Be Who God Meant You To Be
When most people think of Vocations, they think of priests. Limiting ourselves to one singular example of something narrows our understanding and prohibits our experiences. This month of November begins with a week dedicated to Vocation Awareness – not just in our diocese – but nationally in the Catholic Church across the United States.
The word vocare is the Latin root meaning “to call.” The simplest explanation of a vocation is one’s “calling in life.” There is certainly a call to priestly vocations, but there is also a special call to the diaconate or consecrated life. But if we are not feeling a particular call toward a religious vocation, is that where our discernment should end?
I like to think of a vocation as work that we do for its own sake. It’s something that we enjoy doing so much, that it doesn’t matter if we ever get paid. Most people who have found their true vocation in life usually see or feel the impact of their work on others, believing they have found a way to truly utilize their unique, God-given gifts and talents. After a significant amount of time reflecting on my own life, it’s become clear to me that just as the word vocation should not be limited to one example of a religious career, we are all given the grace to answer more than one calling.
The vocation of motherhood is something that sits at the forefront of my life. I have four beautiful, smart, and gifted children. They aren’t all academic geniuses, but they all have their own sets of gifts and talents that seem to light up my life in different ways. Some might consider motherhood a choice, and others may see it as a “job” for the first 18 years of their child’s life. But there are no sick days, no overtime pay, and it’s often messy and hectic and overwhelming. When I was called to this vocation, quite unexpectedly at the age of 21, I wasn’t sure how I would handle it or how it would impact my life. With the guidance of those who loved me most, and with a lot of prayer and discernment over the years, it’s become the single most rewarding achievement of my life. Despite all of the mistakes I’ve made along the way, and all of the challenges life has provided us with, I am prouder of my children than I am of any personal, academic, or professional accomplishment.
The call to married life is another vocation that I can say, with confidence, I must choose daily. Our society plans weddings with great excitement, looks forward to honeymoons with great anticipation, and often gets ahead of itself by promoting the creation of grand 5 and 10-year plans between future spouses. In real life, the sacrament of matrimony is a calling that requires great sacrifice, adaptability, and selflessness. Despite all the pre-planning in the world, marriages face unexpected blessings and tragedies on God’s time. Marriage also affords us the opportunity to improve ourselves and practice developing the virtues of prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice on a daily basis. There have been many days when I was not sure if my marriage would survive. For many years it seemed we were constantly dealing with a crisis du jour, and there was no room or time to get to know ourselves as a married couple. Every date night was spent talking about the kids: what cute (or not-so-cute) thing they said that day, their problems, their needs, and our frustrations. We became two separate adults, operating in different spheres, that would only intersect when necessary.
The turning point for me came in the midst of a family crisis. We were experiencing one of those situations that would statistically end in the breakdown and dissolution of a marriage. We argued all the time, I cried daily, and I was experiencing a deep level of depression that I tried to keep very private. Through all of this, part of my job involved preparing newly engaged couples to marry in the Catholic Church, and I had to lead them through an initial Pre-Cana session. During this session, we discussed the Biblical roots of marriage, the creation of man and woman as unique beings designed to complement one another, and how our marriages should ultimately mirror God’s love for us. Jesus Christ gave his life, body and soul, to the Church. We are called, in our vocation of marriage, to imitate this kind of sacrificial love. Hypocrisy is a sub-standard character trait that does not align with my personal sense of morality, so after teaching a couple of these classes, I began to realize that I was not practicing what I was preaching. I slowly began to put these principles of matrimony into practice in my own life. I started looking past the annoying habits of my spouse, stopped dwelling on the past, and began to seek joy in my marriage on a spiritual level rather than expecting another person to fill the God-sized hole in my heart. Changes started to happen almost immediately.
Through our family crisis, I saw that God provided us with a silver lining: the time to focus on our marriage, our children, and our faith. After 16 years, we finally saw our vocation as a married couple realized. And like any other vocation, it involved a calling from God and a response by those called. Although it’s far from perfect and still presents many times of trial, it is made stronger by the help of the Holy Spirit, as my husband and I choose daily to commit to a lifelong, sacrificial partnership of love.
Although my personal vocations of motherhood and marriage will always remain at the foundation of my life, I have to thank God for nudging me toward my current career. Like many other young people, I never considered one’s work to be a vocation. I knew that jobs provided money, money provided security, and if I found something I was good at and enjoyed doing, then that was a bonus on top of the paycheck. I have had a lot of jobs in my life. When I was young I worked in retail sales, as an ice cream scooper, a hostess, a waitress, and as an apartment leasing agent. Eventually, after returning to school as an adult and finishing my degree in English and a graduate certificate program in secondary education, I began teaching. This was where it all began to change for me.
I experienced the most unexpected joy after forming relationships with my co-workers and the students I taught. I found my own voice again, stepped out of my comfort zone, and began to hone and polish my skills. After teaching for a few years, I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse. I was invited to step into the role of volunteer Youth Minister at St. Pius X. I wasn’t having a Godfather moment. I was having a God moment. This stewardship opportunity involved taking on a full-time job on top of my already full-time job and full-time motherhood. Sounds like a piece of cake, right? It most definitely was not. I was pushed to the limits of my time, talents, and treasure. What little free time I had was devoted to coordinating our programs with other volunteers, and I began to dig deeper into my own faith than I had ever done before.
As a teacher, I wanted to make sure I was always prepared – just in case my students asked me the hard questions. When I was hired at the high school, I was asked to teach a couple periods of a subject I had little experience in. My response to the administrators hiring me, to this day, is something that I carry with me as probably the most demonstrative example of my personality and drive: “If I don’t know it now, I’ll learn it.” I have always loved learning, and this new role I was gifted with in the Church gave me not only the chance to learn more, but to share my learning with others. I enjoyed my time volunteering that year so much, that when the time came to take a leap of faith and apply for a permanent position with the Church, I jumped. I expressed my interest, interviewed, and then commenced praying the Rosary daily during Lent that year. I asked God every day, not for what I wanted, but for His Will to be done. I was hired several weeks later as the Director of Formational Ministries at St. Pius X.
I’d like to say that my job description is clear, but it’s not. I’d like to say that I never take work home, but I do. I’d like to say that working for the Church is always fun and rewarding, but it’s often stressful and exhausting. What I can tell you is that it’s all been completely worth it. I have a clear understanding now that my true vocation is as a Catholic educator. Preparing children to receive their sacraments for the first time and witnessing the emotional and spiritual journey of the adults in RCIA will always trump the proverbial “Mondays” and the common, daily tasks. I love learning and teaching, I love my faith, and I love forming relationships with others. I love it when the Holy Spirit works among our staff and we come together to do amazing things and I especially love it when, in the midst of great uncertainty, I can still see God’s hand in all things.
I work at St. Pius X, for Monsignor Anthony Marcaccio. He demands excellence, but where generosity and compassion are concerned, he is paramount. But I serve the Church and I am called to be a faithful servant and leader, to educate others, and to provide an example to my own children of faith, hope, and charity. They have come to think of “mom’s job” as their home away from home. My co-workers are their second family, and they have learned to say yes, resoundingly, to serving the Church – each in their own, unique way. I am blessed to work with people that I love and admire. They support me every day and respect my God-given strengths and talents. Often people seeking an understanding of our Catholic faith grapple with the lack of roles for women in the Church. I see the opposite! I believe that women were not only trusted with some of the most important roles in Salvation History, they are also the backbone of our ministry work. In fact, many of our diocese and parishes are staffed with a majority of intelligent, professional, and capable women. When I think about my vocations in life, my career and work for the Church always makes my heart full.
I challenge you, during this week of Vocation Awareness, to think about what God is calling you to do. One of the best ways you can truly understand Him is through prayer and listening. Maybe you have been thinking about a religious vocation as a priest, deacon, or through the consecrated life. If so, please be open to His call. Start by contacting someone in our Vocation Ministry and asking them to pray for you. Or, perhaps you’re stuck in a rut with your career and it feels like a burden to get through the day. Spend some time in quiet prayer at Adoration, thank God for the blessings in your life, and ask for His help in discerning a more fruitful path. If your marriage is struggling or you find parenthood to be overwhelming, seek the grace of the sacraments through Reconciliation and commit yourself to daily, sacrificial love by viewing these vocations not just as a choice, but as a gift.
One of my favorite statements, attributed to St. Catherine of Siena, perfectly sums up what I believe to be the bedrock of one’s vocation: “Be who God meant you to be and set the world on fire.” Loving and gracious God, allow the Holy Spirit to guide us toward our true vocations, and let us be open to hearing God’s call in our lives.