The Feast of the Presentation we celebrate on February 2nd is also World Day of Consecrated Life. On this day, we give thanks to God for those many men and women who heard the voice of God to give up everything and to follow the poor, obedient and chaste Jesus. On this day, we ask God to hear the prayers of those who are still searching for Him and wondering if He is calling them to this particular vocation.
The story of Samuel and Eli in the Old Testament is an example of a vocation call. Vocation is a word that is mostly associated with religious calling. When one asks, "do you have a vocation?", it is very often understood in the context of "are you being called to be a Sister or Priest?" But vocation is more than just being a Sister or Priest. It is a particular call, to a particular lifestyle, to do a particular work. So one can have a vocation to religious life, priestly life, or the married state. Does this surprise you? Did you ever think that being married is a vocation?
God created us all with a purpose in mind. You didn't really think that you were just placed in this world for no other reason than to exist, did you? No. God has great plans for you and I.
Discernment is another word that gets thrown around. If God created us for a purpose, and if we each have a place in the world, how do we find it? How do we know the will of God in our life? The process of finding this out, of understanding the will of God for us, is called discernment. Simply put, it is asking the question "God, what do you want of me?"
This brings us back to the story of Samuel and many other men and women in the Bible. In Samuel's case, this is how it happened. Hannah was a woman who prayed hard for a child. When her prayers were answered, and she was given a boy, she promised God that he would be dedicated to His service when the time comes. She named him Samuel and when the time came for his mother Hannah to fulfill her promise to God, she brought Samuel to the temple and presented him to the high priest, Eli. One night, as Eli and Samuel were asleep, young Samuel heard a voice calling him, "Samuel, Samuel." He got up and went to Eli thinking that the priest had called him. But Eli said, "No. I didn't call you. Go back to bed." The voice came on again with the same call, and this happened two more times. Each time Samuel got up and Eli told him to go back to bed. On the third time, Samuel went to Eli and said, "Did you call me. Here I am!" Eli, with the intuition of someone who knew the ways of God advised Samuel to go back to bed and when he hears the voice again, he should respond with "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening!" This, the child Samuel did, and God finally revealed to him his vocation of prophet.
The story of any religious vocation is always a personal one. God calls each of us by name and no two stories are exactly alike. Each person has different life experiences which form our image of God and how we relate to Him. Our personalities are different and they contribute a lot to how we perceive the different realities which form our life stories. If you listen to vocation stories, you will understand what I mean, because the differences are striking. Some are called from a very early age- they knew very early on that they want to spend their life serving God. Others are called late in life. Others became religious with ease. Others became religious 'kicking and screaming", as the saying goes, because they would not have thought of becoming one but felt an irresistible force from within them.
Despite the differences there are also some similarities. For example, one may feel a strong attraction to a religious sister or priest. They are attracted to the life of total belonging to God, of doing God's work, and a strong desire to give of themselves to serving other people. Although one enjoys the amusements and pleasures the world gives, there is a sense of longing, a sense of emptiness that is not filled and satisfied by these earthly goods. There is a strong pull to live the devotional and sacramental life, a high esteem for the celibate life and an inner attraction for the virtue of chastity. Why is this so? Because the life of celibacy and perpetual continence is not given to all but only to those who are chosen by God. When one is chosen for this life, God gives the corresponding grace.
Religious discernment is difficult and maybe painful to some because we may not want to hear what God has to say. The first step to do is to find that inner silence, that sacred space, to hear God speaking in the silence of our heart, and to have the openness to listen through the words of Scriptures and in spiritual direction. Like Samuel, we say "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening!"- and really mean it!
Sr. Helena of Mary, O.Carm