Series meant to open young adults' eyes to discerning vocation

LISA JOHNSTON | lisajohnston@archstl.org

Sarah Harbaugh remembers the first time she was asked the question.

As a student at Gibault Catholic High School in Waterloo, Ill., one of her teachers, a sister with the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, asked Harbaugh if she had considered religious life.

She laughed a little and said, "No."

Harbaugh, 25, has been out of high school for eight years now. Earlier this year, she ran into that sister, who told her again that she needed to think about the possibility of a religious vocation. Harbaugh took it to heart. So, when she learned on Facebook about a speakers' series this month at the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet's motherhouse -- one of the communities she's considering -- she decided to check it out.

"Come Catch the Fire," a series for young adults ages 18-35, kicked off Nov. 13. Troy Woytek, a campus minister at the Catholic Student Center at Washington University, and Meghan Mueller, a former theology teacher, spoke about answering the baptismal call. Adam Bitter, a music minister at Incarnate Word Parish in Chesterfield, provided praise and worship music for the evening discussion.

Sponsored by the Association of St. Louis Vocation Directors, the series is being timed with the Year of Consecrated Life, which begins the weekend of Nov. 29-30 and will end Feb. 2, 2016, the World Day of Consecrated Life. Members of other religious communities, including the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Daughters of St. Paul and the Jesuits, were represented in the group of about two dozen people that evening.

Sister Linda Markway, vocation director for the Sisters of St. Joseph, said the series isn't just for those discerning religious life, but to promote the idea that every person is called to a vocation.

"The issue is not where we end up -- it's what does God want?" she said. "If you let God serve you, He will tell you (your vocation). We want to give them the encouragement and support they need to discern."

Mueller, who works in corporate education for BJC, described a trip several years ago in which she got lost. She used her story as a metaphor for her experience of discernment. Like getting lost in the back roads of northern Missouri, she said, "there are times when it's so dark, and there are times I am certain God is trying to communicate with me."

Mueller, who is single, said that in order to know where God is calling a person and whether he or she is headed in the right direction, it's important that "you have to know yourself first," she said. "Knowing myself is trying new things, and having quiet, where you sit in solitude and pay more attention."

As a single person, she admitted that it was difficult to watch as her friends started getting married or chose to enter a religious community. A couple of years ago, something shifted for her. Being single up until that point had been a default, so to speak. But after a friend asked if she could pray for someone to come into her life, Mueller said she asked her friend to "pray that I am accepting and embrace where I am at."

"Now I am choosing" single life, she said. "It's where I'm serving God. At a moment's notice, I can go where God is calling me."

Woytek noted that at the time of baptism, we're called to live as priest (at the service of others), prophet (the courage to tell the truth and seek truth) and king (courage to live with humility and love).

There are several things to consider when discerning, said Woytek. The first is creating solitude so we can hear God's calling. The second is knowing that God is in one place as much as he is in another. Another is understanding that discernment will go nowhere if we focus on trying to control the situation.

"We get caught up so much on serving God that we don't see how we are trying to control" the situation, he said. "We talk about how we serve God, but not how is God serving us.

"Letting go is hard, but when I am truly able to hear God's voice, I have to be in a place of total freedom," he said. Detachment is the hardest thing, but it makes me freer to hear God's voice."

Come Catch the Fire

WHAT: Young adults (18-35) talking about their faith journeys while giving praise and worship to God

WHEN: 8-10 p.m.; Dates and topics include Feb. 12, "Unplugged and Offline ... Prayer"; June 11, "Loveworks ... Service"; and Oct. 8, "What's Behind Door #1? Discernment"

WHERE: Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet motherhouse, 6400 Minnesota Ave. in south St. Louis

MORE INFO: See www.csjsl.org 

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