Often people wonder how someone can find fulfillment as a consecrated religious without having a family, being a wife or husband, a mother or a father. How can anyone find personal fulfillment when they can’t even make all of their own decisions? Yet, as I stumbled along in my vocation, I have found fulfillment as a religious precisely because my rule set me free to dedicate my life to God, without attachment even to my own future plans.
“Indeed from the very beginning of the Church men and women have set about following Christ with greater freedom and imitating Him more closely through the practice of the evangelical counsels, each in his own way leading a life dedicated to God.” (Perfectae Caritatis)
I recently finished an (almost) four-week stint of filling in as an aide on our men’s floor at St. Anne’s, an assisted living type home where I work. Although it was only two or three mornings a week, I must say that I am relieved to be relieved of this extra burden.
Don’t get me wrong; I am very happy to be able to fill in where needed, although my primary reason for being asked to come here was to serve as a receptionist.
A Spiritual Mother
This work of helping meet the very physical needs of our residents can be very fulfilling. As a woman religious, although I have no biological children, I am called to be a spiritual mother.
This mother image is more clearly illustrated in those Sisters serving children in schools, orphanages, or the like.
However, taking care of “our men” brings out my maternal side as well. (Our Franciscan rule calls us to be gentle, and need to try to be better at that; it is easy to fall into being stern when grown men try one’s patience.)
Nonetheless, when I “run around” upstairs, making a bed or taking out someone’s trash, I sometimes “feel” the fulfillment in this motherly role; I feel blessed. In some small way, I am able to help these people, to take care of their needs. I may not be the world’s best care aide, but I am privileged, even honored, to be entrusted with this task of caring for those who might be considered by some to be “the least of [the] brothers.”
As St. Francis once advised, “Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourself so that He who gave Himself totally to you may totally.”
Fulfilling Work as a Religious
Another “fulfilling” aspect of my work life as a religious is when I am able to put my lifelong aptitudes to good use. I have always been interested in written communications, from creating cards and books in early elementary school to shelving books at the public library as a high school student, to finally majoring in written communications. I especially enjoy the graphic design aspect of this. In my life today, I find fulfillment in putting this to use for the advancement of God’s kingdom. I am fulfilled in editing and doing the layout for our little monthly newsletter, in maintaining our webpage, and in other PR efforts in which I can put this to use.
Despite such a great variety of gifts, all those called by God to the practice of the evangelical counsels and who, faithfully responding to the call, undertake to observe the same, bind themselves to the Lord in a special way, following Christ, who chaste and poor (cf. Matt. 8:20; Luke 9:58) redeemed and sanctified men through obedience even to the death of the Cross (cf. Phil. 2:8). Driven by love with which the Holy Spirit floods their hearts (cf. Rom. 5:5) they live more and more for Christ and for His body which is the Church (cf. Col. 1:24). The more fervently, then, they are joined to Christ by this total life-long gift of themselves, the richer the life of the Church becomes and the more lively and successful it’s apostolate. (Perfectae Caritatis)
Aside from my work, however, the most fulfilling part about being a Sister is not in what I do, but in Whose I am. It is so wonderful to have Jesus there in our tabernacle.
Whose I Am
Difficult times I’ve had have led me to really cherish, and even yearn for, the special moments I am able to spend with Him each day.
Sitting in our chapel, before many others are even up, reading over the day’s gospel and talking from my heart to my wondrous Bridegroom, is fulfilling. As Psalm 16 says, “You will show me the path to life, fullness of joy in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.” (This is not to say that I am always attentive and never distracted, or that I am constantly filled with abundant, supernatural joy, by any means.) However, it is a life of following Jesus, in which we long to be close to Him.
According to Pope Francis, “the journey in consecrated life is following the footsteps of Jesus.” He, after all, is our fulfillment.