Vocation: what does that word mean to you? I have associated it with finding THE thing you are meant to do... THE thing you are created for... THE thing that allows you to put your unique set of gifts, passions, skills along with your energy into something that brings a sense of being in the right place.
Vocation can be used for a career choice; the role you fill and how you try to make a difference to those around you. It can refer to your state of life - single, married, religious life, priesthood. It could be used to describe the way you go about any of these parts that make up your life. Indeed a person may have more than one vocation, for example: being married, having children, a job.
The two questions that form the title of this reflection were the two questions I asked myself every time I thought about asking to become a Candidate with the Society of the Sacred Heart. I suppose it is only natural that at the beginning of any new adventure one might look at what one is leaving behind or giving up. Any choice we make excludes other choices. If you marry that excludes other people from knowing you in the way your husband or wife might, choosing to be a parent means giving up certain freedoms, sleep and peace of mind! A career choice means giving up on other possibilities.
Choosing Religious Life is not so different in that sense.
In the past few weeks I have been thinking about this 'giving up' much more. As I was leaving a church I overheard a conversation between a priest and a young boy of around eight years old. The boy was asking the priest about the robes he wore, but the boy was particularly keen to know more about the priest’s stole. The boy asked ‘Why do you have to wear it?’ The priest replied with, 'It is because I am a priest. Would you like to wear it?’ The reply was an immediate ‘Yes’. The priest continued, ‘Are you ready to lose, to give up your life?’
I didn't hear the response of the boy as I was walking out of earshot, but I must confess to sighing and possibly rolling my eyes. The question of being ready to lose or give up life got stuck in my mind. I walked home wondering if I was doing this Religious Life thing right because I am not sure I have given much, if anything, up.
I certainly don't, at the present moment (almost 18 months into my Noviciate) feel as if I am missing anything. There are 'sacrifices' like not seeing friends and family as often as I would like, but I'm not sure this is any different to moving to a new place for a job or getting married. I won't have children of my own which at the moment doesn't seem like a sacrifice at all, but might do one day.
I suppose when one looks at the names of the vows by which we live - Poverty, Obedience and Chastity - it can seem like they are all about what we can't do. In fact they are the very things that help us to live this life in a meaningful, engaging and life giving way.
Poverty is being free to respond to the spirit, the need of the people in the world, to live without filling all the gaps with 'stuff' to distract from the emptiness - to learn that we have enough and where we may not be enough, God is. Obedience is about seeking the truth of desire of God for and in me, for and in the Society and for and in the world. Allowing the Spirit of God through my prayer, my sisters in the Society and through the people we live among to guide my actions and decisions. Chastity is something we are all called to, whether a Religious or not, but our particular way of living a chaste life through Consecrated Celibacy is, for me, to give me the freedom to love wider. Giving me the freedom to be (as my Novice Director has said to me) a person others can lay claim to at any time. I can still have deep, loving, meaningful relationships while living the Vow of Chastity through consecrated celibacy; it offers me the freedom to walk with others for the long haul without tying them down or vice versa.
In fact through my Candidate Year and particularly in my journey as a Novice I do not feel as if I have lost or given up my life. I have experienced more of life, both the sorrow and joy. I have learned more about who I am, at my core and about who I am called to be and who I am called to be for, and this is a continual drawing in Religious Life.
Perhaps when we speak of Vocation in the religious sense the question should be ‘Are you ready to take up your life? To discover for what and whom you are really created?’ After all, in the Gospel of John Jesus invited people to 'Come and See' if what he was offering was indeed right for them. In other Gospels there must have been something life giving about Jesus, he must have offered more life for the disciples to change how they lived, in order to journey with him.
It won't always be easy, there will be times when it seems as if life is too hard, whatever our vocation may be, and that’s why Jesus says ‘Take up YOUR cross and FOLLOW me’. Then when it is difficult to remember that the call came to each whatever our Vocation, when it is difficult to remember that the One who calls does not run out on us, it is then, with our cross, we can fix ourselves on Jesus with his cross. Jesus, who calls us to follow, trusting he will lead us back into life. After all he is Emmanuel - the God WITH us. He came that all might have life to the full. Is finding our vocation really discovering where we find our fullness of life and is this not a better way to invite another to discover theirs? Are you ready to find your life?
This blog was originally published at www.societysacredheart.org.uk