Feed your spirit: What you’ve taught me

Feed your spirit: What you’ve taught me

By Carol Schuck Scheiber, c

One value this author has learned from religious men and women is “Don’t go it alone”—the walk of discipleship is best done with others.

I needed a job. That’s how I found my vocation within a vocation. Fifteen years ago I needed work to support my family, at an especially critical time because my husband was in graduate school. I knew the National Religious Vocation Conference from editing VISION, so when the former Executive Director, Sister Cathy Bertrand, SSND called to ask me about editing HORIZON and the newsletter, I thought about it, and I said yes. That sweet word that suitors, vocation ministers, children and salespeople live to hear. Yes.

I had no idea how much I would learn. But since this is NRVC’s 25th anniversary, let me name a few things that sisters, brothers and priests have taught me about being human. Like all people, of course I’m still a work in progress, attempting to make good on what I’ve learned.

Pray 

First, last and many times in between. This daily, constant conversation is the only way to grab hold of God’s infinite mercy, love and wisdom. Lots of people have taught me about prayer, but not the least of them have been those in religious life. Poring over manuscripts written by religious for decades has taught me that they are human beings with warts, just like everyone else. But they take those warts to the Lord, and sometimes that makes all the difference.

Listen with openness

After all these years in vocation publishing, I ought to have learned a few tricks about discerning God’s will. And all of you in religious life have told me again and again in your words and your actions that prayer is not just taking my “to do” list to God. It’s also about listening for God’s voice in big and little ways in the daily events of my life. The openness to grace, when it arrives in both pain and pleasure, is a core value that I’ve gleaned from experience with all of you sisters, brothers and priests. I see that communities have to work hard to find that sweet spot of allowing in change, of listening to new ideas and new ways, while at the same time holding fast to the faith tradition. Open and listening, but not adapting to every shift in the wind: neither religious nor laity get it right every time, but we try.

Be grateful

This one is a toughie. Here you are, vocation ministers of the world, working your hearts out day after day—in the trenches of college cafeterias, latenight retreats, sleep-deprived service trips—and how many new members do you have to show for it? The ability to be grateful even when you do not see results, is impressive. It has taught me to try looking through a different lens for seeing God at work in the world. I’ve also noticed that people in religious life thank others frequently. Many of you thank me just for showing up and doing my job. The cynic could say that’s what non-profits do best: thank those who give, be it donors, employees or volunteers. But gratitude among religious seems more like a life stance rooted in the Gospel. When you’re thankful for the privilege of vocation ministry— which probably none of you set out to do when you took your vows—now that is a foundational type of gratitude.

Be hopeful

These last two are intertwined. Brothers, priests and sisters have taught me that hope is a virtue. They really do believe that by his cross and resurrection, Christ has saved the world. That’s optimism. In my own life, my mom needs hope badly right now as she faces one of the hardest moments in her vocation: to get out of bed each day and care for my father, who has Parkinson’s and dementia. But whether you hang onto hope while your marriage is convulsed by disease; or you grasp at hope when your religious community is struggling for its future, hope is our bedrock. Vocation ministers are hope in action.

Offer hospitality

What’s a Come and See without top flight hospitality? Sisters, priests and brothers know how to open their doors and put on a spread. And, boy, do they know how to use their networks. I travel regularly from Toledo, OH to Chicago for NRVC meetings, and most of the time I would stay at my brother-in-law’s Chicago home. One time, though, I needed a room in Chicago, and I was surprised that some nuns down the street from NRVC were my landing pad. I’ve since learned that among religious, hotels are for when you haven’t yet met the religious community in town. Once religious have met their local counterparts in a place, that seems to be the natural place to stay. Mi casa es tu casa. (Allow me a shout out to Sister Debbie Borneman, SSCM and the Sisters of St. Casimir in Chicago. Now that my brotherin- law has moved, Sister Debbie and the sisters offer me remarkable hospitality. Thank you, sisters!)

People first

No group can live out this motto to everyone’s satisfaction, but my experience with religious is that they usually try harder than most to put the human person first. Is dinner late because a crying child needs attention? No problem, sisters have told me: that happens all the time in ministry. This value for the human person plays itself out in loyalty. I’ve noticed that when people in religious life have a healthy business relationship, they don’t throw it away at the first opportunity. And, most obviously, a “people first” attitude drives religious to assist the most vulnerable in their ministries.

Don’t go it alone

The whole idea behind religious life is that it happens in community, and in our individualized society, we sorely need that witness. I still remember one of the best pieces of advice I ever received, and it came from a Maryknoll priest. My husband and I, through a series of unusual circumstances wound up in Venezuela with weak language skills and suddenly, unexpectedly, on our own in a mission setting. “Don’t try to do this alone,” Father Leo told us. “You need a community for support and guidance.” He was absolutely right, and even in more familiar settings, the walk of discipleship is best done in community, no matter your vocation. As American culture spins apart into greater isolation, loneliness and individualization, we particularly need the social statement of a communal life.

I could go on because you all have shaped me greatly. Suffice it to say I’m just glad I said “Yes” 15 years ago.

Carol Schuck Scheiber has been publications editor for NRVC since 1998 and content editor of VISION vocation guide since 1990. She is married and has three children.



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