Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What are you looking for?

By: Sr. Annie Klapheke

John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.”  The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.  Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What are you looking for?”
John 1:35-39

I recently made a directed retreat.  Seven days of just me, God, silence, and a daily meeting with my spiritual director.  I carried this passage from John in my heart as I began my week.  I could imagine myself in the scene, and could see Jesus turning back toward me and asking, “Annie, what are you looking for?”  What was I looking for in this week of retreat?  But more importantly, what am I looking for in my choice to follow Jesus in the vocation of religious life?

My retreat setting was the in the beautiful rolling hills of Kentucky.  On the day I arrived, I took a long walk through the woods and pondered Jesus’ question to me, ‘what are you looking for?’  I placed myself in the shoes of the apostles and considered the emotional roller coaster they may have experienced as disciples of Jesus.  Jesus and his followers traveled frequently through the same areas where the apostles had once called home.  I wondered it they ever passed by the Sea of Galilee and saw their old fishing nets and boats sitting idle on the shore.  Did they ever think about their old lives and second guess their chosen path, or ask ‘Why am I here?  What am I looking for?’  On my way to retreat, I drove through Lexington, past Keeneland horse racing track (think Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs on a smaller scale).  I had made several weekend trips to Keeneland years ago with my college roommates.  I thought about how much fun those trips were.  I did not feel regret for the path I was on, nor wish to turn back time.  It just made me pause and think about the unconventional path I have chosen.  I kind of felt like I was looking at my old fishing nets that I left to follow Jesus.  

But here’s the dilemma I faced.  My friends who had accompanied me on those trips to Keeneland are following Jesus too, but they are following him in the vocations of marriage or single life.  There is nothing spiritually superior about a vocation to religious life; it is just one particular way of following Jesus.  So what is the distinction?  And why have I chosen this path?

Later in my retreat, I placed myself in another Gospel story:  John 21:1-19, sometimes referred to as ‘breakfast by the sea’.  This is one of Jesus’ initial appearances to the disciples after the resurrection.  I felt myself in the place of Peter.  How fresh the trauma of the crucifixion must have been.  Confused by the loss of who he thought was the Savior, Peter returned to the only other life he knew, fishing.  After a miraculous catch of fish, Peter recognizes Jesus and goes to him with great urgency and enthusiasm by leaping into the water and swimming to shore.  The scene on the beach unfolds.  Jesus asks Peter to profess his love three times, and then gives the instructions, “Feed my lambs.  Tend my sheep.  Feed my sheep.  Follow me.”

For me, this interaction between Peter and Jesus sheds some light on the particularity of my call to religious life.  As is heard in the story, the first order of business is to profess my love for Jesus – repeatedly, wholeheartedly, and without doubt.  In doing so, my relationship with Jesus becomes the first and primary relationship in my life.  All other relationships flow from this.  Next are Jesus’ instructions to feed his sheep.  Jesus plays the role of “Great Shepherd” of the flock (that is, humanity).  His instructions to feed his sheep could be restated as ‘Come be my assistant shepherd’.  This means having an especially close partnership with Jesus in carrying out his mission; a truly honored task.  To fulfill this role, I must be radically available to go where Jesus calls.  This is where the vow of celibacy comes into play, another distinctive characteristic of religious life.  Without the responsibility of a spouse and children, I am available to move about to serve where I am needed.  I am emotionally available to be in love with many people – my fellow sisters and those I serve.  This is not a romantic or physical love, but a deep emotional intimacy, which our broken world desperately needs.  

I think this is the distinction of religious life:  a radical love for God, which is the primary relationship in my life, and a radical willingness and availability to participate in God’s mission.

By the end of my retreat, did I find what I was looking for?  Yes and no.  Fully grasping my call to religious life will probably be a life-long process.  But I find a sense of affirmation from God saying, ‘Yes.  I have called you, and am still calling you, to this particular way of following me.  Keep coming.’  

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