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