We tend to lump vocations into categories: priest, religious sister/brother, married man or woman, consecrated layperson, etc. But to God, each one of us is unique as well as irreplaceable. It took a long time for me to hear God’s specific call on my life, mostly because I fell into the “lump” mindset. I was totally unaware there could be a particular way, designed just for me, that God wanted to work out my vocation.
As long as I can remember all I ever wanted to be “when I grew up” was a wife and mother – not exactly unusual or adventurous! Eventually, the Lord made it clear that this deep-seated desire was indeed planted within me by Him, but that I needed to ask Him how it would enfold for me personally.
I did ‘grow up’ and marry a wonderful Catholic man, but after a couple of miscarriages and subsequent ill health it came to light that I was going through premature menopause: it began age 28 and finished age 32. Devastating.
Mercifully, at this time a friend invited me on a retreat where I had a profound and life-changing encounter with the Risen Jesus.
What a shock!
I thought you had to be dead (and have lived a very good life indeed!) for something like that to happen. Not true. The encounter with the very real Person of Jesus Christ is meant to be normal: in fact, it is his idea. Just look at the encyclical Evangelii Gaudium by Pope Francis if you don’t believe me!
The talks on that retreat made it clear that I had never checked with God (my Creator!) what exactly his unique plan was for me. So I asked Him. To my amazement He replied! He gave me a Scripture verse from Isaiah which began:
Shout for joy, O barren one!
God revealed that He wanted me to have spiritual children, and that all my ‘spiritual children’ would be “disciples, taught of God”.
I should have rejoiced then and there, but I am afraid to say that instead my heart sank: I wanted real children, not spiritual children.
I did not take into consideration that to be a disciple of Jesus one must “renounce oneself” (ie: our agenda and plans) and “take up our cross” (Mt 17:24). So God himself had to show me what he meant through my father.
Born from the Word
Although a Catholic, my father had never had an encounter with the Lord Jesus. His work was his Lord. But he noticed a change in me after that retreat: “You have such peace,” he said.
When I explained that was the peace of Jesus, he replied, “You can’t just have Jesus! What about all the other people in the world?”
Then at age 59 he was diagnosed with cancer and told he had weeks to live. I resided in a different country from him at the time, so I flew to see him. He looked dreadful, and I prayed with him. We then had a rather important chat, during which I picked up my bible and began to read the story of Nicodemus visiting Jesus at night: Jesus said:
Unless a man is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God
When I finished reading I looked up, expecting an intellectual analysis from my Harvard educated dad. Instead, he was staring intently at me. “I’ve never heard that before,” he whispered. Of course, he had attended Sunday Mass over the years when that Gospel was read, but this time he truly heard it.
The following day my dad’s consultant phoned to offer him a place on an experimental cancer programme. He grabbed the chance and our conversation was put aside. Several months later my mother phoned and said my father was literally dying.
I was present when the priest administered the last Sacrament to my very weak and failing father.
Shortly after the priest left my father suddenly sat up in bed, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Jesus is all we have! Does everyone know this?” He fell back on to his pillows and wept profusely. “I have faith!” he cried.
The next few days he was beside himself with joy, a joy I too experienced overwhelmingly when he took his last breath. Why? He had encountered his Saviour.
Afterwards, I was asked to write his story. It was then I realised that it was exactly nine months from the time I proclaimed the Word to him from the bible to his receiving the gift of faith.
Your new birth was not from any mortal seed but from the everlasting word of the living and eternal God
(1 Peter 1:23)
My father was my first son.
So my maternal vocation is this: to proclaim his Word to those the Lord brings to my husband and myself so that they may be born as new creations in Christ and live forever. Innumerable children for all eternity!