By Kara Davis
This reflection is a response to a blog written by Catholic speaker and high school theology teacher, Katie Prejean. She so eloquently described our universal call to holiness, our vocation of love, and her personal testament to the vocation of Holy Matrimony. As I read her words, I couldn’t help but insert myself, and my own journey of understanding God’s call in my own life. This reflection is meant to echo Katie’s insightful words, but under a different lens, the lens of the vocation of consecrated life. You can read Katie's blog by clicking HERE!
“Why do you want to be a Sister?” That is a question I hear a lot now a days as I dive more deeply into formation with the Daughters of Charity. Most of the time, I look at my watch and ask the person how much time they have for an answer. I could share the saga of my discernment journey, where my boyfriend of all people encouraged me to go check out the Sisters. When folks as me, “Why do you want to be a Daughter of Charity?” I could tell the story of being casted as a Daughter of Charity in a play about the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and the very lines I delivered in the play prompted me to explore the call to serve Christ in the face of the Poor. I could also go into my year as a Resident Catholic Worker at the St. Hedwig Haus of Hospitality, where I encountered Christ in the women and children who were in need of a home and support of a loving community. I could possibly describe the deeply personal journey of discovering my deep desire to be made whole, a wholeness that only God could provide. And yet sometimes, I simply respond with a half honest answer, “I want to be a Sister so I don’t have to worry about what to do on a bad hair day.” (You know, just cover it up with a veil.)
I have come to accept that more and more people are going to ask these questions, especially after I actually become a Sister, and it has encouraged me to ponder a more concise, yet authentic response that does not take three hours to explain and is not so deeply personal that I am sharing my heart with a complete stranger.
One of my favorite definitions of vocation comes from Frederick Buechner, who states, “Vocation is the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” It is a two-part discernment. What is your deep gladness, the deep desire that God has placed in your heart? And then, how is that deep gladness a response to the needs of the world?
God designs each and every one of us with a longing for this deep gladness, communion with Him. By being made in the image and likeness of God, we are designed with a great capacity for love, for God is love. St. Therese, The Little Flower, puts it best when she writes, “I realized that love includes all vocations, that love is all things, and that, because it is eternal, it embraces all time and place. Swept up by an ecstatic joy, I cried, ‘Jesus, my Love! At last I have found my vocation. My vocation is love… I will be love.”
Indeed, we are all called to love and be loved, for we are God’s beloved sons and daughters. We live out our call to love in a variety of ways, often through marriage, priesthood, religious life, or single life. God gives us the gift of discernment and invites us to ponder how are we called to grow in union with Him, sharing His love in the world, and spreading the gift of God’s self with our brothers and sisters.
When I was poking around with some extracurricular theological studies in college, I was introduced to the concept of “kenotic caritas” in my Moral Theology class. We read a chapter titled, “Love and Liturgy,” by M. Theresa Lysaught, and this article changed the way I approached the Eucharist and viewed our vocation of love. We are all called to participate in God’s love, a love that does not merely give, but gives all. We are all called to that self-emptying, prodigal love, which seeks not its own interests, but pours out in love for the other.
I was so drawn to this call of kenotic caritas, and felt that God had created me with a great capacity for this self-emptying love. I felt as though God had attached me to a special faucet where I could fill and refill my cup as I emptied it out to others. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the vocation of consecrated life is a call “to follow and imitate Christ more nearly, and to manifest more clearly His self-emptying is to be more deeply present to one's contemporaries, in the heart of Christ” (CCC, 932). The call of consecrated life is a call to incarnate God’s kenotic love in the world, to meet the world’s great need for love in an absolute, total gift of self.
To do that, I will give myself completely to God, in community, for the service of the Poor. Consecrated life is the vocation to which God has called me. The call of a Daughter of Charity will allow me, the future Sister Kara Davis, to increase in love, grow in authentic holiness, and draw more deeply into communion with God.
The life of a Daughter of Charity will require humility, an awareness of gifts received by God, gratitude for these gifts, and putting them to use in service. Humility also requires an acknowledgment of my own human limitations, a difficult reality for a young person ready to take on the world’s deep need. I am reminded that I am but a mere servant in the hands of God. The life of a Daughter of Charity will require simplicity, an authentic witness true to the call to self-emptying love in the context of the community. Simplicity is a readiness to seek God in all things. Finally, the life of a Daughter of Charity will require charity, the kenotic caritas that flows from a total love of God, poured out to the Sisters and those whom we serve.
Consecrated life brings me into closer union with God, loving in the complete, self-emptying way for which I am created. I do not have to become a Daughter of Charity to serve the Poor. There are plenty of people who serve the poor who might be married, have children, or live the single life. I also do not have to become a Daughter of Charity to live in community. There are intentional communities all over the world that live together and pray together. I also do not have to become a Daughter of Charity to surrender my life to God. There are religious congregations, secular institutes, and a number of other formal ways I could give myself to God. However, when all three come together: Given to God, in community, for the service of the Poor, there you will find a Daughter of Charity. There you will find a servant of the Lord wrapped in humility, simplicity, and charity.
So now, when I am greeted with the question, “Why be a Daughter of Charity?” I might still share about my journey of discernment, the play, and the Catholic Worker House, maybe even the convenience of a veil on a bad hair day, but my first response will be, “Because it’s what I’m made for.”