Starting tomorrow, the other four postulants and I will be free to leave for Christmas break, spending the next ten days however we please, wherever it pleases us. Personally, I’ll be on my way to the airport en route for my family’s house in North Carolina where I will spend most of my time relaxing and catching up with friends and family.
There’s no doubt that this is a very typical situation for most people: many people my age (including myself for the last four years) visit home for the holidays and spend the whole time relaxing and socializing. It is a familiar, comfortable place where we fall back into old habits and remember the person we once were. Surely, this is the farthest place from discernment one can be, right? Our postulant director sees it quite differently. Here’s a section of the letter he gave us yesterday:
I have insisted that this break is important and argued for your going home (or as close as I could get you to your home). The break is only a little more than a week, not long at all. During that time I’d suggest you take your breviary and pray the Office as you find comfortable. Do the same with daily mass; don’t feel that you have to go other than on Sunday but go as you like. Do not visit friars or friaries, your break is to get away from friars and friaries (and celebrate holiday time with your family). If you do not distance yourself you cannot get a clear picture of things. Talk with your family members and friends about the choice you’ve made and the vocation you feel called to. Test it against them. Ask if they notice any change in you. Notice any changes in them or your former environment.
This break is as important as any retreat you will take; it is a time for discernment.
Oddly enough, approaching the once familiar and comfortable might be the best bit of discernment I’ll have this entire year. By distancing myself from religious life, breaking out of the new habits I’ve formed and back into the old ones, I’ll have the opportunity to test the new against the old. Will the old habits fit too well to be shaken? Will I remember the life I once had and seek to live it again?
Or will I begin to feel as Francis did, as written in The Legend of the Three Companions: “What before seemed delightful and sweet will be unbearable and bitter; and what before made you shudder will offer you great sweetness and enormous delight.”
There’s no doubt that there is a different feel to this trip home than there was in the previous four years; something feels different. Maybe I’m different. Time to relax and reflect will certainly tell. One thing I do know for sure, however, is that I have been looking forward to seeing my family and being home for a while now, and I’m very excited to see them later today! Wish me luck on my Vocation Vacation!
Now does that mean a vacation for my vocation, or from it…?