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