Taking the quiet approach to finding vocations
Like choosing a major, discerning a vocation takes time, reflection
By Joanne Flemming
Below are some events related to exploring vocations taking place in the diocesan area.
Jan. 17: Myriam Dinner, St. Francis Convent, Bay Settlement (single women ages 18-40)
Feb. 5, March 13, Apr. 9: Project Andrew Dinner with Bp. Banks
Feb. 3: World Day for Consecrated Life
Feb. 24: Dive-In, information and fun day for youth, St. Joseph Middle School, Appleton
April 5-7: Life Directions Retreat, Mount Tabor, Menasha
June 18-20: Steppin' Right With Jesus, Appleton and Green Bay
University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh students are finding that the psalmist's admonition to "Be still and know that I am God," although thousands of years old, is, nevertheless, good advice for the 21st century -- especially as they try to discern their vocations.
According to Karen Cuttill, UWO campus minister for the past year, making that discernment can be difficult when everyone -- family, friends, the university advisement center -- has suggestions as to what major a student should choose.
Newman Center staff take a quiet approach, she continued. In the course of conversations, they advise students to "listen, simply listen" in order to learn what God's plans are for them. They suggest the youth "reflect back to the Lord's Prayer and the phrase, "Thy will be done'," rather than attempt to figure out what they want to get from their careers.
Cuttill tells them: "God will call you to be who you're supposed to be. It might not be a million dollar job; it might be totally unexpected. When you're there, you'll be the happiest you can be."
This guidance is done informally, she added, saying that many students come to talk to her about career choices because, she believes, they find her easy to talk to. She said that the homemade cookies she kept on her desk also helped draw students into conversation.
"I have a passion for people to be what they are called to be," the campus minister said.
She is motivated by a saying: "You can do what you are, or you can become what you do." She wants to see the students do what they are.
"If it becomes a religious life for them, wonderful. If that becomes a teacher for them, fantastic," she said. "It's just doing what they are. God has this embedded in each and everyone of us."
Once a student begins considering a direction -- religious life, priesthood, lay ministry, religious education -- he or she is encouraged to ask questions about it. The Newman staff urges students "to find out what's out there; don't say no to anything because anything is possible. Don't shut any doors."
Cuttill said this approach is non-threatening and students don't feel they will be inundated with loads of literature about religious life, if that is the direction they are considering.
When the young person is ready, he or she can be introduced to other students who are also talking about similar life directions. Right now, there are two groups: Men Talk meets on Thursday evenings; and ME (Mary and Elizabeth) Talk for Women meets Friday evenings. Both groups meet without adult advisers.
According to Cuttill, the 10 men in the first group have come up with questions about religious life and are ready to take them to Fr. Doug LeCaptain, diocesan director of vocations, later this month.
The 15 women in that group cook supper when they get together. Three of them are considering "alternative living" for the second semester. They would live in community with Sr. Laura Zelten, vocations director for the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross at Bay Settlement, as their adviser. Sr. Laura would help them structure their day along the pattern of the one lived by sisters in the convent with, for example, morning and evening prayer. Living this way, Cuthill said, will allow the girls to try out religious life without making a commitment.
Originally, the girls considered setting up residence in the Newman Center's lower level, but they need to find another place because the center is up for sale.
The Newman Center has activities to support both of these groups. For example, several students meet every day at 8 a.m. during DQT (Daily Quiet Time) for prayer for Men and ME Talk.
Additionally, "Busy People's Retreats" give students spiritual direction and more quiet time to examine the questions they have about their vocations, Cuttill said.
Students have also suggested using spring breaks, starting next March, to further investigate religious life by visiting communities around the state and perhaps stay overnight.
Cuttill thinks it's a great idea. "That way they would get more of a real view of what it's like in that community," she said.