When Pope Francis named 2015 the Year of Consecrated Life (the vowed life of Sisters and Brothers), I was surprised and very pleased.
Fifty years after the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church is a very appropriate time to lift up and celebrate Consecrated Life and invite our young adults to consider this life style. And I am motivated to look back lovingly on the unfolding of my own vocation.
Unfolding of a vocation
Beginning with middle grades the pastor or assistant would visit our Religion Class and ask the predictable question, “How many of you are going to be priests?” And many of the boys would raise their hands in the affirmative.
Then he would ask the girls, “How many of you are going to be Sisters?” And most of the girls would raise their hands. I raised my hands faithfully through junior high. Not so much because I really thought I would enter the convent. I didn’t want to disappoint the pastor!
Early high school years I was quite distracted by the “boys” and the vocation question took a back seat. I could see myself as a wife and mom of a large family. But gradually there was this stirring within my heart.
I do not understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us. (Anne Lamott)
I love this quote by Anne Lamott because the grace to respond to the call received in baptism to live out our discipleship in a certain life style is truly a mystery. Finding words is often difficult. I look at married couples and think – how did you know he/she was the one for you?
People ask me, “Why did you become a Sister?” My answer is pretty simple and unsophisticated, “There was this huge ache in my heart to love God with my whole being and serve God generously and faithfully.” The rest is mystery! And all has been gift.
Seeking simplicity and joyfulness
There were seven different orders of Sisters at Heelan High School in Sioux City. And while I admired them all, it was the Dubuque Franciscans with whom my spirit most resonated. These Sisters seemed so grounded and real, down to earth, lived simply and so joyfully. They were a lot of fun and I enjoyed helping them in the classroom after hours.
Gradually they invited me to join them for prayer and meals and I got to experience their life “up close and personal.” The next step just seemed so natural. I entered Mount St. Francis in Dubuque in 1962.
Vatican ll began in October of that year so the renewal of religious life that resulted from that Council was just in infancy stage. Our three years of initial formation were in the “traditional model.” And I am glad I had that experience as it helped me understand religious life before Vatican ll.
And I will always be so grateful that Vatican ll called us to: “return to the sources of all Christian Life and to the original vision of our foundress;” and “to read the signs of the times so that Religious Men and Women might more adequately serve the needs of God’s people.”
Making a difference for the reign of God
For over fifty years I have been richly blessed to have ministered as a teacher, principal, formation director for our Congregation, chaplain, parish minister, a vice-president of our Congregation and as a pastoral associate.
So many people have walked through my heart – blessing me with their goodness and kindness, sharing joy and sorrow, teaching me to find the face of God in the most unexpected ways and places. I pray that, together, we have made a difference for the reign of God.
As with any life style, there have been challenges and disappointments but the overall joy of having said “yes” to that call so many years ago has been amazing. I thank God daily for the call to be a Franciscan Sister.
And I am eternally grateful to all who nurtured that call, challenged me to grow and step out of my comfort zones, to those who have been mentors and models of “living well, loving deeply, and serving faithfully.” In all honesty and humility, I have loved my life. It has been an incredible journey!
In the words of Pope Francis,
Wake up the world! Be a witness of a different way of doing things, of acting, of living. It is possible to live differently in this world.
Amen! And to young people today I say,
Live with passion.
Follow your heart.
Do that which makes you come truly alive.
Pay attention to the worlds’ deepest hungers.
(Sr. Virginia Jennings, Pastoral Associate, Ss John & Paul Parish)