The Call (Part II)
Excerpt from “Diary of a Sister-in-Training” by S. Tracy Kemme, SC
I grew up hearing “Vocation Prayers” at my parish. If you’re Catholic, you’ve probably joined in saying one of these at the end of a Mass or two. It’s a prayer that we say to ask for God to call “laborers into the harvest.” Although sometimes these prayers include all vocations, most often they focus on the priesthood and religious life.
I always thought the prayers sounded a little desperate. They gave me the sense that our Church valued Brothers, Sisters, and priests, but that becoming one was not really something someone in their right mind would choose to do. And so we had to beg God to rope people into it: Pretty pleeeease with sugar on top, God, force some poor suckers, but not us (or not our kids and grandkids), to take one for the team!
Little Me always felt sorry for the unsuspecting victims whom God picked after hearing the Vocation Prayer enough times. They would now have to join that group of people separate from normal human beings who don’t get to have a wife or husband or kids or money and have to do whatever they’re told. What a drag!
Once God started pestering me into becoming one of those “poor suckers,” I grew to resent the Vocation Prayer. I watched my fellow Catholics mouth the words all too calmly. “Easy for you to say,” I thought indignantly. Those people had no idea what they were doing to my life with all that stupid vocation praying!
Of course, I’m saying all of this a bit tongue in cheek. But my point is the following: my perceptions echo a societal misunderstanding of this uncommon path. Is it any wonder that I freaked out when I felt that first nudge to the religious life during that fateful November of 2008 in Ecuador?
For starters, I think that in general, people think I am embarking on a life of utter sacrifice. Yes, it involves giving up very tangible things, which is difficult! I’ve shared my struggles with you. Especially in a world that tells us that sex and money are the end all, be all of the human experience, choosing this might seem absolutely loco. But, come on, do you really think people would do it if there wasn’t something wonderful involved?! Every life involves some degree of sacrifice and a greater degree of gift.
As Ronald Rolheiser says in the The Holy Longing, “every choice is a renunciation” of something else. The call, I think, is about figuring out what is the GIFT that we’re willing to renounce other gifts for. The joy we feel when we find that gift makes the sacrifices seem less daunting. That’s the idea of “governing desire” that Fr. Jim Martin told me about.
In the case of the religious life, the gifts may be more unseen and are certainly less talked about, but they are real and deep. A mother who can’t imagine life without her beloved children is willing to endure sleepless nights and tiring days to give them all that they need. I am willing to wrestle with the “renunciations” of the religious life to embrace the beauty and freedom of giving all of my being to God and to the service of my sisters and brothers.
Last Sunday, the Catholic Church celebrated the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, a day set aside specifically to pray for vocations to the priesthood and diaconate, to the religious life (both male and female), and to the missionary life in all forms. I spent the day with Sister Janet, helping her to lead a retreat for young adult women and men in our diocese who are intentionally considering what God might be calling them to at this point in their life – a “Life Awareness” Day.
I served on a panel with three others: Sister Lourdes, a Franciscan Missionary of Mary from Mexico; Father Jose, a diocesan priest from El Paso (both of them in their 30s), and my friend Luis, age 25, who is discerning the priesthood while living with the Columban Fathers. We all responded to the question: How did you know?
I can’t describe how it felt to sit next to them and share intimate experiences of God’s call. Our stories were all different but marked by a similar passion. Listening to them would blast anyone’s stereotypes of the priesthood and religious life. It was clear in each one’s sharing that we are not just “taking one for the team,” by accepting this “life of sacrifice” for our world and our Church. We are energetic, joyful, normal (most of the time) young people with gifts and faults who have found that one thing that sets our hearts on fire. I laughed, and I cried, and I felt overcome with gratitude to be sitting right where I was.
Two weeks ago, my community and I attended the Voice of the Voiceless, a social justice benefit dinner in El Paso put on by Annunciation House. This year, they chose to honor women religious in both the U.S. and Mexico for the faithful service they have shown to migrants. What a moment it was when all of the Sisters present were invited to stand! They did so humbly and were met with thunderous applause. My heart sang: I can’t WAIT to be a Sister!
During my early discernment, I read a pamphlet called “God Isn’t Trying to Trick You.” As obvious as that statement sounds, I needed to hear it, and hear it a lot of times. My spiritual director during my second year in Ecuador, Hermana Maca, told me that if I was called to be a Sister, one day it would be a joyful thing. I am beginning to know the truth of Maca’s words.
In 2008, the angry question in my heart was, “God, how can this be!?”
Now, I ponder, “God, how can it be that I am this blessed?”
God didn’t call me to be a Sister because God thought it might be funny, or because God wanted me to suffer, or because God had to meet a certain quota in response to so many Vocation Prayers and thought that I was as good as any. No. God created every hair on my head and knows every pulse of my heart. God, who is Abundant, Irrational Love, wants more for me than I could ever want for myself.
That’s the beautiful thing about the call: God. Wants. Our. Joy. Period.
I’d like to propose a new kind of vocation prayer, one that recognizes that all vocations are equally precious in God’s eyes and equally enriching to our Church; one that takes our expansive-loving, joy-bestowing God into account:
God, we know you’re crazy for us. You’ve created us, and you know us, and you love us beyond the wildest capabilities of our imaginations. Help each of us to discover the unique and beautiful way that you call us to respond to that love. May we be open to embrace your generous dreams for us. Give us trust, knowing that it is you who call and you who lead. Give us wisdom, at every step of our life, to invite you to be our guide. Give us courage, that we may claim our terrifying and marvelous role as your hands, feet, and heart in this world. Amen.
To read S. Tracy’s entire blog post: http://sisterintraining.blogspot.com/2013/04/