Ask any religious sister, priest or deacon and they will tell you it isn’t easy to faithfully live their vocation year after year. In fact, it can be downright challenging.
Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, clinical associate professor of pastoral studies at the Catholic University of America, is a licensed psychologist and an expert on psychological and spiritual wellness issues for Catholic priests. He advises that every vocation, whether it’s to the priesthood or consecrated life, requires the laying of a basic foundation that reflects the parable of the wise man who built his house on rock (Mt 7:24-27).
“If you’ve got rock as your foundation, then your house will stand,” Msgr. Rossetti said. “But if you build your house on sand, then it will fall. It’s the same with your vocation.”
The first aspect of the rock foundation, according to Msgr. Rossetti, is a strong spiritual life, which includes prayer, Scripture and other spiritual reading, frequent reception of the sacraments and Eucharistic adoration, for example.
“That’s been clearly shown by research,” he added.
The second aspect of building a solid foundation for a vocation is a strong relational life. In order to fruitfully live their vocations, priests and religious need human support.
“It’s difficult to go alone,” Msgr. Rossetti said. “We need to be able to reach out in humility for support. There’s no white-knuckling it out where the priesthood (or consecrated life) is concerned.”
That support can come from a spiritual director, mentor, fellow priest, religious, friends or family. Regardless, the main point is to realize that struggle in the priesthood and consecrated life is perfectly normal.
“No one is perfect,” Msgr. Rossetti said. “We need to realize that and come to peace with it. We need to see struggle as a challenge and grow through it. The best way to do that is to internalize the Paschal Mystery. In other words, there is suffering, but then there’s the Resurrection.”
Those interviewed for this article all built their vocations on a solid foundation of both a strong spiritual and relational life. Here are two examples of those who have lived faithful, fruitful vocations.
Sister Mary Clare Johnson,
Immaculate Heart of Mary
Sister Mary Clare entered her order in 1986, but her vocation discernment goes all the way back to first grade. Her family belongs to the Assemblies of God, yet she felt called to the Catholic Church. So, when she was 18 years old, she received the sacraments of baptism, holy Eucharist and confirmation. She was especially touched by Triduum services during Holy Week and found growing within herself a greater desire to live with others who daily lived this lifestyle.
|Sister Mary Clare
Based on the advice of her pastor, she visited a nearby convent of religious sisters and soon found herself spending more and more time with them, accompanying them in their apostolates.
“When I was with the sisters, I felt as though I was at home with them,” Sister Mary Clare said. “It was then that I pursued my vocation, as to what community God was calling me.”
Some of the greatest joys she’s experienced in living her vocation have included wearing the religious habit of her order and participating in community life.
“It is such a blessing to live the liturgical life of the Church, daily attending Mass and having a daily schedule where our apostolate is around our prayer life, as it is not what we do, but who we are as brides of Christ,” she said.
The greatest challenge for Sister Mary Clare came in the first 10 years, when her non-Catholic family members failed to understand her vocation and the life of consecrated religious. It also was tough, she admits, to deal with the many different personalities of the other sisters in the community.
Even so, she felt a deep joy in living her vocation. When asked how she did it, she cited five reasons: daily receiving Jesus in the Eucharist; the support of the other sisters in the community; maintaining a consistent prayer life, even when it was difficult to pray; frequent confessions; and spending extra time before the Blessed Sacrament.
“In general, the greatest joy is in knowing that all that we do is for the honor and glory of God through the imitation of Mary’s Immaculate Heart,” she said.
Sister Charles Patricia Mistretta,
Little Sisters of the Poor
Sister Charles Patricia met the Little Sisters of the Poor when she was in eighth grade as a service opportunity offered in preparation for confirmation. Trouble was, the service was visiting sick and elderly people at the nursing home run by the Little Sisters, and she was terrified of elderly people. In fact, she fainted the first time she went to the home. Nonetheless, the Little Sisters helped her become more comfortable through their joyful, loving devotion to the elderly. This impressed Sister Charles Patricia so deeply that, on the night of her confirmation, she felt compelled to offer her life to God. Subsequently she continued volunteering with the Little Sisters and entered the order at age 22.
Sister Charles Patricia finds her greatest joys in the little things of consecrated life. On the other hand, the same things that bring her great joy also bring her great challenges. For example, living in community can be at times trying but also a tremendous blessing.
“Our life is an experience of God’s presence, and I am called to adore him in prayer and in others,” she said. “There’s a strong contemplative dimension to our vocation. The family spirit which exists in our homes is extraordinary, and sharing everyday life with my Little Sisters and our residents has brought me tremendous happiness. I’m also passionate about sharing our charism with young women who are discerning their vocation or beginning life as a Little Sister of the Poor.”
What kept Sister Charles Patricia going all these years is God’s grace.
“By staying united to him in prayer, I draw the strength to continue to respond to his call,” she said. “As time goes by, my unworthiness becomes more apparent to me. He sustains me, and my Little Sisters support me as I strive to do his will.”
Marge Fenelon writes from Wisconsin.