Discernment retreats are an opportunity to live simply in God

ROCK HILL — Two men and two women visited The Oratory from April 23-26 to try to discover God’s purpose for the rest of their lives.
They participated in “To Come and See,” one of the annual discernment weekends sponsored by the Diocese of Charleston’s Office of Vocations. The retreats are held each year in January and April.
“People are coming in from different walks of life and with different expectations,” said Deacon Joseph Cahill, director of the vocations office. “It’s a chance to look at what’s available and maybe open the door to making a decision.”
The women came from Moncks Corner and the town of Pelion in Lexington County, while the men were from Blacksburg and Johnson City, Tenn.  One man was considering a vocation to the priesthood, and another the permanent diaconate. Both women felt called to become religious sisters.
“Come and See” weekends have been held in the diocese since the late 1990s. Retreatants attend daily morning and evening prayers, receive the Eucharist and have time for solitary prayer and reflection. They may also receive the sacrament of reconciliation and spend time talking privately with retreat leaders and others who have answered the call.
Deacon Cahill, Ursuline Sister Julienne Guy, Father Jeffrey Kirby and Oratorian Father Edward McDevitt offered talks on how they chose their vocations, the opportunities and challenges involved in religious life, and the ministries they pursue.
Father Kirby, parochial vicar at St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken, and Deacon Cahill told their vocation stories at an April 24 session, “Choices as Mirrors of Our Lives.” They also talked about the importance of full commitment to a vocation.
“There were many men and women in the Bible who were called by the Lord and just gave everything,” Father Kirby said. “In the Gospel, we learn that Matthew abandoned everything to follow Jesus. What would have happened if Matthew had said no? There were men and women who heard Jesus’ call but couldn’t give everything. Eighty or 90 percent doesn’t work in discipleship … God asks for 100 percent.”
One session, “The Vows: Choices for Happiness,” focused on how taking religious vows can impact and support a person’s life choices.
Sister Julienne, director of senior ministry at St. Joseph Church in Columbia, and Father Kirby discussed the differences between the vows taken by women and men who join religious orders, and the promises made by diocesan priests.
“I was told ‘if you keep your vows, the vows will keep you,’ ” Sister Julienne said. “I took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and I have everything I need in life.”
 She said the vow of poverty means different things in different orders, but the common thread is that a vocation calls men and women to live simply, with a detachment from worldly concerns.
The presenters all said a vocation was a special challenge presented by God, and they found a certain liberty in committing their entire lives to following God’s plan.
“You’re being asked to ‘take up your cross and follow me,’ but the cross becomes a source of freedom,” Father Kirby said. “You come to understand that ‘if I stay faithful to these vows, these vows change me and make me a better person.’ ”
They spoke about the challenges of a vocation, including the loneliness that can occur when a priest or sister is transferred to a new assignment far from what is familiar. They also discussed the challenge of celibacy, which can seem strange in a secular culture where so much time is devoted to self-fulfillment.
“One sister told me ‘a life without sex is possible, but a life without love is impossible,’ ” Sister Julienne said. “I was told that I would succeed as long as I loved God and loved the people I was working with, and that turned out to be true.”
Sister Julienne said a commitment to vows or promises made through a vocation might seem like a burden to some people, but in reality it is a blessing to those who make the vows.
“If you stay with it, the vows are a key to happiness,” she said.
Father Kirby said it is important to prayerfully consider all the choices in life and not to ignore a call to a vocation if it persists despite objections from family or  friends.
“All the choices I made in life helped shape the choices I made to become a priest,” he said. “I could have said no … There were difficult times in seminary … But God obviously knew he was fashioning something according to his plan through me.
“In each of your lives God is giving you opportunities, whether to simply deepen your prayer life … or to take the leap and pursue a vocation,” he said.
Deacon Cahill and Father McDevitt both discussed the importance of interviewing candidates for vocations thoroughly and determining if they were mature enough and ready for the challenges.
Deacon Cahill said men and women considering a vocation can take specific steps to prepare themselves for discernment.
“People should be active in their parish, have a constant deep prayer life or be seeking one, attempt to attend daily Mass and go to reconciliation whenever they need it,” he said.
Discernment retreats are generally open to men and women ages 18-55. The next “Come and See” weekend will be held in January 2010.
For more information about vocations, contact Deacon Cahill at (843) 402-9115 ext. 22, (800) 660-4102 or joe@catholic-doc.org. For photos from the event, click here.