So now you have taken all the preliminary steps toward answering those insistent questions in your heart. Is God calling you to a life of worshipful love in the cloister? Are you invited to be a Franciscan penitent giving to all the people of God an example of joyous penitence, as Vatican II described the life of contemplative nuns in its document on religious life? Are you finding yourself drawn to make the same conclusion that Saint Therese of Lisieux did regarding the service of all mankind: “In the heart of my Mother the Church, I will be love!”?
You want to know – for sure, you say. I can appreciate that. But, Mary, remember that what we really want to be sure about is less exactly where we are going or exactly how we are going to get there than who it is we are following. I am thinking about the Scriptural response to vocation.
If you read Matthew 4:18-20, you will see that vocation and response are quite a bit more starkly simple than some counselors would have it. Peter and Andrew were busy and successful fishermen. They were educated and equipped to catch fish. They seemed happy enough. But then Christ walked along the shore – of the lake and of their hearts. And He looked at them. They looked back. He said: “Follow me.” They got up and followed Him. You will notice that they did not say: “Follow you, where?” Nor: “We are fishermen, not preachers.” Not: “What are your plans, and how is everything going to turn out?” Still less did they question Him about how their personalities were going to be fulfilled if they followed Him.
You see, Mary, when you really are looking at Christ, you do not think about questions like that. Not any more than a girl in love with the man who is making her a proposal of marriage replies with considerations about life insurance policies and color TVs, or tells him that he is very attractive but she does not want to leave home. His love will be her fulfillment. Any woman knows that to be chosen and cherished is her best security. And you strike me as a live young woman.
And do read Matthew 9:9. Here is the classicism of a Greek drama but with the briefest script ever written. It takes one verse of Scripture to describe one of the most dramatic calls and responses ever known. When you experience that feeling of “Oh, it could never be for me!“, remember that it is not just likely that many of us would have selected a tax collector as a bright prospect for Jesus’ first novitiate. You know, Mary, Matthew was living a comfortable life. His job was specifically lucrative. Security. Ease. Does it strike you that Matthew does not say a single word about all that he is giving up to follow Christ, that he doesn’t even heave a single sigh?
It saddens me when a girl talks just too much about what she might have to give up. Again, I say, that is not the language of love. And following Christ is a matter of love. When you are in love, you want only to be with the loved one and share whatever lot is his. If I am back to love again, it is because that is the whole explanation of what is stirring in your heart. Oh, yes, there is pain in partings, pinch of material surrenders, but that is merely incidental to the wonder of being loved. We do not love our parents less for leaving them to enter the cloister any more than a bride of man does in leaving her family perhaps to live at the other end of the world because that is where her husband is. “For this cause a man shall leave father and mother and cling to his wife,” we are reminded in Genesis concerning earthly marriage. And to cling to God if He calls us into His cloistering love, we have to do the same. In Matthew 4:21-22, we are notified that James and John got up and “left their father and their nets.” Family, present concerns. Christ had looked at them. And they looked back. They got up and followed Him. That’s what a religious vocation is, Mary.
But, back to Matthew himself. He knew better than some of us do, what is an appropriate response to being called by Christ to follow Him in a highly specialized and demanding way of life. He didn’t grumble. He celebrated. He arranged a party. (Mt 9:10)
Do I hear you saying: “But they knew they were called. Our Lord stood right there and looked at them.” Yes, He did, Mary. But there is no guarantee that those He looks at will respond to His summons. Like any normal girl, you would like Christ to stand right in front of you and say: “Follow me into the cloister. I am inviting you, – I myself.” You think there would be no possibility of a mistake then.
Do you remember the rich young man? (Mk 10:17-23) He had just what you muse on. Christ stood there, physically, before the boy. It was Jesus’ own human voice that said: “Come follow me.” No doubt about that vocation. But the rich young man chose not to follow. God has elected to circumscribe His own omnipotence with our free will. And each of us can say either yes! or no! to God when He calls. Just as the rich young man turned away because he thought it was too much of a sacrifice to “give up all that he possessed,” so James and John might have protested that they could not leave their father. Or Peter and Andrew explained that they were not suited for the life of itinerant preaching.
Your yes! or your no! are yours, Mary. I am not going to make your decisions for you now, be sure. And if we do receive you to enter, I am not going to make them for you later on, either. I’ll pray for you, help you, answer your questions, and love you. But your life is your own. Our possible receiving of you now to enter or later to become a novice and then a professed junior sister and finally a perpetually vowed nun would amount only to agreeing with a decision you would already have made. Sometimes I have to disagree with the decision a girl makes. Some have wanted to enter, but I could not agree that they were called to our way of life. A few others I have felt were called, but they could not bring themselves to a firm decision. And I was not about to make it for them.
Without doubt, some people are asking you questions, too. Why you? Why waste your life in the cloister? Why bury your talents? Are others worrying that you won’t “be fulfilled?” I touched on that above; and it does make me smile, Mary. The saints were the most fulfilled persons in history. Imagine St. Francis or St. Clare worrying about whether their personalities were being fulfilled! I can hear you laugh. And I love the sound of it!
Ours is no easy life, Mary. But for one who is called to it, it is a marvelously rewarding life. Take it from one who knows. And you impress me as a girl wanting a challenge, not an easy chair. We can offer you a poor little room, plain food, long hours and no vacations. There is no TV. There is air-conditioning if the wind blows. And I am serious even as I smile.
So, Mary, pray and ponder yet a while. If Christ is looking at you and saying: “Come, follow me into the cloister,” you can always look away; but you cannot pretend that you don’t feel His eyes upon you. May you lock eyes with Him, Mary. God bless you.
Devotedly yours in Jesus and Mary,
(Written by Mother Mary Francis, PCC, Roswell, NM)