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Of Martha's and Mary's: A Reflection on Vocations Part I of II

From what I have seen and experienced, even when religion is accepted, the call to religious life can be treated as “throwing your life away.” In one of the last conversations I ever had with my mom, I had brought up the possibility of one day entering the religious life (something that had been my goal since I was a child). My mom, one of the most religious women I ever knew, responded with a question that stuck with me “Don’t you want to know your own children?” That question remained with me and I subconsciously found myself writing about parenting and children for my high school valedictory. Even though I am to be married this October, the questions still come up…

….”What if I had entered religious life?” 

.... “Was that an authentic calling?” 

…. “Can I consider my current path as my vocation?” 

…. “Can I still serve God on my current path?” 


My mom, God rest her soul, was an intelligent woman who could have done just about anything with her life had she been given the opportunities I had growing up. However, God had other plans for her. He gave her a family and she ended up devoting her life to this family. God gave her a husband and three children that would stretch the limits of her patience and demand far more of her than she ever thought herself capable of giving. To say she lived for her family would be an understatement. Yet, that is exactly what she did. She loved her family and did everything for us. As a result, I feel that she ended up living out the vocation that God had set aside for her. He had given her a family, sanctified her with a purgatory that consisted of having us all up, ready, and dressed for church and making sure all of us did well in school and never went to bed hungry. On top of battling mental illness and working a full-time job, she managed to raise a close-knit family that continues to support each other. 

God called her to be a mother, so that may be one of the reasons she was so reluctant to let one of her daughters enter religious life. She understood well the struggles that are associated with a call for marriage, but the blessings that came along with it were foremost in her mind. In her mind, motherhood was the best vocation and I know she only wanted the best for her daughters.

Fast-forward several years and I find myself breaking a difficult subject to my dad. My younger sister feels she is being called to religious life and is afraid to break it to my dad. We’re sitting in a little Portuguese café in Newark, NJ and my dad is taking it reasonably well. The family curse comes up (many are called to religious life…especially the men…but none of them ever make it out as priests or nuns), but my dad is more than happy. It turns out he had always wanted God to call at least one of his children to a vocation. He had secretly wished for his first child to be a boy and for this son to become a priest…just as my great- grandfather had wished for his son and his son had wished for the same. God had other plans. My dad never had a son and his eldest had never expressed any desire for religious life. Still, my dad was happy about my sister’s vocation.
Cistercian Coat of Arms
Source: Wikipedia

Fast-forward a few more years, a degree in theology, and a few “come and see” events, and my sister seems to have narrowed her gaze to a monastic order…the Cistercians in particular. Though she imagined herself being a missionary of sorts, it looks like God is calling her for a closer relationship to Him. I could not be happier for her, especially having read Saint Faustina Kowalka’s diary. It is these souls that Christ takes delight here on earth and these souls that put Christ at the center of their lives. There are no distractions in this life and this life demands everything you are and everything you could be.

As wonderful as mission life would have been for my sister, I could not imagine her in anything but monastic life…and I am over the moon that she is currently taking serious steps into possibly entering this order.

Not everyone, however, is as excited. Some think she is throwing her life away by not having a family of her own (if you ever say My Big Fat Greek Wedding…substitute Greek for Portuguese and you pretty much have the story of my life). Some think she must be out of her mind and are trying to convince her to get into a more lax order that isn’t as cut off from the world. Fortunately, no one has done her the dishonor of suggesting she join a dissident pantsuit “order.”

A few months ago, in the middle of all of my qualifying exam madness, I felt the need to go admire pretty things that are well above my price range. Sometimes when I get stressed out, I go window shopping….the more expensive and unattainable the items in the store, the better.

As I was window shopping, I caught up with an acquaintance and we eventually started talking about my sister and her vocation. At one point of the conversation, she expressed some concern about my sister’s vocation and wondered if my sister wouldn’t be more use to God outside in the world rather than inside of a convent. I thought she had a point, but the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-10:42 came to mind....
"Now it came to pass as they went, that he entered into a certain town: and a certain woman named Martha, received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sitting also at the Lord' s feet, heard his word. But Martha was busy about much serving. Who stood and said: Lord, hast thou no care that my sister hath left me alone to serve? speak to her therefore, that she help me. And the Lord answering, said to her: Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and art troubled about many things: But one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her."
I told her that while my sister could make a great impact on the world by living a holy life, as my mother had done, I expressed an appreciation for monastic life. You see, we can be holy in many places and living situations. I can attempt to live a holy life in the laboratory just as my sister currently lives a holy life working as a religion teacher at an academy. However, as much as we attempt to keep God in the center of our lives, we have distractions. We have commitments that keep us from the holy lives we could live if we had the opportunity to live the monastic life.

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