When I started this column a few months ago, I wrote that it would not be exclusively about vocations to the priesthood. With this in mind, I am pleased to include the following article beginning in the next paragraph by Sister Clare Matthiass, C.F.R., the vocation director for the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal, about a great opportunity for Catholic women.
Seven “Come and See” guests fill the convent as I write. With one official guest room, we are learning the art of creative hosting! I bring it up because our “Come and See” guests—in many ways—are the inspiration for the new vocation initiative Avow. A “Come and See” allows college students, recent graduates and young professionals to experience a taste of convent life as they explore the possibility of a religious call.
One thing we have learned over the years of opening our doors to young women who are discerning is that they need each other. Knowing that the Division I lacrosse player to your left and the founder of the women’s fashion magazine to your right are both asking the same questions somehow helps. I know from experience what it’s like to feel first hints of a call, and I can remember like it was yesterday the feelings of fear and uncertainty that accompanied it and the hesitancy to talk about it, right into my 20s.
When the possibility of religious life comes up in a woman’s heart, she needs to be able to talk about it without feeling like a complete anomaly, or a millennial misfit. She doesn’t want to feel herself recruited by an enthusiastic vocation director as she is sized up for a habit. I remember not even wanting to think about religious life in college because I thought it would certainly end my chances of getting asked to the Spring Formal. A woman has to be able to do both: discern in freedom and keep her options open.
The book “Discerning Religious Life” was a simple effort to make it easier for women to discern. It’s a resource that tries to be real, giving true examples of women who overcame fears, obstacles and the disapproval of others. Whether it is an old boyfriend, a cherished parent or hopeful employer, there always seems to be somebody who’s not happy with this choice. However, the book alone is not enough.
What women need is a place to get together, talk, share, pray and walk this very unfamiliar path of vocational discernment together. It’s one thing to read about community in a book, but women need more than just book knowledge about what convent life is like. They need to experience community as they pray about their vocations. After all, religious life is community life. That’s why we started Avow, a discernment group program for young Catholic women. It’s like a book club and a prayer group “rolled into one,” with the goal of listening more deeply to Jesus’ voice to discern the Father’s will. The idea is this: In a small group setting supporting heart-to-heart conversation, study and prayer, women will be in a pressure-free environment to make the journey of vocational discovery in freedom. Avow groups can be run by a campus minister, a FOCUS missionary, or by a religious sister.
A young woman today can find plenty of reasons to dismiss a call: “I am not the right type”; “I am not holy enough”; “I would rather get married.” The obvious problem of not knowing how to go about a discernment process is an obstacle for many. Avow is not a program to convince young women to become religious sisters. Rather, it seeks to help women find happiness in pursuing God’s special call, whatever it may be. We would like to make it as easy as possible for anyone who would like to start up a group in their school or parish, so materials are free. Not only that, the study guide is also online at www.discernavow.com The word “avow” is derived from the Latin word advocare, which means “to summon.” It is my prayer that many, many more women will be able to respond to the Lord’s “summons” to be His, through Avow.