A Vocation Story by Sister Mary Fleig, OCD
Carmelite Monastery of Baltimore

I am touched and inspired by Pope Francis’ admission, “I’m a sinner.” I frequently find myself wondering why God called me to this life and what I have to offer. During my late teens and early twenties, I was on a very different path, far away from God, a path that would have led to self-destruction. I am now aware of the times God tried to intervene, but I ignored these calls until I could no longer ward off God’s grace and my life turned around.

Although my life changed, I had a nagging restlessness which would send me back to school for another degree or to change jobs or relationships. Eventually, I found myself working as an attorney in the compliance department of a large company; I owned a lovely condo, dated, was belonged to a parish and was basically happy, but still restless.

One summer I decided to go on a retreat at a Jesuit retreat house and it was there that I learned to pray in the Ignatian method; I began to discern how God was speaking to me in the depth of my heart. Being a head person, this was really quite new and exciting.

I continued to make these retreats each year and my faith and love for God grew. As my colleagues were heading off on luxurious vacations each summer, I would show up for retreat ready for my director to give me my “assignment.” I would return home refreshed and rested, and more in love with God, but the restlessness would return.

One year on retreat I met with my director on the first evening, ready for my assignment and she said to me, “I’m not going to give you anything to pray over, I want you just to go be.” I had absolutely no idea what she meant, and it sort of frightened me, but I went outside and sat down by a pond on the property, and for a full 8 days I watched a heron, turtles, and frogs. I felt a deep appreciation of nature and experienced God in all of it in a new and more silent way. I think it was here that God opened up a deep quiet space inside of me.

A short time later, a Jesuit friend of mine brought me up to the Carmelite Monastery for Mass for the first time. I was immediately attracted to this vibrant prayerful community. It was shortly after September 11, 2001, and I was frustrated and saddened by the state of the world and our nation, and prayer seemed like the answer. It still took many months of discernment, but my heart was telling me I had to give this life a try.

Now, 15 years later, I still struggle at times. This way of life is not easy – it calls for continual self-dispossession and surrender, but the two things that have never wavered are my deep love for God and my total belief in prayer.