Discernment and a Perpetual “Yes”
Discernment seems to be the modern buzzword for Catholic young people today. I was introduced to discerning a vocation in college, simply understanding it to be the process in which a person seeks what God wills. And so I began to discern…Throughout my senior year of college, I was repeatedly confronted with the inevitable question: Where are you in your discernment? What have you discerned? My so-called cleverly disguised answer was, “I’m open to anything.” However, by being open to anything, I was being open to nothing. I finally realized that I could spend the rest of my life discerning and never get anywhere.
This began my infatuation with making a decision. The rest of my life was waiting for me to make a decision. However, there was a silent, yet real, fear that was lingering in the back of my mind: What if I make the wrong decision? This thought prompted a sense of paralysis.
Finally, one night I spent a most difficult and yet awe-filled evening in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I brought this fear to the Lord, telling Him my frustrations. When I placed His Word before me, it fell upon the cry of the Psalmist: “Lord, You have searched me and You know me” (Psalm 139:1). For the first time, I realized that discernment of my vocation was not about my decision. The focus of discernment and a vocation is not I but He. This understanding of discernment not only changed how I looked at the process of discerning but also how I understood vocations. At the heart of a vocation is not the act of getting married or the act of professing vows. The heart of a vocation is being. Through whatever state in life a person is called, it is in the living of this state that she becomes more fully what God created her to be.
I had chosen to study biochemistry as an undergraduate with a dream of success in the field of medicine. I began to question my aspirations, however, when I could no longer understand how to resolve the conflicts between the ideology of the human person propagated by modern scientific research and the faith of the Church. Two years after graduation I decided to study theology in a Masters program at the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for the Studies of Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C. The more I learned about the beauty of the vocation of marriage, the more I fell in love with the consecrated life. By the end of my first semester of studies, a realization began to dawn in my heart—an amazing yet frightful realization—that Jesus might be calling me to be a witness to His transforming love by consecrating myself to Him alone.
At the time of my studies, the John Paul II Institute was housed in the Dominican House of Studies. Joyful brothers in their beautiful white habits constantly surrounded me. Every day I heard the entire building filled with the chant of their prayers and liturgy. Through the example of the Dominican brothers, I knew that there was something that God wanted to show me in Nashville and so I decided to come to the Motherhouse for a retreat.
I knew shortly after my arrival at St. Cecilia Motherhouse what God’s question to me was. Still to this day, I cannot fully explain how I knew, but within the depths of my soul it became clear. As I walked into the chapel, I saw several sisters adoring the exposed Blessed Sacrament. In a visit to the cemetery I encountered sisters from the past. In this place I discovered a sense of belonging. I felt as if I had been here my entire life. Jesus was showing me the beautiful gift of a religious vocation and was asking me if I would accept His invitation to spend the rest of my life loving Him and serving Him with, in, and through this particular community.
When I gave Him my yes to this question, all the other “yeses” became easier. Will I tell my parents who had no idea about my desire to become a religious sister, even though they might be disappointed and even against such a decision? Will I complete my last few weeks of study knowing that I will not finish the requirements for the degree of my dreams at the school of my dreams? Will I do all this, for nothing else, than for love of Him? Many people remark how the acceptance of a vocation involves giving up a lot of things; however, to me, I gained so much more. If I had to empty my hands from things that I was holding onto previously, it was only so that I could be free to embrace what Jesus was giving to me.
Now that the discernment is over, I realize how necessary this past is in my vocation. In the beginning, I had the notion that discernment was a time of “not yet.” I was either not yet married or not yet consecrated. The desire always to seek Him and Him alone and the need to place my trust always in Him did not simply end on Entrance Day or with the reception of the habit. This desire and trust are deepened and strengthened each and every day by simply living this life to the fullest. Every day, every moment, Jesus poses the same question that I experienced at my first visit: Will you? It is a loving invitation to something greater—greater than what I ever imagined could be.
Sister John Agnes professed her perpetual vows on July 25, 2008.