Love By Navigation: Sara’s Vocation Story
I mentioned in our last post that I never thought I would meet my future husband in a church. As the story goes for many people, I fell away from the Catholic faith of my childhood while I was in college.
I would have told you at the time that I left the Church because it asked too much of me. How could the supposed actions of Jesus circa 1st century Palestine impose a set of rules on my life circa now? I did not ask for these rules, nor did I see any way to live them out.
What followed were years of searching. Some of it was honest searching, most of it was cliché, juvenile hell-raising veiled as searching, fueled by a fight for independence and justified by the now famous adage “you only live once–YOLO!” On the surface, however, my life seemed in order. I lived in a big city with a good job, a roof over my head, and many friends; all the trappings of a good life.
But, hidden within that good life lurked a quiet discontent, the kind that creeps into the heart just as the eyes open in the morning, and then quickly buried as the distractions of the day close in. I went about the business of finding as many distractions as I could, an easy job in Washington D.C.
One of the earliest movements of the Grace that eventually brought me back to the Church started with a question posed to me by a priest: “Would you consider yourself truly happy?” I didn’t know how to answer him; in fact, I hardly knew what he meant. But the question unearthed and brought me face-to-face with my discontent, and simultaneously pointed me to the remedy: God.
In the months that followed that encounter, my objections to the faith I had written off as unreasonable turned into real questions, and many faithful, patient people helped me unpack those questions. Gradually, a new reality surfaced: Jesus is Lord, and He loves me and wants me to be happy.
It was as if a compass had been placed back in my hands in the form of the Sacraments, and North began to emerge. The world suddenly overflowed with purpose and beauty, and I had discovered a solid Truth that my heart could anchor itself to and adore. I was a woman more in love than I had ever been and yet, for the first time in several years, I was single.
God kept it that way for a while. There was healing to be done that could only be accomplished between Him and me. But as the love affair continued and deepened, I began to wonder if I had a vocation to religious life. That was precisely when I met Anthony.
As exciting as that first meeting was, it quickly descended into panic (on my end). I had never been in a chaste relationship and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to date at all or ever again. After living so many years unaware that the Creator of the Universe actually loved me, the only response that seemed proper or even possible to this Love was an undivided love in return. But, standing in front of me was this man who loved God with a fidelity that inspired me and even increased my own devotion to God.
And so, in the kind of spiritual anguish that only a recent “revert” who’s just bumped into her vocation can muster, I reasoned/prayed to the Lord, “Look, my heart is Yours first, You know that. So, if You want me to love someone else too, You’re going to have to give him my heart…and make it really clear because I’m new at this. Amen.”
It took some time (and a supernatural amount of patience from Anthony) but eventually it became very clear that my growing love for Anthony came directly from God and that my love for God grew the more I responded to Anthony’s love in return. The two loves are linked in a way that is still far beyond my vocabulary to describe.
A priest said, in describing his vocation to the Dominican Order, that the story of his vocation to the priesthood and his reversion back to the Catholic Church were the same story. “Finding one’s vocation and finding one’s God are the same movement of the heart.”
I’ve thought about this a lot, and I think it’s true, because the movement he’s talking about is the movement that governs every person’s life. That movement is Love. Love is what expands one human heart enough to make room for another. Love is what enables two married people to join and – with God – bring a new human life into the world. Love is also what enables another person to renounce the good of marriage for a higher good: undivided intimacy with God in a religious vocation. But, no matter how that Love manifests itself, the same compass navigates it, and it is moving in the same direction: Heaven.