Last November, I shared a series on discernment here (part 1, part 2, a courtship story, & part 3), but I never finished it. This semester was so crazy that I still didn't have the time or opportunity to, but, nevertheless, it has been on my heart this whole time. The opportunity finally presented itself this past weekend when I befriended Jackie, a beautiful young lady who attends the CCM that I've been involved with since my freshman year. When I found out that she is hoping to enter a religious order next year, I asked her to tell her story of discernment and then if she would be willing to write it down for the purpose of sharing on the Catholic Young Woman.
My dear friends, you will be so blessed! Although her story is more dramatic than most, the points she makes therein are very applicable to everyone discerning any vocation.
Thank you, Jackie, for sharing with us!
Before I tell my vocation story, I would like to caveat what I am about to say with this: please understand that my story is unique to me. There are certain points I will make that I hope will help you in your own discernment, but what happened to me was extraordinary and does not happen to most people. God was not very subtle in His revealing my vocation to me, but that it not necessarily how it works for everyone. The most important thing is to be open to whatever God has planned for you. He will show you in His own time and way. And it does not mean you are not good enough or holy enough if He does not tell you in the way He told me. Everyone’s discernment story is a unique journey for them and God, and varies as much as personalities vary. In any case, I will stop with this horribly long intro and get to the point: my vocation story.
I am a revert to Catholicism. This means that I was baptized Catholic but did not start practicing until much later. I reverted back the summer before my freshman year of high school, but it really wasn’t until I became a student at George Mason University and became a part of the Catholic Campus Ministry there that I truly deepened my faith with the Lord. However, for many years in the back of my mind, I did feel very much called to be a sister. I always squished the desire down, believing all the lies the devil told me: “You’re just scared to be in a relationship. You can’t really know; you’ve never dated anyone. You couldn’t be happy as a sister. Think of all you would have to give up.” Etc. etc. I knew what God was calling me to, but I let all my insecurities and fears take over instead. But God kept bringing the desire back up, which is a really important point. Our vocation isn’t a onetime call and if we miss it then “oops too bad”! No; God continuously calls us to Him and to the person He means for us to be. God pursues us always and forever no matter whether we choose to listen to Him or not.
Anyways, as I said I was becoming more involved in CCM, learning more about God, and growing steadily closer to Him. But something happened in the summer after my freshman year that drew me away from Him. A woman who taught at my parish school came into my young adults group to talk about her entering with the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia that August. The Dominican sisters live in my town and I had seen them for years. But I did not know their congregation was of St. Cecilia. When she said “of St. Cecilia”, my heart had stopped because she is my patron saint. You may wonder why that mattered to me so much because it seems more coincidental, but for me it wasn’t. Before I ever desired to become a sister, I always wanted to be a teacher. So originally I was going to choose St. Elizabeth Ann Seton for my patron saint. For some reason, though, the week before confirmation I got this feeling in my heart telling me to not choose her but rather St. Cecilia. I’ve always liked music so I said why not, not knowing at the time what the significance would be for me. But again when she said they were "of St. Cecilia", something struck a chord in my heart. I left that meeting feeling very conflicted, because all those old desires of being a sister came blaring to the fore front. But I was so conflicted because the week before I had met a boy.
He was very smart, older, good looking, and though not really a practicing Catholic, was at least raised so. Needless to say I fell hard, mostly because I was scared of the truth I saw God putting before me. I knew what God was calling me to and out of fear I tried to prove to myself that that wasn’t really the case. It didn’t work for obvious reasons. We talked and hung out all summer. I was allowing myself to get more and more emotionally involved. But when the summer ended and I asked what we were, the guy wasn’t ready to commit. Heartbroken, I tried to just be friends, but it didn’t work. I had opened my heart wide for this guy, placing on him all my fears and insecurities about my vocation, and got crushed instead. Mind you, he isn’t a bad guy at all. And it wasn’t his fault that I placed expectations on him and our relationship like that. From the beginning he only wanted to be friends, but I, in my blind fear, made it into something it wasn’t. And I had to reap what I had sown.
For the whole summer, I had made this guy an idol in my heart, keeping God out so I didn’t have to hear His truth anymore. I realized how wrong I had been and so I finally began praying in earnest. I prayed that God would tell me if that relationship didn’t work because he and I didn’t work, or if it was because I wasn’t meant to date. Around November time I got my answer when the old desire to become a sister came back stronger than ever. Yet I was still unsure. I had just made a horrible error of judgment over the summer. I wanted to know for sure. Call me a doubting Thomas, but I wanted confirmation. I wanted to make sure I was doing God’s will, not mine. Because in following my own will and not God’s I had hurt not only myself, but God in the process. I didn’t want that to happen again.
Around that same time I began experiencing, with more frequency, Charismatic gifts. I had had previous experiences of speaking in tongues and other gifts as well, but -- again -- these things were happening with more frequency. I remembered hearing about a Charismatic prayer group that met at a Church near my house, and I decided to go to a meeting. I knew about the gift of prophecy and I hoped that maybe God would tell someone to tell me what I was supposed to do. Not really believing God would do that, but still sort of half-hoping He would make it that simple, I went.
I remember the date: it was December 11, the vigil of my baptismal day (December 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe). That night it wasn’t actually a prayer meeting, but rather the Christmas party. Sort of disappointed, I thought, “well I guess I won’t be finding out tonight”. I still stayed and had a lot of fun getting to know everyone. Then it came time for the white elephant present game. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s basically where everyone brings a random present and based on a drawing of random numbers you go up and pick a gift. The rules are you can exchange a gift three times but whoever switches it the third time gets to keep the item.
Well, one of the items was a bag of religious items: some Christian CDs, books, etc. But the item in that kit that caught my eye was the Diary of St. Faustina. She was a Polish sister. I am Polish and since I was discerning I thought, “if I get that gift, that will be God’s sign to me”. Well I ended up being the third person to switch the item which meant it was mine. I was so happy thinking “this is it God! I’m going to be a sister!” But then they switched it up again. They read off the poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas”, and each time they said the word “the” we had to pass the gift in our hands to the right.
Needless to say I didn’t end up getting it. I was crushed. Again for the second time, I placed onto something my desires and fears about my vocation as opposed to just listening to what God was already speaking into my heart. I didn’t realize that until much later. Then all I could think about was wanting to get the Diary. Distraught, I decided to go up to the woman who won and ask her if she would switch gifts with me (I had won a porcelain rabbit). Not really wanting to trade gifts but seeing my dejected look, she asked if there was one thing from the kit that I wanted. I said “I really wanted the Diary of St. Faustina”. She kind of smiled and said “well I already have a copy of that, so you can have it.” With great excitement, I took it. But then I thought “I didn’t actually win this gift, so it can’t really be my sign.” Again unsure, I stood there confused staring at the front cover.
The woman who had brought the religious kit gift came up to me and asked me about my getting the book. I explained to her how I thought maybe it would be God’s confirmation to me about my vocation but that I don’t think it really could be since I hadn’t really won the gift. She began to ask me why I thought I was called. For some reason, I thought of the story about the girl talking about the Dominicans of St. Cecilia.
As I told her this story something "clicked" in my soul. I really can’t describe the feeling. I just knew in my heart at that moment, “Yes! God was calling me!” I started crying and kept saying “I am meant to be a sister!” The woman started clucking over me “oh dear, do you want us to pray over you?” I shook my head yes while she led me into a side room where she rallied about five or six other women to come pray over me. The woman told the other women to pray in thanksgiving, that the Lord had confirmed something for me. The women laid their hands on me and began to all pray in tongues. I was shaking and crying and began to speak in tongues myself. One of the women stopped and began speaking in English saying “Jackie, the Lord wants me to ask you something. He wants me to ask you if you would be His bride?” Well upon hearing that I lost it. I started sobbing uncontrollably.
I was so happy, to the very depths of my being. It was as if until that moment I didn’t really known how much I had longed for that very thing. I finally realized the real reason why I ran away from my calling so many times. It was because I believed the ultimate lie that I wasn’t good enough and that God wouldn’t want me. I knew for so long I wanted to be a sister but I never believed I could be worthy to be one. That’s why I wanted confirmation. I didn’t trust I was enough. I couldn’t breathe; again I was moved to the depths of my being. I felt God’s love radiating throughout me. I realized in that moment just how very much He did love me, enough that He wanted me to be united to Him as His wife, His bride, even though I was a sinner. I knew how unworthy I was but I didn’t care. He loved me and wanted me. He loved me enough to care for the deepest desires of my heart. He knew me more intimately than anyone and knew that I needed to hear it asked of me. This is a key point to understand, He asked me. He didn’t tell the woman to tell me I am called to be His bride. He told her to ask me if I would be His bride.
And that is how it is for all of us. He asks us to do His will, never demanding or forcing us. Jesus is a gentleman. And He loves us enough for us to choose Him, fully knowing that we may choose to say no. God is gentle, gently wooing us to Him. And if you are anything like me, you don’t always like that. You want a big neon sign blinking over your head saying “This is it! This is what you are supposed to do”. You go searching just like I did giving your heart away to things you think are “it”, to things you think you deserve. Maybe it’s to people; maybe it’s to a career choice, or a certain college, etc. But I can honestly tell you, those things you give yourself away to won’t fulfill you. You must first be filled with God, for He is the only one that can satisfy us. When we don’t, we try to fulfill that hole with other things. We need to have the hole filled with God so we don’t use our vocation, whatever it might be, to try and fill that hole. When we do so our hearts will be open for Him to show us what He has planned. And honestly it may not be some crazy charismatic event, or a big neon sign. You will know what it is by the peace that you will feel. That’s one of the things I have learned from that night. When we finally find what it is God is calling us to, it will fill you with such peace.
I learned some other things that night as well. I learned to finally be quiet and to listen to what God has planned for me. I learned to finally trust Him, and to let go of my wanting to control everything. I finally was able to put it all into His hands and to know that He has my best interests at heart. He knows what will make me happiest. I got a spiritual director which is what I suggest all of you do, no matter what you think you are called to. A spiritual director will help you to grow in your relationship with God, and help you in discerning what God’s will is for you.
I finally discerned which order I am to join: the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. And not just because of my patron saint story. My spiritual director helped me to realize that, though it was beautiful I had these personal revelations from God, I still needed to go through a discernment process to figure it out. So I deepened my prayer life even more, committing to a holy hour each week, saying the rosary each day, going to daily Mass as often as possible, etc. And I went and visited the sisters. I felt so at home and was filled with such peace that I knew that was where God was calling me to. I had visited with other orders and congregations but though they were all beautiful, none of them felt like home.
The thing to remember is that God isn’t just calling you to be married or to religious life. He is calling you to be married to a specific person, or to join a specific order. If one relationship doesn’t work out, don’t think that means you are called to be a sister. And if one order doesn’t fit, don’t think that means you are meant to be married. Just figure out with God first what He is calling you to. And then discern with whom or with what order you are to spend your life with. God will show you. He wants to show you, because He desires your ultimate happiness.