My Oxford tutor: Shana, have you ever wanted to become a nun?
Me: No… but I’ve always wanted to be Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music!
The above is a conversation with a Jewish Oxford tutor. He was intrigued by my Roman Catholic convent education. I suppose it’s an obvious question: does such education influence one’s faith so much, that one discovers a vocation?
Attending Sunday school, I’d a strong desire to become a saint. How I might achieve this remained mysterious, until I went to Oxford. In my final year, I felt God calling me to look after someone for Him. Finally, I had a vocation! I did that, but when it ended, I had questions. What of the rest of my life? What was the point of existing, if I had a short-term vocation?
I searched for answers in books. I read St Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. Here was someone who had heard God talking to her too! Maybe I ought to become a Carmelite nun – perhaps that was my true vocation? I asked various priests, who were wise and told me this probably wasn’t the case.
Confused and disappointed, I bounced from one Teresa to another: to St Thérèse of Lisieux, a nineteenth-century Carmelite nun. A friend thought I might like her, so gave me a small booklet about her. I read her autobiography The Story of a Soul online. It was a book that would change my faith and vocation – thus my life – completely. I’d been feeling a bad Roman Catholic because I wasn’t “doing much”. I wasn’t an aid worker, but equally wasn’t a nun/sister. How could I become close to God and live out my life according to His plan?
The answer came from St Thérèse:
“Finally, I realised that love includes every vocation, that love is all things, that love is eternal, reaching down through the ages… Beside myself with joy, I cried out: ‘Jesus, my love, my vocation is found at last – my vocation is love!’”
Back to The Sound of Music. Reverend Mother asked Maria what’s the most important thing she’s learnt in the convent. Maria replied, “to find out what is the will of God, and to do it wholeheartedly”. I’ve learnt “the will of God” need not be some massive plan or calling to religious vocation: it’s found in the minutiae of how we treat one another. I’m not destined to become a saint or a nun/sister – and that’s OK! Maybe, like St Thérèse, all I am called to do is scatter “the flowers of little sacrifices” before Jesus, to “win Him with [my] caresses”.
To all those who are unsure of their vocation, I say to you: that’s understandable, and even OK. We don’t have to know. All we have to do is trust that God will lead us there. In the meantime,
Climb every mountain
Ford every stream
Follow every rainbow,
‘til you find your dream.
Shanika is a Roman Catholic music PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London and an SCM Member.