Someone asked me recently why I was discerning contemplative religious life rather than apostolic religious life. The short answer was that it is where I feel God is calling me to be. But as always behind every short answer is a long answer.
When I first felt called to religious life, I wanted to be an active sister. This wasn’t a matter of feeling called to that apostolic ministry, it was a matter of that was what I wanted to do. Like many other people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, I didn’t really understand the contemplative vocation. It is a very hidden life so on some level it is easy to see how such misunderstandings happen. I found it difficult to see prayer as “work” and I confess my prayer life at the time was not nearly what it should have been. Contemplative life seemed empty and boring to me. In hindsight, I find my ignorance quite amusing and fairly ironic considering I am now discerning that life.
I have discovered since than that a vocation isn’t about what you think you’d enjoy best or where you think you’d fit best. I know someone who has a dozen piece list of exactly what she does and doesn’t want in an order. If you think like that then God has a tendency to throw a curveball at you. And He sure sent one right at me and I realised that the contemplative life was where He wanted me to be. In the end we can have all the expectations and ideas in the world but God calls us where He knows is best, even if at first we might not agree with Him!
My understanding of religious life and various roles apostolic and contemplative religious play has grown immensely since then. I went to a private secular high school and they had a big emphasis on teaching us to go out and help and serve others. I suppose that was where my decision to choose apostolic religious life came from, that sense of duty that they instilled in me. Apostolic religious life is a beautiful ministry, don’t take any of this as me dissing that because I have so much respect for apostolic religious life and those who dedicate their lives to it. This is purely my personal inclinations and my take on my vocation.
I felt that as an apostolic religious I could never help as many people as I wanted to. I would do wonderful things but for me it would never be enough. I felt that my scope would always be too limited. For me the contemplative vocation widens that scope and I can serve the whole world, a silent voice holding everyone in my heart through my prayers. My life is given to Christ so that I am set aside for Him only but through that I also am in the service of all of His people. In this way I become a mother of souls and all His people are my children. I am given the duty to watch over them with my prayers. It’s a great gift and a great responsibility and one I feel entirely unworthy of.
We are called contemplatives because that is truly our vocation: to contemplate the mysteries of Christ! Every religious has a ministry and mine will be prayer. Before I could truly accept my contemplative vocation I first had to mature in my prayer. I don’t think it was mere coincidence that it was when I had found that deep love for intimate prayer with the Lord that I felt my religious calling resurfacing. I had to learn that prayer doesn’t come from the words you say, it comes from your very soul. I began feeling this longing to spend more and more time in prayer and wishing I could be in prayer just all the time.
One of the two parishes I attend is very close to my university campus (the other being close to my home) and I found myself drawn there more and more. I began going to Daily Mass when I could and often there were long gaps of an hour or so between my lectures starting of finishing and the Mass times. There was a time where I wouldn’t have bothered or I’d have gone shopping. But I found myself wanting to spend more and more time there in the church. I would spend hours there. I loved the silence, I loved the peace, I loved that this was a place set aside for God and for His glory. I wished I could be there all the time. I had faith before that and I loved Jesus but this was when I first truly felt that deep love for Christ that filled me so completely. I realised then and there in that church that I was willing to do anything for Christ. I didn’t care what it was, if it was His will then I was prepared to do that. I told Him so, and lo and behold He revealed to me the gift He had given me at my baptism: my vocation.