Making an Isaac Sort of Sacrifice

Next week I’ll be in Cape Cod with my family and practicing detachment from technology.  Before I leave, I wanted to update you and let you know where I’m at on this journey towards the convent.

I don’t think I ever explained how it is that I can enter the TOR Sisters on August 11th.  As many of you know, this past year has been quite a roller coaster.  I served as a volunteer with Chi Rho Catholic Service Corps for a few months and then God called me to serve some of my family members in a different capacity.  I thought my job would enable me to enter in August, but as time went that seemed less and less possible.  Around Easter time, there was sense that God was asking me to really let Him prepare me and strip me of what is still holding me back from being truly free.  I thought He was asking me to wait a year and had made peace with that.  A few people suggested The Laboure Society, and I even signed up with them.

But God was asking me to make what I like to call an “Isaac” sacrifice.  About a month ago, I received an email which changed everything and made it suddenly very real.  I would have screamed for joy, but I was at work (there were some silent tears).  The TOR Vocations Director revealed that some potential changes in formation might allow me to enter with student loans.  Since it wasn’t for sure, the information was confidential – hence that post about secrets.

The changes are official though, which is why I am able to enter in a little more than a month.  Candidacy and Postulancy are being extended from six months to one year.  During this next year of candidacy I will be living with the community, experiencing their ministries, learning about their charisms, spirituality and way of life – basically, getting used to what will be a MAJOR life change.  Since this period is longer than it has been in the past, there will be time for fundraising.  The bottom line is, I need your help now more than ever.  I will not be making an income and will have limited access to means of communication.  In the next year I still need help paying off the rest of my student loans.

You can now send your donations directly to the order, at the address listed on top of the sidebar.  I would love to receive letters as well!

Although I deactivated my Facebook, one of my fellow candidates was kind enough to recreate a “Form a Franciscan” event.  Please join!

Finally, I would like to address the fact that this life God is calling me to makes little to know sense to most of the people around me, including my family.  Because it is my vocation, and I have put many hours into praying and reading about the vows and the TOR Charism, it makes perfect sense to me.  I must admit, when people ask what I deem silly questions about being a Sister, I have to check my sassiness and judgment.  I need some humility so please ask away!  And perhaps I will spend the next few posts on the purpose of religious life, especially the vows and the aspects which seem so radical.  Explaining these things helps me put my calling into concrete words and own the vocation of religious life.

Thank you for traveling with me so far and I invite you to continue praying with me as I take this next step!

How to Become a Rosary Ninja – Part 2

I already thought my new rosary was the bee’s knees, but apparently there is more to the story!  In the words of a very wise friend, “it’s basically the atom bomb of spiritual weapons!”

My grandmother found a letter from another nun in my great great aunt’s order – Benedictines based in New Jersey.  This letter explains the origin and special graces of the rosary.

“The Story about it is this.  About 50 years ago a Benedictine priest Father Lukas was in charge of Our Lady of Victory orphanage and he used to have the children send many “care” packages to the needy in Europe.  As a reward for his good works he was asked by the pope to request his own gift. Thus it was that the Pope [Pius XI] granted a plenary indulgence to each Hail Mary of the Rosary and to every bead of the Rosary.  And Father gave many of these rosaries to the Sisters who were at our Motherhouse.”

She also included a leaflet with the original letter from the Pope:

From the Vatican

March 23, 1925

Secretary of State to His Holiness

No. 40363

Very Reverend Father,

The Holy Father has reason to believe that it would please your Reverence to receive the faculty of blessing a certain number of Rosaries of the Blessed Virgin Mary in such a way that the “Indulgences of the Holy Land” be attached to every single bead or to every Our Father, Hail Mary and Gloria.
 
The Holy Father who knows, also by His own personal experience, with what zeal and charity and with what success your Reverence has sought to alleviate the sufferings brought upon Germany and Austria by the World War, and especially those of the clergy and seminaries, most willingly takes occassion to express anew all His paternal appreciation for your charitable help, by granting you as He does grant by my present letter, the faculty mentioned above.
 
With sentiments of pronounced and sincere esteem, I remain

Yours most affectionately in Our Lord,

P. Card. Gasparri

To the Reverend Father Lukas Etlin, O.S.B.

It also explains what is meant by “Indulgences of the Holy Land”:

“Holy Church has at all times…granted plenary indulgences to all who visit the places traversed by the Son of God in human form…Now, with this precious rosary in your hand, you can gain on every bead, that is, for each Our Father, or Hail Mary or Gloria, all the indulgences which you could gain by visiting the Holy Land.”

 The lesson of the day from the philosopher-princess was, “be a tortoise!”

“Pray, therefore, happy possessor of this most privileged rosary, pray with utmost reverence, but beware of haste, the fault into which so many Christians fall when they pray.  St. Francis de Sales warns us: Haste is the death of devotion.”

Beside Myself (Not in a Padre Pio kind of way)

Pentacost

I am beginning to form a bad habit of being beside myself. I wish I could claim to have been gifted with a Padre Pio-esque ability to bilocate, but, alas, it is simply that the Holy Spirit keeps leaving me dumbfounded.

In the last post I mentioned a veritable Catholic celebrity, Jackie Francois, not thinking (but maybe slightly hoping) that she might look at my little old blog. When I discovered that she had not only read the post, but put a link to it on her own blog, I will admit there was some Catholic fangirling (I will spare you, and her, the embarrassing details). Jackie is a beautiful role model of a Godly woman and I am honored by her compliment. Thank you!!

I guess there is at least one of you out there who really needs to pray this rosary novena since we both wrote about it! Whoever you are, get to it!

Already beside myself, I read in Jackie’s post: “Now, 49 days before our wedding, we are in the middle of a 54-day novena that will end the day before our wedding.” Turning to myself, I said, “self, something is fishy here…”

Quickly checking the date of Jackie and Bobby’s wedding confirmed my suspicions: it is in fact the same weekend as my entrance with the TOR’s.

Oh but, dear readers, it gets better. God is, after all, the ultimate one-upper.

Jackie and Bobby weave a story of the unlikely meeting of a fair maiden and a troll at a place called Black Rock.

In the very same month of the very same year, another young maiden was at this very same place spending time with her Beloved. It was there that she met the TOR Sisters, a community in which she could live out her vocation.

Where it all began...
Where it all began…

These are the unlikely intersections of seemingly separate lives which remind us how intimately we are actually connected as the Mystical Body of Christ. And maybe the Holy Spirit just likes to see me speechless. I’m sure I make quite a spectacle of myself on a regular basis, but only because He keeps taking me by surprise!

So here I sit beside myself, loving every minute of it.

Windows to the Soul

I’ve inadvertently entered into a social experiment – one of those where you pretend to be disabled, a single mother, schizophrenic, etc and see how people react.  When I, who could pass as a high schooler, walk around with the African-American baby I nanny, there are quite the variety of reactions…

Spring has sprung –
a new day has begun.
We are enlightened, brightened.
 
Blind to color we claim to be
but a different kind of blindness is what I see.
 
Blind to the colors of the Divine Artist – 
an artist of stained glass to be specific,
windows being his specialty.
 
He works only with the finest, priceless glass
illuminated with brilliantly varied colors.
His windows are world-renowned!
Reflecting the same Light but looking oh – so different
a veritable paradox.
 
Meditating upon the work of this Artist –
(perhaps you’ve seen some of it?)
and in search of Truth, Beauty and Goodness,
I walk on the edge.
In the shadow of the woods
I see the dark undergrowth of “equality.”
 
I thought this was a “new” haven?
Old problems dressed up in new rags –
rags that threaten to hide the work of the Divine Artist.
 
So on this walk (a treasure hunt really)
I discover to my dismay –
birds of a feather still flock together
(especially those stubborn ducks!)
at the edge of the woods.
 
Who am I to disturb the status qu(ack)o?
“Who is this that appears like the dawn?”*
 
“Look at that!  A white woman with a black baby!”
I’ll spare you a lecture  on genes,
but while we’re on the subject,
please pull up yours.
 
Sir, I ask just a moment of your time
I beg you, step inside.
Let the dawn of a new day
illuminate our souls.
 
What color is your heart?
 

*Song of Songs 6:10

How to Become a Rosary Ninja

Last weekend I received a very special gift.  My Grandmother gave me a rosary to take with me in August.  It wasn’t just any rosary though.  It belonged to my great-great Aunt Helen, who was a nun!  Furthermore, it was blessed by Pope Pius XII.  Fittingly, he had an especially strong devotion to Mary and the Rosary.

IMG_1236

Praying with this rosary for the first time made me a little nervous, as if it is more powerful.  Then it finally dawned on me – its beauty simply served to remind me of the power of praying the rosary in a way that a cheap plastic one normal does not.  My awe and fear of the rosary was restored.  My conviction to pray it every day was renewed.

Every time Mary has appeared she has reiterated the importance of praying the rosary.  Legend has it that this devotion started when Our Lady herself taught it to St. Dominic.

Why is praying the rosary so powerful?  It is essentially Mary, the person who knew Jesus best, taking us by the hand and helping us to meditate on his life.  It can combine all the forms of prayer – intercession, petition, contemplation and thanksgiving.

Do you want to be a rosary ninja?  Let me introduce you to a super intense way of praying the rosary as a novena – well it’s actually six novenas.

I learned about it from this special lady when she gave a talk at my college about two years ago (she is DEFINITELY a rosary ninja).

You can either use a website such as this or order a handy dandy book (I will be giving mine away if anyone wants it).

This novena is 54 days long.  For the first 27 days you offer the rosary in petition for something.  The second 27 are said in thanksgiving for the answering of that petition – here’s the clincher – whether you are aware of the outcome or not.  Jackie Francois has a funny story about that

Caution: this is not something to be entered into lightly.  It takes discipline and should only be embarked on under a strong prompting from the Holy Spirit.  The devil hates Mary and the rosary so he will try to do everything to keep you from fulfilling a commitment to praying this novena.

Padre Pio was a real rosary ninja (he even bilocated!).  Apparently he had mastered the art of praying the rosary constantly and secretly while doing other things, even having conversations.  He advised us to: “Love the Madonna and pray the rosary, for her Rosary is the weapon against the evils of the world today.”

Rosary ninjas go forth!

Boycotting the Bucket List

Many people have a bucket list of things to do in their lifetimes or before a certain age.  A friend and I recently discussed creating a “before I enter the convent” bucket list.  This might include eating our favorite foods (cannolis and pizza), getting lost in the woods (oh wait, we already did that), and going horseback riding.  While pondering this list, it struck me that the attitude behind bucket lists is unhealthy and in that moment of realization my heart rejected creating one.

The danger of a bucket list is that it supports the idea that worldly things can fulfill us and make us happy.  It also supports the idea that by entering the convent and living a life of poverty, I will be “missing out” on things.  If being a religious Sister is my Vocation, and I am following the will of God, He will fulfill the deepest desires of my heart – which admittedly, do not include any of the things listed above (yes, even cannolis).  I will probably get to go places and experience things which I cannot imagine right now.  When we give everything to God, He gives back infinitely!

The only things that should be on my list are: Know, Love and Serve God, more and more everyday; Love everyone around me with His Heart.

If in the midst of spending time with loved ones there are cannolis, hiking, and horseback riding involved, then that will just be an added bonus!

Once we get to heaven, we’re not going to be thinking about how we should have visited the Grand Canyon or traveled to more countries.  The only thing we might regret is not loving Him as faithfully as we should have.  However, it is much more likely that we will be wordlessly basking in His Love!

Thanks for the Compliment!

You may not be surprised to learn that I have deactivated my Facebook, after that last poem I wrote.  During Mass yesterday it finally sunk in that this has to be a time for prayer and fasting.  I asked God what He wants me to fast from and I knew the first thing had to be Facebook.

DeactivateFacebook

Please excuse me while I get up on the soapbox again and rant about how silly Facebook can be.  I’m afraid that by becoming our main form of communication it has lessened the quality of our relationships.  I can learn all about another person without ever having a conversation with him or her – that’s just creepy!  So I went to delete my profile this morning and thought it would be a simple matter of pushing a button.  But no – like a co-dependent ex Facebook tried to coerce me into staying.  First it tried to tell me that it can give me something no one else can: “Your 599 friends will no longer be able to keep in touch with you.”  Firstly, those 599 people are not all my friends.  Secondly, WHEN DID FACEBOOK BECOME MY ONLY FORM OF COMMUNICATION?!?! Last time I checked I can call, email, or skype my friends…

Then the guilt: ____ will miss you, with lovely pictures of five of my friends.  Well yes, all of these people will miss me when I enter the convent, where my main form of communication will be good old-fashioned letter writing.  And this backfired because one of the people Facebook picked is a girl I am entering the TOR’s with…I will hopefully be seeing her lovely face every day for quite a while!

And lastly it is apparently required that I tell Facebook why I am leaving.  I chose “other” and explained that I am entering religious life, which does not allow me to have a profile.  Hey, they asked!

Well now that’s done – let the fasting and praying begin. (Of course Facebook made sure to tell me how easy it is to come back)

I keep talking about times of preparation and how they’re super awkward – well I better get comfortable with awkward for the next two months.  God is going to ask me to be still – to really examine the depths of my heart – and that’s downright terrifying.

Thank goodness, God knows that I can’t do this alone and has given me a wonderful friend for the journey.  Our lives compliment each other wonderfully.  She is most certainly called to marriage and I, of course, to religious life.  All of the Vocations should illuminate one another and work together to communicate the multi-faceted love of God.  Marriage reminds us of the nuptial nature of God’s Love, but  religious life reminds us that in the end God alone can fulfill us.  I would say our friendship does that pretty darn well.  She is joining me in solidarity as I prepare to enter the convent.

Lately, God has been calling us on parallel journeys – seriously the coincidences are getting scary!  St Therese keeps sending us roses, usually red and white ones together.  August 11th is a special day for both of us (I will let her tell you why that is).  This past Sunday marked two months until that day.  We both experienced direct and belligerent attacks from the devil, trying to deter us from our Vocations (ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat!!!).

I can’t express how excited I am to see what the future holds!  I know that God will use us to witness to the complimentary of the Vocations and His Love.

We have a special place in our hearts for the Visitation.
We have a special place in our hearts for the Visitation.

The Wisdom of a Fool

 
Independence is the catch of the day,
Autonomy the name of the game.
 
I am a fool
 in a world that has moved onto bigger and better things.
 
Plugged in, connected
friends across the pond
while you sit next to strangers.
 
Quantity has thoroughly beaten quality,
in what was never a fair fight.
Truly more connected,
But to whom are you connected in Truth?
 
Boasting of connections while scorning dependence.
 
Our faces displayed for all to see on a “book”
Showing more, sharing less
the more you “share” the less I see.
Who are you really?
 
The eyes are the window to the soul –
a theological truth, not just a pretty phrase.
 
When we see face to face – 
we will see all.
 
Even in one dimension,
your eyes plead for me to listen
they scream fear, fear of that one thing –
 
But Independence is the catch of the day,
Autonomy the name of the game.
 

I told you I wouldn’t stop talking about this…

The bottom line of my last blog post was: don’t stress, God will take care of you if you place your life in His hands!  One point I didn’t mention is that our earthly Vocation is not the end all, be all of our lives.  A friend reminded me of this when he responded to the post:

I think that your insights apply equally to men and women, especially the concerning trend I have also noted in perpetual discerners.  Some saints (St. Benedict Joseph Labre) have been called to a state of perpetual uncertainty where their vocation is to have been searching, but I think these are exceedingly rare people.  Most of us have an ideal “place” prepared for us on this earth, so that we might best dispose ourselves to the “place” prepared for us in the Great Beyond.  It’s important, though, to remember that even our “vocation” is a means to an end, and even when it crystalizes and we’re married/in final vows/ordained it’s still a journey, and we’re still pilgrims.  The journey does not end there, but begin; for Christians, days do not begin with sunrise, but with sunset on the old day, the old way, the “old man” (cf. St. Paul, Fr. Cantalamessa, Genesis).  Hence, the question is St. Peter’s question:  “Quo vadis, Domine?“, “Where are you going, Lord?”, because our only “vocation” is to follow Him down the path He leads each one of us.  For me, this makes it a lot easier to give up perpetual discernment and make a choice, because I realize that (while immensely important) it’s not the end-all, be-all of everything.  I’m not called to be a religious, but a saint, and my destiny, my inheritance, my joy is not here, but in Heaven, and if I’m making a desperate error, He will tell me.  The vocation is our response to God’s calling us to live the life of Heaven on earth, it is where we find our deepest interior peace and joy, it is where we become fulfilled Christians, it is active love.

 

Remember, vocation just means being who you are!

 

It’s Your Vocation, Not a Vacation!

Vocation, vocation, Vocation, vocation.  I will not stop talking about this. It’s just too important.  As long as people continue to ask the wrong questions and refuse to let God initiate, I will keep talking about this.  Considering the long standing habitual stubbornness of humans, I will probably be talking about this for my whole life.

You do not wake up one day and decide to discern the call to religious life (or marriage, single life, etc).  The invitation must absolutely always come from God.  This often happens through other people – a spiritual director, being invited on a retreat, etc.  It is of course, the duty of every Catholic to be open to a Vocation to priesthood, religious life, lay consecration – but for heaven-sake don’t start gallivanting around to all sorts of discernment retreats without a strong prompting from the spirit.

Perhaps there is a misunderstanding of what discernment means.  As used by St. Ignatius of Loyola – it is the discernment of spirits – the discernment of whether a calling is from God.  So someone feels an attraction to religious life – Ignatius outlines certain steps and indications to tell whether that attraction is a true calling from God.  It is true that sometimes people don’t feel an inkling either way – take that to prayer, ask God to reveal who you truly are and how he wants you to live out your vocation.  God must always initiate!

Side-note caveat: I understand that my situation is somewhat unique.  I have been blessed with what St Ignatius called “certainty beyond doubt” about my Vocation.  I promise, it is because I am so incredibly dense, not because I am special.

I’m still not sure how I feel about websites like Vision vocation network.  To me that just invites grasping and initiation.  I used to go on there and just get frustrated.  I met the TOR’s sisters on a retreat and established a personal connection with one of them – and it wasn’t even a discernment retreat!  All my searching was fruitless, because I had a list of criteria for “my” order – like I was looking at colleges!

I didn’t look at orders like a platter of desserts and “choose” the most attractive one! I know I can’t be trusted with a decision like that – not when every nun I see brings tears to my eyes and I secretly want to be a Sister of Life (or a Dominican, or a Carmelite…)  No, God knows my heart and He knew exactly which order would help me be most myself.

Living out your “vocation” simply means be yourself – who are you called to be? I am a sister – this informs how I relate to other people.  Becoming Sister whatever-the-Holy-Spirit-provides (I’m betting on Sr. Mary Constance of the Sacred Heart or something equally pretentious) is simply the fulfillment of that vocation – signed, sealed, and delivered as it were.  My Vocation is the state of life in which I am called to live out my vocation.

We speak of a discernment “process” – what does that even mean??   I am firmly convinced that “young” adulthood is extending well into our 40’s because people are stuck in this so called “discernment.”  God calls, you go.  God is the worst hide and seek player in the history of ever.  Our entire lives should be a perpetual asking of what is God’s will? If we only learn how to listen, He will answer, and fulfill our deepest desires.  Just wait till the day God turns around and asks what you want.  When that happens, we begin to understand that we are truly His children and how much he longs for our cooperation.

And we need to stop worrying so stinking much about the future.  I used to make plans.  I was the high school freshman already looking at colleges and had all the answers to “where do you see yourself in 5 years?”  This is one of those horrid questions we need to be rid of.  Why in the world does it matter where I see myself?  God is outside of time – he knows what I’ll be doing in 5 years.  So instead of wasting sleep worrying about it, I will just place it in His hands.

So, I don’t make plans anymore.  This sometimes makes me look irresponsible, and yet, God always takes care of me.  He reveals His plan one step at a time, asking for my “yes” over and over.  Without fail, when I throw up my hands and admit that I have no idea where I am going next – when I sacrifice my need to plan – that is when He works wonders.

In one week, my nannying job will end.  Besides having much more time for prayer and spending time with loved ones, who knows what the Lord will have me do…

“All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself to be used by God’s love. Think of this more and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.”  Thomas Merton

As I wrote this I realized it may only apply to females.  Males, of course, have a different relationship with God and He speaks to them in a unique way.  This way is mysterious to me however…any brothers are welcome to shed light on the subject.