Anchors are to keep boats from moving. The letter to the Hebrews speaks of an anchor of the soul. Instead of an anchor that goes down and stops us from moving the anchor of hope goes up and keeps us moving heavenward.
In discernment we need freedom and we need stability. Sometimes we stop moving though because we are thinking and worrying too much. Doubt can become an anchor that keeps us from moving toward our true calling. True Christian hope means that our deepest desires for fulfillment will only be satisfied in God. Most hoping in this world, however, is based on the fear that our desires will not be satisfied. Christian hope is “sure as it is firm, reaching right through and beyond the veil where Jesus has entered…” Hb 6: 19. In discernment of a vocation we stand on the earthly side of the veil but we are being pulled through it by life. In fact there are many veils that we pass through before the final one.
What keeps us moving heavenward is letting hope grow in us. This means giving it space and belief. St. John of the Cross said the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity are like a trinity and when one grows stronger so do the others. The way that we strengthen these virtues is by practicing them. So in discernment to move forward we need to be making acts of faith and charity that correspond to our hopes. As we do this that sure and firm hope grows in us and speaks to us with an intelligence that our own heart will understand. Discernment then leads to choice and commitment and we are one step closer to our fulfilling our hearts deepest desires.
Peace, Fr. Mark
Last week I presided at the funeral of a man who had died of cancer. Just before he died in the hospital bed surrounded by his wife, family and friends he stretched out his hands and said: “Lord, I put my life in your hands… please forgive me all my sins….” At the funeral I said that a terrible disease took Michael from us but in return he gave us a beautiful death. Those words are the words of ultimate freedom. They are most appropriate for the last moments of life. But they also promise freedom for us who are far from our departure from this life. Luke’s gospel has Jesus commend his Spirit into the hands of the Father. A pious Jew regarded his breath as given by God and it was to be given back to God at the end of life. There is an exhilarating feeling in totally surrendering oneself to God. This is good because after many years of commitment sometimes routine and boredom creep in to one’s service and make us dull. That is why it is important that we say and live those words every single day and not only at the end of life.
If you are discerning a vocation and you find yourself a bit overwhelmed, doubtful or scared I encourage you to try out giving your life completely to God one day at a time. Give God a blank cheque so to speak for that day and see what happens. Then see how you feel about what happened. Trust God to engage more deeply in your life.
Surrendering your life to God little by little makes it feel less overwhelming and it gives us the experience of entering more deeply into a way of living where our concerns are not at the very center. Perhaps this is what is so scary about a vocation! We are afraid of not being in absolute control of our lives. When we surrender our lives to God we are forced to ask whether God is trustworthy. Most of us believe that God is, but we also know that God will stretch us and want us to grow in many areas and this can feel overwhelming. So get used to giving your life to God each day and every day and the special feeling of being near to God and working with God will gradually outweigh your fears, doubts and hesitancy.
Fr. Mark Blom omi
When the wedding is over you’ve got the marriage to worry about. In my opinion truer words have never been spoken. I had my own experience of this reality earlier this month. As I was traveling from Kenya then en route to Rome and final spending two weeks at home with my family, I was feverishly and sometimes haphazardly preparing for the celebration of my perpetual commitment to the Oblates.
Since 2007 I have been waiting for this moment. In my mind on the weeks leading up to my vows I thought things like “My aspiration to become a full-fledged Oblate was now becoming a reality.” Or “All that hard work and perseverance finally coming to fruition.” I couldn’t believe it, after almost 5 full years I could profess my undying love for Jesus and the congregation… and that’s what the celebration on September 8th represented. The high ideals, the lofty expectations, and all of the other things that people associate with an event like that. It really isn’t all that dissimilar to a Wedding. I may or may not have had a bride-zilla moment or two in the months and weeks leading up to the celebration…but I’m not going to say on this blog.
But after the fanfare, the beautiful liturgy and all the congratulatory remarks were over there was only one thing left to do. LIVE IT EVERY DAY!!!! I guess what was left out, as it usually is with weddings, was the reality that you live after you commit to something big. I don’t feel any different, I’m just trying to organize my week, to get ahead of my studies and maybe clean my room every once and a while.
That’s the thing about vocations to religious life or any life changing commitment, after the celebration life sets in. I don’t think this is a negative thing as much as it is a humbling thing. As a Sister that taught us in Novitiate said, “There is a reason why the liturgical calendar has more weeks in ordinary time than any other season.” We all live in ordinary time. Admittedly my ordinary isn’t anything like my brother’s ordinary as he is married with five kids. But ordinary in the sense that Religious life has a certain rhythm that you get used to. Yes a curveball can come your way every once and a while but for the most part life goes on. So whatever you decide to do in life as far as your vocational discernment goes, remember ordinary time will be most of the time.
Br. David MacPhee OMI
I remember when I was leaving to go to Kenya last year my confrere Bradley making fun of me because of how much stress it was to say good-bye to everyone in Ottawa. He laughed as I recounted to him all the people I had to visit, what they said, and how emotional I got. Granted I can be a bit over dramatic sometimes but I still view saying good-bye as one of the most difficult things about religious life. And the reason why I say this is because this is a website about vocations and I don’t want anyone to think about vocations to religious life without first knowing the difficulties.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux believed that her vocation was to be God’s love. I think that statement is at the core of any religious vocation. If you’re not in it to love then don’t bother coming out. The problem with love, however, is that in order to love you must be vulnerable. Being vulnerable isn’t easy and you risk being hurt by people much easier. Essentially, the problem is the more you love the more you hurt. The more you love the more you get into the messiness of people’s lives. Their deepest hurts, their fear, their longings and pain.
The upside to love is that connection with other people can do positive things for you. The more you love the better chance that you will feel true joy and happiness. A type of happiness that doesn’t come from an episode of Big Bang Theory…well maybe it does if you’re watching it with someone you love. The point is the risk of being vulnerable and open can lead to some pretty amazing moments that will lead you to a better understanding of yourself and what you value.
I can honestly say that I have tried to live out my vocation by St. Thérèse’s ideal. Yes, in some cases I haven’t done it perfectly, but being perfect is boring. Love is all about being open to the possibilities of the moment. If I could only recount the difficulties that some of the people I love have shared with me I’m sure you’d feel the sorrow that I have felt intensely here in Kenya. Likewise, I have stories of laughter and joy with the people I’ve shared with here.
That brings me back to saying good-bye. As Shakespeare wrote “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” All I can say is that I know this feeling well because of religious life. On one hand saying good-bye has left me in sorrow. The last days at every place I’ve been have been filled with sadness at letting go and fear of the unknown that lurks somewhere in the future. On the other hand, there is something to be said about the sweet part of it. The sweetness is the immense gratitude that fills your heart having been able to share and be part of people’s lives no matter how short a time. There are people that I will never forget, even if it was only a couple of hours that I spent with them, because I could feel the love of the other person.
I’m sure I will feel lost when I go back to Canada because of leaving behind my friends here. But their memory is like chocolate cake to my soul.
So if you’re thinking about a vocation to religious life, think about how you say good-bye.
Br. David MacPhee OMI (aka Daudi Mwenda)
The book of Exodus is one of the most dramatic narratives of vocation in the whole bible. Slavery, freedom, Pharaoh, wilderness and God are the backdrop. Moses is the intermediary between pharaoh and God, between the slaves and the elders of Israel. Moses stands between wilderness and promised land. All the pressure in the story forces the issue of worship. Again and again Pharaoh refuses to let the people take leave of their work in order to go worship The Lord in the wilderness. Again and again Moses insists that The Lord requires them to go a three days journey into the wilderness to worship. Does this sound like your life?
We are all doing something but we aren’t always doing the right thing. Our world conspires to have us constantly busy: working, studying, socializing, thinking, worrying and computing. What is it that keeps us doing what we are doing to the point that we suffer and feel like slaves? Jealousy, pride or deceit? Fear, gluttony or anxiety? Resentment, lust or laziness?
Well even if we can’t name why we are slaves the path to freedom is clear: Worship. Worship in the complete sense means that we put our trust in God and shape our life so that God radiates in us and through us. This trust is acted out in the way that we devote offerings of self to God through prayer. Trust in God allows us to share more of ourselves to other people because of the growth of love within us. The most powerful freedoms come when our trust allows us to simply be loved by God in our imperfection. When faced with certain death by the soldiers of Pharaoh who pursue the slaves after their escape they are told: “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” Ex 14:14 Perhaps this is the core of worship: being able to be still and truly trust that whatever mess your life is in that God promises to accompany you into something better.
Vocation is addressed to trust and grows through trust. Worship strengthens trust and is an expression of trust. Moses’ trust allowed God to form a community of trust that grew through worship, wilderness and journey. Why not make a three day journey into the wilderness and give some time to God and let freedom lead you into service.
Peace, Fr. Mark Blom OMI
In 2005 I was seriously thinking about the priesthood. I was a youth minister at Bl. Pope John XXIII Parish in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia (now known as the home of Sidney Crosby). I had been journeying with Fr. Gilbert Bertrand OMI in spiritual direction. On my birthday that year I received a card from Fr. Gilbert. It had a picture of a young St. Eugene on it with the caption, “St. Eugene Wants You!” I had to laugh at the card because I was indeed thinking about the Oblates but I really didn’t want to say yes to missionary life yet.
My hesitations about missionary life were that it would take me away from my family, my home town, and my friends. That is why I decided to study with the Archdiocese of Halifax first. How could I leave my family? How could I say yes to a vocation that might send me half-way across the world?
Finally, I had to resign to the words of Jesus “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundred fold now in this age – houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children and fields, with persecutions…” Mark 10:29-30. Wow! Boy has this scripture been right!
I have been all over Canada, the United States and now I’m in Kenya meeting Oblates, being in parishes and communities. I have acquired more than I could have ever expected…and I’m just starting my journey. I even have started becoming friends on facebook with Oblates I’ve never met but because we are in the same religious community we still have so much to share.
All the fear and anxiety that I faced in making the decision to join the Oblates has been replaced by the promises held in that scripture from the Gospel of Mark.
So what are you waiting for?
I met a young man several years ago that moved about from community to community discerning a vocation to religious life. Finally he said he wanted to start his own community named “Our Lady of Perpetual Discernment.” It was a funny way of saying he knew that he had thought enough about it but he couldn’t settle on what he wanted. But you never know a vocation unless you try it on, unless you start living it. It will do you no favours if you never try and see if it’s for you.
My life with the Oblates has blessed me in the most amazing ways, but I can’t expect you to take my word for it. Try it on and see if it fits.
Br. David MacPhee OMI