So today, I have some fun memories of Sister Ave Maria.
But they really are a small part of a larger story--the story of my vocation. And I think my vocational journey can be helpful to other women--the singles ones--who may be still wondering about their own vocation.
When this story takes place, I was single and living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I was working for the DSMME and though I was happy working, I was wishing I was married and having kids.
But there I was, in my mid thirties and still single.
Although I had wanted to be married with children since I was a child, it didn't seem to be happening for me. I found myself doubting that marriage was my vocation. Maybe I was called to religious life?
I could see how my current career lent itself to that vocation. I could just dedicate my whole life to teaching and catechesis. I could see the positives in that vocation--both the grand spiritual positives, and the down-to-earth, everyday positives. You know, things like never having to decide what to wear again; having someone else decide where you should go and what you should do (a Mother Superior); having lots of happy cheerful sisters to live with.
All that being said, my heart just wasn't there. And I was afraid it was because I wasn't willing to listen to God. I thought that all those other women wanting to join the Sisters were just braver than me. I was too chicken.
I wanted someone else to tell me what to do. Maybe a priest or Mother Assumpta could tell me? But, as a wise friend pointed out at the time, God calls YOU to your vocation, not someone else. If He wants you there, He will tell you.
And He did.
As I said in a previous blog post, I was very deftly prayed into a discernment retreat by Sr. Joseph Andrew. It just happened to be the same retreat that Sr. Ave Maria (still named Molly then) attended. At the time, she was living in a small house next door to the school where I was working and where the retreat would take place. We knew each other socially and had lots of friends in common. So, naturally we were drawn to each other, talking before the retreat began.
|Me and Sister Ave Maria (and D).|
We also were both there a little reluctantly. We both felt like we were mostly being loyal, going because we were invited, not really because we WANTED to.
So, we bonded over our similar situations and that bonding turned into playing hooky---sort of.
That night, while everyone else was enjoying the silence and peace of sleeping one room away from Jesus, present in the Eucharist, or adoring Him in the chapel, she and I were next door baking cookies before we hit the hay.
While we baked and ate, we talked. It turns out she had felt a call to religious life for a while, but she wasn't sure where, when, how. As I listened to her talk I began to see that she felt about religious life the way I felt about marriage. There was a deep attraction to it, along with a realistic fear of the hardships associated with that vocation. I desired married life, but I also feared bearing and raising children, the challenges of being in a life long commitment with a (then) unknown-to-me man.
As I reflected on this throughout that weekend, I began to see that many of the girls (not all) exuded a joy and anticipation--a hope--- that THIS, religious life, was THEIR calling. They were already in love with their Spouse and clearly called to a life as a consecrated Bride of Christ.
I was in love with Jesus but, as I came to realize, not called to religious life.
And that was okay. God had put a deep desire in my heart for marriage. I didn't know if I would ever find the guy. I realized that our own free will can keep us from following the path that might have been, but that God works for His Glory and the good of all even in that brokenness. At least I had much greater confidence that this was His will.
Of course, when I met Jim, that confidence was transformed to certainty. But there is no doubt that the discernment retreat was instrumental in my understanding my own vocation.
It is because of my own experience that I would encourage every single woman to make a discernment retreat. A true discernment weekend is not about joining an order. It is about opening yourself up to hearing God's call in your life. We are all called to a vocation: marriage, religious life, consecrated single life. When we put aside the fear and make ourselves available, He will speak to our hearts.
Of course, I highly recommend attending a retreat with the DSMME because I know them and I have been on one of their retreats. But, if not with them, I am sure there are others. Just be sure that it is a Christ-centered retreat--one that has Mass and opportunities for Adoration, or at least prayer time in front of a Tabernacle. I also highly recommend a silent retreat. In spite of my failure to keep silent the whole weekend of my discernment retreat, it was the silent parts which were crucial to hearing that "still, small voice".
Feel free to pass this on to any young (or not so young) single women you know.