What's a girl like you doing in a place like this?
Dear Fr Anthony,
How do I clearly explain my call to religious life to my non-Catholic and fallen away Catholic family members?
First you have to try "explaining" it to yourself!
Once you try, if you hadn't done so already, you realize that it really and truly is a mystery. How can you explain God's choice, or the nature of the inner conviction that goes with it ("feelings" definitely don't cut it), the workings of prayer in our soul, and our belief/trust in the role of the competent authority to confirm the existence of the vocation?
So, instead of trying to solve the question by looking for a way to do the impossible, i.e.: to make the vocation understandable to those who don't practice their faith (usually so they will understand us, accept our decision, respect us and, at times, get off our backs), I think we have to focus elsewhere. Religious are called to be signs, and signs especially of God's reality and presence, signs and instruments of his love and care for fallen man. So I don't think he means us to be "explicable" and "understandable" to the world, but rather a constant enigma summed up in the title of a book I read recently, "What's a girl like you doing in a place like this?"
He wants us to be a constant question to and for the world: How come she's so happy if she gave up everything? How come she's not bored if she lives in silence? How come she's got so much gumption if she lives under obedience? Why is she happy serving? Why did she give up other possibilities? And so forth. St Paul says this about himself and the enigma his life was for others (in 2 Corinthians 6:8-10): We are treated as deceivers and yet are truthful; as unrecognized and yet acknowledged; as dying and behold we live; as chastised and yet not put to death; as sorrowful yet always rejoicing; as poor yet enriching many; as having nothing and yet possessing all things.
So, the question is instead: how does God want to use my vocation to make his love reach these people who don't understand me and my vocation? If it were completely explicable, with no mystery, they would be able to listen to our answer, say that's fine, and go on living as they are with no need to change. Now, obviously our testimony will have no beneficial effect on them if they simply write us off as "kooks", so, yes, there has to be something reasonable, arguable and even compelling about our lives that we can place before them. I think that to a great extent it will be the coherence and quality of our lives over time, even the human quality: our ability to explain the inner coherence of our faith and lives (St Peter told the first Christians: be always ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence. 1 Peter 3:15-16), showing its reasonableness but also its supernatural nature, not trying to explain away the mystery, and then the sheer goodness/unselfishness of the works we do.