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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Define Irony: Parish Employment and Vocation

I haven't written in a long time about my Vocation because, well, I'm not sure that I have one. Over time I think that's become abundantly clear even to the most casual of readers. Over the last year, although I've wanted to keep the door open, it's one that has been definitively shut.

How do I know?

Because I'm too old, I have way too much debt, and the debt that holds me back isn't educational, but the debt literally created by being paid so little while working for the Catholic Church. I have no hope or even any desire, anymore, of pursuing a Vocation. That's why I haven't written of it. I'm simply...done.

Before you get your undies in a bundle and call me a "liberal", though, or seek to "comfort" me, hear me out because there is irony here, and this is where God reveals part of His hand.  

When I began my employment in a Catholic parish, I was in vocational and Vocational limbo. It fell into my lap and although I had absolutely zero desire to work for a parish, friends encouraged it and even pointed me to the job posting, the only one that gave me an interview. Literally the ONLY one. I even called to speak to the DRE (Director of Religious Education) hoping she'd say that no, I didn't possess the basic qualifications.  Instead, she told me to submit a resume' and cover letter and see where it went. So I did, and when I was bottoming out and ready to give up, they called me for an interview.

I interviewed for the position on the Feast of St. Monica, August 27, 2007.  They called me back exactly five years ago today, on the Feast of St. Augustine, to offer me the job.

I had been praying, incidentally, even before I knew about this particular job, through the intercession of St. Monica and St. Augustine. Because of that, even though I really didn't WANT the job, I had no other options and was at the end of my money. I said "yes" both because of the obvious connections and for practical reasons, even though it was only a 10-month position, with PT hours in the summer.

I thought maybe it would buy me time to find another job, but with an income, no matter how meager, I decided to let God work and see what happened. I had already been accepted to Ave Maria's Institute for Pastoral Theology and thought maybe God would somehow come through in some way.

As it turns out, He did...but not in the ways I expected. 

I suffered three years of coursework while working an irregular schedule, and I am a person who NEEDS structure. As a result, I only graduated Cum laude at the end of the program. I think it's a miracle to have that honor, given what my necessary parish work schedule did to attack my ability to focus on studies, given my own private intellectual needs. (I think I'm borderline ADD). Most of my classmates graduated Summa Cum Laude or above, in spite of their own personal struggles. It was great to be part of such a gifted class of individuals - they taught me so much!

 On topic, though, I can thank a couple of Religious Sisters who came to speak at an event I had to organize, and through their connection to Padre Pio, and through their friendship and invitation, I began to actively discern the Call in the depths of my soul, to seek Our Lord through a Holy Vocation as a Religious Sister. And as a result of prayer, I sought out the contemplative life. Because of many people I have never met and probably never will, I visited three communities, two far from me, requiring airfare.(One was the Motherhouse of the Sisters who got me started). The other was close enough to drive, but that summer, my mortgage was paid by a long-lost friend I had met ONLY because I was working in a parish and we crossed paths at a Youth Event.

It has been the blessed result of my parish employment that both drove and allowed me to pursue God in a way visible to others, and which hopefully, edified them also in their own greatest adventure as a human being.

Yet there is still a dark side. I completed my Master's in Theological Studies, and the grad loans through a secular company, have no mercy. As it was, because I was paid so little through the parish, and not eligible for a raise until I had been there for four years, and because life goes on, my debt has increased. From the beginning, I couldn't even get an oil change without putting it on credit. My car has weird problems and although I paid it off in the last 5 years, just after I did so my car cracked a head. Not a head gasket, but the aluminum head itself, costing me $1800 at an independent shop (far down from the $2700 the Saturn dealership, when it still existed, quoted me).

I've had to buy underwear and socks on credit, and my favorite place to shop is Goodwill these days. Not than anything ever fits and if it does, I still come out looking like I shopped at Goodwill.  By the way...I have always hated shopping with a passion. The reality is that clothing doesn't look good on me, never has, and the only reason I shop is because I'd look worse naked.  Besides, being naked is both offensive to others and just plain immodest, therefore immoral (unless it's proper like, say, in the shower).

Ha! I digress!

So now, 5  years later, I've nearly gone into foreclosure once, was saved by family as a "loan" and'm about to lose my job. 

I'm not supposed to talk about it, but in reality, I have been because I need prayer. I know it's time to move on and my parish is "restructuring" the staff, and our own office of four will be losing two. They (and by "they" I know they are quoting the Business Administrator who is PC to the max) say they are cutting "programs, not people" but we all know it comes down to people. Just call it what it is already! We are not stupid and know that the parish, as a result of people in the pews not contributing, means programs and therefore the people running them, are being fired!

That's life. I'm not even angry about it because it's happening everywhere and I'm one of those Catholics in the pew not contributing because I can't afford it, either. I think I gave $10.00 when I got my tax return or when I was anticipating it. Seriously, over the last 5  years, my contribution statements from my own parish have been humiliating. I'm dead weight upon the Church simply because I work for her and haven't anything to give.

So it is I can't blame the people because they don't know how much the parish is suffering, and well, they don't have the money anyway.

 I don't have the guts to go to the Pastor and offer my head. I've prayed about it and I've struggled with it, but I simply can't just quit, no matter how easy they're making it to do so. I have nowhere to go, and really, quitting a church position is exceptionally difficult because the people with whom we bond become like an extended family.  It's impossible to stay aloof. I have to wait this out and let the chips fall...and then protest if they don't fall where I want.

Amazingly, I want my own head to be chopped here. I don't belong in parish ministry. It's not my calling and I knew it even before I applied. I've been mystified for 5 years, exactly, and just hope that in some way my work has been a benefit to the parish as a whole. Some will be thrilled to see me go. Others will be scandalized. Others may leave because they will see the cuts being made (not because of me) as a total betrayal.

I want to go and think it's time. I hope it's my Pastor who fires me so that I can offer all this to him, for he is in a terrible spot and I don't want him to feel badly. I want him to know, definitively, that he is making this easy for me to go and that it's a serious gift from God.

The scripture I  pondered, all the time in reference to Our Lord was, "To Whom will I go? You have the words of everlasting life!".

God knows what He is doing. I have been there for a reason and would not ever have pursued Jesus at such great lengths had I not been called to work, for a time, in this particular capacity within  our Faith. 

The reality is, though, that parish work has also been my greatest obstacle, both in education and in pursuing my Vocation. The place I want to go (Vocational)  has meetings every month, yet I am required to be at work that very same weekend, so I can't take the time off to go. And there isn't anyone to take my place, nor can I demand that my coworkers cover me as they are also otherwise engaged with work and home demands.

I don't feel badly about losing my parish job, but do beg your prayers. Please pray I can find something, and specifically something in the secular world, where my degree will actually do some good. Please pray that God's will be done, and even though I'm old and have given up, please pray for my Vocation. As long as I have breath in me I have vows to give and long to give them to holiness in some specific and sacrificial way.

Thanks for hanging with me, my dear readers and friends. I guess the adventure continues!

God bless all of you! 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Home Again

This summer has been busy. In July I spent a week studying iconography again, came home for two weeks, and left on a long-awaited road trip with my brother, destination: mid-western family loop.

We grew up in Illinois and moved when we were young, but old enough to consider ourselves as having "grown up" there.

Several years ago, our aunt, our Dad's only sibling and surviving member of his immediate family moved to a home near where we'd lived. We've been wanting to visit, but our respective schedules have been difficult to coordinate. But this happened. Finally.

We left a week ago and arrived to find our stoic uncle working on a project and an ecstatic aunt I haven't seen since my Dad's funeral in 1995, rushing out of the house to greet us. After a whhirlwind few days of conversation and "childhood tourism" we moved on to another state to visit more family, and I haven't had a moment to just rest and pray about what has happened and all that I learned within the bonds of "long-lost" family and home.

I have a lot to ponder about this trip and our visit home but haven't the energy tonight to write all that is in my heart and on my mind.

Please be patient with me while I sort out some of the profound things I have encountered during the last week of visiting family in a few states; I hope to be back to writing again soon.