Retreat helps young women discerning religious vocation

| Melenie Soucheray | February 21, 2017 | 0 Comments

An Le, right, of St. Lawrence Catholic Church and Newman Center in Minneapolis, talks with Sister Marie-Lys Penambou of the Sisters of Mary Morning Star Feb. 18 at the Women’s Discernment Retreat at Nativity of Mary in Bloomington. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Alexandra Hamar has been weighing her vocational options for at least four years.

“I was on a retreat,” recalled Hamar, a graduate student in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, “[and] I had always been open, but not actually. But then this little voice said, ‘You should actually think about this. Maybe God really is wanting you to start walking down this road and see what happens.’ From that point on, the desire really grew.”

Hamar was among about four dozen young women who attended the second annual Women’s Discernment Retreat Feb. 18 at Nativity of Mary in Bloomington. The day’s program included the sharing of personal stories as well as a brief exploration of the decision-making process outlined in the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. Participants interacted with young religious sisters representing several religious orders, and a consecrated virgin. They also heard from a wife and mother who was once a member of a religious community.

During the opening Mass, Bishop Andrew Cozzens laid the groundwork, reminding retreatants that there are different ways to come into union with Jesus. He said that just as only selected disciples were invited to be present at Jesus’ transfiguration, not all people are called to a consecrated life. Bishop Cozzens said the discernment process allows each person to hear how Jesus is calling her or him to live in a relationship with him.

The decision-making process highlights two distinct and normal dynamics: consolation and desolation. In his book, “The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life,” Jesuit Father James Martin explained that these two concepts are central to Ignatian discernment.

“If you are in accord with God’s presence within you,” Father Martin wrote, “you will feel a sense of rightness, of peace, what Ignatius called ‘consolation.’ It is an indication that you’re on the right path.

“Conversely, feelings of spiritual ‘desolation’,” he continued, “which Ignatius describes as movements to ‘disquiet from various agitations and temptations,’ signal that you’re on the wrong path. The thoughts and feelings that spring from consolation and from desolation are contrary to one another.”

Hamar said she is taking Bishop Cozzens’ advice to reflect on Scripture, including Psalm 37:4, Luke Chapter 18 and Matthew Chapter 6.

“[Bishop Cozzens] talked a lot about the importance of knowing your desires, your inner spiritual life and discernment,” she said. “Our desires lead us to God, and they need to be purified in prayer. And it’s through prayer that God will reveal the deepest desires of our hearts to us. I really think God wants me to just kind of simplify, just meditate on these Scripture passages and leave him room to speak.”

In his 18 months as director of the archdiocesan Office of Vocations, Father David Blume has come to believe that the discernment process is more difficult for women because they have so many options. That’s a challenge for women and for his office, he said.

“The goal of the vocations office is to create a path for women who are sensing the Lord is calling them to a consecrated life,” he said.

Father Blume has marshaled the office’s resources to provide options that support everyone who is exploring. These include websites such as http://www.10000vocations.org, the vocations office’s website, and http://www.vocationnetwork.org, a site of the National Religious Vocation Conference. The Office of Vocations also offers retreats.

Speaker Annie Hermanson was a member of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. When she was preparing to take final vows, she discussed her disquiet with her mother superior. With spiritual guidance, Hermanson decided to change her life in relationship with God. Today, she is a wife and mother of a young child, and says she has found consolation.

“Discernment is a process,” she said. “God allows us to learn about ourselves.”

These days, Hermanson frequently asks herself, “Are you at peace? Do you have joy? Are you free?”

Dominican Sister Magdalena Dudenhoeffer, a teacher at St. Croix Catholic School in Stillwater, spoke of her experience of being a bride-disciple of Jesus. She reminded the group that, “Whatever your vocation is, he’s asked you to love him and follow him with all your heart. Consecration is a gift. It’s not something you take, but something that you receive.”

Attendee Virginia Lee grew up Catholic near Milwaukee. She’s studying agriculture engineering with a minor in Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. And, she’s thinking about mission work in South America.

“I’m just beginning my discernment,” she said. “My faith has always been very important in my life. I’ve always thought religious life would be beautiful, but I’m beginning to actually explore it for myself.”

Sister Magdalena’s imagery of God, each of us, and others writing on our life’s page resonated with Lee.

“What was important to me, today, along with [understanding] the desires, is letting Him write on your page and let Him help you write your own page,” she said. “[And allowing yourself] to be a part of that questioning, and have a conversation with Him, instead of just asking Him questions and expecting an answer straight up.

“The process is not just a decision you make one day,” she continued. “It’s definitely a journey that you take. You’re not alone, which is the beauty of [the retreat].”

Hamar was thankful for all the sisters who came to the retreat to speak and pray with participants.

She said, “It was really cool, for me at least, to be able to explore and to just talk to them as people, not just someone you read about online.”

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