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News from the Noviciate

Libby Osgood

Now into my second month of the novitiate, there have been many blogs formed on reflective walks, preserved in my journal and filed away in my heart. The need to publish the thoughts online has diminished, giving me the comfort of a strengthened relationship with God. Sometimes I find myself smiling, realizing we are inwardly sharing an inside joke only we understand, together squashing my extrovert tendency to immediately blurt it out loud, as my inner introvert develops. 

During this last month, I had a great amount of interest about my vocation on a local radio morning show, national newspaper article, national tv morning show, and international Facebook video. It was neat to get to publically answer questions about a topic I thought was originally too taboo to tell my friends and coworkers about (and to live near a studio to see how it all works!!). I have turned down a few opportunities since, in order to focus on the novitiate and discernment, but I was thrilled to share my story with people who were so intrigued by it. 
 

(Top left picture of article being shared in a two different languages on Facebook and other photos of my experience in the ABC News studio remote location and only seeing a camera, not the interviewer)
 
My parish while I lived in San Antonio and where my family still attends is St Francis of Assisi. During my first week at the novitiate, I was asked by their office staff to write some thoughts on discernment for younger parishoners. On this St Francis' feast day, it seems appropriate to share those thoughts with you, which were composed one morning with two thumbs on Facebook messenger, with thoughts of the questions I had when I was 20ish concerning vocations. I must add - it was beautifully compiled by the parish staff with pictures and quotes, more like a professional magazine than a church newsletter, and I was humbled to be alongside the celebration of Sr Rose's 50 years as a religious sister. Already with what I have learned over this last month, I would tweak the text, but I leave it as is, preserving my understanding of vocation during that first week of the novitiate. 
 
Listening for the Quiet Whisper 

Each of us is tailored by God and drawn towards a path that helps us to express God’s love most fully. That desire to share God’s love in a certain way is your vocation, whether as a married person, consecrated single person, diocesan priest, or part of a religious community as a sister, brother, or religious priest.

God tailored each of us, giving us special talents and desires to help us live more fully to share joy, love, and eternal hope with the world. Discerning your vocation is figuring out which way is your ideal path, and it’s not a quick process that you can decide one day, no matter how hard you pray. My advice: let it simmer deep within you, and in the meantime, enjoy everything God puts in your way. It took me until I was 32 for me to be ready for my vocation, but others mature more quickly and know earlier. It’s important to listen to God’s voice, even if it’s a quiet whisper, as it was for me.

I travelled the world, went scuba diving with sharks, sky-dived, wandered through Thailand on my own, and had two different careers helping to build satellites and then teaching at university. I needed to explore and see first, so I could really understand that so many of the things that I loved about the world and loved to do were available as a religious sister.

I listened to that quiet whisper from God that was deep inside, just waiting for the right time when I would be ready to act on it. I had a lot of ideas about what being a sister was, and I was so wrong. I thought it was giving up the chance to love, as Hollywood claims love can only happen if you fall into it with one other person, passionately and physically to be able to live happily ever after. It turns out that by not committing yourself to love one person, you actually get to be free to love everyone more fully and without attachments. That may sound like just words, but for the last two years, I have been constantly enveloped by love and have been able to give it much more freely, with an awareness of how God is present in each conversation. 

Before I realized I was discerning, I went on dates and though I loved spending time with these great mates, I realized each one wasn’t for me. It just didn’t feel right. I am glad I trusted that instinct, and simultaneously glad I stepped out there and tried. Realistically, I did have to decide whether I was okay with not having kids, and that was a harder decision. But when I saw how close the sisters are to their families, I realized I could still have little ones in my life. I simply wouldn’t be responsible for the diaper changes and late night feedings, just the awesome adventures and exciting game nights. That was fine for me.

I also misunderstood the vow of poverty. It sounded so cold, as I have owned a convertible sports car, a few houses, and a giant wardrobe. God prepared me for this slowly over 10 years, as a quiet call to simplify my car, then downsize to a condo, then reduce my clothing, and eventually to get down to books, my bike, and my favorite hammock. A vow of poverty looks different for each religious community and is not necessary for all diocesan priests. In the novitiate, we share a television in the community room, each of the sisters has laptops and iPads, and we have what we need to fulfill each of our individual missions. Some communities have fewer material things and restrict the time spent on social media or wear special clothes each day (called habits), so it is really important if you are being called to religious life to spend time with the sisters and brothers to see if their way of living the vows matches how God is calling you to express them. I feel I have everything I need and more than I did in some ways (like cable) than I did when I lived alone.

The vows exist to help remove barriers and temptations from our mission and help us love others more fully, whether that is as a lawyer working immigration cases, a counsellor helping clients, a teacher writing an equation on the whiteboard, a nurse caring for an elderly person, or a caring soul on the streets of Calcutta. Each order has a different mission and different charism, which is how they choose to live the gospel. My order has mostly teachers, and we practice liberating education, allowing me to continue to teach engineering. We also have a sister working at the United Nations to advocate for social justice, lawyers, counsellors, and nurses. The vow of obedience doesn’t mean stopping the use of your brain and never making your own decisions; it means bringing in your community for the big decisions, to ensure those decisions will help you live the gospel more fully.

If you are discerning any vocation—whether to marry your girlfriend or boyfriend or pursue religious life—stay open to God through prayer and take the opportunities presented to you. 

 

 

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