Discernment and vocation are buzzwords in many Christian denominations today. In my profession, I hear those words so much that they almost become tiresome…Fulfill your call. Respond to God. Say yes. Be like the Virgin Mary. Be like the Apostles. Be like the Saints. Follow Christ fully.
I had a yearning to find my place and my vocation, but I didn’t know it. Many would describe me as opinionated, sassy, and strong—but deep in my heart these descriptors were meaningless because I didn’t know where I belonged.
I was raised a Roman Catholic, and attended nineteen years of Catholic school. The Catholic Church did so much for me. I learned about how God could be present in all aspects of life through the Roman Church. From the decor in my house, to the social groups I was a part of, nearly everything in my life had roots in the Roman Catholic Church.
However, I had a spiritual conflict in my heart my entire life as I learned to respond to my vocational call. I always believed that I had a call to the priesthood, and church teachings said that call was invalid. So instead of striving for holiness and devoting my entire self to God, I behaved selfishly. I acted out, particularly in the department of romantic relationships. I involved myself with people that would pull me further away from God, and I would rationalize my irresponsible behavior, because I figured I didn’t really have to take the church seriously if I couldn’t be a priest. I could have wandered like that for decades without ever acting like my own spiritual growth was necessary if I didn’t learn that I could fulfill my vocation elsewhere.
You Cannot Fulfill Your Vocation if Not All Vocations Are Available to You
Everybody has something that they were absolutely born to do. Until each person finds that unique vocation (and it does not have to be working for the church!), he or she will not feel complete. As a priest told me today, until we fulfill our vocations, we do not feel like we are “fully ourselves.” In this culture, we are taught that fulfillment comes from things outside of ourselves— a romantic partner, wealth and fame, a fancy title, etc. So many of us never take the chance on life to be who God truly intended for us to be because we only look externally for happiness.
That is why it is absolutely essential that all Christian churches (and spiritual/religious communities in general) offer the same opportunities to everyone. You cannot fulfill your call from God if you do not have all the options to do so. For the churches that have not yet embraced full gender equality, you are only hurting yourselves. Instead of getting the best possible candidates in your various ministries, you are limiting your options to only half. This percentage gets even smaller with the denominations that marginalize members of the LGBT community. We are created in God’s image—so that must mean that God is a little bit of all of us: Woman, man, gay, straight, trans, cis, disabled or not, etc. Today I experienced the beauty of God’s diversity in vocations AND in people—multiple races, ages, orientations, and genders, living out their call from God in distinctive ways, from ordination, to vowed religious, to those exploring a life of simplicity as a layperson. Any and every vocation was open to all who were seeking it.
As I heard the stories of each person, I realized that in order to discern, you have to try things out. In order to say “no” to certain things, you first have to say, “well, let’s just check this out.” Sometimes it resulted in an adamant “absolutely not,” but the point was they were allowed to seek it. God does not discriminate, and neither should the Church. I am not suggesting that this happens to everyone, but for those who are called but are not validated, the Church runs the risk of causing spiritual death.
You Cannot Fight for Justice if You Are Experiencing Injustice
As I previously mentioned, before I realized that my call could be fulfilled in places other than the Roman Church, I behaved immaturely. My immaturity was not simply irresponsible actions, but it also played out in bitterness, divisiveness, and cynicism. My heart was cold and judgmental. I found myself resenting the men in my life who were accepted into the seminary (some who were my close friends since childhood). I even found myself resenting my own father who became an ordained deacon while I was in college. I blamed these men for my pain—I accused them of being contributors by their silence (even though it was clear that even those who agreed with me had little power over the matter).
I became so wrapped up in my own injustice that I never looked outward at the injustices that Jesus asks us to fight. I ignored the Gospel message. I was half-assing Christianity. The world is full of people in pain, and while my pain was valid, mine was not the only pain. My bitterness was keeping me from responding to my baptismal call.
You Cannot Discern if You Have Not Healed Wounds
In my time of many romantic dysfunctional relationships, I didn’t recognize the pattern that was happening. Unfortunately, I experienced a cycle of emotional and physical abuse with multiple boyfriends. I wallowed in my victimhood, and felt very much that I deserved what I experienced. While I was not conscious of it at the time, the root cause was the same as the cause of my bitterness—misogyny in Christ’s Church.
When the Church holds misogynistic ideologies, that sends a message to society that sexism is okay. When the Church does not treat women as full members, then the strong, devout women will believe that spiritual, emotional, and sometimes physical harm is what they deserve.
I have always called myself a feminist and spoken out for women’s rights, but each time I ended up wounded by another failed relationship, I felt the same as the existential crisis as the Church made me feel. I felt that I was a worthless mistake. If only I was the kind of woman the Church wanted, then I would be the kind of woman that men respected. It was a long road before I realized that it was not all my fault, and that I was not seeing my own worth. When I recognized that I was internalizing the misogyny I was experiencing, I was able to move away from it to the next step of growth.
You Cannot Discern Without Taking Responsibility for Your Actions
After my final horrible relationship, I had hit rock bottom. I was numb—simply a shell of who I once believed I was meant to be. As scary as it was, it was exactly where the Holy Spirit had intended to put me. None of us are without struggle, and that just happened to be the struggle that God threw at me. It was only at that rock bottom point did I start to see who I truly was inside. At my lowest point, I remember feeling myself beneath the external—I existed beyond what was happening to me—I existed beyond the spiritual and physical abuse. It was not me—it was not who I was designed to be. It was simply a challenge in life. With this revelation, I began to grow into a new me. I embraced my support system and I started to awaken to new ideas, new philosophies, and new ways to experience God.
I realized that my wounds were real and valid, but I was not an innocent person in the events that took place. I believed that there was no other way to holiness other than remaining in the Roman branch of Christ’s Church. I had my heart closed to all other possibilities out of fear. What if I could not find employment? What if the Roman Church really was correct and I would be sacrificing my immortal soul for something selfish?
Finally I recognized that I had to go with my gut, and that there has never been a saint in history who didn’t face opposition, disagreements, risks, and uncertainty. God had been calling me since childhood to the priesthood, and I could not change what was out of my control. I could continue to be bitter, angry, irresponsible, and blame it all on the Big Bad Roman Catholic Church, or I could follow the righteous path of the Gospels.
We are all familiar with the serenity prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
I could not change the Roman Catholic Church’s ideology—I was only one person. But I could change who I was—I could go from identifying solely with my religious affiliation to becoming someone who embraced Love as a lifestyle. My wisdom came in when I realized I had to let the bitterness go. I do not agree with the RCC’s teachings on ordination, but I love the RCC and what it did for me. I love my Roman Catholic sisters and brothers. I am not here to battle anybody anymore. I will support my sisters in Christ as they continue their long journey to equality, but is not my vocation to fight that battle.
The Roman Catholic Church held me back, but my sins were my sins. My actions were my actions. At any point in time I could have left, but I hid behind the Catholic Church and made excuses for myself. If you want to be happy and fulfill your vocation, you have to make a change. You have to take responsibility. You have to take control of your life.
When You Have Found Your Path, You Must Go With Love and Forgiveness
Ultimately, I believe that all Christian churches desperately need to embrace full participation of women (and members of the LGBT community). However, I forgive the churches that don’t. Church politics is a complicated thing—the Church—especially the Roman Catholic Church—tends to embrace changes like a slowly moving ship. It can be frustrating and heart-wrenching at times, but when it comes down to it, the members of the other denominations are still your family. We are all one Body of Christ.
Each Christian community contributes to the Body in a special way, and each part helps make the whole more complete. There are problems and successes in all denominations, and it is our job to figure out where we fit. This is nothing new—just open the New Testament and you will find a lot of diversity in Paul’s letters to various communities. No one is better than anyone else. We all have the same God and are created in that God’s image. What works for you does not work for me, and that is important to understand.
Tomorrow I will be received into the Episcopal Church, and I couldn’t be happier. It is not only because I will be able to apply to the seminary that I am joyful, but I am so happy that I finally found a place that feels like home. I do not have to be combative—I can just be myself. I don’t have to whisper behind closed doors that I feel called to the priesthood. I can shout it on the rooftops (and I plan to do so!). If you find your vocation in the Roman Catholic Church, that is wonderful! But if there is anyone out there struggling like I was, please consider opening your heart to other options. And for those of you that do not wish to leave your denomination but you disagree with the inequality in your church, stand up, and speak out! You are blessed, you are loved, and you matter. Maybe your vocation is to fight for that change. There are so many great people who may not be meeting their potential because of church politics, and you can be the one that gives them a voice. It was not my call to fight for change, but I will be cheering you on from afar.
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)