My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away”…
Song of Songs 2:10
As a single lay woman working full-time in church ministry, I have often had my vocation questioned… “So, when are you going to commit?” or “You just haven’t found the right man to marry yet.” or “When are you going to get a real life?” Often, parish members assume that I have suffered some terrible trauma that caused me to remain single. Yet, I am single because my greatest joy is in serving many others, and I love best when I love broadly. And over the past thirty-plus years, I have experienced that my deep passion for loving and serving others meets a very deep need, especially in the young adults I encounter on college campuses through campus ministry and the ministry of spiritual direction.
In a sense, I belong to a sisterhood because I actually have seven sisters (and three brothers) in my family of origin. When thirteen of my friends all decided to join religious orders upon graduation from college, I wanted to fit in and do it too. I tried. I realized that I already had a community of sisters by birth, and that was enough sisterhood for me. By God’s grace, I became one of the first lay ministers in the United States as a campus minister, and I have been in that role ever since, growing in ministry over time.
John Cardinal Henry Newman once wrote a short poem encapsulating the call to holiness for the laity:
I sought to hear the voice of God;
I climbed the highest steeple;
But God declared: “Go down again.
I dwell among the people.”
In our lives, we all seek the high steeple at times. Sometimes, we even make life commitments which encompass that idea of a “higher calling.” But when we consider the incarnation of Christ and the reality of our world, we realize that there are different callings, none of which is higher than any other. In fact, if you’ve ever read “Hope for the Flowers,” you know that the top is often the most disappointing position of all!
In our church, vocations to religious life and priesthood are often seen as the top. Bearing in mind that the humble parentage and birth of our Lord clearly exemplify simplicity and humility, we come to recognize that our inner dispositions determine how we hear the voice of God, which then influences our attitudes toward external life choices. Every lifestyle and vocation requires sacrifice; every one inspires joy. Each lay person (single or married), religious woman/man and/or priest believes strongly and doubts often; lives deeply and survives shallowly; loves fully and fails miserably. This is our human condition – which binds us all in the mystical body of Christ.