By Seth Gonzales
The Texas Catholic
With graduation in her sights this December, Julie Martin decided to revisit a question she had put aside during her freshman year at Southern Methodist University: Am I being called to the religious life?
Martin was one of 24 women and 33 men who took part in the 26th Vocation Awareness Program at the University of Dallas on June 26-28. The three-day event was organized by the Serra Clubs of Dallas and Fort Worth, in conjunction with the vocations offices from the Dallas and Fort Worth dioceses.
“I just wanted to put myself in an atmosphere that was open to vocations and expose myself to women from different religious communities,” Martin said. “It’s been such a huge blessing to open myself to the possibility of religious life and to listen to God as I prepare for the next chapter of my life.”
Since 1989, VAP has provided young adults with an opportunity to learn more about religious life, its variety, and whether or not they’re called to participate in it. Organizers also ensure participants are afforded multiple opportunities for individual prayerful reflection, Mass, adoration and confession.
During this particular weekend, 27 priests, brothers, nuns and consecrated men and women were available for one-on-one conversations with participants.
In addition, panels were convened for some of them to talk more extensively about their experience in religious life and help shed light on their vocation.
As a newly professed member of the Society of our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, Sister Mary Elizabeth Albers said her message to participants was simple: never stop growing in holiness.
“Your first vocation is to holiness,” Sister Albers said. “If you’re seeking him, regardless of what the Father’s calling you to, you’re in good shape.”
That sentiment was echoed by Father Edwin Leonard, director of vocations for the Diocese of Dallas. During one of his talks to the men, Father Leonard said his job isn’t to get them into seminary, but rather help them grow in holiness.
“As a vocation director, oftentimes people think ‘priest recruiter,’ but I really do feel my job is to call people to live a life of holiness in the vocation that God is calling them to in the future and now,” Father Leonard said. “I believe that the church benefits when men and women find and listen and respond to God’s call. If he calls them towards marriage or holy orders, that only helps to build up the church.”
Father Leonard also said he was encouraged by the quantity and quality of participants in the Vocation Awareness Program.
“I’m always particularly humbled by who the Lord brings,” Father Leonard said. “The men and women who come on this vocation awareness program are beautiful souls that really want to seek holiness and what God is calling them to. This process is a step in discerning that call.”
For her part, Martin said the VAP weekend was extremely helpful, even though she remains uncertain whether her vocation is to the married or religious life. It’s a question, she said, that doesn’t have to be answered immediately.
“God doesn’t call us to be anxious about our vocation,” Martin said. “He doesn’t call us to have everything figured out way down the line, but just to be faithful to him today and grow in holiness today.”