Above: Detail from the painting of the Sacred Heart by Raymond Vincent and located in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of St. Peter Parish, Spokane.
By Sister Christiana Marie, SMMC
Vocational discernment, which involves both discovering and living in the Will of God, cannot be done alone nor does it stop at marriage vows, religious profession, or ordination. How it looks depends on where one is on the road to perfect union with Jesus. The young man or woman seeking to strengthen a relationship with Jesus needs help to recognize His voice, to know when to act, and how to remain faithful in actively living out their vocational call.
“… and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” (1 Sam 3:9)
Eli’s advice to the young Samuel has been a constant in my spiritual journey for the last twenty years. However, it was not until 2008 that I began to truly echo those words to God and make them my own expression of availability to the Lord.
In the spring of 2007, I attended a Christ Renews His Parish retreat that was life-changing. That fateful weekend I approached the confessional for the first time in more than ten years, and as a fruit of this transformative time, I wanted nothing more than to draw close to Jesus and to share the good news of His Mercy to everyone who would listen. I could not get enough of the Scriptures, the lives of the saints, or Holy Mass. Shortly after the parish retreat, I and a close friend began some casual meetings with our parochial vicar, discussing everything from praying the Divine Office, Father’s vocational journey, and life with siblings. Over the course of many months, the meetings with Father became more structured and I started scheduling meeting times for just myself. I had entered spiritual direction. Father encouraged me to continue to get to know the saints, to attend daily Mass, and to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The more I met with Father, the more I felt unsatisfied with my quest to draw close to Jesus; I wanted to do all I could to grow in intimacy with this God who had shown me His Heart. Father suggested ways to strengthen my relationship with Jesus and to be supported in my quest, such as pursuing membership in Third Orders or becoming a lay associate of a religious community. While these options satisfied at first, I eventually found myself frustrated and asking about Second or First Orders of religious communities (becoming a religious sister). Over time, I began to realize that the desire for a closer relationship with Jesus created conflict between the thought of living life as a wife and mother, which I assumed was the vocation I was called to, and what my heart was yearning for. This desire transitioned me from listening to acting on the Lord’s word.
A year later, I thought I was on top of the world; I was back to the practice of my faith, I had just purchased my first home, I returned to school to earn my master’s degree in Public Administration, and I was steadily carving a niche for myself in the field of Higher Education. By the world’s standards, I had my life in order and could begin to make room for the incidentals. I saw it as a perfect time to welcome a relationship with God – on my terms. I could begin to earnestly consider His plans for my life, although knowing and following the Will of God was not something I believed needed my consideration. Still in need of conversion, I falsely believed that I could plan and map out a relationship with Jesus where I would make room for Him and place Him in a particular “spot” in my life.
Thankfully the Lord is Goodness Itself and He had nothing but Mercy in response to my ignorance. I wanted to serve Him in the best possible way and I decided that serving in various ministries within my parish was a good way to do so. Despite following Father’s gentle guidance and invitation in spiritual direction to be open and to listen to the Lord, I still needed help in recognizing and embracing Jesus’ Will. Like the Apostles. who followed St. John the Baptist in their desire to know and encounter the Messiah, I sought to follow Jesus but not knowing how to recognize His gaze, I needed someone to direct me on when and how to respond.
In the beginning of my journey, Father’s guidance was like Eli’s to Samuel. Father instructed me to listen and to express to the Lord my readiness to hear Him. However, over time, I needed the proverbial neon sign, and my spiritual director was to me as St. John the Baptist was to his followers, pointing out the Lamb of God. With beautiful formation and prayerful support, Father showed patience as I learned to move from listening to acting on God’s word. Having been directed to recognize the signs of the Lord’s faithful presence, I was able to freely respond and to hear the Lord’s own invitation to “come and see.”
More than ten years after my entrance to religious life, I give thanks for the opportunity of ongoing spiritual direction that now echoes St. John’s words to St. Peter, “It is the Lord!” (Jn 21:7) In the beginning of my journey, I falsely believed that having been instructed to incline myself to listen, I could hear the Lord’s voice on my own and did not need guidance; “just me and Jesus” was my motto. The Lord in His Providence gave me two great priests who never ceased to provide guidance and formation all the while directing my attention to the Lamb and allowing time for my free response to follow. In my naivety, or perhaps arrogance, I falsely believed that having entered religious life, I had “figured out” the Lord’s Will for me and I did not need regular spiritual direction. This Petrine zeal proves truly foolish as it leads to a self-reliance that is not of the Lord’s plan. So, like Peter, I needed and will continue to need someone close to the Heart of Jesus to shout, “It is the Lord!”
Sister Christiana Marie entered the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church in the fall of 2012 and professed first vows in 2015. Sister currently serves as a catechist at St. Peter Parish, Spokane, and at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes. Sister is grateful for the ongoing presence of priests in the Diocese of Spokane who serve as spiritual guides.