Is This Real Life? It’s Eternal Life!

I need to do more of this.

There seems to be an ongoing pattern in my life:  I freak out about not being in control of a situation and then a day or two later, everything falls into place in God’s perfect time.   Well the last time this happened was about a month and a half ago.  I was quickly approaching college graduation and I still had no idea what I was going to do with the next year.  One day this uncertainty got to me and I had a mini meltdown.  True to form, the next day I had to call Sister about something and she reminded me of God’s infinite care.  She told me that she had been brainstorming and asking around about opportunities for me.  One idea she had would be to set up an “affiliate” program, which would be like a year of service.  She was looking into getting Americorps funding through the Catholic Volunteer Network, which would go towards paying off my loans.

Since talking to her that day I hadn’t heard any updates(until Monday) and of course, don’t like being in the dark where I can’t control a situation.  I was about to break down and call her, but she got to me first.  It turns out that she can’t get the program set up in time, so I’m back to square one.  Because God knows I hate making decisions, he’s presented me with a few options.  Through a lot of prayer and weighing practicality, I’ve made the tough decision to stay at home.

Her bad news was dwarfed by what she told me next…I have the go ahead to finish the application process!  The Sisters had asked me to wait and I wasn’t sure when they were going to approve me to move on.  This means that I could potentially be accepted by October.  Which is great, because then I can apply for a grant from the Fund for Vocations.

Dear readers, do you know what this means?  It’s time to break out the big fundraising guns, to pull out all the stops, and man your rosaries.  I’m still planning on doing the marathon, so I’ll let you know how sponsorship is going to work.

Right after I talked to Sister and it sunk that I might actually be entering the convent in little over a year, the cheesy phrase, is this real life? seemed like the most appropriate reaction.  And of course what better place to put my thoughts than a facebook status?  Someone commented on it with simply: John 17:3.  I thought this was a curious reply and looked it up.  My friend is very wise and actually the entire chapter is pertinent to my situation.  It is the prayer of Jesus before he begins the long walk to Calvary.  He expresses a deep and intimate love for us, which leads to the ultimate sacrifice.

John 17:3 says: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”  So not only is this real life, it’s eternal life!  And this the whole point of being a nun – to point towards heaven and live a life so others know God and Jesus.  The other part that particularly stuck out to me was: “Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.  And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.”

Can You Imagine It?

This is my 100th post!! Yay!  I just found something completely worthy of taking this honored spot.

My fellow blogger over at Bad Catholic just posted about a new movement called Imagine Sisters.  It’s brand new, so they’re still forming, but it’s basically just trying to get the word out about consecrated life.  It sounds like they want to try to reach college students mostly, by hosting gatherings where students can just get to know sisters and more about the lives they lead.  This might be an important step in renewing religious life and I look forward to seeing it develop.

Can’t Anybody Find Me Somebody to Love?

Tonight I was talking to my friends about my future plans of nunhood.  I’m growing to love these conversations because they make me really examine my calling and sometimes even help me see it from a new perspective.  Besides the usual questions, one of my friends expressed genuine surprise at my life choice.  She pointed out that I’ve always been a “hopeless romantic,” and she’s right.  During high school I hopelessly pined for my best friend, then in college had a different crush every week.  A Walk to Remember gets me every time.  I’m the kind of girl who squeals over every adorable baby that comes within a 100 feet of my baby-radar.  I used to pour over those cheesy quotes about unrequited love such as:

What I want to do all the time.

So you can see how my friend would be confused.  I thought for a second about how to explain this radical choice I’m making and then decided to be boldly honest: in a way I’m doing this because I am in love.  I am hopelessly, desperately in love with Jesus.  So much so that I am willing to give up my life so others will know how incredibly much He loves them and so that they can learn to love Him in return.  It’s hard to explain this to someone who doesn’t share a religious vocation, and even harder to explain to someone who has no faith.  How do I explain that sometimes I miss Jesus so much that it physically hurts and that sometimes all I want is to feel His arms around me?

Being a nun is not against my hopeless romantic nature, in fact it perfectly fulfills my desire to be part of a dramatic love story.  Jesus died for me!  He gave up His life for love of me! How much more romantic can you get than that?  I am taking part in the greatest love story of all time.  Now I am giving Him my life in return, so I can be united to my lover.

The bride awaits her lover.

For anyone who is feeling uncomfortable right about now: go read Song of Songs.  It is raunchy and surprisingly erotic. It is about two lovers searching for each other and is meant to symbolize the relationship between God and His Church.  This book describes in a powerful way the intimate love that God has for each one of us and how desperately he wants to pursue us.  One of my favorite passages in Song of Songs says: “Set me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm; For stern as death is love, relentless as the nether world is devotion; its flames are a blazing fire.  Deep waters cannot quench love, nor floods sweep it away.  Were one to offer all he owns to purchase love, he would be roundly mocked.”  The bible is filled with romantic poetry such as this that God wrote directly to our hearts.

Ultimately, all longing for love and intimacy is secretly a longing for God.  He is the only one that can truly satisfy us.  We will only be complete when we are united with Him.  If the analogy of marriage seems weird to you, think about what marriage really is.  It is complete union with another person – the two become one flesh.  It involves dying to yourself and being concerned with the good of your beloved.  That’s exactly what God wants our relationship with Him to look like!

That being said, we all have a natural desire to be united with our fellow human beings, especially in marriage.  There seems to be a misconception that because I’m going to be a nun, I don’t want to get married.  I would love to get married – to fall in love and have a lifelong companion, all the intimacy and romance that comes with that.  But God is calling me to give up this good and natural path which human kind in general was made for.  He’s calling me to a supernatural life, so I can remind people that all their longings cannot be fulfilled in this life.  When I am lonely and crave intimacy, it will remind me of the one who can fulfill those longings.

I’ve faithfully kept a journal for a few years now and it’s amazing to see how my focus has changed.  In high school a typical entry would have consisted of me talking about the boy that I happened to like that week, or who was going out with who, or about the drama happening between my friends.  These days, I’d like to think that I’ve matured.  These days my journal chronicles a different kind of love story.  Somewhere along the way, I stopped writing about boys and began writing about my struggles to submit to God’s will, about the joys and pain of falling deeper in love with Him.

So, yes I am a hopeless romantic and that is why I need to be a nun.

There are plenty of songs that describe the love of God, but I am particular to this one:

Oh wait, and this one:

Jesus and Peter Have a Heart to Heart

Apparently commenting on the daily readings is going to become a theme.  Today, the gospel was one of my favorite bible passages.

From the Gospel of John 21:15-19:

After Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples and eaten breakfast with them,
he said to Simon Peter,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time,
“Do you love me?” and he said to him,
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go.”
He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.
And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”

The main thing that sticks out about this reading is the fact that Jesus asks Peter, “do you love me?” 3 times.  This is a powerful statement of redemption and proof that God can use anyone to accomplish His will.  Here Jesus gives Peter a chance to proclaim his faith and love after adamantly denying knowledge of Christ the same amount of times.  Jesus gives Peter a second chance.  Not only does he give Peter a second chance, he puts this fallen and broken man in charge of His Church.

I already loved this passage and then I found out something incredible that gave it deeper meaning and blew me away.  Unfortunately English falls short of conveying the meaning of some words.  Love is one of those words.  In Greek there are four different words for the different types of love: Storge, Philia, Eros and Agape.  Storge is the natural affection usually found between family members.  Philia is friendship and Eros is romantic love.  Agape, now that’s harder to define.  It is unconditional, charitable love – ultimately the love of God.

In this passage, Jesus is using the verb Agape for love.  Peter, either feeling ashamed of what he has done, or really not understanding what Jesus is asking, uses Philia for love.  He says that he loves Jesus as a friend, when Jesus wants his complete and unconditional love.  Here’s a good commentary on the passage, which expands on these distinctions.

This all points to the fact that each and every one of us has a unique and important role to play in God’s plan.  Some of the greatest people in the bible were ridiculously messed up and sinful.  No matter how broken you are, no matter how many times you have denied Christ, he simply asks you to “follow me.”  He’ll take it from there.

C.S. Lewis wrote about these types of loves in his books The Four Loves, if you want to learn more about the subject.

On Wanting to be B.A. Like the Apostles

If you haven’t read the Acts of the Apostles, do it right now.  I’m serious.  Put down whatever you’re doing and read the entire books of Acts.  It’s one of the most important books of the Bible because it chronicles the development of the early Church.  Also, it tells the story of St. Paul who is seriously the most B.A. man who ever lived.

My enthusiasm for Acts has been reawakened because it is currently being read at daily mass.  This means there has been epic readings for pretty much all of Easter.  Today’s first reading was especially powerful.  We hear about St. Paul leaving his followers to go off to Jerusalem, where he will eventually die.  He doesn’t know exactly what will happen there, but he knows that he won’t leave alive.  The Holy Spirit has given him some hints about the torture and death he will experience, yet he headed to Jerusalem anyway.

Acts 20:28-38

At Miletus, Paul spoke to the presbyters of the Church of Ephesus:
“Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock
of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers,
in which you tend the Church of God
that he acquired with his own Blood.
I know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you,
and they will not spare the flock.
And from your own group, men will come forward perverting the truth
to draw the disciples away after them.
So be vigilant and remember that for three years, night and day,
I unceasingly admonished each of you with tears.
And now I commend you to God
and to that gracious word of his that can build you up
and give you the inheritance among all who are consecrated.
I have never wanted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing.
You know well that these very hands
have served my needs and my companions.
In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort
we must help the weak,
and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said,
‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”

When he had finished speaking
he knelt down and prayed with them all.
They were all weeping loudly
as they threw their arms around Paul and kissed him,
for they were deeply distressed that he had said
that they would never see his face again.
Then they escorted him to the ship.

The bravery of Paul, his servant leadership, the obvious love between the community members; I can’t help wonder if we’ve lost some essential traits of the early Church.  Every time I hear about the doings of the early Church or the Saints, I wonder, why aren’t we like that anymore?  What is it that gives the Acts of the Apostles its “wow factor”?  How many of us would walk straight into martyrdom if we had prior knowledge of it?  Why aren’t we out on the streets proclaiming the gospel?  Maybe it’s because times are different.  Maybe the internet has become our streets.  Or maybe we’re cowards.

I’ve written about this before, I don’t think it can be said enough:  do not become complacent!  It is easy to compromise religious zeal in a world of political correctness and relativism, where we are afraid of offending anyone by asserting our beliefs as absolute truth.  In today’s gospel, from John, Jesus says: “I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.”  The message of Christianity is often unpopular, but we have an obligation to spread the truth.  Later in the same reading, Jesus prays, “Consecrate them in the truth.  Your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.  And I consecrate myself for them,  so that they also may be consecrated in truth.”

The words of St. Paul are still relevant: there are wolves among us and we must remain constantly vigilant.

Bad Catholic, a snarky blog I love to follow, has a great post on going hard as a Christian.

A Misunderstanding in the Family: The Prodigal Daughters Get Called Home

As you may have heard, there was recently an investigation into some women’s religious orders in the United States.  Although much as been written on this topic, I’m going to add my two cents, because there seems to be many misconceptions about what is actually going on.  A recent Washington Post article, “A Catholic ‘war on women’,” is a perfect example of secular commentary on this issue.

Before going further the difference between nuns and sisters needs to be cleared up.  Here’s a great description from the website “A Nun’s Life”:

A Catholic nun is a woman who lives as a contemplative life in a monastery which is usually cloistered (or enclosed) or semi-cloistered. Her ministry and prayer life is centered within and around the monastery for the good of the world. She professes the perpetualsolemn vows living a life according to the evangelical counsels of poverty, celibacy, and obedience. Check out the Carmelite Nuns of Baltimore for example.

A Catholic sister is a woman who does lives, ministers, and prays within the world. A sister’s life is often called “active” or “apostolic” because she is engaged in the works of mercy and other ministries that take the Gospel to others where they are. She professes perpetual simple vows living a life according to the evangelical counsels of poverty, celibacy, and obedience. Check out my community, the IHM Sisters of Monroe, Michigan.

Alright now that that’s cleared up, are you ready for another layer of confusion?

Firstly, there are two organizations for the collaboration of women’s religious orders: the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious.  The Doctrinal Assessment was only conducted with the LCWR.  The LCWR is known for being more liberal and sometimes even in conflict with the Church.  The assessment was done because there was concern that they were publicly supporting things(like abortion) which directly oppose Church teachings.  Since these women are supposed to be representing the Church, that would be reasonable cause for concern.

Working off of the ideas from my last post – the Church should be looked at as a family who are called to serve each other.  The vatican is not arbitrarily exercising its power to keep these Sisters in line.  It is genuinely concerned that some of its children, who are specially consecrated no less, are veering off the path of truth.

An article from the National Catholic Register put it perfectly:

“Appreciating the Church’s affirmation, love and reverence for the gift of consecrated life is the proper framework for understanding the very purpose of the doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious undertaken by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

It is the Church’s responsibility, assumed in love, to safeguard the beauty and gift of consecrated life at all times. This responsibility is most acute when the integrity of consecrated life begins to diminish, evidenced in this case by clear examples of dissent from the hierarchy and lack of authentic ecclesial communion.”

Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/doctrinal-assessment-of-the-lcwr-safeguarding-the-integrity-of-consecrated/#ixzz1v8aaqmBd

Doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR

The document which details the findings of the assessment and lays out a five year plan for renewal of the LCWR has been twisted and blown way out of proportion.  It’s not a complicated papal encyclical – it’s an eight page straightforward document which I read myself.  It mentions that these orders focus mainly on serving the poor (which it praises them for) but often neglect issues like abortion and sexuality.  Somehow this has been misconstrued as a scolding for doing too much for the poor and not condemning gay marriage enough.  They are simply being challenged not to shy away from controversial, but important issues.

When did we start loathing obedience?

While researching what is truly an attempt at renewal of women religious, I kept coming back to the vow of obedience.  A misunderstanding of this vow seems to be a large part of the problem here.  One of the concerns cited in the doctrinal assessment was a lack of proper formation in some orders.  This would suggest that some sisters aren’t veering off the path on purpose, but may have been led off by superiors and improper training.

I found this article about an 80 year old sister which would make me angry if it wasn’t so sad.  Now it might be slightly skewed, but I think her sentiments come through:  she shouldn’t have to listen to the authority of the Church.  However, Vita Consecrata, an encyclical written by JPII about the consecrated life, states that religious are called to take a vow of obedience not only to God, but to the Church, their superiors and ultimately the Pope.

Especially here in America, our individualist attitude and distorted idea of freedom have certainly informed our idea of obedience.  We hate being told what to do, what to think and how to live our lives.  Yet those entering consecrated life are asked to adopt a radically difference idea of obedience, which can be hard to reconcile with what we have been told for our whole lives.  I am certainly struggling with this and can already see that obedience will be the most difficult vow for me.

John Paul II suggests that obedience leads to liberation.  Obedience means trusting yourself to another person and trusting that she/he knows what is best for you.  From Vita Consecrata: “Obedience…shows the liberating beauty of a dependence which is not servile but filial, marked by a deep sense of responsibility and animated by mutual trust.”

All Sisters and Nuns take a vow of obedience, completely by choice and out of love for God.  They have been given a tremendous responsibility to be witnesses to the truth.  Somehow, many have lost sight of that, despite their best intentions.  The Church is simply attempting to call these prodigal daughters back home.

It’s clear to me that our Church cannot lower itself to engage in power struggles.  If that’s what is happening here, then something needs to change.  We should operate differently than the world: always asking what can I do for the good of my neighbor, and  How is God calling me to serve the Church?

The Power to Serve

Some people seem to think that the Church is simply a patriarchy run by a bunch of cranky old white men who just like to make up rules to make our lives miserable.  If that’s true, get me out!

The Church I love can be summed up with one scene: Jesus washing the disciples feet at the last supper.  The God of this universe not only humbled Himself enough to become man, but got down on His knees and washed His friends’ dirty feet.  He told them to imitate him – the people who were the first priests of the Church.  He told them to serve others.  Whatever ways religion is misused and twisted for our own purposes, in the end it is about serving others.

I learned something in my Social Morality class this semester, which blew my mind but also gave me a whole new way of looking at my faith.  The perfect world we are trying to achieve, the kingdom of heaven, can be found in God’s original design for humanity – the Garden of Eden.  There, Adam and Eve lived in perfect harmony with each other and God.  There were no power struggles and Adam did not dominate Eve.  The word “Eden” means pleasure.  Adam and Eve lived a life of pleasure.  Why was this?  Because they could eat whatever they wanted or have as much sex as they wanted?  My teacher suggested that they found ultimate pleasure in serving one another.  As soon as she said that, everything fell into place – that’s the ideal that we’re working towards and Jesus came to show us the freedom found through service.  The need to dominate one another and serve our own pleasure came after the fall – original sin.

So if we cast off the lie that the Church’s structure is about power, it frees us to talk about how we can best serve each other.  Let’s look at priesthood and the structure of the Church in this way.  We are all called to serve the Church in a unique way, to live out our personal vocation.  The men who fill these roles are doing so because that is how they are being called to serve the Church.  They may have more authority objectively, but this also means that they have more responsiblity.  A priest is responsible for all the souls in his congregation, which is not something to be taken lightly.  Remember, God calls men to be priests, the Church never “makes” men priests.

Men and women in general have different ways of serving due to their differing natures.  One good way to think of it is like a family, in which everyone has duties and responsibilities but ideally maintain equal dignity.  The father is still seen as the “head” of the family and the main provider, but this does not necessarily make him above his wife.  Men, especially clergy, are called to be the fathers of the Church.  There are also some ideas about authority which inform this, but I haven’t researched that enough to comment on it.  Fr. Robert Barron, an up and coming evangelist who is great at engaging the popular culture has a great video on papal infallibility which touches upon this idea:

Naturally, women, especially Sisters, are called to be the mothers of the Church.  If women feel like they aren’t being heard, it may be because they are not fully utilizing their power to serve.  Perhaps the role of women in the Church needs to be more closely examined.  Oh wait, JPII did that too.  (Pope FTW!)  Here’s a good article briefly summarizing his thoughts on the genius of women. Women are generally looked to for the moral formation of children and I think that religious formation for the entire Church is one of the most important roles of women.  Women are also more naturally inclined to see and do things on a relational level, which also effects the way they serve others.  Women need to discover their own wonderfully unique “genius” which allows them to serve the Church, not just wish to hold the same positions as men.

You may remember I mentioned in my last post that people find their true identity by being in communion with others.  More specifically, men and women are compatible; men understand themselves in relation to women and vice versa.  Together, men and women convey the infinite aspects of the trinity’s nature.  Therefore, the Church needs men and women to work collaboratively while staying true to their natures, in order to be a true imitation of the trinity.

And this segues into yet another post on Sisters, especially with the recent assessment of certain orders.

True Freedom

*Disclaimer*  I am not a theologian – these are my thoughts and opinions.  Although I have a strong knowledge of Church doctrine and have researched these topics, I may be off slightly on the specifics.  Please feel free to point me in the right direction if I am wrong.

It’s time.  Time to talk about women and the Church.  It’s time to coherently explain thoughts that have been developing over the course of the past few months.  I have many thoughts about women, sexuality, the supposed “attack on nuns” and the misconceptions about power in the Church.  Therefore I will probably rant for a few posts.

So back around August I started reading everything I could get my hands on about Theology of the Body and God’s unique design for women.  I read things like this book.  In addition, this semester I took a Feminist Cultural Criticism class which covered a span of thought under the umbrella of liberal feminism(everything decidedly not Catholic).

The ultimate goal of feminism is equality of all people and the liberation of women from the patriarchal structures which keep them subordinate to men.  There are many different opinions of how to achieve this goal.  One thing I began understanding through my independent research(especially through this collection of essays about New Feminism) is that we Christians have a radically different idea of freedom than the secular world. In order to understand the Catholic perspective on sexuality, gender and hierarchy, it is important to grasp this concept of freedom.

As humans, one of the basic things we long for is freedom.  As Americans we are focused on the guarantee of freedom for all people.  What is freedom?  Our society would say it is the ability to do whatever we want, wherever we want, with whomever we want.  It is about having control of ourselves and our bodies.  It is about the ability to choose.  It is about autonomy.

Christianity offers a different perspective of freedom – freedom from the shackles of sin.  The chaplain at my school is always saying that true freedom comes from being your authentic self, but also allowing others to be their authentic selves.    I’ve been meditating a lot on this lately and trying to understand what it means.

John 8:32, says: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” This means the truth of God’s love and Jesus’s sacrifice, but also the truth of who you are.  Boiled down, freedom is the ability to stay true to who you really are – your morals, values, etc.  Being able to do what is moral and good also means that sin does not have control over you.  Knowing yourself includes knowing what it means to be male and female.  We hold that men and women have naturally different natures, which is seen as a controversial view.  However, gender is an important part of one’s identity and therefore important in the quest for liberation.  We’ll get more into that later with a discussion of how I believe men and women have unique and distinct ways of serving the Church.

Self-knowledge leads to self-possession.  Then Christ asks us to do something radical and unexpected – once we are in possession of ourselves, we are called to give ourselves completely and wholly to God and others.

Taking a step back, you might ask, how do we gain self-knowledge?  We ultimately find our identity in Christ.  Christ is a member of the trinity – a perfect and equal interdependent communion of persons.  Therefore we find our identity through communion with others.  In Love and Responsiblity, JPII speaks of our call to make a true gift-of-self to others, which leads to freedom and fulfillment.  Christianity is a faith full of contradictions; we find freedom through sacrifice, self-denial and obedience.  We are asked to look to the good of others first, before our own well being.  We are called to service, which is important to understanding the next topic: power and hierarchy within the Church.

The “aha” Moment

I think I fell in love with running yesterday.  The first time I went out a few weeks ago I experienced an endorphin rush and felt like I was on top of the world.  Since then, I’ve been dragging my feet and feeling like I want to die.  But yesterday, something clicked or I crossed some threshold.  It was a beautiful day and I felt like I could run forever.  I’m supposed to be doing three minutes running/1 minute walking intervals and I found myself forgetting about the clock and running for longer than three minutes without even noticing.  And then some guy yelled at me from his car asking if I’m on a track team, so that made me feel good…

Anyway, I’ve decided that running is a great life choice and thought about why that’s so.  You know how people always talk about how great exercising is for you, and you just laugh?  Apparently those people are right.  Go figure.  Firstly, running can be extremely meditative and relaxing.  As a chronic worry wart, I need as much meditation and relaxation as I can get.  Secondly, it’s an amazing self-esteem boost to realize that you just ran 3 miles and you’re still standing (can’t wait till I get to 13.1!)  I’m generally hard on myself and tend to focus on the things I do wrong.  Running makes me feel really good about myself for some reason, so it’s definitely helping in that area.  Thirdly, running has no inherent purpose and there is no destination!  This is incredibly liberating.  I’m always planning, trying to accomplish goals and thinking about where I’m going next.  Somehow that all melts away when I’m running.  It’s just me and God, putting one foot in front of the other and paying attention to the ground so I don’t fall…(I’m completely serious about that last part.)

Anyway this got me thinking about “aha” moments like the one I had yesterday.  Sometimes we work really hard at something, like running, and it seems like we’ll never be able to run that half marathon.  Or we keep doing something because we know it’s good for us but we don’t quite understand why yet.  That happens a lot with matters of faith.  There are three levels to learning something: knowledge, understanding and wisdom.  For instance, I’ve been meditating a lot on the love of God lately.  We all know on some level that God loves us, whether we accept that love or not.  I’ve been trying to understand what it really means that God loves us completely and unconditionally.  Then I had an “aha” moment and it clicked.  I was thinking about my motivations for becoming a sister and how important it is that I do it out of free will and a desire to serve others.  Then it clicked: if I don’t become a sister, even though that may be God’s will, he will love me no less.  And that’s when I reached a new level of understanding – God’s love literally does not depend on anything we do.  He loves us simply because we exist.  Nothing I do can make Him love me any more or any less.  Wisdom means discerning what this understanding means for my relationship with God and others; the next level is having the wisdom to let this understanding transform how I act.