References to discernment appear throughout the history of Christian spirituality, and even before that in writings about the life of the Buddha, for example, although various writers may use different ways to name it. The literal translation of the word has its roots in the Greek diakrisis, which means 'to separate,' 'to sift through,' 'to sort out,' or 'to distinguish' (Discernment: A Path to Spiritual Awakening, Rose Mary Dougherty, 2).
Discernment is a process, it takes time, and it is important.
As a little girl, there was this fire within me that caught ablaze any time I was around a religious priest, sister or brother. My fire never went out. I remember being in junior high and going to the University of Notre Dame for a week retreat still having this fiery feeling inside of me. It was at this retreat where I allowed others to witness my call. For the first time I shared with my peers that I felt I was being called to be a religious sister, some of my peers were total strangers while others belonged to the local parish I came to the retreat with. It is not uncommon at youth retreats for the topic of discernment or the topic of call to be a component.
Sometimes during retreats, students who feel they are being called to the religious life are encouraged to make witness to this call, by standing up when they are called. I can remember being one of the few women who stood up. We were among a crowd of a thousand or more students. It was a very solemn feeling.
The feeling inside, beckoning me, to seek religious life never ceased.
Despite my difficulties, my hope remained as I befriended my religion teacher who became a huge asset to my discernment. Mr. Thomas met with me regularly, so that I had someone I could talk to about religious life. My teacher and friend helped me to stay focused throughout high school by reminding me to keep religious life "on the back burner" so that I could focus on getting though high school, as there was plenty of life ahead of me to discern my vocation. In the process he became my role model. By graduation I thought I wanted to be a religion teacher like Mr. Thomas. Because of this I decided to major in Theology for my undergraduate studies.
Come and See
Eventually I found a couple of other women on campus who also felt a call, we befriended, but we were still the minority. There was no group for young college students who felt the call, so we were left to our own devices to discern by our lonesome. At one point or another, I put my call to religious life aside and dated a guy but right away a feeling inside of me felt that this was premature. I let my emotions get a hold of me and I dated someone who in my right mind I wouldn't have. It was during this "relationship" that my call to religious life only grew stronger. It was as if God was showing me a sign, this relationship allowed me to figure out that I did not think marriage was my vocation after-all. Certainly there was always a possibility of doubt of the vocation to religious life. Religious life is abnormal and unusual in the world today.
After a couple of years of college, one of my fellow discerning friends and I made a trip to Ann Arbor Michigan to visit the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist(https://www.sistersofmary.org/). This was a community my friend was interested in, I tagged along not realizing what I was getting myself into, but I figured it would be helpful to network with other women my age. Just a couple of months later, in March 2010, this same friend and I attended a Come and See with the Sisters of the Precious Blood (http://preciousbloodsistersdayton.org/). This being the community my aunt belonged.
This Come and See relight my fire ablaze. I had a wonderful time getting to know other religious sisters and other women who were like me, I was excited once again to continue discerning my call to religious life. At this Come and See I told the vocation director that I was very serious in my intentions to continue my discernment to religious life. I was then assigned a mentor sister to meet with once a month. My relationship with my mentor sister grew strong and we became great friends. All of this time I was still in college.
My Journey to the Sisterhood: Joys and Challenges
Before I knew it, I graduated from college and I moved into a house with a couple of Precious Blood Sisters while I continued to discern my call to religious life, specifically to the Sisters of the Precious Blood (C.PP.S) all the while I attended graduate school. By living in this community, I agreed to live a life as though I was a sister, which meant I lived the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. I also tried to be a part of the local community as much as possible, which meant I prayed and ate meals with them as much as my schedule allowed. While I lived in this house of discernment as they called it, my life and commitment was fairly flexible. I continued to meet with my mentor sister about once a month as we continued to discuss the vows (Poverty, Chasity/Celibacy and Obedience)and the life of a Sister of the Precious Blood. I was really enjoying this new way of life. I had no doubts I was being called to the Sisters of the Precious Blood and I was trying to prepare myself to live my life as a religious sister.
After happily living in community for a year I requested and was accepted as a candidate/pre-novice. Little did I know, but I believe I was forewarned, that this change of status within the community could bring other changes to my discernment. At the time I continued living in the same house for another six months and then I was relocated to a new house which housed two different C.PP.S Sisters and would also house a woman from Guatemala who was my age, who would be attending the local University to study the English language while she discerned her call to religious life. This later part was exciting, as I had been the youngest and only discerner living in the discernment house for a year and a half.
I moved to the "new" house in December of 2013. I do not handle change well, who does? This particular time in my life was a chaotic one. In addition to the move, I was in the beginnings of the most stressful part of my graduate career, I was admist my practicum year. The location of my practicum was nearly an hour and a half away from where I was living. I was also working in a parish which gave me about a thirty-minute drive so that made an hour drive round trip.
Despite my feeling of being uprooted, or thrown around like a sac of potatoes, the same feelings I once learned how to bury as a child, I tried my best to adapt to my new living quarters. I tried to get to know everyone I was living with. Our community began eating, praying and playing together. All of the same things I did previously in my year and a half of discernment in the other house. Internally though, something was wrong. I ignored these feelings though, since I was going through a lot with school, work and with the new living conditions. I was advised by my good friend, a priest, to "hang-in."
I continued to plow through my feelings, but after living in community for two-years my feelings were not changing. I did not feel like I was happy any more. I was spending more time alone, hiding in my room, than I was around my community members, like I did previously while living in community. I tried to keep my head on straight as I sifted through everything that was going on. I acknowledged that this sifting is a big part of my discernment process. As my feelings did not change, I began sharing more of my feelings with others whom I trust the most, my mentor, my mom and my best friend. When my best friend told me that she does not think God is the same anymore for me, and my mom said that she can tell I was not happy, I knew this was not goo. These were red flags.
Looking back I now realize that in the later part of my discernment, I was really becoming a Chameleon in many aspects of my life, by camouflaging to my surroundings. I did what was expected of me and watched what I said so that I did not project how I really felt. I was making myself miserable. Whether or not I was subconsciously camouflaging, I was not being true to myself.
I have to constantly remind myself that I need to be Katie. That I am not my parents. Therefore, my marriage, if I marry one day will not be like my parents marriage. I am not my aunt, so religious life for me will not look like it did for my aunt. I need to find myself, I need to FOCUS on me!
As I focused on myself during my final months of living with community, I realized that there are things I want to do and experience before I make a life-long commitment. There are some people who may think I am petty that I want to experience living on my own, or that I want to buy a brand new car, of my choice, right off the lot, or simply being able to buy new clothes and not feel guilty about it, because I have two closets full already but these are some of the things that I want to do or experience. These things are part of life, these are things I need to experience for myself.
Therefore, in June, after talking to my mom and my dad, and knowing that I am always supported by my friends, I decided that I wanted to discontinue my discernment with the Sisters of the Precious Blood. This was not an easy decision and it was made with a heavy and torn heart but it was a decision that had to be made. I had to be honest with myself and do what was best for Katie.
Aspiration of Religious Life Ceased, Awaiting New Vocation to Blossom
I do not know what the future holds. Immediately upon leaving community, I did not have a job, and I found out that I was going to need surgery on my feet, I had no choice but to move back home with my parents. This was heart breaking because this was not on my radar. At 25 years old, I did not want to return to living under my parents house, I feared being confined. In some ways this was something I was feeling in community. My plan was to get my own apartment and enjoy furnishing it with my STUFF. It may not be much, or the fanciest collection, it would be a hodgepodge collection of stuff but it would be mine!
Since I have moved back home after being away for two years, I have learned how to be an adult living at home. I am fairly independent in that I still have my own bills, money, car insurance excedra, but I know my parents are here for me when I need them. I have had one foot operated on so far and in about two weeks I will be walking again. I was also hired as the Director of Religious Education at my home Parish where I grew up.
After spending approximately 15 years of discerning my call to religious life, I have discerned that I do not think religious life is for me. I have had the opportunity since I moved back home to make a list of goals and aspirations for my life. God-willing one day I will meet my best friend and soul-mate and travel all over the world with him and one day settle day and have a family together. I just want to be me; I just want to be Katie.
Remember, you are loved!