My teacher was a Dominican, and I wanted to be a Dominican just like her. I wanted to teach second graders, wear a frumpy pantsuit with a little Dominican shield pin, and live in a convent. I was sure I had a vocation.
By the time I got to college, it was clear that I would never be healthy enough to be a religious. I hid in my dorm room during the Vocations Fair at the Catholic university; I didn’t dare go into the gymnasium and see the different religious orders at their recruitment booths. I was afraid I’d cry at the sight of so many beautiful nuns and sisters in their frumpy pantsuits or lovely crisp habits. I wanted to be like them, but I couldn’t. I thought I didn’t have a vocation.
I tried to volunteer at charities downtown and thought that was my vocation, but I wasn’t well enough to keep it up. I got married and thought my vocation was to be a housewife, but my sickness got so bad I became the worst of housewives. I got pregnant unexpectedly, and discovered that part of my vocation was to be a mother, but I’m not that competent of a mother either. I tried to join a secular order, but they didn’t want me. I tried to keep up with the Divine Office and a certain amount of meditation every day, but the head fog is so bad many days that I can’t meditate to save my life. I try to pray Chotki, but on the very worst days of all, it’s a monumental effort to mumble through the Jesus Prayer once or twice, hug my icon, and go back to bed. A nice strict regular prayer rule is not my vocation either.
Now, I can’t even sit up at Liturgy like a well-baked Catholic. I loll over like a flat souffle. I look disrespectful during the Holy Gospel and the Holy Anaphora. I can’t even approach the chalice. It seems that it’s not my vocation to show up at Church every Sunday, not as long as the flare lasts.
There was a time when I resigned myself to not having a vocation of any kind.
I’m a little wiser now.
I’ve learned that we all have vocations.
The first vocation is to exist.
God created a Mary Pezzulo because He willed that Mary Pezzulo should exist. Not primarily because of some work I should do for Him or anybody else, but because He loves Mary Pezzulo. God doesn’t first of all will missions, religious orders, penances or prayer rules; He wills people. He loves people. To be a person is, in itself, a sacred vocation. From that, flows every other vocation.
If, in the course of being the person God created you to be, you are called to be a Religious– that’s wonderful. Be a Religious. Wear a crisp habit or a frumpy pantsuit. Show us by a powerful outward sign the mystical marriage between Christ and the human soul. You will find Heaven there, and Christ will dwell among us through you. If your vocation is to be a housewife, a mother, a lay person who volunteers at charities– be that person. Show us Christ in your marriage, your family, your volunteer work. You will find Heaven there, and Christ will dwell among us through you. If your vocation is to be a lawyer, a doctor, a cashier, a garbage collector– be that, and be that in Christ. Heaven will come to you at the courthouse, the hospital, the grocery store and the garbage can. Christ will dwell among us through you.
Some of us have the vocation to be half-baked Catholics. Not because God wills us to be sick, strictly speaking; sickness is evil, and God never wills evil. But He wills us to exist, even in this fallen world where some of those who exist will be afflicted with chronic, incurable illness. He believes our lives are worth living, and He sustains us. He wills us to exist during flare-ups when we can’t sit up, when we can’t fulfill our Sunday obligation– when we’re too impaired to say we can’t fulfill it and slump over in a pew. We are the icon of the suffering Christ for the Church. The suffering Christ dwells among us, through our suffering. And Heaven comes to us there– there in bed where we belong, or there doubled over in a pew when we have no business to be out of the house.
For just a moment, while everyone else was lining up for Holy Communion, I had the mental image of Christ stepping out of the iconostasis to bring Holy Communion to me– without my having to walk to Him, without my having to raise my head. Not a “vision,” almost certainly just my imagination, but it told a truth nonetheless. If your vocation is to be a half-baked Catholic, Heaven will give Himself to you right where you are, as a half-baked Catholic.
Christ is among us.