The hardest thing about my vocation discernment was to leave my family.
As a Latino immigrant in this country, the responsibility toward my parents, especially as they age, runs in my blood. At the same time, I knew that my happiness as a human being depended on fulfilling my baptismal call through the missionary life with the Claretians. Once, a friend of mine told me that in order to make a decision we have to give something up. Thus, I thought, I had to choose between my parents and my vocation.
If you have ever gone through this (or still doing it), you know very well what it feels like to be in this situation: thinking that you will no longer see your family; not spending Christmas or special holidays together anymore; not financially supporting your family; etc.
One feels like if one had to choose between them both; but it is not so.
What our parents want is our happiness. Because of that, one has to do what one is called to be. Part of our growth as human beings implies knowing what our gifts and talents are and where we will use them best, because when we share them we find meaning to life and feel realized as persons. Our parents did the same; and they too felt what was like to leave their family to immigrate to other lands. It is a part of life; it is normal and even expected.
It was not easy to make the decision to join the Claretian Missionaries; yet, I would like to share the tips that helped me make the decision.
First, pray to the Holy Spirit so that the Spirit helps you see the signs that God sends you to confirm your vocation. Sometimes we ignore what others tell us: “You are good to work with the youth.” “You like helping in church.” “You will make a great nun.” “You will make a great priest.” Sometimes we also ignore our own routines: we feel good when we join the youth group or help in church; we like to serve others; we are good at conflict resolution; we care about other people’s suffering; etc. If we ask the Holy Spirit to help us evaluate what we actually hear and do, then we can find what our call is.
Second, talk to someone. Our best friends know us well and they know what we are and what we like to do. Also, they give us true advice. When thinking about religious life, one sometimes feels embarrassed to tell people; no one better than our best friends to share what is in the deepest part of our heart.
Third, find a spiritual director or mentors. We all know people whom we respect; people whose actions inspire us to be better. Also, we all know a priest or a nun who can help us identify our call in life; they went through the same thing and their words and advice will guide us on the right path.
Fourth, use the internet. There are many ways to read about and even contact people who are going through the same process. Something as simple as: “I feel I’m called to religious life but I can’t leave my parents” typed on Google can make a difference. Many young people have done it and have made decisions that have made them happy.
Fifth, talk to your parents. One will be surprised to hear what they have to say. Remember that they have lived longer than you have, and they have always fought to build a good life and give you a good life as well. They will be all right, because they are independent, able and smart. Just think about all the times they got you out of trouble!
Sixth, have faith in God. God is not mean. God is love. Also, God promises to give a hundredfold to the ones who give up everything for the Kingdom (Mark 10, 28-31). God will take care of your parents in unimaginable ways. God knows what is in your heart and will not make you or your parents suffer.
When I entered the Claretians, I thought that I would never see my parents, my siblings or my friends again. However, my religious community supports us so that we can have some time to visit with our family every year; even more so our missions have always open doors to our families when they want to visit. I remember one time when my mother was taken to the Emergency Room; the Claretian Missionaries allowed me to take a couple of days to be with my family. I have also seen this happening to my other missionary brothers. At the hospital, when I had to go back to seminary, my parents told me: “Thanks for coming, but you should go back home with the missionaries. Nothing makes us happier than to know that you are serving God and the community. We will be all right.” God takes care of the people we love whenever we cannot be close to them.
It is hard to leave family in the name of vocation, but it is worth it. Vocation is our call to be happy by serving the People of God; and that happiness is not only for us but for the People of God, our religious community and also for the ones who gave us life.