Margaret O'Shea is a young Loreto Sister and a former volunteer with Magis Ireland, the Jesuit Outreach to Young People. She also spent a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Community in Ballymun. On 'Vocation's Sunday' ,29 April, she gave the homily in Gardiner St. Church where she talked about having 'bounce'.
Good evening everyone.
As Donal said my name is Margaret O’Shea and I am a member of the Loreto Order since 2008 and within my training or formation as a Loreto Sister I have been studying this year to become a secondary teacher – two choices in life that very often have the word ‘vocation’ attached to them and so if you’ll bear with me for a few minutes I’m going to share some of my story about vocations with you on this vocations Sunday.
A couple of weeks ago, I was watching a TV programme (NCIS – some of you might watch it too) in which (Gibbs) one of the main characters had begun a new relationship, and his two workmates were trying to figure out what was different about him, when one said “I know what it is – he’s got bounce.”
For me, vocation is something like that – it’s having a bounce in our step and fire in our bellies or as Pedro Arrupe says: “it will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning.” It is getting in touch with our sense of purpose – which means it can be something that challenges us in our big life decisions, but more than that, it can challenge us in the little bits and pieces of our everyday lives.
A few years ago, having just finished college and moved to Dublin to work, I found myself lacking this bounce! Though, I was working with some wonderful people, was surrounded by great friends, more and more I found myself counting down the days until the end of the week – only 4 more days, 3 more days – you get the picture. Basically, I was wishing my life away (without realising it) and hoping that there was something more to life.
So, I began to think about what I really was doing with my life, what was good about it and what I wanted to change. Very quickly I realised that the high points in my week were the times that I was helping, as part of the liturgy group, to prepare the Ballymun Gospel Choir Mass or when I was spending time helping at a youth club in the evenings.
These experiences were the times that I felt most alive in the week and so I decided I would like to do some volunteering and was very privileged through Slí Eile (now Magis – across the road) to be able to travel twice to Colombia to work in an orphanage for children in Bogota and also as part of Slí Eile, I joined the Jesuit Volunteer Community (JVC) in Ballymun.
JVC is a one year programme where people live together and volunteer full time. During this year, I worked in a children’s after-school project and with people who were homeless and also, around the corner from here, in the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice. Through each of these experiences and the people that I was very fortunate to come to know, I began to realise that God is not a God who is removed from our everyday experiences but is there in the very nuts and bolts of everything that we do, if I’m open to it.
It is these experiences that led me to make the decision to join Loreto. Now I realise that in telling you my story, it’s easy to make it all sound a little like a fairytale – you know being not entirely happy with things, making a change, having some wonderful experiences and out of that making a decision to join a religious order and become a nun and of course living happily ever after!
Well, I think we all know that even in fairytales things can get pretty rough – no matter what decision we have made, whether it’s to get married, to be a single person, to join religious life, to work in one area instead of another, to be a parent, whatever it is – we all have off days, or tough times and thats what makes me think that it is no accident that vocations Sunday is celebrated at this time of the year.
We all know what happens in the run up to Easter but maybe for a moment we could think about it from the perspective of the apostles - Jesus, their friend, is arrested, he’s beaten up and tortured and eventually dies on a cross, this is all so scary for them that most of them abandon Jesus. The women go to the tomb to grieve and he’s not there, they are told “he is risen” – and they have to try and make sense of that.
But it’s obvious when we read the gospels or the Acts of the Apostles, they are all overwhelmed by sadness, or anxiety, by fear and doubt. It is not until Pentecost, in another couple of weeks, when they encounter the Holy Spirit that they are able to go out and continue their work, their lives, their vocation.
Celebrating vocations Sunday at this time of the year then, is a reminder to us all, no matter what our vocation is – more than likely it will not be always pain-free, but that’s not the whole story. That in the times when we, like the sheep in today’s gospel are running around in circles, going near the gate but not quite getting through, when we’re afraid and mucking up; that God, the Good Shepherd, is there for us.
I also know that in times of fear and doubt, turning to God or to Jesus, taking that time to think about what is going on can be the hardest thing to do, all we want is to run away. But making a decision to stop running, in turning to Jesus in that situation, telling Him what’s going on for us, that, can be what makes all the difference – it can be a source of hope, of reassurance, it can give us bounce.
So tonight, my prayer, my hope for each of you is that no matter what your vocation, that when times do get tough, that you will be able to turn again to God, to see what’s going on in your heart and in that to find your bounce.