Every religious congregation and diocese has Vocation Directors, that is, persons whose primary ministry is to reach out to people discerning their calling and to help them see if they are called to that particular community or diocese. In religious life, a Vocation Director is there to help you get to know the community, to introduce you to and facilitate connections to other sisters or brothers in the community. She or he is also the one who gets to know you, where you are from, what your story is, what attracts you to God, to religious life, and to that particular community.
For those of you who are discerning, it can feel like a huge step to make Official Contact (begin dramatic music) with a religious congregation. I remember how terrified and exhilarated I felt the first time I made contact (yes, it felt a little like Richard Dreyfuss’s character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind) with our IHM Vocation Director. It was not because she or any of the nuns were alien-esque but rather it was something happening within me. I was actually making concrete, publicly articulating this desire that was welling up in me … a desire that I still struggled to put coherent words on.
Some of my fears about contacting a Vocation Director had to do with thinking I was “signing on the dotted line”. I didn’t know that the Vocation Director was there to help me discern, give me more data for my research, help me to get to know the community. I didn’t know that she held both the community’s best interests and my best interests at heart. I was also afraid that as she got to know me, she’d find out I wasn’t all that holy or nunly (whatever I thought that meant!).
The very act of making contact was for me a real help in my discernment because I had to trust God and really believe that the Spirit was working within me. It was like my secret was finally going to be out in the open which was not only terrifying but kind of a relief. I didn’t know what would come of all that but I knew that if I didn’t respond to this nudging of God’s Spirit (no matter how crazy it all seemed to me) then I might miss something. I could never have dreamed that that little nudging would end up in the life I experience now as an IHM Sister dedicated to the liberating mission of Jesus.
I came to value and rely on the relationship that I had with my Vocation Directors (I had two, not because I was a handful … or was it? … but because one was at the end of her term and the new one was beginning). One of the most important things they did for me was to help me to get to know other sisters and to have others get to know me. That was foundational for me and to this day I continue those ever-deepening relationships. My directors and the nuns I met sustained me as I went through the ups and downs of discernment. They let me know that I was welcome and wanted and also that I was free to do what God called me to do, even if it meant not staying.
For those of you considering religious life, what’s your experience of “making contact”? or even just considering making contact? For others, have you ever had this kind of experience of “making contact” in which you made public a desire that you were still in the midst of trying to make sense of?
2014 UPDATE: Be sure to also check out Sister Cheryl Rose's blog here; Discovering God's Calling.