That fall semester in Austria was crucial to my relationship with, my now husband, Mark. I have been thinking about what it was like that semester not knowing what was going to happen with him. We had met the year before within the first weeks of college, and for me there was a pretty early attraction. There was also the complication of him planning on being a priest. The idea of getting married had never really entered his mind, and everyone expected him to be a priest. People still asked his mother a couple of years after our marriage if he was a priest yet, having not heard the other developments of marriage and children in his life.
Coincidentally, things came to a head on the Feast of St. Valentine. We discussed our mutual attraction and decided to put some space between us in our relationship, which meant that within our group of friends we tried to not talk to each other and separately pray about our friendship. He was the one who had to decide the most. I was not dating other men and was feeling ready to have a discerning relationship with Mark as long as he was ready himself. He, on the other hand, would have to make the major decision of leaving his priestly formation program to discern if we were meant to be together. He ended up leaving the program a week later and then we started dating the next day, both at the young age of 18.
I had thought about it on and off for all of high school and throughout my first year of college until I began dating Mark. Being the bride of Christ is an attractive vocation for a young woman seeking to live a holy life, but it never seemed quite right for me. Further, there was not one order in particular that I wanted to look into, which is essential for becoming a sister.
There were some really great sisters that I know in high school, and it was to one of them that I talked about the vocation to religious life. I remember the conversation I had with her, while my heart was aching for Mark, about what being a sister entailed. As we spoke I realized in my heart that I could not let go of hope that Mark would decide to date me again. It was not some great revelation from God that I should not be a sister, it was the person of Mark, whom I cared for and felt drawn to that made me realize that I could not pursue the vocation of religious life.
Then we both went to Austria. We had three day weekends for traveling, and being in the same group of friends, we often were in the same traveling group. The campus was so small and the classes so limited that we had most of our classes together. Mark and I could not avoid each other very easily, and honestly we did not want to. He spent most of the semester trying to decide if he should date me again or not. When you expect to become a priest and everyone else you know has been expecting it for years, it is hard to decide otherwise. He prayed a lot; I prayed a lot.
I spent the whole semester trying to give him the space he needed in such tight quarters as that small Austrian campus. His parents came to visit during that semester and he opened up to them about his discernment. He now describes his discernment that semester as realizing that vocation is more specific than one call or another, but it is to a specific person or in the case of religious life to a particular diocese or order. He could not know that he was called to be married until the person he was to marry was before him, discerning with him.
In the fall semester in Austria there was a Thanksgiving “Ball” where everyone dressed up in traditional Austrian clothes and learned the traditional dances. Mark asked me to go with him, and for the first time it felt like we had chosen something right for our relationship. He had come to the point of being ready to pursue our relationship further. He felt a freedom he had not felt before to discern our future together, and he realized deep down inside that if we did date again that we were going to get married. The ball was a lot of fun, though nothing became official that evening. We were still “just friends.” Two days later he asked me to take a walk with him after noon Mass and on that walk he asked me to date him again.
A year later we decided to get married, and 18 months after our engagement began we were married, 10 days before my 22nd birthday.
I know that this story may not seem relevant to those discerning vocation who are older and not in college anymore, but I think what M and I discovered about our own vocations can be helpful for those thinking about their own. Whatever God has in store for you, He will be specific about it eventually. We are not called to broad sweeping ideas or vocations, we are called to do specific things. We are called to relationships with specific people, to specific groups of people, in specific places. And that is what we should discern when we discern our vocation. Our vocations are part of us, and God calls us to be the best us. When we discern our call, it will be an organic decision, developing beautifully in our lives.