Pope Francis offered words of comfort to young adults spending Christmas break or semester break discerning their future.

He released his official message for the 2018 World Day of Prayer for Vocations Dec. 4. The pope’s message reminds men and women at various stages of discernment that “Vocation is today! The Christian mission is now!”

The theme for the next World Day of Prayer for Vocations — set for Good Shepherd Sunday, April 22, 2018 — is “Listening, discerning and living the Lord’s call,” The Diocese of Phoenix has several men and women already embodying that theme in very concrete ways. The men will enter the novitiate with the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit in a private ceremony this month.

Sr. Isabel de la Santísima Trinidad Hernandez Guardado marks her first month as a novice with the Carmelite Missionaries of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus Dec. 21. She has been learning from the sisters at St. Daniel the Prophet in Scottsdale since August and discerning with the Mexico-based order for most of 2017.

“I see myself more being with them than at home doing other things,” Sr. Isabel told The Catholic Sun a day shy of donning a habit for the first time.

Sr. Isabel de la Santisima Trinidad Hernandez Guardado, left, processes out of her novitiate Mass at St. Daniel the Prophet in Scottsdale Nov. 21. She will spend the following year in prayerful discernment at the nearby convent. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Sr. Isabel, 20, grew up at St. Anne Parish in Gilbert where the Carmelite sisters have served since 1999. Their real interaction, however, began after high school when she began supporting the audio/video ministry and then religious education where two of the sisters serve.

The Carmelite Missionaries came to St. Daniel five years ago and established a novitiate there in 2015. Sr. Isabel isn’t the first novice at the convent, but is the first one from the Diocese of Phoenix.

“The first year is getting to know inside yourself and to be more in prayer in silence and listen to the voice of God,” Sr. Isabel said of her novitiate. She goes on mission during her second year.

Canonically, religious communities must have at least a one-year novitiate. Most have two. Aspirancy and postulancy are the earlier steps. Those took Sr. Isabel, the oldest of four siblings, to the motherhouse in Puebla, Mexico where she taught religious education and made scapulars, rosaries and rosary decade bracelets to sell for the community.

“You live the schedule of the sisters, but you don’t live with the sisters, usually,” explained Sr. Anthony Mary Diago, RSM, director of the diocesan Office of Consecrated Life.

In that way, aspirancy and postulancy might be likened to what “Eighth Grade Day” and Shadow Days are for young teenagers discerning a Catholic high school. The freshman hopeful can experience everything, but a full commitment is not expected.

Lori Fusak currently supports public relations efforts for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, but will discern devoting her life to serving the poor with the Missionaries of Charity.

That fact has given Lori Fusak great comfort as she prepares to become a pre-aspirant with the Missionaries of Charity. The 23-year-old, who most recently supported the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s public relations team, enters Jan. 5. Fusak received a cordial and comforting welcome from the sisters via a phone conversation.

“You come and you live with us. It’s a continued discernment. If you don’t like it, you can go home. You can go, no questions asked,” one of the sisters told Fusak.

That has helped Fusak remain fully open to discernment, something key to the process, she said.

“I’ve learned to not look too far into the future and know that I’m going to make final vows,” Fusak said.

She is sure, however, that Holy Spirit-inspired mission trips to serve with the sisters in Rome and Calcutta paired with supporting the four Missionaries of Charity in Phoenix have strengthened her desire to serve others in a profound way. She did a “Come and See” visit with the sisters in Chicago.

“I can say that I never laughed so hard in my life until I spent two weeks living in a convent,” Fusak said. That’s not to say the experience was easy, she clarified, but she saw God’s strength and peace through it.

Part of her still wonders about motherhood, “but I am confident that I will be a spiritual mother,” she said, noting a definite need for that.

“If I don’t give it a try, I’m always going to wonder,” Fusak said.

Consecrated life

Discerning the call

Women Religious serving the Diocese of Phoenix

Religious Men, many of which serve the Diocese of Phoenix

Pope Francis alluded to that feeling in his World Day of Prayer for Vocations message: “It will not fill our hearts if we keep standing by the window with the excuse of waiting for the right time, without accepting this very day the risk of making a decision,” Pope Francis wrote.

Sr. Marina Coatl, formator for the Carmelite Missionaries, called becoming a religious 35 years ago next month a great blessing. She still treasures memories of her aspirant and novitiate days, especially playing basketball and volleyball during recreation time. The young women would break instantly when a superior threw candy their way and gather it up like kids under a piñata.

“There’s a saying during the novitiate: You’re supposed to gain weight,” Sr. Marina said.

Between the candy and regular handfuls of cookies before they fully cooled from the oven, it worked. Six months in, she gained 10 kilos and no longer fit in her uniform, the now tiny Carmelite said.

In all seriousness though, Sr. Marina discovered her vocation by being loved by her family who helped her discover a deeper, mutual love God had for her. She also learned from the sisters how to share God’s love with others.

“That’s the gift God has given me that I can never repay,” Sr. Marina said.