both deep gladness, and fills a deep hunger in the world. We both work in ministry (Galen is the program coordinator for Change A Heart Franciscan Volunteer Program, a year of service for young adults), and we support and encourage one another in our service.
This past year, I have lived into two of my most important vocations: lay ecclesial ministry, and marriage. But discernment is never over. Questions and struggles continually arise. Throughout the past few years I have taken to prayer the advice of poet Rainer Maria Rilke:”Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” I have found that discernment is not about finding God’s will, it is about living God’s will. The answer is always to live, and live fully!