Most people think they understand the purpose of marriage and the joy of raising a family. Consecrated life, on the other hand, is confusing.
Working at a convent is, well, interesting--especially if you're the only married lay person in your department. Don't get me wrong. The Daughters of St. Paul don't agree on everything, nor do they think they ought to. But there is a certain resonance that exists among the sisters at conference room meetings. It comes from a shared vocation that takes shape through common spiritual formation, charism, and mission; one that reflects the communion that is at the heart of community life.
There are things about religious life I can't understand from the outside, even though the wall between my office and Sister Marlyn's is pretty thin. But there are also things about my life as a wife and mother that the sisters I work with are unable to grasp. The funny thing is that in our best moments, we may be more likely to romanticize the life we're not living, and lose a bit of the appreciation and wonder we have for our own vocations.
Most people think they understand the purpose of marriage and the joy of raising a family. Consecrated life, on the other hand, is confusing. A lot of lay Catholics nowadays don't seem to know what contribution religious make to the life of the Church. Of course, there are plenty of others who still think that it's best to leave serious Christian discipleship to the professionals: you know, priests and nuns.
Working at the Mother House has shown me that no matter what side of the fence you're on, the grass is pretty much the same. What's different is the view. How I see marriage and family life is different from the way a consecrated celibate does. I can reflect on the challenges and blessings, admit my failures, and try to better understand and answer my calling. They can remind me of the ideal and dignity of it all when I'm caught in the briars of everyday struggles. Similarly, when one of the sisters feels frustrated or unequal to her task, I can help reassure her that who she is matters, and bears fruit in both the Church and the world.
We only know our own lives from the inside. The greatest challenges others face may not be what we expect or think they are. One of the sisters I work with recounted a recent conversation she had with a friend in the process of discerning his own vocation. He had expressed concern about being able to live the vow of poverty. With the wisdom one can gain only from experience and prayer, the sister told her friend that she herself had expected difficulty with the vow of obedience. Instead, she encountered an unanticipated challenge with poverty.
Finding it hard to ask and wait for what she needed, she also realized how grating it was to see even kids have better things than she did, especially when it came to the things she used in her apostolate work. Through prayer, this sister discovered the deeper problem. The real struggle wasn't the vow of poverty, it was the sin of envy. She had everything she needed. Her struggle wasn't the virtue she was being asked to live, but the vice that made it difficult to live it with joy. Ultimately, poverty is the antidote to envy; chastity is the cure for lust; and obedience is the remedy for pride.
The conversation I was privileged to have not only deepened my understanding of the gift of consecrated life, it challenged me to look for the virtues that are onerous to me and see the vices I've allowed to make them so. It's easy to focus on how our lives and vocations are gifts from God and to him. We often miss, however, that our distinct callings are also gifts to one another. People who live marriage and family life faithfully enrich everyone. Those who live single, celibate, and consecrated lives for God's glory are witnessing God's love to the rest of us in another, equally beautiful and profound way. In this, the Year of Consecrated Life, may we all become more open to the gift of God in each other.
JAYMIE STUART WOLFE IS A WIFE AND MOTHER OF EIGHT CHILDREN, AND A DISCIPLE OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. FRANCIS DE SALES. SHE IS AN INSPIRATIONAL AUTHOR, SPEAKER, MUSICIAN AND SERVES AS A CHILDREN'S EDITOR AT PAULINE BOOKS AND MEDIA.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.