“Trust wholeheartedly in Yahweh,
Put no faith in your own perception;
Acknowledge him in every course you take,
And He will see that your paths are smooth.”
(Proverbs 3:5-6, NJB)
Over the past little while, I’ve had several conversations with friends who feel stalled out in life, who feel very strongly that they have a vocation of some sort, but for some reason, no one else seems to recognise it. One friend desires to be a Consecrated Virgin, but worries that her priest won’t understand or recognise her desire because of its unusual character, and will therefore not grant permission. Another has contacted several religious orders’ vocations directresses, and months go by and she never heard back from them. More recently, a friend who feels called to the priesthood had his seminary application turned down.
No stranger to rejection and disappointment myself, when it comes to discerning my vocation, I know how frustrating and depressing the feeling can be. The vocations posters encouraging men to discern whether they are called to the Permanent Diaconate state that one must be 35 to be ordained, but can begin formation at 31. I counted down the days until my 31st birthday so I could call up and apply. I went through the meetings, the interviews, the paperwork, confident that this was how God wanted me to serve Him. Then it came, the long-expected letter of acceptance! Except it wasn’t. It was a letter telling me that I was not suitable Deacon material. Around the same time, I felt very strongly attracted to the Lay Dominicans, and began inquiring at the local chapter—only to find out that this particular chapter was full of incredibly liberal people who held many ideas and beliefs contrary to the Church’s teachings, and even drafted documents in order to appeal to the pope to change Church teaching, such as women’s ordination. Clearly I couldn’t become a Dominican if the chapter which I’d be joining was so opposed to everything I believe!
Why is it that God, it seems, puts such desires, such calls, into our hearts so strongly that we want to pursue them at all costs, and then when we do, we run straight into a brick wall? How do we respond when we apply to a particular ministry, apostolate, or vocation, and the director doesn’t recognize the vocation that we feel so strongly? Do we rebel against God and His Church, or do we submit, and return to prayer and discernment? Are we humble enough to admit that maybe we don’t have the vocation we thought we did? Are we self-aware enough to ask why we were turned down, and whether the reason might be a valid one?
When I asked the director for the diaconate why I was turned down back in 2011, I was told that the discernment committee felt that I was seeking to become a deacon out of vainglory. When I heard that, everything within me wanted to react with outrage! “How could they say such a thing?! Can’t they see just how amazingly humble I am? – Oh, wait…”
I’ve had various friends express their dismay at my rejection, wondering how such a decision could have been reached. Depending on their faith (or lack thereof), they’ve suggested things ranging from applying in a different diocese to abandoning Catholicism altogether, because if the Church can’t recognize that God’s calling me to something, then obviously the Church is wrong and stupid.
It’s a nice, ego-stoking thought. But that’s precisely the problem. We don’t see the end from the beginning. We don’t know all the ins and the outs. Our perception is so very limited. If we truly do have a vocation to whatever area or ministry, then the present “No” can only be a “Not Yet.” So when you do hit roadblocks along the way, trust that God will lead you down the right path. Straight ahead might seem like the easiest, fastest way to get where you’re going, but if the bridge is out, you won’t get very far. Be ready and willing to follow the path God wants to take you down, even if it seems to go in circles for a while. The Israelites spent 40 years in the desert on what should have been at most a week-long journey. But they had to learn to let go of the sinful idols that they brought with them out of Egypt and trust in God alone, with humility and obedience.
And so do we.