By Beth Donze, Clarion Herald
Looking back on her formative years, Salesian Sister Michelle Geiger says her vocational discernment unfolded like a scavenger hunt: One “clue” would lead to the next until she finally discovered her treasure – the religious sisterhood.
“God gives you gifts, and you have to then figure out what those gifts are and what he wants you to do with them,” said Sister Michelle, principal of Academy of Our Lady, speaking to 1,400 fifth graders from 30 Catholic elementary schools at the May 9 “Calling All Fifth Graders” vocations day at Mount Carmel Academy.
Sister Michelle said the first gift all of us receive is the gift of being loved by God, “no matter what.” Given this, the search for vocation can be reframed as “How can I best share this gift of God’s love with the world?” It is important to keep one’s eyes open while on the hunt for one’s special niche, Sister Michelle said.
“When I was your age, I began to look around, and I said, ‘I want to be happy; I want to share God’s love. So I am going to look at people who are happy,’” said Sister Michelle, who first noticed how joyful her mother was in her own vocation as a wife and mother and how her father loved serving the world as a research scientist.
Sister Michelle’s “hunt” continued into middle school, with the pre-teen drawn to help the children of migrant workers who would attend her school and then leave after their parents moved to find work in another part of Texas.
“I thought, ‘When I grow up, maybe God is calling me to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves. Maybe
God is calling me to be a judge so I can help people,’” she told the youngsters.
Also drawing her attention were the joy-filled religious sisters who taught and coached her in school. Sister Michelle realized that unlike a biological mother, the sisters could be “mother” to all the boys and girls.
“I thought, ‘That’s a really good way to share God’s love,” Sister Michelle said.
Listening to God’s voice
But one’s vocational search involves more than just looking around. Throughout the hunt to detect God’s will, one also must be an active listener, Sister Michelle said.
“I had to listen to the voice of God in prayer; I had to listen to God in Scripture; and I had to listen to God in the people all around me,” she said. “I discovered that I was sent – and you were sent – to be a saint!”
Little things, such as making sandwiches for the homeless and giving money to the missions, would spark something deep inside her.
“God’s will slowly became clearer and clearer to me,” said Sister Michelle, who ultimately realized her love for learning and teaching made her a good fit for the Salesian Sisters. This year marks her 25th year in her chosen vocation.
“God could be calling you to feed people physical food or he could be calling some of the young men in here to feed God’s people the Eucharist as priests,” Sister Michelle said. “Or maybe some of you might be called to serve with the missions.
“You’re going to be able to (attain sainthood) if you always remember to look around for a need, to listen to the voice of God through your parents and teachers, and most importantly, to pray every night,” she added. “If you do that, you will be happy; you will be holy. So if God calls you to be a sister like me, it will be a great life! If he calls you to be a priest, that is a great life! If he calls you to be a mom and dad, that’s a great life!”
Scouting values inspired him
Sacred Heart Brother Dwight Kenney told the fifth graders he had no inkling he would become a religious brother when he was their age. He said his own “scavenger hunt” clues were pouring in through his experiences as a Boy Scout. Young Brother Dwight, who ultimately attained the rank of Eagle Scout, realized the values in the Boy Scout manual were similar to the values of being a good Christian.
“If they had scouting when Jesus was on earth, he’d be a Boy Scout,” said Brother Dwight, who met his first religious brothers as a student at Brother Martin High.
“I didn’t think I was good enough (for religious life),” he said of his younger self. “I thought to be a brother, a priest, a sister – to be really holy – you had to pray all the time. That wasn’t me. I was just a ‘regular person.’”
Having detected a love for teaching after helping junior scouts earn their merit badges, and anticipating college graduation, he decided to live with the Sacred Heart Brothers “to see what it was really like from the inside.” If he disliked it after a year, he could leave.
“I’m so happy I did it because after living with them for a year, praying with them, eating with them, working with them – I loved it, and that gave me the information to take the next step,” said Brother Dwight, currently in his 38th year as a consecrated religious.
God continues to call
At the day’s concluding Mass, Archbishop Gregory Aymond noted that God continues to call some of his children as priests and religious brothers and sisters – calling them just as he asked the young and tentative Jeremiah to go forth and be a great prophet; just as Jesus challenged the startled Peter, James and John to drop their fishing nets and follow him; just as the Risen Christ told Mary Magdalen and her friends to go out and tell others about the empty tomb.
“(God’s call) wasn’t just happening 2,000 years ago,” Archbishop Aymond said. “My sisters and brothers, the young church, the question is, who is Jesus calling today to be priests, to be sisters or brothers of the church?”
During the homily, the archbishop asked for a show of hands from those who thought they might be hearing a call to the ordained or consecrated life. Dozens of hands went up.
Archbishop Aymond admitted that when he first heard his own call the priesthood, he resisted. He urged the fifth graders to at least stay open to God’s invitation should they hear it, knowing that like Jeremiah, God would give them the courage and wherewithal to pursue a church-related vocation.
“God doesn’t speak to our ears; he speaks to our hearts and he says, ‘Come follow me,’” said Archbishop Aymond, who concluded by asking the fifth graders for two things: prayers for those who had already accepted a call to the priesthood or religious life; and that they ask God, “Could you be calling me, too?”
Beth Donze can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.