Olalla Oliveras seemed to have what every young woman would want. In her career as a model, she traveled the world, graced the cover of glossy magazines and appeared in television commercials. Her face was recognized by people all over Spain. She had all the fame, wealth and glamour that any young person would want.
However, on a trip to the shrine of Our Lady in Fatima, Portugal, she experienced what she called an “earthquake”. In her mind flashed a strong image of herself dressed as a nun with a veil around her head, blue robes reaching down to the floor and rosary beads around her waist. At first the image seemed ridiculous to her since a nun’s habit is such a far cry from the stylish fashions she was used to sporting. However, it stayed with her. Not only could she not shake the idea of becoming a nun, she started to become attracted to it.
With time, She came to understand the growing desire to enter religious life to be a call from God. And so, at the height of her career as a model, Olalla left everything to enter the Order of Saint Michael. As she explained to the National Catholic Register , “The Lord is never wrong. He asked if I will follow him, and I could not refuse.” Upon taking her vows, her name was changed to “Sister Olalla del Sí de María”, which translated in English means, “Sister Olalla of the Yes of Mary.”
Saying yes to God’s call has changed everything for her. Looking at pictures of her some four years later, it is hard to believe that the simple, unassuming nun dressed in blue sackcloth is the same glamourous model who once commanded so much attention. The biggest difference one notices, perhaps, is that now her face shines with a broad smile and a radiant joy that only can come from giving one’s life to God. She exchanged the passing fashions of the day and the fleeting beauty of youth for the love of God which never goes out of style or grows old.
Today’s readings center around the theme of “vocation” or “calling”. God’s call comes in many ways. The prophet Jonah heard God’s voice commanding him to preach to the people of Nineveh. Saint Paul received a vision of the Risen Lord on his way to Damascus. In today’s gospel, Jesus Himself calls Andrew, Peter, James and John to leave their work as fishermen to follow him.
In today’s world, however, rarely does the call to follow Jesus and dedicate one's life to Him appear so strongly and indisputably. Usually, it stirs in our heart through a strong desire. For instance, Sister Olalla received a strong image of herself as a nun, almost a vision, compelling her to follow her vocation to religious life. Many priests say that they felt inspired to serve God’s people because of the example of priests who impressed them with their goodness and holiness. Often religious sisters and deacons in their personal witness report that, once they discovered within themselves a desire to serve God and His People, they knew that no other life would satisfy them.
However, there are more vocations in the Church than just those called to religious life and ordained ministry. Marriage is also a calling. In no other sacrament do we see more clearly how God uses the mystery of love to draw His people into a life of self-giving love. God calls men and women to marriage by putting in their hearts a strong attraction to one another. Using the natural attraction for one another that men and women have, He draws couples together to love one another and so serve the world as shining examples of His love. They cooperate with God in creating the world anew by bringing new life into it. By educating their children they also cooperate with the mission of the Church to bring the good news of Jesus to all people.
The Sacrament of Marriage teaches us how the mystery of vocation is connected to the mystery of love. No one enters into a marriage thinking about how much sacrifice it will entail or how much one will have to give up. Rather, men and women begin their married life excited about the opportunity to love another person for the rest of their lives. While there are times that the responsibilities of providing for a family and raising children can seem overwhelming, it is the love for one another, sanctified and strengthened by God’s grace, that fuels the couple’s commitment to their life together. The joy that comes from loving another person unconditionally outweighs whatever sacrifices it may require.
Each of us has a vocation, a role we are called to play in the Kingdom of God that only we can fulfill. When we feel the desire to follow God stir in our heart, it is natural to experience some doubt and resistance. It is true for those called to religious life as well as for those who are preparing for marriage. Because we are dealing with a mystery, it is not always easy to understand what God is calling us to. That is why it is important for us to find someone to talk to, whether it be a spiritual director or good friend, whose wisdom and experience can help guide us. We also need to pray for the grace to overcome our fears and trust in God’s love. Only then can we give ourselves over with total love to whatever we are called to and experience the joy that comes as a result.
While challenging, God’s call is never meant to diminish or suffocate us. Rather, it is meant to liberate us. When we say “yes” to God’s call, we are doing what He created us to do. We are being ourselves in the fullest sense. With that comes deep fulfillment and joy.
Saint Paul tells us in today’s second reading that “...the world in its present form is passing away.” If we look to the world to fulfill us, we will be sorely disappointed. The world is always changing. What was fashionable yesterday is out of style today. If we look to the world for guidance, we will always feel disoriented and lost. However, God never changes. His love is eternal. When we look to Him, we see our true selves reflected in His love. When we find the courage and grace to follow Him, we can be sure that we will never be lost.