The discernment process about a vocation call is unique for every individual because each person is called differently. Individual preferences influence how a person hears this call. Discerners often evaluate a religious community by their prayer life, mission, wearing a habit or ordinary contemporary clothes, vowed living, community living, and more. I know this was the case for me.
I grew up in a traditional Catholic environment that included personal or communal adoration, Mass, rosary, Gospel reading, and rituals. When I was first discerning God’s call, I was only interested in the beautiful habit, growing a deeper relationship with God, and helping the poor. I visited some traditional religious communities where the members wore the habit–and I liked all these visits. I listened to them and followed what they suggested to do when I was there. However, I was not asked to do any personal reflection on what I liked or did not like about this visit, what inspired me (their community life, prayer style, for instance) or what I might be resisting about a call to religious life, etc. They did not ask me whether I had had any spiritual director. One community, after I visited, gave me the application file to apply.
Later, I encountered the Dominican Sisters of Peace. When I first met these sisters, I was shocked by their contemporary clothes because I had never thought a Sister would wear such clothes. However, having a conversation with them at their vocation booth and reading their materials inspired me. The way they addressed my current situation and my questions was so open, making me feel they were listening to me. I came to realize that the habit was not the main factor for deciding whether to join or not join a community. I contacted them to explore their community. Two months later, I decided to move to Boston to be closer to these Sisters for my discernment.
The first weekend in Boston, I was invited to attend a reflection day at one of their ecological centers. The sisters showed me how to connect with God and God’s creation through the process of making, baking, and breaking bread. I have never thought of finding God deeply in these simple daily experiences, I was so inspired with this finding. Then, the confusion came to me when I listened to the Sister’s presentation about the universe. Even though science and engineering are part of my background, I had considered science and engineering as worldly things, not as “God’s thing.” I thought I would have had to give up science and engineering when I joined religious life. Thus, listening to this talk, many questions showed up in me: “Are they really Sisters? Why do they talk about such earthly things? How do they get such ideas? Are they not spending time helping the poor or working in the church, instead of learning such “non” Godly things? Are they following or opposing the Gospel teachings?” It reminded me of the Pharisees and the people around ASKING Jesus when he was showing them something different from what they had been practicing their faith daily.
I felt torn between embracing what I just heard and this new way of practicing our Catholic faith that I was not familiar with at that time.
Instead of making a hasty conclusion that this kind of religious life did not fit me, I reflected and prayed. I appreciated God for “God knows who I am more than I know myself.” I gradually felt a sense of the affirmation between me and what the Sisters said. Then, I wanted to explore more. Whenever I had a chance to be with a sister, I asked her about her stories and how she lived. I took it to heart, reflected and prayed with the insights. I started to recognize God in a deeper sense as I looked around: in the mission and in daily life with a wider view. I decided to join; and my life has flourished since then. I love every moment of living out my call with the Dominican Sisters of Peace.
We just had a “Come and See” weekend retreat in Kentucky. Looking at the discerners, I can see in the discerners the images of myself in the past and in the present. Believe me, discernment to seek God and to respond to the needs is never ended. No matter how you practice your faith, I encourage you to keep your mind and heart open, to be reflective and courageous, and to trust that God is working within you and through those who are journeying with you. Contact us if you have any questions.