Should every young Catholic man go to seminary?

by Adam Burns

Today I came across a blog post suggesting that every young Catholic man should go to the seminary, even if they do leave and go on to become married. As someone who has walked that path, I absolutely disagree.

Now, it should be noted that the post in question was written from an American perspective, where the first few years at seminary is more akin to “pre-formation”. In the States, a man can attend a Seminary College, where they study a degree while discerning the call to priesthood.

Still, I found myself disagreeing with the author’s view. Firstly, the cost to a diocese to send young men to the seminary only for them to leave before ordination would be huge, especially if a man goes off in a completely different direction and doesn’t continue to serve the Church in other ways. Secondly, not every man is suitable for seminary life. Some men don’t live well in community, some may be grappling deeper issues, some simply already know they’re not called to be a priest. In such cases, going to a seminary can be a tough experience, both for the man, and for the brothers he leaves behind. Sadly, I’ve seen men use their experience in a seminary as an excuse not to grow up and move on.

But my real gripe with the blog post was that it seemed to suggest that a seminary is an instant fix, that any man could enter a seminary and leave somewhat better for it. But human beings don’t “plug and play”. We all live with a different set of experiences and a different set of perspectives, and simply suggesting that everyone should do this, that or the other ignores the uniqueness with which we are all created. We all have a story, and suggesting that there’s a “one-size fits all” process to discernment ignores the centrality of one’s own story within the context of who they are called to be.

This isn’t to say that everything is subjective. Indeed, there’s an objectivity to vocation that I think would simplify many people’s discernment: every person is created in the image and likeness of God, and the basis of all vocations is the calling of Baptism, the heart of which is love. Yet, everything from that point on is an expression of one’s own relationship with God and others. That is to say, God calls, but at some point we must respond.

Thus, vocation is a responsibility. Specifically, my response to God’s calling, particularly the part about loving and serving God and neighbour, is my responsibility. And it’s my responsibility here and now. Discernment is a daily activity, in fact a constant activity, as I respond as Christ’s hands and feet in the here and now. The idea of discernment as a one-time intensive period of reflection and thinking before one finally makes a life decision, put simply, is not good enough. Discernment is about seeking holiness, not an answer.

Each of us can engage with our own story, which is more than merely going through the motions, it’s where the rubber hits the road in our relationship with God and with others. Doing things because they’re recommended, or because everyone “should”, is not discernment, it’s jumping through hoops.

Should every young Catholic man enter the seminary? No. But every young Catholic (man or woman) can look deeply into their own story, of everything that has led up to this moment, and of every hope and dream for what comes next, to create a sense of meaning and purpose grounded in their relationship with the Gospel.

Our Church today doesn’t need people who just go through the motions of existing; rather, the Church needs people who grasp their story fully and are able to add it as testimony to the compelling story of the Gospel, a story to which we are all called as members of the Body of Christ. With everything going on in the Church, our country and the world at the moment, we need people who will stand for something, a conviction based on love, prayer and discernment. People who, because they are in life, are able to experience “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties…of this age” (Gaudium et Spes, 1). Spending time in a seminary doesn’t automatically make you a wiser, better, more experienced person. Neither does discerning any other State of Life. It’s what you do with the experience that counts.

Who are you?

There's a scene in the movie Anger Management of an interaction between Adam Sandler's and Jack Nicholson's characters. Nicholson, in the role of a therapist, asks Sandler (the patient) to share a bit about himself. Sandler's character shares his name, what he does, his hobbies and his interests. With each answer, Nicholson interjects, "I want to know who you are." Sandler proceeds to get increasingly frustrated, unable to give an acceptable answer.

Have you ever had to describe yourself to someone else before? What would your answer be? If you were to answer that question over the phone, to someone who never met your before, what would you say? How would you present yourself?

The truth is, we can't avoid using external descriptors, or labels, like what we do for work, or what our hobbies are, because these are how people relate to us. They use our name, they identify us by what we look like on the outside, or by what we do, or whatever image we portray outwards. Yet, sometimes if we don't think enough about the question of "who am I?", those external labels can begin to shape us, rather than the other way around. The result is similar to that scene from Anger Management, where like Adam Sandler's character, its difficult to describe ourselves apart from those labels.

This is why its so important to ask that question, "who am I?", and to seriously reflect on the answer. It pushes us inside of ourselves, to consider one's self on the level of beliefs, values, gifts and purpose. To ask, "who am I, really?" We have to go deeper than the labels, so that we define and are in control of what we portray out into the world. 

See, what happens when you have a deep sense of your self, your identity and your purpose is that you portray that out. Those people in your life who have that "it" factor, that groundedness or that energy, that makes you want what they've got - that's an internal choice before anything else. That's a deep sense of meaning and purpose, followed by the choice to live that out in the world. What happens when you know yourself on a deeper level, is that you yourself shape what you put out into the world, what you wear so-to-speak on your exterior. When you know what you believe, you live what you believe. And that has a real effect on the lives of others.

That might sound like hype, but it's truth. Look at anyone in history, in the world now, or even in your community, who has made or is making a positive difference, and you can see in them a concrete sense of self and of purpose. One of my favourite examples is St Teresa of Calcutta. Besides being inspirational, Mother Teresa is most commonly described as being tiny in stature. Yet, she was a powerhouse. She not only created change within the culture she was living in, she created global influence, attracting the attention of the whole world through what she was doing. I read her biography when I was 18, and what struck me was that she even went through times where she said she couldn't "hear" or experience God. Yet, she knew who she was, what she valued, and what her faith and belief was. This conviction of who she was and what she stood for allowed her to create massive change in countless lives throughout the world.

When you spend that time figuring out who you are, you get to the stage where you're not spinning your wheels figuring out who you are. When you have that self-knowledge, that acceptance of your purpose and mission on this earth, you get to spend more time figuring out how you're going to live that out in the world, what you need to act out, what labels you need to adopt. Ultimately, if you spend time figuring out who you are, then you enable yourself to focus on others. It's the great paradox of love: love others as you love yourself (Mt 22:39). 

When we talk about discerning or figuring out where you are called to and what you are called to do, it's not just thinking about yourself. At least that's not the end point. "Self-discovery", as its often called today, is just a means, a process we go through, so we can commit more of our time and energy to others. If you establish a sense of yourself, if you're able to name it in a one-line sentence of why God has put you on this earth, then career choices or lifestyle choices will follow. Your life becomes empowered to empower other lives.

And this is the meaning, the very heart of God's call. We don't talk about calling, or meaning, or purpose just to explain away why we're here. It's a reality of using our lives in the here and now. Want to know your purpose? Then spend sometime asking that question "who am I?" - and don't stop with the question. Share whatever answers you arrive at through the way that you live. And it's there that faith becomes reality, where we're able to shape a better world.

Mind the gap

by Adam Burns

I'm a basketball nut, though I probably watch more basketball now than what I actually play. Throughout my lifetime of basketball fandom I've learned that on both sides of the ball it is a game of gaps. On offense, you try to create a gap between you and your defender, or slip through a gap in the defense. Defensively, the aim is to close the gap between you and the offensive player, or lull the offense towards a gap and pounce when they least expect it. In all cases, you become adept and seeing the whole floor and reading where the gaps are.

As a New Year begins, the challenge is to see the whole of our life and address the gaps in our relationship with God. Vocation, after all, is primarily our response to this relationship. A lot can happen and change in twelve months, so it's important to re-evaluate as part of our on-going discernment. If we aren't discerning, then we neglect to live our Baptismal call, which is to be holy.

That Baptismal call is to live in fulfillment of the dignity we were created with, in a way that builds up the Church and witnesses to the world. The gaps occur when we get caught up in the what, rather than the why; or when we stop reflecting on the call at all.

For myself, working in two faith-based jobs, it's easy to convince myself that I have the gaps covered. But faith (i.e. our relationship with God) is more than our actions, however righteous we think they might be. Discernment is not just about asking "where am I going?" it is also about asking "where am I now?", or even "where is God in all of this?". It's a question for the heart as well as the will. 

So how do we address the gaps, and how do we make discernment a daily practice. We begin by looking at how we shape our calling. For example, as a married man I'm called to love and serve my wife. If my work or hobbies or other commitments consistently draw me away from that relationship, I'm not living my vocation. The States of Life are not vocations in and of themselves, but are commitments which shape our lives in a way that helps us respond to our relationship with God. 

For many of us, we might also view our job or work as our ministry (and I don't just mean people working in ministry roles, I know many teachers who minister to others through their work ). If this is the case then we constantly need to filter our work - if we're not about the Gospel in our work, then what (or Who) are we working for? In our workplaces (or schools) does our relationship with God permeate through our conduct and actions?

At the end of the day, we are not perfect beings, which is the point. Our world was made good, but is clearly broken. Only in our relationship with God can we restore ourselves and our communities. And so among the resolutions, and new experiences that mark the start of your 2017, may it also be a time for discernment and renewal in your walk with God.

Facing up

by Adam Burns

Last weekend, as part of our annual VOCAdventure program, our office brought the incoming 2017 intake of Brisbane seminarians to Melbourne, for a pilgrimage in the footsteps of St Mary of the Cross Mackillop. Following in St Mary' footsteps necessarily meant going out to those society has neglected. And so, our group visited a detention centre.

Now, I know that as a political issue, the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers is a divisive topic. Whichever side of the fence you sit on though, it's undeniable that it is more than a political issue. When you sit face-to-face with someone who, regardless of what reason, has had to flee their home and seek asylum in another country, it’s undeniable that this is more real than what the media often downplays as an issue of political policy. The question turns from a political one ("what do we do with these people?") to a human one: what can we do for these people?

This was my second time visiting the detention centre in Melbourne, but it wasn't any less shocking. I sat at a table with young men, similar in age to me, whose lives had seen far different circumstances than what I could ever imagine. As stories were swapped, the young men I was sitting with were shocked to learn I was married already at the age of 26! The realisation sank in for me that these men's lives, their hopes and dreams, were indefinitely on hold, and in the hands of judgement of a broken system.

Later that night after the visit, we reflected as a group on the experience of the visit. The common thread was that it was not at all what anyone expected. These weren't violent people, they weren't disruptive. Not only could they speak fluent english, but they spoke with a deep insight and wisdom that penetrated the complacency and entitlement of our Western frame of mind.

The impact of the visit was that these men whom we visited, as well as all the men, women, children and families in detention, are the human face of the refugee and asylum seeker issue. When you encounter the human face of the issue - of any issue - you can't approach it impersonally or distanced. You encounter your brother or sister, who didn't choose their circumstances, but still had to make sense of those circumstances and seek survival from within them.

The reflection on the human face struck me profoundly. For our group of seminarians-to be, and for myself, serving in ministry, we are the human face of the Church. When people encounter us, the Church isn't some distant, hierarchical, ancient institution, it becomes personified. And as the human face of the Church, we need to be different than what we encounter in society and culture - the human face of the Church needs to be a face of love and hope and mercy.

Too often I think our Church is perceived to be approaching issues not people. Maybe we don't need to find or give out answers? Our group didn't do much to practically change the situation of the men we visited, we didn't further their cause. Perhaps at best we lifted their spirits for a moment. Or maybe it was more?

Our group sat with these men in their mess, in the messiness of their situation, not able to give answers or solutions, but offering our time and friendship. We became a human face to them, when perhaps in detention they only encounter an institution or a system. And this is the key. Our Church calls us in mission to sit with people in their mess, to see their human face, and be the human face of the Church. 

Being the face of the Church is sitting with people in their mess - regardless of what that issue or struggle might be. It's visiting asylum seekers and refugees. It's listening to the stories of an elderly person, who has outlived their family. It's reassuring a uni student within the tension of an exam period. It's finding a place for the excluded within our communities. The Year of Mercy may have ended, but the call to be merciful goes on as long as there are issues in our world, because behind any human issue is a human face. If we are to be the human face of the Church, which is the Body of Christ, we in fact become the face of Christ, who is the face of mercy.

We are called to be courageous in love and mercy, to see the human face within the suffering in our world. But not just to see it, but to sit with people in that suffering, to see their face but also to be a human face, when perhaps they are bound with impersonal walls of rules or policies or agendas. We follow a God, who in becoming human, moved past the issues to see the human face, and to sit with and heal that suffering. 

End times

by Adam Burns

I'm wary about using Facebook's "On this day" feature, which shows you all the things you posted to Facebook on the present date throughout the years. Many times it shows cherished memories, many times (for me, at least) it also shows cringe-worthy memories. Recently, my Facebook memories have reminded me of a transition I made several years ago. I had just finished my time with a youth ministry organisation (NET Ministries), having spent four years volunteering and working there, and was about to transition into my present work with Vocation Brisbane. Looking back, it was a transition between life stages. And kudos to younger Adam, because somehow I was aware enough to do something to mark that transition.

I had decided to travel to the Philippines to spend some time with my family. I left the day I finished with NET Ministries, headed straight to the airport and hopped onto a plane to Manila. I travelled alone for the first time in months, without a schedule besides my departure and arrival times. It was during my overnight stopover in Manila before travelling to the northern provinces where my family lives that I realised the significance of the transition I was in.

Many people will be in the midst of a similar transition right now. We're at that time of year, where we're quickly approaching the end of the school year, the end of exams, the end of the work year. For many this will also mean the end of primary or high school, the end of a degree, the end of a job. Really, the end of an era.

It strikes me that as we're recovering from deadlines, exams and due dates that the Church actually begins gearing up. In the Church calendar we're less than two weeks away from the beginning of Advent, a time of preparation for the new beginning of Christmas. In the midst of all these end of the year closings and moving ons, the Church actually celebrates a beginning.

I think there's an inherent wisdom in this. We hear that every ending is a new beginning, yet we wait until the New Year to mark those new beginnings with resolutions. But when we think about the world "resolution" we see it actually comes from the word "resolve", which strikingly is simultaneously backwards and forwards looking: we "resolve", as in lay to rest things from the past; but we also "resolve", as in make a firm decision about how we will move forward in the future.

Herein lies the wisdom of the timing of Advent and Christmas. As we move towards the natural endings that come at this time of year, the Church leads us into a beginning. Advent is not just a time of preparation, its a time of resolution: to resolve (as in lay to rest) the past and to become resolute about new beginnings. It's a process I had accidentally engineered during my overnight stay in Manila a few years ago. I became aware that I was straddling the gap between two life stages, and that for me to make the transition I had to both resolve and become resolute.

That transition is important. See, I'm not the same person I was as the start of this year. For starters, I got married, I graduated, I began a new degree, I started another job. I've had too many experiences and learned too many things to be the same as I was at the start of the year. And yet, in a few weeks time, when all the fireworks have gone off and the New Year has officially begun, my resolutions will focus on what I want to become, my focus already moved on from the growth of this year.

I think we wait too long to make our resolutions. Whether our transition is into a new life stage, or just into a new calendar year, we can gleam something from the Advent season we will soon enter into: resolutions begin now. As we resolve all that we have done, said, thought, experienced this past year during this time of ending; we in fact resolve to do, say, think, experience in the next beginning. In doing so we connect where we want to be to where we have been. And in that we might detect some sense of our calling, as our experiences prompt our becoming (i.e. how our experiences - and importantly, what we learn from them - shapes who we are and who we will be). 

God is reality. Which means that as well as encountering God in prayer, in Word and in Sacrament; we encounter God immanent: in our reality, in our who we are and who we are becoming. Vocation happens when our faith and our becoming inspire one another, when we resolve our past and resolve to be.

Staying Catholic

By Kate Gilday

My conversion story isn’t glamorous. I’m a born, raised, youth-grouped, served-with-NET Ministries, shiny-record-Christian kind of gal, whose biggest regret was her lack of a resounding “why I became Catholic” testimony to pull out at dinner parties and youth rallies.  That’s not the story I get to tell. What I do have, though, is the “why I’m still Catholic” story.

And for many of you teetering on the edge of adult life and agonizing through these last few weeks before you’re pronounced a high school graduate, that’s the story it’s going to be shockingly hard to tell over the next few years.

Here’s the scene: you’ve just spent (roughly) the last twelve years of your life in Catholic schools, hearing the Catholic things, praying the Catholic prayers, knowing the Catholic stuff.  Chances are, if you’re reading this article, you may even have some kind of interest in or commitment to Catholicism at a personal level. You sang the Catholic songs at the Catholic conference where you did the whole ain’t-no-party-like-a-Catholic-party jumping-up-and-down-like-a-Catholic thing.

But that big wide world of adult upon whose brink you now teeter? Yeah, not so Catholic.

And as you finish year twelve - regardless of whether you’re heading into work or uni or travel or some other shenanigans; regardless of whether you’re living at home or moving out or planning on living in Timbuktu - there’s every chance that leaving high school’s going to mean leaving the Church.

I don’t want to beat around the bush: it’s a really hard world in which to have a Christian faith. Here’s a sample of what you’ll probably encounter over the next few years:

  • “Science has clearly disproven religion. Why are you clinging to old superstitions?”
  • “One more drink can’t hurt! Why are you always such a goody-good?”
  • “Oh, you’re Catholic, are you? Why does the Church hate gay people?”
  • “Give me one good reason why you’re Christian - and you can’t say because your parents are.”
  • “I don’t know why you bother with the Mass thing. It’s so boring - just a bunch of old people reciting pointless prayers.”
  • “Stop focusing on this Jesus thing and start thinking about your own ambitions. You need to succeed, not get sidetracked by all this prayer and service stuff.”
  • “Don’t you ever get tired of working so hard to stay Catholic? It’d be so much easier just to sleeeeeeep….”


You know, if you became an atheist (well, more likely an agnostic) the day after graduation, I wouldn’t blame you. Some mornings I wake up an atheist. I don’t blame myself.

But I do pity myself. Because the moment that I decide staying Catholic is too dang hard is the moment I lose the deepest, richest joy in my life and the Love that sustains everything else I do.

You see, the thing that they don’t often tell you during those years of Catholic schooling is that faith is not R.E. class. If you feel like you’re emerging from high school effectively immunized against Christianity by years of rote-learning the books of the Bible and dull dribbles of dogma, ill-equipped to keep going with a faith that was never really yours to begin with, hear this:

            I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

            John 10:10


Life to the full. Sit with those words a moment. Sit with them especially on the days you feel like giving up on faith. Because no matter where else we search, those four most beautiful words- life to the full - are always going to be found in God.

Here at Vocation Brisbane, our motto is Quo Vadis: where are you going? For many people asking that question at the end of year twelve, the answers seem pretty mysterious.

“Quo Vadis?” I ask myself, “Where are you going, Kate?”

Every day, I have moments where I don’t know.  Every day there’s moments where I fall flat on my face with the whole faith thing. But in standing back up and keeping walking as a Catholic in this world, I remember where I’m going: towards the God who is Love itself.

So how do you do that? Here’s five tips:


1.    Discover the Person, not just the paperwork

At the heart of Christianity is Christ. If you haven’t discovered a method of prayer that allows you to have a deep and personal encounter with Jesus every single day, now is the moment to find one.

Nothing you learned in R.E. class is going to truly sustain a personal faith. No moral convictions or well-memorized saints stories are going to transform you and help you thrive unless they go hand-in-hand with a close connection to the Holy Spirit.

So pick up a Bible and read it like it’s your story (fun fact: it is). Go to Adoration and let Jesus’ gaze of love breathe life back into your tired heart. Write down in a journal everything you’ve ever wanted to say to God and give Him the chance to respond. Start noticing the ways He is reaching out to you every day.


2.    Seek to be equipped, not just entertained

Man, youth groups can be fun. Ignite Conference is phenomenal. Give me a good youth mass with some well-played acoustic guitar and I’ll be a happy lady.

But exciting and enjoyable as great ministry is, the daily Christian grind is about more that just good experiences. It’s about building satisfying and sustainable habits of faith that empower you to journey deeper with God and to make this world a better place.

There may come a moment where you think, “Oh. Is that all there is? Have I exhausted everything the Church has to offer me?” Don’t believe it for a moment. Don’t become stagnant. Dig deeper - and find people to help you.

I’m of the mind that every young adult should have a spiritual director (or at least a mentor), as well as a couple strong friends who can keep us accountable to habits of prayer, sacraments and service.

If what you receive in faith never goes deeper than waterslides and worship songs, it will be really susceptible to being uprooted. A faith that endures is one that is constantly being challenged to go deeper, be further transformed, and give more generously than before.


3.    Equip your head, not just your heart

One of the biggest challenges of being a young adult is knowing the answers to painful secular questions. People are going to say challenging things - perhaps even hurtful things - and if you feel helpless in attempting to respond, it’s going to be hard to keep going.

Over the past few years, I’ve had so many moments where I almost gave up on God because someone asked a question I couldn’t answer. But I’ve realised that just because I don’t know an answer doesn’t mean there isn’t an answer.

‘Apologetics’ comes from the Greek ‘speaking in defense’. As Catholics, we are all called to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks for a reason for [our] hope” (1 Peter 3:15) and many, many thinkers and theologians throughout the centuries have paved a way for us to understand with our heads the truths that have already captivated our hearts.

Now, I’m not saying that rational arguments can ever take the place of a living relationship with God. But they certainly help on the mornings you wake up an atheist, and on the days when you want to be able to share “the reason for your hope” with those seeking answers themselves.

C.S. Lewis says, “The heart cannot rejoice in what the mind rejects as false.” In living and sharing faith in a secular world, the biggest challenge can be feeling like your beliefs make sense. So search for answers when questions come up. Ask a priest why the Church teaches what it does. Read books about science and faith, and know that you are not believing something irrational.


4.    Know that you were made for gift, not for gain

The temptation is always towards selfishness. I want to travel; I want to earn a good salary; I want to fit in and be beloved; I want, I want, I want.

Dreams aren’t bad - God uses them to inspire us to lead big and meaningful lives! - but remember something: you’re not the only one with dreams.

Each one of us has a vocation to make a complete gift of ourselves, to God and to other people. No matter where we go, we’re invited to open our eyes to the needs around us and act with love and compassion to those who might be forgotten otherwise.

Let the things about this world that make you angry - your “Holy Discontent” - be the source of your momentum. Not selfishness.

Life truly does grow by being given away. As you navigate the strange waters of young adult life, keep in mind that every day is a chance to be wholehearted in generosity, courageous in fighting for those who suffer, and discerning of the way God will call you to give your life as a beautiful gift to those who need it most.


I’m staying Catholic. Not because it’s easy, but because I’m in love.

At the end of the day, that will be the thing that decides whether you stay or go: Love. His love is always going to be there, ready to embrace you again, even if you fall flat on your face a few times (a day).

Leave Year 12 then - but don’t leave behind the Love that promises you life to the full. Staying Catholic is so, so worth it. 

Whose plan?

"I have to thank God, because I went from being the nation's top high school football prospect to becoming a Hall of Fame basketball player!" These were the first few (paraphrased) words of Allen Iverson, a former NBA basketballer who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame (yes, there's such a thing) over the weekend. My first thought was how good it was to see a pro athlete and cultural icon putting God first. But then it prompted another thought: what other paths could I have ended up walking down?

I actually nearly ended up in living in Emerald. Several years ago I was in Emerald to visit a NET Ministries team under my supervision. While there I got talking to someone in the parish about youth ministry. I forget how the conversation went, but somehow it ended up with me receiving an offer to work in the parish as their youth worker starting the following year! Things took a different turn and I ended up working for Vocation Brisbane instead, but I can only imagine how different my life would have been had I went to Emerald rather than stay in Brisbane.

There are several other turning points in my life where I can imagine my life being drastically different had I gone the other direction. Which prompts the question: does God steer and direct our lives?

This is perhaps one of the trickiest questions of the Christian faith, does God have a plan for my life and how far does God go to implement that plan? Our earliest Traditions express that God has created us with free will. Yet, we also say God has a plan for our life. So which is it? Are we actually free or does God really have a plan for our life?

I think "plan" isn't the right word, or at least we don't use it in an adequate way to express the sort of plan God has for us. When we talk about God's plan,  I think what we mean is that God has a dream for us. And not dream in a superficial sense (like daydreaming for instance), but a hopeful, love-filled dream. I'm not a parent (yet), but I imagine that as a parent I'll have a dream for my children, for their life, full of joy and fulfillment. And while I may desire for them to fulfill certain occupations, at the end of the day my dream for them is not about what they do, but who they become. Which means that (I hope) I would always try to love and support my kids, regardless of what decisions they make; that they would always be able to call on me for love and support.

When we say God has a "plan" for us, I think we really refer to God's dream of our fulfilled relationship with him. God wants to see his children accept the love and mercy available to us, to live joyful and fulfilled lives. And like a parent, for God it doesn't matter where we are or which paths we take. So, when we end up taking different paths through life, and look back, it's not that God led us down this path, or actually desired for us to take another. It's just the journey with God, a journey that will ultimately lead us to him alongside others (the whole People of God)

This means we have to show respect to our free will and decision making. Yes, God speaks to us, but we also have to consider responsibly our options, rather than looking at them simply through our spiritual practices. When I was finished high school and beginning my work in youth ministry, I would take the smallest occurrences to be a sign or intervention from God. If we don't emphasise our choice and decision making, we risk becoming perpetual discerners, forever waiting for Divine Intervention - or worse still, seeing that sort of intervention where it isn't. 

Where I am now in my life, work and relationships is a very different place to where I could be, and I absolutely see God at work in my life. But I also had to make several choices - I also created this life, in relationship with God and with others. Only in actively choosing this path (this marriage, this job, etc.) can I then transform this life to be more than just merely an assortment of roles into a vocation with real impact in the world. That choice, both of this set of circumstances and the choice to accept God's invitation of relationship within these circumstances, is the fulfillment of God's plan in my life. It's the convergence of free will and Divine plan.

This doesn't mean that all our choices can be right. There are choices we make or pathways we follow that do draw us away from relationship with God and relationship with the Church community (communion). Rather, as we discern through life what is God's "call" or "plan" for us means to discern that which draws us deeper into relationship (in communion) with God and the Church community. This is a different understanding to God's plan being a defined path or as interventions along the journey.

I'm also not saying that God is far and above our lives. God is immanent, close to us, that's the relationship opened up to us through Christ. God is in our lives, we are in God's life, but that doesn't mean we control each other. Rather, our choices have the power to draw us deeper into relationship with God. It's not magic, it's logic: live a holy life, draw close to God. Simply, we have to be careful when we say God has a "plan" for our lives. God does have a plan, but it's not a blueprint or a step-by-step playbook. 

Following God has led me to here, but in relationship with God, not determined by him. So if I was to give a Hall of Fame speech, I too would begin by thanking God, but not for leading me down this path compared to another. Rather, I'd be thankful to God for the freedom to choose this life of love and fulfillment, for his plan of relationship and his enduring invitation to draw closer to him regardless of the paths I take.

Information age discernment

What's the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? In 2012, a statistic surfaced that 50% of 18-34 years olds check Facebook when they first wake up. Which means that before you eat or shower or get ready for the day, you've already ingested stories, pictures, shares, comments, likes and emojis from about 330 people (the average number of Facebook friends). Whether or not you check straight up or if you're in the other half that needs toast and coffee before you Facebook, the average length of time spent on Facebook in one visit is 20 minutes, in which throughout the world over 1 million links are shared, 1.5 million event invites are sent, 1.8 million statuses are updated, 2 million friend requests are accepted, 2.7 million photos are uploaded, 2.7 million messages are sent and 10.2 million comments are made (statistics sourced from "the social skinny", "zephoria" and "big think").

And that's just one social media platform. How many other platforms do you engage with throughout the day? Think about how much information you're interacting with on Facebook alone, now multiply that by the number of social media platforms, emails and other web interactions you engage with and you get a sense of just how much information we process throughout a single day.

I'm in that first 50% who checks social media first thing when I wake up. Usually I check Instagram, where I follow a number of motivational feeds (is that embarrassing to admit?) I avoid the cheesy ones ("You don't need wings to fly, only a vision"), preferring those that present solid content, which I use to visualise the sort of day I want to have. This was a post I woke up to this morning:

This became the basis for my prayer and contemplation this morning, as I prayed in thanksgiving for who I was created to be, and prayed about who I am becoming.

We truly live in an information age. That phrase is a bit of a throw away line, but really the amount of information we encounter throughout one day just through our online interactions is close to incomprehensible. But what do we do with all this information right at our fingertips?

Guys, the discernment world has changed. How we approach the spiritual journey can be radically different. We're in a time now, like never before, where spiritual direction, accompaniment and mentoring is readily available through podcasts, blogs, forums, networking and the personal testimonies we encounter on social media. Want to know more about a saint, or learn a new prayer, or find commentary on the scriptures - it's all there (but don't take Wikipedia as gospel!)

The information age gives us access to the ideas and formation that can help us to continually shape how we respond to the call. Having begun a Masters in Business Administration, I stumbled upon an online journal article on social entrepreneurship. Googling what this meant ("social entrepreneurs are people who have identified new and innovative approaches that help address entrenched social problems in the community") led me to a podcast, and to several profiles on linkedIn. This new influx of information and ideas has shaped a new perspective for me on ministry and leadership in the Church, even effecting the way I discern ideas for my present work.

Now, admittedly I do geek out a little bit, and I perhaps spend a disproportionate amount of time reading articles and listening to podcasts. But what I'm getting at here is that self-development is not reserved for the elite or to the corporate world. What we need to ask ourselves though is how are we learning and growing through our interactions with the information age?

Of course, a podcast or a blog is not going to replace an actual spiritual director or mentor, and engaging with people online does not replace the real value of belonging to a community. But we can grow our discipleship by being conscious of the information we consume each day. Rather than shutting out the noise to contemplate God, we can discern through it to shape ourselves to better contemplate God's calling in our lives for our world.

So, my challenge to you is this: First, be conscious of all your online interactions. Second, pick at least one daily interaction which will positively shape and influence you in some way (doesn't matter how big or small). Third, on whichever social media platform you engage with most, regularly share positive messages in that space (again, doesn't have to be big).

Our call is to become truly who God made us to be, because that person can fully share the love of Christ and the Good News. So don't take for granted your capacity for growth and development. We have the resources and the accessibility to respond to our vocation in a dynamic way.

The truth of it

by Adam Burns

I'm a huge Will Smith fan. Over the past few months I was eagerly anticipating the release of his latest film, Concussion. Somehow I missed its release at the cinemas, and I've been kicking myself for it. I finally got to watch it last night, as my wife and I streamed it online (legally).

I found the story inspiring - and not only because it starred Will Smith! It was inspiring to me because it tells the story of a man who lives his life so fully that he impacts the world in a real way.

If you don't know the film, its a re-telling of the real life story of Dr Bennet Omalu, a brilliant forensic pathologist. While working in a Pennsylvania coroner's office, he performs an autopsy on a former National Football League (NFL) player, Mike Webster, in whom he discovers a degenerative brain disease caused by numerous head traumas from playing football. Omalu publishes his findings and challenges the NFL to do more to protect its players. Of course, a money making machine as big as the NFL doesn't accept Omalu's findings, which would diminish their product. The NFL ignores Omalu and tries to shut him down.

Here is the crisis of the story: Omalu is faced with the choice between telling the truth and facing further ridicule; or drop the whole thing and protect his reputation. It's not easy choice - Omalu isn't just challenging the NFL organisation, he's challenging an American ideal and culture itself. It's in the center of this crisis that the movie depicts a moving conversation between Omalu and his wife. Omalu's wife reminds him that he has a truth and urges him to tell it.

Tell your truth. Live your truth.

Because if you don't - who will?

That might sound simple, or it might sound fluffy - let me break that down a bit more. What it means is that we all have truths in our lives: the truth of where we come from, our family upbringing, our significant experiences, our education. As Christians we have a particular religious truth of beliefs and lifestyle. As a married man, I can look at my wedding ring daily and be reminded of the vows I made with my wife - those are truth. As we go about everyday, we have a routine or a job or we go to school and study and we have relationships - all because its true that we need to earn money or learn things or interact to others. Because if these things weren't true, human life would look drastically different.

I believe at the core of who we are there's a truth of who we are. In fact, I think there's several truths. There's the basic truths, things we need to do to survive like eating, drinking, sleeping, working, etc. Our history and past, is true to each of us, both our individual history and our collective/communal/cultural history. And then there are the truths that we just can't let go off, the themes that run through our lives and point us to the future, be it a passion for justice or for education or for mission or for cooking food or for creative arts, etc. It could be anything, but it's why we work in or do what we do - or why we hate what we do for work.

Why the emphasis on truth? I used to rely heavily on the word "passion", but when you look at our consumer culture, anything can be a passion. And I mean, anything. The most currently downloaded phone app is one that transposes a constructed world on top of reality (sorry Pokemon Go fans). Passion doesn't necessarily lead to anything concrete.

Applied to vocation, we can see then that so many things can get in the way of discerning our call. Our consumer society, with its multitude of products, offers constant distraction. I think we even get in our own way, obsessing over options. At one point in the movie, the biggest obstacle in the way of Omalu's work is not the NFL, it's himself, going back and forth about whether he should pursue his fight against the NFL's officials or drop it and go home. I've experienced this in my own life: after I left the seminary in 2010, I spent a good two-three years wondering and obsessing about whether I'd made the right choice. The reality is that in my obsessing I was stopping myself from actually making that choice to move on.

Knowing the truths of who you are and living them give a concrete direction forward for living your vocation. This is something I've seen in my own life recently, knowing the truths of who I am, about my marriage, about my work, about my values - these have helped me make concrete decisions about my life and my future. In Dr Omalu's case, the truth of his work was recognising the dignity of each person he autopsied, allowing their life to be respected in death. Even if he didn't challenge the NFL about brain injuries, his life and work would still have tremendous meaning for himself, but also for his co-workers and for the families of his patients.

Know your truth and live it. Or, as St Catherine of Sienna put it, "be who God made you to be". Take the time to ask yourself and know who you are and why you are, truthfully. This is the step of discernment that we can all come back to periodically throughout life. Because it's the step of discernment where it becomes more than introspective navel-gazing and vocation becomes real and lived. Know your truth, but also live it. That's the story of Dr Omalu, it could be our story also.

The real Dr Omalu, portrayed by Will Smith in the movie  Concussion.

The real Dr Omalu, portrayed by Will Smith in the movie Concussion.

Beginning with a convent, ending with a wedding

by Kate Gilday

Lacking answers about the future, we should prepare to receive them by living today to the full.”

Fr Jacques Philippe, Interior Freedom.

My last week began within the peaceful walls of a cloistered Benedictine Abbey on the south coast of NSW and finished under a golden Hervey Bay sun as I witnessed the marriage of two wonderful, Christ-filled friends. I think it would suffice to say that my poor little discerning heart was thrown into a wee bit more vocational confusion than usual.

One of the key phrases tossed around here in the Vocation Office is “gift of self”. By virtue of our ultimate calling to give our hearts to God, each of the four states of life reflects not just a choice, but a lifelong pattern of choices, to give ourselves wholly and completely to another - be that a spouse, the Church or Christ Himself.

Last week I saw two souls stand before their family and friends to make a complete gift of their selves to each other and to God; I saw a chapel full of sisters who every day rise before dawn to pray in solidarity with those who have been awake in pain or heartache through the night; I saw a priest sit patiently with a homeless couple and give his heart totally to listening to their story; I saw my own friends, young and enthusiastic, commit to living faithfully their current single vocation in spite of the dreams and longings stirred by attending a wedding.

And I saw, maybe a little bit more clearly, the gift of self God is calling me to make.

The last month has stretched and pummelled my spiritual life in a myriad of ways. As the uni semester ended, I found myself disillusioned with my own selfish habits and ready to go for the sake of God and others.

I saw those ‘gifts of self’ all around me: the generous mother who pretends she’s not also sick so she can care for her flu-stricken family; the NET missionaries finishing the first half of a year dedicated to helping souls encounter Christ; the aid workers far off in a distant land ministering to the needs of those I wish had a bigger place in my heart.

I saw and I despaired: surely I could do more, be more, GIVE more than I currently am.

I was fairly adamant that if I wasn’t on a plane to the developing world or swathed in a habit by ‘tomorrow morning at the latest’, I could essentially consider myself a failure as a disciple.

It was in the throes of that restless, despondent mindset, that I found myself on a roadtrip to visit several communities of religious sisters along the East Coast. By that stage I was fairly ready to do whatever insanity the Lord might have in store for me – so long as it involved leaving the phase of life I was currently living.

But then a peculiar little trinity of forces aligned: I re-read St Therese’s Story of a Soul; I spent three days in quiet contemplative prayer at Jamberoo Abbey; and I once more found a book of Fr Jacques Philippe’s excavating the malformations of my understanding of the Lord.   

If we loved more, Love would give our lives infinite dimensions and we would no longer feel hemmed in.”

Fr Jacques Philippe, Interior Freedom.

St Therese’s life was geographically and influentially limited. She was a little soul living a little life in a little place. Likewise, the nuns at Jamberoo choose to renounce “life in the overtaking lane”, favouring a disposition of reverence in all things “lest any other word than the Word of God should dominate.” They are limited in their interactions with the world and faithful to a simple lifestyle of prayer and work.

And yet, because Love is the loudest voice in their lives, none of these limitations dictate the boundaries of their freedom in making a gift of self.

In the silence, Jesus helped me understand that my frantic and undiscerning quest for a calling forward was an expression of my heart’s thirst for that freedom. Looking at the life I currently live, I could only see its limitations – the way my circumstances and my own nature were preventing me from making the complete gift of self I was longing to make. 

Like St Augustine, I was searching outside of myself for the answer to restlessness – a way of altering my circumstances so that I could be free to give myself fully and live life to the full. But while we plan and strive to change the reality around us, the Lord’s first priority is transforming the reality within.

Jesus reminded me that my future will be an extension of the way I live the present. If I assert my independence, allow restlessness to provoke anxiety and believe that I cannot do His Will here and now, as I am, then my whole life will reflect mercilessness, agitation and dissatisfaction.

However, if I desire to become for others a sanctuary of peace, joy and hope – to make fully a gift of self that will transform lives for the better – then it’s my duty and my privilege first to receive with gratitude the gift of God in this moment.

Yes, the Lord always calls us forward into a state of life that reflects a total gift of self. But recently Jesus drew my attention to a key difference between two ways of hearing this call:

“I call you FORWARD,” is not the same as “I call YOU forward.”

And it’s our feet that He loves, far more than any path they shall tread.

Until we receive the gift of ourselves – as we are, where we are, and facing every limitation we face – we cannot make that “gift of self” we long to. It’s true that God invites us to play a part in re-creating this world in the image of Love; but He first invites us to be ourselves renewed by the boundless outpouring of His love for us.

Living fully a vocation to love not only can but must begin today, because His love for us has already begun the conversation. He has given us ourselves and this moment, as well as the grace necessary to live those things to the full.

That’s why I think I’ve got a grip on my vocation again: I know that I’m called to be Kate, fully alive and making a gift of self to the present moment and every precious soul whom I encounter in it. One day He’ll call me forward – to a spouse or to a Syrian refugee camp or to a quiet little monastery in the hills – but right now my vocation isn’t far away and incomprehensible: it’s to abide in love.

For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you… it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.

Deuteronomy 30:12-14

Loose Ends

 by Adam Burns

I'll just come out and say it: I'm a nerd. I have a compulsive thirst for knowledge, which is why right now next to me on my desk is a pile of my wife's social work textbooks. Lately I've had a bit of extra time on my hands (not too much though!) having finished my Bachelors degree and having a bit more brain space, in addition to getting married and now living closer to work (yay for the shorter work commute!). So I've been nerding out, reading more (and reading more broadly) and listening to podcasts.

As part of my nerd-phase, this morning on my way to work I was listening to an interview with Bill Phillips, Editor-In-Chief of Men's Health Magazine. At one point in the interview, Phillips was talking about his progression through his career to his current position. He talked about having the goal of becoming a major editor, but losing out on promotions earlier in his career. He said that what bolstered his belief through those knock backs was the idea that "talent always rises".

Something about that statement struck me. What Phillips calls "talent" refers to an idea that there is something within me, that is characteristic of me, and cannot be defined by a job or even career path. For me, this is connected to my last post where I talked about vocation not ending or ceasing at any one decision or moment in time. Vocation is ongoing throughout the whole of life.

What gets confusing about seeing that calling throughout our whole life is that we often view our life over a timeline, with moments and decisions and commitments marked along a single continuum. But actually, our life is more complicated than a single line. Our existence is an intricate weaving of threads, each representing different dimensions of our human development. My wife's text books call this development biopsychosocial-spiritual, or multidimensional; which understands human development as an interaction of our internal world (biological, psychological, spiritual) with our external societies (relationships, culture, etc.). Basically, we're (beautifully) complex.

In all of that, there's something that ties all of those different dimensions together and ties us to God. We could consider this a human or personalist understanding to vocation: I have some understanding of who I am that allows me, in all that makes me "me", to live in the world in a particular way. So going back to the quote, Phillips calls it "talent", but in a human or personalist understanding of vocation, we could call it our calling - our calling always rises throughout our experiences, prompting us to make commitments or career decisions or pursue passions.

That thread of calling weaves through everything that makes up our life, allowing us to comprehend a direction for our life. So for me personally, I'm able to understand myself as called to my marriage as a husband, and also as called to be a staff member of Vocation Brisbane, while exploring my creativity in writing and music, and still allowing space for me to nerd-out and read social work text books! The thread of who I am called to be weaves through all those parts of who I am, so that even though I see them almost as different worlds in my life, they are all fundamentally related to who God calls me to be.

What I'm saying here isn't anything new. God still calls us, we still respond. What I'm suggesting here is approaching vocation from a different angle. Usually when we present vocation we deduce our way from "The Call" and work that understanding down through to our daily lived existence. But what if we flipped the paradigm? What if we worked up from our daily existence, with all its experiences, elements, dimensions and angles, towards the understanding of "The Call".

When we understand what this thread is, it becomes a link or bridge or even a narrative which connects and flows through everything that makes up "me". Imagine that you lost your job, your home, all your possessions were taken away - this thread would remain, still encompassing what makes you "you". Whatever you do with your life, wherever you go, (in the least stalkerish sense possible!) God is always with you, always calling.

This is why we can believe that God's call is part of everyday of our lives. As cliched as that may sound, it actually is a statement of great depth: the one, most absolutely necessary constant of our lives (at least in relation to our vocation) is our adoption as children of God through our Baptism. Created by God, that thread of calling, that weaves through everything we are, is God's imprint in our lives. We mark this in a tangible way in our Baptism, and live it through sacraments of commitment (like Marriage and Holy Orders) and other commitments (like Consecration, or in our career paths).

Practically, the whole of one's existence is an invitation to follow God, if I know and understand what that thread of calling means for me. And that's the key - understanding that thread, because if we don't have some understanding of it, we're left with the "loose threads" or unrelated parts of our life. What does discerning this thread look like?

Prayer. Prayer is always going to be the first point of discernment. Nothing can take the place of connecting with God and letting Him speak into our lives directly. The second most important thing is mentoring and spiritual direction. Letting others feedback into our lives get us out of our own head and prevents us from making our life and calling only about "me". Third, understand that holiness in many ways stems from wholeness. I noted above that human life is a complex interrelation of several aspects of existence. We are physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social beings. Understanding how these things connect allows us to see how our calling weaves through our whole life. 

Again, this isn't anything new; and really, from whichever angle you look at it we still arrive at the same place:

The whole of me is called, in the fullness of who I am, to love and serve God and others throughout all of my life.

The invitation of such a calling is to never stop discerning, to dare to be life-long discerners, not in the sense that we never make any commitments; but in the sense that we are constantly open to God working powerfully in and through our lives in all of its situations. In so doing, we become more than purposeful and more than passionate, we become Called, grounded in who we are in God, for God and for others. And it doesn't matter which text books you read, that is the best sort of life you can live.

Shades of Beige

by Kate Gilday

Last night I sat on the floor and coloured out a butterfly with crayons. When I say “coloured out”, I mean coloured everywhere apart from ‘in’. My butterfly’s only internal adornment were four words:

It had been one of those days: the tail end of a disastrous assignment, an ever-increasing panic about the multitude of obligations that had gone by the wayside while trying to complete said assignment, a string of social interactions that methodically nurtured an identity crisis, and a howling, driving wind perfectly tuned to stir restlessness.

I just don’t know where I’m going. I don’t even know who I am,” I lamented to a friend shortly before hauling out the crayons.

A voice within me was like, “Dude, you work for the flipping Vocations office. Surely you have this thing sorted by now.” 

Except I don’t.

See, the Holy Spirit has fitted me out with an odd sort of mechanism. I’m going to label it the “Anti-Comfort Existential Crisis and Re-evaluation Drive” (or “ACECaRD”).

Acecard’s main purpose is to flip my life paradigm on its head the moment I get used to it.

Case Study #1: Kate is in high school. Kate is pretty darned good at high school. Logical conveyor belt of social convention suggests law school. Acecard promptly balks at the complacency with which Kate hops on said conveyor belt, and immediately presents the irresistibly unconventional prospect of becoming an unpaid missionary instead. Comfort zone transcended, existential crisis effected, re-evaluation process achieved, new paradigm set in place (for a little while, that is).

In terms of my vocation (specifically my vocational state of life), Acecard has had a pretty active few years’ employment under the Holy Spirit.

Case Study #2: Kate assumes she has a vocation to marriage and motherhood. Acecard kicks into gear by insisting vocational horizons be broadened and religious life duly considered. Kate gets used to the idea of religious life and actually adopts it as chosen comfort zone. Acecard rebels and re-establishes marriage as a viable option (at this stage, Acecard may have had some help from the newly encountered plethora of marriageable Catholic men at NET training). New life archetype discovered, Kate makes choices to enable vocational progression towards a certain portrait of marriage…. just in time for Acecard to scornfully remind her not to sail too close to the shore, and be open to a calling beyond the comfortable.

As my flip-flopping discernment continues, Acecard plays an irritating but invigorating role in keeping me from settling. The moment I make any ‘calling’ the goal in itself (rather than God alone as my ultimate goal) and get comfortable with striving towards that goal, the rug gets swept out from under my feet, leaving me to land rather painfully on my face. Thanks, Acecard.

So when I’m forced to admit – first to myself, then to the whole of social media – that I still don’t have it all sorted, it’s largely the fault of Acecard.

But praise God for that.

Yesterday was the culmination of a growing dissatisfaction with my own complacency. Once again, I’d opened my eyes to find myself on a conveyor belt – ticking boxes of social convention (live in house – check. get job – check. go to uni – check) rather than living with zeal and the Holy Spirit.

Confronted with a very vague ‘road ahead’ and a deep fear of getting it wrong, I keep looking to conventional social wisdom to make my decisions for me. But those conventions inevitably manifest themselves in cookie-cutter portraits painted with shades of beige.

Acecard is God’s way of reminding me that He is not a God of beige. He is the creator of beautiful, complicated realities that defy our expectations. When He calls, it is never to a known quantity: it’s to an adventure.

Discerning your vocation is exciting because it isn’t about figuring out which shade of beige suits you best. It’s about learning to listen to the wild, grand voice of the Holy Spirit and letting a love for Him inform your life.

The saints have been innovative existers – the ones who have thrown caution to the wind of the Holy Spirit, forgotten the conventional archetypes and lived with ridiculous, trailblazing zeal. They have been passionately in love with the God who gives life to the full, and extraordinarily dedicated to the fight to make His love present in this world.

Matthew the tax collector (you can find his story in Mt 9:9-13) was resigned to sitting at his desk, anticipating a bleakly predictable life. But when Jesus called, his world burst technicolour.

That is what vocation is all about: a God who notices our own resignation to mediocrity and invites us to rebel against beige for the sake of His kingdom.

He colours out our lives. He gives us an Acecard to remind us not to spend our lives copying someone else’s picture.

He calls us to be co-creators with Him – and I reckon it’s time we hauled out the crayons. 

Questions and Answers

by Adam Burns

Nothing could have prepared us for it. The daunting feeling that had lurked in shadows over the months was looming large as the moment came to fruition. Newly married, fresh off the plane and standing in a car rental parking lot, I took in the task that lay before me. This car was no ordinary car. It was a left-hand drive, bound for the right-hand lane of the Hawaiian roads we were about to explore. Marriage prep did not prepare us for this!

Our marriage prep courses did teach us that marriage is not an instant-fix-it to all relationship problems. A ceremony and a ring do not make life or love instantly easier. That time of preparation did equip us with the tools we needed to confront our frustrations and agitations as I endeavoured to indicate with my blinkers and not my windscreen wipers while avoiding oncoming traffic!

Over my first two-and-a-half weeks of married life, I've had to remind myself that marriage doesn't magically sweep away my issues. Don't get me wrong, my honeymoon was not full of marital arguments or disagreements. However, I did realise that my hesitation towards conflict, my short fuse and my indecisiveness are all still very much real and could not be swept under the metaphorical marital carpet. I also realised that my relationship with my wife, since even before we were married, has helped me grow and heal in these areas, making me a better person.

Herein lies the "magic" of the States of Life. Whether we're called to Marriage, or Ordained or Religious Life or to the Single Life; that State of Life is not an answer in and off itself. One of the taglines we use often is "ask the question", but the question isn't pointed towards an answer, the question points to an on-going journey: the discernment process. We discern constantly, even when we've made that State of Life commitment, about who we are and who we are in relationship with God and others.

The issue is that we've become about the end-point. Our society likes to explain things to an end, we establish limits and end-points by what we can get out of any given opportunity, and we've seen the end of life-long careers in our younger generations. Even in the Church we've made vocation about deciding your State of Life, and after choosing this seemingly the discernment process ends. So the idea of a process which doesn't lead to a defined end-point can be uncomfortable. We risk diminishing the sacramental graces present in our States of Life by making them the end point of our adult-faith decision making: the faith journey is initiated through Baptism and Confirmation, but doesn't end in Ordination or Consecration or Marriage.

Over the years I've looked forward to finally finding my "discernment resting place", the point where I no longer have the question of "where am I called" hovering over my head. After my wedding day I've realised that such a resting place doesn't (and perhaps, shouldn't) exist. Marriage is my next jumping point into the world. When once the discernment journey was what drove me to pursue God in my daily life, now it is my marriage which shapes my life, enabling me to consider new opportunities and possibilities for what my life as a married Christian man will look like. That excites me to no end, it also pushes me outside of myself as I discern what options will be best for my family. Discerning marriage with my wife has pushed me to a bigger vision for my life.

As I sat in that left-hand drive car, flicking off my windscreen wipers for the hundredth time in an attempt to indicate left, trying not to grow impatient as my wife was instructing me to "stay right, stay right"; I realised that my wedding day was not a magic end-point to all my questions about faith, life and calling. What my wedding day does represent is an invitation to more, to consider further who Adam Burns is, as a Christian, as a man, and now, as a husband.

Michaela's Story

This week we share the story of Michaela Pang, a Brissie girl now living in Singapore with her husband. She offers her incredible gift in writing and honest vulnerability in sharing her journey to marriage. Read more of Michaela's work at, and follow her on instagram "@michaeladaphnewriter".

by Michaela Pang

After a series of bad relationships, misleading men, and unrequited love I made a vow to “never let a man hurt me again.” They say that personal vows are dangerous, that you unconsciously become your own worst enemy. As it were, instead of the vow being a protection from bad man, it became a shield, a barrier from all men. For a long time I was entirely closed off from relationships, despite being pursued on more than one occasion.

I became incredibly high in my standards, unwilling to entertain the thought of dating just anyone. And so it was that when I met Shawn, my husband, it was with much resistance that I allowed him to woo me. I battled with myself when he met me after work one day to pass me some papers for a film project we were working on for Ignite Conference. He asked me, “Are you hungry?” and I faltered, knowing full well where he was leading. He continued, “You’re hungry. Let’s go eat.” One part of me cried out internally “You can’t tell me what to do!” whilst another part of me was impressed at his forthrightness, how he’d taken the lead. I followed after him like a puppy dog to our first unofficial date.

I wasn’t just battling with myself, however. There was an external problem that could not be ignored. He wasn’t Australian. His studies at Griffith and his time working for Freedom at QUT were coming to a close and he had to return to Singapore to fulfill a two-year scholarship bond to the Singapore Government. I was faced with the question of how to proceed – to enter into a relationship with him, knowing we’d probably spend two years doing long distance, or to wait for his return to Australia and see if we still felt the same way.

A wise friend of mine had once told me that before she started dating her American husband, that if she intended to marry him one day, she had to be willing to follow him wherever he may take her. So as I discerned the potential of a relationship with Shawn, I continually asked myself if I was serious enough about him to be ready for that kind of commitment – to be willing to follow him to Singapore or beyond.

What continued hereafter was a demolition of the barrier I’d built up as he walked me home whilst we discussed the faith, as he brought me coffee at work, pulled out my chair on dates, helped me carry heavy things, and complimented me perhaps a little too much. The day he finally asked me out, we went for Mass and adoration and I was certain that this was the kind of guy I’d been waiting for – godly, gentlemanly, and certain of what he wanted. Finally my vow was broken by his constant pursuit.

It had just clocked over to the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, 2013, as we stood on the Victoria Bridge, warming our hands with Max Brenner hot chocolate. He asked me that with the knowledge that he had to return to Singapore, would I be willing to begin a relationship with him? So I mimicked my wise friend and told him I was willing to go wherever he may take me.

Here began a whirlwind time of fear and excitement – six glorious months together and six apart as he returned to Singapore to begin his bond. I had decided to follow him at the end of that year and so I began the grieving time of packing up my life in Australia – selling my car, moving out of my share house, leaving my jobs at Christian Supplies and Ignite Conference, saying goodbye to family and friends alike. I knew I was making the right decision, that if I wanted to marry Shawn I needed to better understand the world that he had come from, his Chinese background, and to give his family a chance to get to know me and me to know them. I was certain that it was the most wise and loving thing to do, yet it pained me to do so. I loved Shawn, I wanted desperately to be wherever he was, but I also loved Brisbane very dearly and didn’t want to leave.

So it was with bitter sweetness and a ring on my finger that I joined him in Singapore in January 2015, to stick out the two-year bond side by side.

Constantly throughout the course of our dating and engaged relationship, I discerned whether Shawn was the right man for me, whether I wanted to marry him and live the rest of my life with him. When fear and anxiety overcame me I fell back upon reason: that the ultimate goal of marriage is to lead one another to God. When I remembered this, and I recalled the many ways in which Shawn led me nearer to God, I knew in my heart that I was making the right choice.

From that conversation on the Victoria Bridge and now into marriage, it hasn’t been an easy road. It’s been wrought with time apart, the transition into a new country, and stumbling through a difference in culture. But I know that we’ve made the right choice, following God’s call into the vocation of marriage to one another. I’d say that our successful discernment came down to dousing our relationship in prayer, the Sacraments, and keeping ourselves focused on the purpose of our relationship: to lead one another nearer to Christ.

The Joy of Love

by Adam Burns

If, like me, you follow enough "churchy" pages or accounts on social media, you've by now been inundated by opinions and synopses of Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. It seems that everyone's having their say, from Catholic agencies to media outlets. But what is an Apostolic Exhortation, why does it matter, and what does it actually mean for us?

An Apostolic Exhortation is a message of encouragement from the Pope. They carry a lot of weight and importance, but don't define Church teaching (or Doctrine). This Exhortation in particular is special because it's Post-Synodal, that is, it's Pope Francis' response to the two year Synod (or meeting of Bishops) that discussed the theme of marriage and family life.

That's a pretty big theme with a heap of subject matter. In Western Society alone, we're looking at a broad range topics like divorce and single-parent families, abortion, contraception, same-sex relationships and co-habitation. In other cultures there still exists arranged marriages. Amidst this context of topics, our Church (and us its members) understand marriage in the light of faith and have to relate it to our cultural and historical contexts. The on-going debate is how far does the Church go to relate to culture, or how strongly should it maintain its Doctrines. At the heart of this question is the reality of human beings juggling faith and relationship and the meanings of both. This was the focus and questioning of the Synod, and it's the content of the Pope's Exhortation.

Why should something like this matter to us little people sitting in the pews? Because it's our faith, because as lay people (i.e. those in the Church who are actually allowed to be in exclusive romantic relationships) we are most affected by the Church's understanding of marriage and family and how the Gospel relates. And perhaps most simply, because the Pope has addressed this document: "TO BISHOPS, PRIESTS AND DEACONS, CONSECRATED PERSONS, CHRISTIAN MARRIED COUPLES AND ALL THE LAY FAITHFUL".

So, the big question is: what does Pope Francis conclude in Amoris Laetitia (which is Latin, meaning The Joy of Love). Read carefully: the teaching's of the Church aren't changing. This might seem disappointing for some, but remember an Exhortation doesn't introduce or change doctrines in the first place. What Pope Francis does exhort is that the conversation on these topics doesn't end, that with fuller understanding of our culture (in each geographical context) and pastoral sensitivity with our faith, we can approach these topics with the heart and mercy of Christ. 

It's a little simplistic to say that this document amounts to: be like Jesus; but that's Pope Francis' heart for mercy, which he sees as central to the way individuals relate to those they're in relationship with, to how those in relationship relate to the Church and to how the Church relates to the rest of the world.

Chapter One explores poetic and insightful passages of love and relationship in the Scriptures. Chapter Two considers the experiences of family today, and considers the brand range of topics mentioned above, in light of the global context. Chapter Three summarises the Church's doctrines on marriage and the family, but these are seen not just as rules, but rather explores the relations between humans, Church and God in the context of marriage and love. Chapters Four or Five offer a reflection on love in all its forms in the marital relationship. Chapter Six is where Francis offers his pastoral considerations, which is followed by a whole chapter on the education of children. Chapter Eight further breaks down pastoral approaches and Chapter Nine reflects on a spirituality of marriage and family.

I'm still only up to the fourth chapter of the Exhortation, but already I'm struck by several elements. Firstly, as an aspiring theologian and an aspiring husband, it's rare to find a Church document that's language and ideas are grounded in the lived reality of marriage or relationship. Yet, in this document, in the centre of scripture and doctrine is an honest presentation of the reality of human relationship in our current historical context. And there's an honest confession that the Church doesn't always relate well to this reality. It's really quite refreshing.

Secondly, in calling for a more pastoral approach to the struggles of marriages, Pope Francis himself models this pastoral care. In presenting the vocation of marriage, Francis doesn't hide human struggles in the shadows, he openly considers them and offers hope and encouragement to Christian couples. Having myself grown up in a single-parent household, I saw in my parents a lot of those relational struggles; so this pastoral tone is redeeming to not see experiences like that of my parents' swept under the rug, but rather acknowledged and addressed in hope rather than condemnation.

Third, its relatable. Though it's written in response to the Synod of Bishops, it seemingly captures the voice of the whole of humanity: Christian and non-Christian, male and female, adult and child, all around the world, addressing the cultural situations beyond Europe, such as in Africa, South America and even Korea. In doing so, Francis affirms that relationship is very much a part of who we are in Creation, and that we've come to understand it in a particular way through the Christian faith.

Having said all of that, I do realise I'm a theology student, which frames my excitement for this document. For others, maybe only parts of it will be relevant or interesting. In any case, it is worth reading a few articles (from the right sources) to get a good grounding in what Pope Francis has written, and reading a section or two for yourself. Personally, I think this will be the defining document of our generation; and undoubtedly it will shape the language that we use as we dialogue faith with culture in the realm of love and relationships moving forward.

Pope Francis affirms that the vocation of marriage is sacred, and is prayerfully discerned and entered into. And so we pray with the Holy Family:

Prayer to the Holy Family

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendour of true love; to you we turn with trust.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer, authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic churches.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again experience violence, rejection and division;
may all who have been hurt or scandalised find ready comfort and healing.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family, and its beauty in God’s plan.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Graciously hear our prayer.


It's not about me, it's about God!

We've asked one of the young priests of the Archdiocese to share his journey and thoughts on being a priest. Here is his reflection on priesthood.

by Fr Marty Larsen

Being a priest is an “interesting” career to share in. In one sense, you bring the gifts that you have, to the people that you work with. Conversely, you are shaped by the community you are sent to ‘pastor’ to.  Working with people is a privilege, yet it also comes with its obstacles. Sometimes you are called to be with people in their sadness and this can be difficult at times. Many times however, you walk with people in their joys and milestones.   

In the one and half years of being a priest I have done over 100 baptisms, 11 weddings, 36 funerals and celebrated mass hundreds of times.  I have walked with people in these sacramental moments and they have been blessings to be a part of.  

I would consider these to be ‘big’ occasions, yet, it is the little moments of priesthood that are the most enjoyable.  The look a small child gives you just as you pour water over their head in baptism, the way a person thanks you for doing their mum’s funeral. You cannot quantify the impact these moments have on you. It is such a privilege to be able to walk with people in the special moments of their lives. 

In the one and half years of being a priest I have done over 100 baptisms, 11 weddings, 36 funerals and celebrated mass hundreds of times.

Priesthood can be exhilarating and it can be commonplace. Recently I was asked to celebrate mass for a couple who were celebrating 50 years of marriage. That is such a joy to be a part of.  In this small gesture, you get to walk with people as they reach milestones in their lives. 

Archbishop Mark Coleridge who is our archbishop here in Brisbane suggests that we don’t become routine priests.  It is a point I always try to remember, yet there is a ‘routine’ to saying daily mass, visiting hospitals and going to schools.  Life can be routinely structured, but it doesn’t have to become dull.  Some of the best moments are the ordinary moments, like, sitting with a wedding couple, chilling with a class talking about ethics or saying mass at 5pm on a Monday afternoon. 

One of the traps of being a priest is remembering the line, “it’s not about me; it’s about God.”  Our profession is one primarily where we are thanked a lot for what we do.  I was once at a meeting where I was just a participant and someone came up to me afterwards and said thanks for being there! 

Some of the best moments are the ordinary moments, like, sitting with a wedding couple, chilling with a class talking about ethics or saying mass at 5pm on a Monday afternoon.

It becomes important not to focus on the self.  It is true that we can go on an ego trip with all the positive comments that we receive, yet it also important to remember we have serious task of being there for others.  I find that when I reflect on this statement, that it becomes a moment of grounded-ness. 

All the work that we do is for God.  God is the reason why people are at mass. God is the reason why people are initiated into the church.  God was the one who chose me to walk this path with people.  Whenever the ego is quick to want to take over, I remind myself that I am walking in the footsteps of so many priests who have walked before me, to make priesthood what it is today in Brisbane.  I give thanks to God for the gift that God has given to me: priesthood.  

Beyond the "Yes"

by Kate Gilday

There’s a scene in Happy Feet that’s sure to bring a tear to my eye (granted, I’ve a very low threshold for crying in movies…). While the females are out at sea feeding, Memphis and the other male penguins have been left in charge of the eggs. Their sole goal: keep the egg alive.

The only trouble is that it’s hard to brave the unshakeable darkness and biting chill of the Antarctic winter alone. A huddle is the only way to survive; it’s also the way to thrive. The penguins rotate so that everyone has a chance to be sheltered from the wind; everyone has a chance to feel warm, protected and empowered by those surrounding him (and great sop that I am, I get a bit sniffly at the beauty of that huddle’s commitment to one another and the gifts they carry).

For me, this year’s Sisterhood National Catholic Women’s Conference was the assembling of a penguin huddle; a convening of warmth and grace in the recognition that “it is not good for [wo]man to be alone.” (Gen 2:18) Drawing together over 200 women from across Australia and from all walks of life, the conference was an invitation not only into community, but into communion with others striving to be a woman after Christ’s own heart in lives often burdened with darkness and cold winds.

As a representative of Vocation Brisbane, I found the conference a fascinating look at what lies beyond the yes.  Amidst the praise, fellowship and maxi skirts, I caught glimpses of vocational states of life down-the-track: religious sisters 20 years into their profession of vows; mums with nine kids waiting for them to get home from the conference; women in their 30s who are still faithfully living out the call to be single; widowed grandmothers now faced with a fresh vocation to single life.

“Everything is grace,” the conference’s theme declared. Keynote speakers touched on the beauty of suffering; how to maintain an attitude of gratitude; what it means to be a people of hope. Every woman I spoke to was overflowing with thankfulness for the way Christ was speaking to her unique circumstances throughout the weekend; breathing new life into the sorrows and exhaustion she brought to Him.

Because beyond the “yes” lies a reality; an everyday life replete with beauty, sacrifice and suffering. Happily Ever After brings its fair share of misery, and no vocation is immune to burnout, disappointment and heartbreak. The Sisterhood conference reminded me that nothing will ever look the way we imagine it to: but that “all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom 8:28)

Lindsay Dennis, one of the keynote speakers, reminded us that, “we become a people of hope when we stop asking God to take us out of our circumstances and start inviting Him into them.” Surrounded by courageous hearts who continue to give their faithful yes to God even when His call on their lives demands something scary or heartbreaking, I began to wonder if vocation is less about “how” we will follow Him than about “how” we will follow Him.

Let me explain. Often when we think about the “way” we are going, we contemplate a literal, physical pathway. The GPS will tell us the way to the 24-hour IGA when we desperately need chocolate at midnight. But when we think about the “way” someone speaks or dresses, we refer to a manner; a style; a disposition.

Often when we talk about vocations, I think we can get caught up in the “how” (the literal physical way we are going to live, as a single, priest, married or religious) at the expense of the “how” (the disposition of heart that continues to fall in love with God, to discern His call for the very next step every day and desires nothing more than to bear His light to the world).

No two stories of any two souls at that conference were alike. God invites us to carry Christ into the world in a unique place at an unrepeatable time. Our “vocation” will reveal itself in a certain state of life, true; but it cannot and will not look the same as anyone else’s in history. Grace lies in choosing to walk in His way – the way of wholehearted, hopeful surrender.

To say ‘yes’ to the call God has for you is not to magic away suffering and find yourself perfectly equipped to live the rest of your life in holiness, love and peace. To say yes is to know that beyond the yes lies another yes. And another. And another.

The beauty of the Incarnation is that it is still unfolding in every heart that chooses to become a dwelling place for Christ. We are the home, the tabernacle, of the Word made Flesh. That is, and will always be, our vocation: to be His and to let this world encounter Him in us.

Like Memphis the penguin and like Mary the Mother of God, we’re carrying something special. No matter the Antarctic darkness or first-century Palestinian disapproval we face, it is possible to thrive in the call that He has placed on our hearts. When we are surrounded by a community of grace and firmly convicted of the value of the gift we carry, we will bring Christ into the world.



Kate Gilday joins the Vocation Brisbane team in 2016. She brings to her role as Field Officer a deep passion for vocations and journeying with other young women as they discern their calling. Part of her role this year will be a "Convent Crawl", a journey around the Archdiocese, visiting the many Religious and Consecrated Orders and Congregations and hearing their stories. You can follow the #conventcrawl here on our Going blog, and on facebook and youtube.

I’m turning twenty in about three weeks, and the transition out of teenage life is enough, I believe, to justify a bit of a midlife crisis.

Like most people I know, I’m afraid of missing out on what the world has to offer. I want to learn everything, to travel everywhere, to laugh until my sides hurt, to fall deeply and madly in love. I crave life to the full, even when I’m not sure what that’s going to look like.

And on the cusp of adulthood, I face the terrifying prospect that I might get swept along a conveyor belt of dull everyday reality, not knowing until it’s too late how much I’ve missed.

Don’t we live in a world of FoMO (Fear of Missing Out)?

FoMO gnaws away at so many areas of my life (above and beyond compulsively refreshing my facebook newsfeed). Sitting in the classes of a Theology/ Philosophy double-degree I’m loving, I still find myself wondering whether the UQ Chemistry students are having more fun. Contemplating whether or not to attend a social event I really couldn’t care less about, my gut begs, “What is something amazing happens and you’re not there?”

And, most persuasively, when I imagine saying yes to a Religious vocation, FoMO retorts, “But think of everything you’ll miss out on! Don’t you realize you’ll be saying no to parties and nice clothes and a husband and babies?”

Sister Angela Botti wonders if many people end up missing out on their “life to the full” because of their very fear of missing out.

“Wherever you go, whatever path you choose, you will be saying “no” to another path,” she reflects, “What remains is the need to choose the “yes” that brings you life to the full.”

For Sr Angela, that ‘yes’ was to God’s call to consecrated life as a Canossian Daughter of Charity. Her community of sisters invited me over for lunch a few weeks ago to talk #conventcrawl, the vocation to mercy and life to the full.

Two things strike me about the Canossians.

The first is how normal they are. The sisters are hilarious. They tease each other, bounce between ideas and are not afraid of seriously strong coffee. They work normal jobs: one a high school psychologist, another an early childhood teacher, others nurses; there’s even a former dance teacher among their ranks. Their laid-back, authentic natures make for enjoyable company; it’s pretty easy to forget you’re surrounded by Religious sisters.

The second thing that strikes me is how not-normal they are.

In a FoMO world that screams “Do everything that you love and do it now!”, there’s something quietly extraordinary about being surrounded by women who have chosen to give away their entire lives for others.

In the footsteps of their founder Magdalen of Canossa, the sisters experience the call to love our brothers and sisters throughout the world in a deep and radical way, giving preference to the poor and suffering in all areas of their work.

“Mercy comes from the heart,” explains Sr Angela, “It’s not enough to serve a meal to the poor. It’s not enough. Learn how to sit with them, to share what is their life; not only ‘doing for’ them, but solidarity with them.

“For me, it’s the way I see the incarnation in my life and in our life: the reality of living in an attempt to truly see someone, and then associating with that someone in solidarity.”

The choice to live for others as a vowed Religious is in radical opposition to our FoMO. Why on earth would anyone say no to wealth, pleasure and autonomy to live a life of poverty, chastity and obedience?

To that end, why would anyone give their lives for God?

The zeal with which the Canossians live their calling to mercy is reminiscent of the countless men and women through the centuries who have chosen to lay down their lives out of passionate love for the Lord.

I spent a good chunk of Saturday morning reading narratives of being burned alive, devoured by wild beasts and beheaded (for my early Christian history unit, not for pleasure). In those first few centuries of persecution for the sake of the Gospel, the martyr’s cry was, “the only life worth living is a life worth dying for.”

I’m convinced that, even today, God is still calling ordinary people to live with the same unspeakable courage and inextinguishable love for Christ that animated Polycarp’s willingness to be burned alive and Justin’s baring of his neck for the executioner’s block.

He makes us brave. To live a life of FoMO is still to live by fear - and that’s not the “life to the full” my heart years for. I want to live an adventure; a life worth dying for, animated by courage and boundless generosity.

Thinking about any path of life in terms of the “no”s we’ll have to say to other things in choosing it will leave us paralysed and dissatisfied. And so, as Sr Angela says, only one question remains:

What is the “yes” that will bring you life to the full?

Learn more about the Sisters and their charism on their website: If you are interested in finding out more about #conventcrawl or getting in touch with a Religious sister, please contact Vocation Brisbane. 

It Takes a Tribe

by Adam Burns

It was a humbling experience this past weekend to be autographing copies of my own book for parishioners at my home parish, St Patrick’s in Beenleigh, where I was tagging along with the rest of the Vocations team who were in town for the Vocations Roadshow.

Many parishioners there remember me from when my family first moved to the parish as I began high school at the local Catholic college. Since that time they watched me grow up and leave to go on mission, then later enter the seminary. I know some still follow my progress in my work with Vocation Brisbane. When I’m home many of them will check in with me, offer wisdom and advice and assure me of their prayers. It’s this experience of community that has been so foundational to my whole Christian journey, let alone my vocational discernment.

In all the States of Life, the support and endorsement of a community is essential. Before any man begins the discernment process of the priesthood, a key question he is asked is who is calling him to be a priest? Besides God, a man is called from the community, in order to serve the community.

So too a married couple must have the support of the community. While the marriage is officially witnessed by the priest and two witnesses, the wedding liturgy essentially involves participation from those gathered. Some men still bravely hold the custom of asking the future bride’s parents for their permission (I told my future in-laws it would be “nice to have their blessing”).

The support of a community is equally evident in the Religious Life and Single Life, or any vocation for that matter. It’s the reality that we don’t discern in a vacuum, we don’t live on islands separate from each other.

The emphasis on community reveals another aspect to vocation that we might not often think about: our vocation is meant to impact others. How we live God’s call in our lives is meant to have an effect on the people around us, precisely because that call is to live for God and others. Sometimes vocational questioning focuses on “how do I become the best version of myself?” But unless this question considers how that best version serves others, it’s the wrong question.

It may seem a strange statement, especially in light of the tall poppy syndrome that is so engrained in our culture, but we should aspire to inspire, effect and move those around us by the way we live our lives, whether that’s in our jobs, or in our homes and in our families.

So we need to listen to those around us, and we need to engage in the life of our community. Perhaps more importantly though, our communities need to engage in the lives of those individuals that make up our community, especially the lives of young people. We need to encourage them to pursue their vocation, to challenge them to consider a  priestly or Religious calling. Just as urgent is the need to engage young couples, and to offer them positive examples of marriage and family life, so that when they start their own family community, it will contribute to the wider community.

It’s not enough to say “I’ve discerned my vocation, I’ve lived it, vocation has nothing to do with me anymore”, because our calling requires us to walk with others in all stages of life. Neither should we think we can figure it out alone: "It is not good for man (or woman) to be alone" (Gen 2:18).

Meeting the Sisters of Nazareth

Kate Gilday joins the Vocation Brisbane team in 2016. She brings to her role as Field Officer a deep passion for vocations and journeying with other young women as they discern their calling. Part of her role this year will be a "Convent Crawl", a journey around the Archdiocese, visiting the many Religious and Consecrated Orders and Congregations and hearing their stories. You can follow the #conventcrawl here on our Going blog, and on facebook and youtube.

The first question I ever asked a Religious sister was “What kind of face wash do you use?”

I was fourteen, and flabbergasted that anyone could look so luminous without makeup. The sister in question laughingly responded that a bar of soap was the sole product of her skin care regime.

Without exception, every nun I’ve met has looked at least ten years younger than she actually was. Sister Elisapeta Tevaga, sister superior of the Sisters of Nazareth at Wynnum, is no exception. Although she could pass for a fresh-faced postulant, Sister Elisapeta will next year celebrate the 30th anniversary of her first profession of vows.

As she picks me up from the train station, Sister Elisapeta asks if I wouldn’t mind running an errand with her on our way back to the convent. We stop briefly outside a small home and I wait in the car as Sister runs in to deliver the leftovers of their Sunday lunch to a family who, she explains, “don’t have very much.”

This small act of generosity, I learn over the next four hours, is simply second nature to the close-knit community of sisters, who all possess that rare combination of open-handed hospitality and self-forgetful humility I’ve come to see as characteristic of authentically lived religious life.

“People experience what you are,” says Sister Mary Lawrence Gibson, who entered the Sisters of Nazareth in 1962, “You never even stop to think about it, because you just keep receiving God’s grace all the time.”

Although the Sisters live busy lives nursing and caring for the elderly, their days are centred upon the Blessed Sacrament.

“Jesus is the foundation, the centre, of your vocation,” Sister Elisapeta tells me, “Some people begin discerning saying ‘I like the habit, I like community life, I like the work they’re doing’. And those things are important, but love for Jesus always needs to to be the heart.”

As always, when I meet Religious sisters, I’m eager to know their vocation stories.

“I didn’t go looking for my vocation,” Sister Anastasia Ho smiles, “I simply kept talking to Jesus. I remember when I was back in Vietnam, I would go into the church on Saturday mornings to clean – it was very dusty – and simply talk honestly with the Lord. He did the rest.”

“When you realise that God is love and that He will always be love, everything else falls into place.”

“We all want to live a life that we’ll be happy and content with, but sometimes we have no idea what that is. God will give you the grace; He will guide you and show you the means, because He is love.”

I explain to the Sisters a little bit about my own story, and how I’ve ended up on a #conventcrawl to open up the discussion about religious life with young women throughout the Archdiocese of Brisbane. Their joy is palpable.

“We want to help and be of assistance to any young person discerning their vocation – even if it’s not to our order. Whatever decision they make, it’s our privilege to help young people eventually get where they need to be.”

Their advice to me, and to every discerning heart, is to focus on the Lord: “Do anything you can to get to know God better. It’s like any relationship: the more you know the other person, the more you want to stick with them.”

“Get involved with like-minded people. There are so many things happening within the Church where you can find people you can talk to about what you’re thinking.”

“Taking a leap into the unknown can make you feel very alone – so find a sister or a priest you can talk to. Never be afraid to open up and share what the Lord is doing in your heart. From there, things grow.”

My camera runs out of battery far sooner than I’d have liked, but I’m too enraptured by the sisters’ stories to leave.

Sister Mary Lawrence is right – people experience what you are. In the three women sitting around the dining table with me, I experience true Brides of Christ; women on fire for a life lived to the full.

“I wouldn’t choose any other life,” Sister Elisapeta tells me, “Even on the days when there are struggles or I’m unhappy or annoyed. I know Him. I know Him who I am following, and I know who I am because of Him.”

My own vocation journey is still young, but I pray that I’ll be able to say the same every day of my life: I have found Him whom my soul loves. (Song of Songs 3:4)

The Sisters of Nazareth are based at Wynnum, where they help run Nazareth house, a care facility for the elderly. In addition to their apostolic work as nurses, the sisters live a life of prayer and community, drawing upon the Rule of St Augustine to strengthen their response to God’s call on their lives. Learn more about the Sisters on their website: 

 If you are interested in finding out more about #conventcrawl or getting in touch with a Religious sister, please contact Vocation Brisbane.