Welcome to our Blessed Chats series! Each month, we will dedicate an entire week of blog posts to a topic that affects many of us. These conversations often come up in our Facebook groups and in our real life friendships. We want to share a variety of perspectives on the topic at hand, so we’ve asked women to share their stories and how the teachings of the Church have guided and comforted them. In this series, we are talking about vocational discernment. We’d love for you to join the conversation!
As a child, I was intrigued by religious life in the movies The Sound of Music and Sister Act. Little did I know that one day I would follow Jesus both in and out of the convent!
As an adult, I experienced a vocational call to follow Jesus more closely in the Evangelical Counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience. I am eternally grateful that Jesus invited me to intimately know the beauty of the Consecrated Life in our Church today. Religious sisters who thrive in their lives of radical Consecration to God within their religious communities are a profound witness to us.
A Call Throughout a Life
I grew up in a Catholic family and received the gift of faith. The idea of moving abroad as a missionary was an attractive thought that I noticed occasionally. Essentially, I knew that if Jesus invited me to do something radical for Him, I would follow. I wanted to glorify Him through my words and actions. I wanted to grow in holiness. I wanted Him to use my life to build and strengthen His Catholic Church.
As I helped my friends prepare for their weddings, my heart hoped for a love story of my own. I had such a deep desire to be a wife and mother, yet I felt confident in God’s faithfulness and goodness. Jesus would show me the way, right?
A Penetrating Word
During my second year of teaching, I began going to daily Mass and frequent confession. As the grace of the Sacraments began to flow through my daily life, I felt especially connected to the Church. This deepened Sacramental life provided spiritual growth and a sense that God was doing something new in my heart.
One day at daily Mass, my pastor’s homily especially convicted me. Father said, “Saint John Bosco believed that one in three young persons has a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. If you are not in a permanent vocation right now, please open your heart to discerning the priesthood or the Consecrated Life.”
My heart was pierced and I felt the desire to explore this mysterious world of Consecrated Life. Knowing that I needed a guide, I talked to my pastor after Mass that day. Father encouraged me to contact the Vocation Office of our Archdiocese. My heart sank a bit. I had never talked to anyone about discerning my vocation, so it seemed like a huge leap to go straight to the Vocation Director of my Archdiocese.
A Process of Listening and Following
After some prayer, I finally mustered up the courage to call the Vocation Director. In God’s providence, the timing was perfect. There was a new discernment house for women opening in a few months and I decided to move in. Living in a discernment house for nine months provided a time set apart to ask the question and pray for vocational clarity. Strengthened by the friendships with the other eleven women who were also discerning, a space in my heart opened where I could finally ask the question of religious life. I encountered sisters from many different communities, traveled to three convents for their “Come and See” weekends, and met with my spiritual director every month.
A whole new world opened to me, but I was also very scared.
What if Jesus actually called me to religious life?
What will my family think?
How will I leave the job I love?
Could I really leave everything behind?
Will I be genuinely happy?
Will my life feel empty without earthly marriage and physical children?
How will Jesus fill the desires of my heart?
I brought these questions to prayer, to my spiritual director, and to religious sisters that I met. I listened and desired to say “yes” to wherever Jesus was leading.
Jesus revealed His will to me during an eight-day Ignatian silent retreat that spring. As I prayed with Scripture, I felt an incredibly personal invitation to belong to Christ alone. Jesus drew me to His Heart and invited me to be His bride. I recognized a particular charism the Holy Spirit within and knew which community He wanted me to join. I felt joy and delight.
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Entering and Exiting
I entered the convent five months later and I stayed for six years. When I reflect on my discernment, there is an abundance of peace. Jesus invited me to discern with this community and He remained with me when I chose to leave. Amid the painful grief of saying goodbye, there was also hope in a new life in Christ.
The Church in her wisdom advises that a woman should discern with a community for eight years before making perpetual vows. A vocation to the Consecrated Life takes time to grow. The call needs to be nurtured and purified and tested. Those who are given the grace of this vocation experience a flourishing of life where the suffering bears fruit and the heart receives peace. There is a mutual discernment process between the community and the candidate.
After a few years in the convent, I was not thriving. While I was surrounded by sisters who became fully alive, my health slowly deteriorated and religious life began to feel incredibly heavy. It was such a mystery and very difficult to navigate. I felt ready and willing to offer it all up and suffer through it, but Jesus began to invite me to more freedom and more life. This darkness became a place where Jesus was teaching me greater surrender and trust. As I could not understand the Father’s will, I felt so united to the Passion of Christ. And Jesus’ death always leads to new life!
The Care of the Church
During this time, I felt so cared for by the Church. The sisters in my community encouraged me, my spiritual director reminded me to fix my eyes on Jesus, religious sisters from another community cared for my medical needs, and my friendships with the Saints deepened as I learned from their guidance. Through many hours of prayer and numerous conversations with my Religious Superior and my spiritual director, we discerned together that Jesus was leading me to a new life outside of this community. There were many tears on the day I left, but I was deeply consoled by Jesus’ words to me in prayer during my last visit to our convent chapel, “Go in peace.”
The winding path of my vocational discernment has surprised me countless times. While my life today looks different than I imagined, I rest in the peace that Jesus has remained by my side. It is a love story full of trust and abandonment to Divine Providence.
No matter where you are on your vocational journey, let the Wisdom of Holy Mother Church lead you to a life of holiness! Do not be afraid!
We want to hear YOUR story. Please share in the comments below!
And if you want more help with finding your own story, our popular Write + Pray course offers 9 topics, nearly an hour of guided video, and almost 50 Scripture verses and questions for you featuring Managing Editor Nell O’Leary. Find your story today.