This week we’ll be celebrating Vocations Sunday, so we asked the novice director of the Daughters of St. Paul, Sister Carmen Christi Pompeii, FSP, about her thoughts on vocations.
What does "vocation" mean to you?
Vocation is a call from Love and a call to love. It is a way of living out our relationship with God that brings meaning and joy to our life, that allows us to live our Christian identity to the fullest and allows us to bear abundant fruit in loving service. Vocation is revealed in the heart of the person and is an expression of who they truly are, of who God has created them to be and of how they are meant to be His presence in the world.
You’re currently novice director. How do you see yourself in that context?
I have been blessed to serve my community as novice director for about 8 years. It has been a ift for me because it allows me to give back to my Congregation that has so generously loved and supported me along the journey of my formation. I like to think of formation work as being at the service of the Divine Master, Jesus. He has called these young women to the Pauline consecrated life and has asked if I will collaborate with Him in preparing them to respond to His call as Daughters of St. Paul.
The work of formation is like being God's "gardener," tending to the fledgling plants that need help to be rooted in the soil of His love, nurtured, accompanied so that in the midst of storms and tempests they can grow strong and keep their gaze on the Lord, whose loving gaze is always upon them and thus discover God's fidelity. This profound experience of God's love is meant to penetrate their being so that they can respond to His call to communicate Jesus Christ to the people of our time.
How did you discern your own vocation? How old were you?
I was in eighth grade preparing to receive confirmation when the thought of religious life became something very real to me. Jesus was becoming a real person in my life, whom I knew I could not live without. In the context of a retreat before being confirmed, there was a distinct awareness in my heart that my heart was made to belong totally to Jesus. That awareness moved me to spend more time with him, to cultivate my relationship with him through Eucharistic adoration, spiritual reading, reaching out to intentionally serve my family and my parish and cultivating an interior life with the Lord which brought me much joy.
As I began high school the attraction grew and I started to write to various religious communities, spend time with them, learn about their life and I kept asking Jesus, "If this is really what you want for me, show me, help me to know how and where." And he did.
When I met the Daughters of St. Paul, I was deeply attracted to their Eucharistic life. That meant everything to me. From that flowed an attraction to their mission. I was young so I did not understand all the aspects of the Pauline mission, but I did understand that the Daughters of St. Paul were about bringing Jesus into the lives of everyone. They weren't limited to any one particular group of people, they reached everyone. I saw how the Pauline mission created spaces for God to "pop into" people's lives when they least expected and I desired to spend my life bringing Jesus to people, because He alone is the path to joy! I entered the Daughters of St. Paul in August of 1984, a month short of my 17th birthday, and I continue to thank the Lord every day for the gift of my vocation.
How have vocations changed since when you entered? Are the women entering different? If so, in what way?
Yes and no. The call remains the same---to give everything to Jesus so that He can transform us into Himself and communicate him to the people of our time with the means of communication. Those who are called continue to feel a strong desire to make the Lord the center of their lives, to grow in holiness of life together with other women who experience the same call and to consecrate to the Lord their life, their energy their gifts their talents so that He can use all of who they are to draw others closer to the Lord.
What has changed in the last 30 years since I entered is that society is much more secular. Society and family life has become much more fragmented and there seems to be less family and moral support for young women considering religious life. Sisters are less visible to children as they grow up and that makes it even more difficult for them to consider religious life as a possible vocation. However, many of those considering religious life today, finding the secular world to be empty of God, have had profound conversion experiences that make them even more passionate to give themselves to God and to help others to find God.
If a young woman who is thinking about her vocation is reading this, what is your message to her?
Grow in your relationship with Jesus. Find time for silence each day to listen to your heart, because that is where the Lord is most present and where He speaks. Especially try to spend time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament Get in touch with how you feel called to love, to serve, to give from the gifts the Lord has given you. Speak to someone you trust about the desires of your heart and learn more about religious life by visiting a couple of communities and participating in Come and See retreats that are offered. A holy religious sister helped me very much when I was discerning and she told me, "Say three Hail Marys for the grace to know and follow your vocation." I continue to say these three Hail Marys today for the grace to be faithful to my vocation.
How does vocation formation work in the Daughters of St. Paul?
The formation journey towards becoming a Daughter of St. Paul is a beautiful, gradual growth of the person in Jesus Master, Way, Truth and Life. It is a time of growing in self-awareness and self acceptance all under the loving gaze of Jesus who has called us to be transformed in Him.
This growth in Jesus so as to take on His way of living, loving and being is so that we can truly become his apostles--channels of grace and life through the creative work of our hands and to all we meet and serve through our mission.
It is Jesus Master, through His Spirit, who forms us, but the Lord makes use of so many instruments to help in the journey of formation: his Word, the Eucharist, the community, the formator, spiritual direction and the daily situations of life through which the Holy Spirit is constantly at work.
The journey of initial formation itself, from entrance into the Congregation until final profession takes about 10 years. It includes two years of postulancy, which is an introduction into the life, spirituality, mission, charismatic history, and community of the Daughters of St. Paul.
This is followed by two years of novitiate, which is a more intense time of study, reflection, prayer and experience of Pauline life. There is a particular focus on the study of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and the Constitutions of the Daughters of St. Paul, which articulate in a beautiful way the essence of our consecration and our mission as apostles of Jesus Christ in the world of communications.
At the end of novitiate, the young woman professes her vows which are renewed every year for 5 years. This is a time allowed by the Church for the young sister to integrate all that she has learned in the novitiate and to truly make it her own.
After about five years, a time for special reflection is offered to prepare her for her definitive commitment through perpetual profession of vows as a Daughter of St. Paul. It is in this total offering of herself to the Lord forever that the stage of initial formation is concluded, but the ongoing formation towards eternity goes into "full intensity". As a fully professed Daughter of St. Paul one is conscious of totally belonging to the Lord through the Congregation and opens herself to the beautiful plan of love that the Lord will continue to unfold for her day by day, the path through which the Lord will bring to completion the journey of "Christification," becoming Jesus so that she can communicate Jesus with her life and with the apostolate entrusted to her through obedience.
Pope Francis is talking about being "led by the Spirit for missions" as the theme for this year's Vocations Sunday. Please say a little about how becoming an FSP fits in with that.
People need God today more than ever and they don't know it. They hunger and thirst for love, for the meaning of life, for the truth about who God is, who they are and why they are on this earth.
God is calling men and women to be "led by the Spirit for missions"...that is to be attentive and docile to how the Spirit is personally and as a community sending them forth into our culture, into cyberspace, into the cafes, malls, businesses, homes of today with a message of hope, of truth, and of joy.
Being a Daughter of St. Paul means saying yes to let the Holy Spirit lead me personally and lead my community day by day into all the realities of today, meeting people where they are at and offering them Jesus Master, who is the Truth that gives meaning to our lives, Jesus who is the Way that enables us to make life-giving choices for ourselves and for others that will lead us ultimately to eternity; Jesus who is the Life who allow us to live in ever deeper union with God. The mission field is vast. Anyone who has not yet met Jesus Christ and who has not heard His Word of life has a right to this gift, and we are privileged to bear this gift of Jesus to them.