Monday, May 4, 2015

Discernment: Navigating your vocation, one step at a time

By Kara Davis

“I feel God calling me to religious life, but I don’t know many sisters.  Where do I begin?”   Those were the panicked thoughts that raced through my head when I began seriously discerning a religious vocation during my time as a student at Eastern Illinois University.  God had been whispering to my heart for several years, but as a teenager, I chose to ignore Him.  However, God never abandoned my call, and as I prepared for graduation and making the next good step in my life, I knew I had to actually spend some genuine time in discernment.  So like any good college student, I “Googled” what to do.
I read about local Nun Runs, where discerners traveled together to visit a variety of religious communities.  During these busy weekends, women were able to pray with sisters and learn about several different charisms, apostolates, and ways to experience community life.  I chose to participate in the Indianapolis Nun Run, and it opened my eyes to the variety of ways I could be called to religious life.  In addition, I was able to meet other women my age who were also asking God the tough questions about vocation.  After the experience on the Nun Run, I wasn’t completely sold with the idea of being a Sister, but I opened my heart further to the possibility and I basically told God, “If this is what you want, then make it happen.” 
God didn’t take too long to get busy, and before I knew it, a friend of mine was writing a play about the founding of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.  He was advertising for talent at our Newman Catholic Center, and was very insistent that I audition for a part in the play.  Although I was a senior in college at this point, and definitely had enough responsibilities to occupy my time, I agreed to try out for a part in the play.
After auditions the cast list appeared with the roles, and there I saw my name next to “Sister Rosalie Rendu.”  I was casted as a Sister, and not just any Sister, a Daughter of Charity!  I had been in communication with this community for several months and made a visit with them, but their charism was service to the Poor, and I wasn’t sure if that was something I was called to do.  I decided to do some research about my real life character to better understand my role in the play.
Blessed Sister Rosalie Rendu and Blessed Frederic Ozanam 
after a showing of "The Apostle of Truth" at Eastern Illinois
University Newman Catholic Center in Charleston, Illinois.
As the story goes, Frederic Ozanam was a young college student who felt the burning desire to serve the Poor in his community, however, when he showed up in a neighborhood where he wasn’t accustomed to visiting, wearing a top hat and innocent smile, the local people did not trust him and drove him out of the neighborhood.  Frederic was young and willing to serve, but he didn’t know what that looked like for him exactly, so his mentor brought him to Sister Rosalie to learn how one must serve the Poor.
As I was reviewing the scene with Sister Rosalie, Frederic, and his other young companion, I knew this play was not just about Frederic Ozanam learning how to serve the Poor.  It was about me too.  In the  play, Sister Rosalie tells Frederic, “All you must do is be kind and love, for love is the first gift to the Poor.  They will appreciate your kindness and your love more than all else you can bring them.  Everything else will follow naturally.”  It was like Rosalie was telling me, “Hey Kara, you think you don’t have what it takes to serve the Poor?  You can love, right?  Just love the Poor and see what happens.”

So again, I told God, “If this is what you want, then make it happen,” and again, God handed me a grace-filled opportunity to fall in love with Christ in the Poor.  The St. Hedwig Haus of Hospitality was in need of a Resident Catholic Worker, and I had decided to stick around Charleston for graduate school, studying speech-language pathology.  I didn’t have any housing plans yet, so I was invited to pray about living at the Catholic Worker House.  I immediately dismissed the idea and filled my head with numerous excuses.  I knew that living at Hedwig would be challenging, and I knew that living at Hedwig would be distracting from my studies.  However, in my discernment, I couldn’t stop thinking about Sister Rosalie’s message about love.  What if love could consume all the messiness, challenges, and distractions?
Members of the Catholic Worker 
Community at the St. Hedwig Haus
of Hospitality in Charleston, Illinois.
I committed to living at the St. Hedwig Haus for about a year, and I will say it was the most challenging experience of my life, but also the most grace-filled.  I lived in a house with women and their children who were in need of a home supported by a loving community.  Of course there were moments of heartbreak and times I questioned if this was really where God wanted me to be, but then I remembered Sister Rosalie’s words, “All you must do is be kind and love…” and eventually I was able recognize Christ as a regular guest at the Haus.  My experience at Hedwig helped me to discover my call to give myself to Christ in the Poor, and ultimately guided me towards the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.
Currently, I am a Pre-Postulant in the community, living in New Orleans, LA.  This is the first stage of formation, and includes living with the Sisters, praying with the Sisters, and even going to Mardi Gras parades with the Sisters.  Throughout my nine months with the community, I have received affirmations that this is indeed what God wants for me, and He is making it happen one day at a time.  Discernment may feel like a race, but if you take the time to embrace the journey, God’s whispers will powerfully resonate within you, guiding the next good step. 

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