I was talking with a friend, awhile ago, who is going through a rough time. It’s really hard not to give advice in situations like that, but I wasn’t asked for advice, and given how poorly I respond to unsolicited advice, I try not to give it unless I’m asked. So I said that I was sorry, and that it did sound like a challenging time and that I could see why he was struggling with it. And because I know him from church, I said “I hope you come to some clarity about it. I’ll be praying for you— keep me posted.”
He said “no, don’t pray for me— if you pray for me, I’ll end up a priest!”
“I’m praying for you anyway.”
I had to laugh, partly because I’ve had the same fear. In college, there was a vocations discernment group that met. I am in favor of discerning vocations— for my whole life, we’ve had a shortage of priests and other religious. So people of faith have to take a moment and listen for the call. I went to the group on principle, because if I don’t, how can I ask others to go? But in Catholicism, the call typically involves renouncing marriage and family. I have always felt called to marriage and motherhood, but I’ve always been secretly afraid that my situation was that I was called to religious life and I just strongly desired marriage and motherhood. I’ve tried to pray my way into being open to this “God, if you want me to be a nun, You’re going to have to help me hear You because there’s something in me that doesn’t want to hear that. I’m trying to be open to whatever You want for me, but I’m pretty hard-headed and I kind of have my heart set on this other thing, so You’re going to have to help me hear You.”
And at least for now, I haven’t heard that call, I’ve just had this dread that I was going to be asked to surrender this thing I longed for, to prove my love for God. But I feel like it could still come, at any point, just as marriage and family could come for me, at any point.
Because my Confirmation kids are going to need to learn about the saints this month in advance of choosing Confirmation names, I’m listening to this book about a priest’s encounter with the saints, and he’s talking about Thomas Merton, and how he had a child and a life before he became a Trappist monk, and how he fell in love with a woman after being a Trappist monk (he chose to stay committed to religious life and to let his feelings go), and how he found spiritual resonance in Eastern philosophy despite being a monk, and the idea came to me “what if my vocation is to be a support for my mom, and my call comes after this phase is over?” And, as always, I started to panic over logistics. “But my pets— they wouldn’t let me keep my pets and I’ve made a commitment to them, and…”
I had to remind myself that, for now, that’s not what I’m being asked to do. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone on that road.