Love is Alive…but are we?

holy-spirit-dove-drawing-The_Holy_Spirit_by_HammerMarioI’m experiencing post-Africa let down all over again.  Having come home right before Easter, for the past few weeks we’ve been singing joyful “Alleliua” songs like this one:

Love is Alive

Doesn’t that make you want to dance and lift your hands in praise? Okay, maybe it’s just me…

But seriously, when twenty women sing this song in a more lively fashion than a 200 person congregation, there is a serious problem.

The problem isn’t that I’m used to being surrounded by people who are madly in love with Jesus and are not afraid to show it!  Honestly the average parishioner usually doesn’t even look like they want to be at Mass.  No wonder we’re attracting so many people.

Sarcasm aside (with maybe a touch of sass), what does our Church need?  The same thing  we’ve always needed, since Jesus ascended to the Father: the Holy Spirit.  More specifically we need a new Pentecost.

A Beautiful Waste

“What is he?” murmurs one gray shadow of my forefathers to another.  “A writer of storybooks! What kind of a business in life, – what mode of glorifying God, or being serviceable to mankind in his day and generation, – may that be? Why, the degenerate fellow might as well have been a fiddler!”

-The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

Ironically, I was introduced to the show “Call the Midwife” while in the convent.  Now that I have some time on my hands I’ve watching some more of the episodes.  I’ve noticed that some of the characters struggle with something that I do as well (and I suspect most of you): wanting to be useful.  Through aging or illness, they are afraid of not being able to do what they used to, and therefore being of less value.

Over the past few years this desire has been purified but it is still a nagging thought: am I doing something worthwhile?  Will I live up to these ridiculous expectations I have set for myself?

I came face to face with this need to be “useful” in religious life – which was perhaps the Lord’s plan all along.  What good could it do the world to do laundry, sell Altar Bread and pray – oh prayer is what always seems like the most useless thing.  What good does prayer do?

But religious are not the first and are certainly far from being the last to be accused of wasting their lives.

Remember this story?

b43d34c7074dc71956866ede91db4436_mary-of-bethany-anoints-jesus-perfume-mary-jesus-feet-clipart-pictures-perfume_401-321

Now when Jesus was at  Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table.  And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”  But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.”

When I was in college I switched my major from English to Social Work, because I thought I should do something more “practical” to help people.  Partially through physical illness, I was stripped of my desire to be “useful” in the convent and as the Lord uncovered my eyes to see my own beauty, the desire to write re-awoke in me like a living fire.  Poverty fosters creativity and I’ve done my best writing in the past four years, showing me what I am capable of.

So now God is calling me to waste my life in a different way and I have a feeling I won’t be leaving poverty behind!

 

Thank you St. Joseph!

My dear friends and family,

I have some sad news to share with you.  This probably really will be my last post (unless the Holy Spirit has other plans!), because…

I AM DEBT FREE!!!!

AKA I can be a sister!!!!!!

Last Friday, I found out that I have been awarded the St. Joseph grant by Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations.  I am still in shock and awe at the great work the Lord has done.

This wonderful organization will now be paying off my student loans and those of everyone else who they are helping.  I ask that you prayerfully consider supporting their mission.

Here is a letter from their website about this years awards and why they need your help more than ever:

We have made a leap of faith.

Two unexpected occurrences have led to a very surprising event for the Fund for Vocations. First, by the time the application period had closed this year we had only 23 applications for grants. Normally, the count is in the 40s. We have no idea why there were so few, but we expect it is just happenstance and we will see a return to normal numbers next year, particularly since we are seeing our usual level of inquiries for early in the year.

Second, our donors’ generosity has greatly exceeded our expectations and the Fund ended 2013 in the fairly good financial condition.

Those two occurrences led the Fund’s board of directors to make a great leap of faith and authorize the funding of grants to all our applicants this year! This act equates to a commitment to raise an additional $75,000 each year for more than a decade.

That is a 35% increase in our commitment to help men and women proceed with the life to which God has called them. As we can only attribute our good financial position to your generous response to God’s call to you, we can do no less. Please pray for us and continue to help us in this work to build up the Church.

I cannot thank you all enough for supporting my vocation and know that all of my benefactors are in my prayers.  Please continue to pray for me especially during this time of initial formation!

I would love to receive letters and hear from you.  My address is 369 Little Church Road, Toronto, OH 43964.  If you’re in the area please don’t hesitate to ask about visiting!

May God Bless you all and may you remain in His most Sacred Heart!

P.S. Entrust St. Joseph with all your needs – he gets things done!

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.

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.

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.

 

A Plea from the Soapbox

We interrupt this creative programming for a very important message from our sponsor – The Soapbox.

Just get three jobs.

Just wait a couple of years.

Worker harder, you can do it on your own.

Everyone else has to deal with debt, why should you get off free and easy?

These, my friends, are the reactions of hardworking independent Americans to my problem of debt.  They are also the things the devil whispers to me daily, trying to drive me to despair.

So, it’s time to get up on my soap box and clear up a few things.  Firstly, I am not begging.  I have money to support myself and jobs that could allow me to pay off my loans eventually(good thing God is outside of time).  What I am doing is living out my vocation already. Oh that’s the second thing – this isn’t my vocation – it is Christ loving through me, inviting you to go deeper and deeper into His Heart.

So let’s take a look at the life He is calling me to live.  Religious life as a TOR involves living in trinitarian community, not making a personal income, and supporting one another.

So, in this time which is really a period of deep and intense preparation for that way of life, I should logically be engaging in things that are in line with that.  Therefore, putting my nose to the grindstone and working my butt off to try to pay my loans all by myself makes no sense.  If my debt is paid off, but my soul is in tatters, what good is that?

Most importantly, Jesus is calling me to lay down my life for you.  My life will consist of unceasing intercession for His people and offering of my suffering for the Body of Christ.  This is not to make you feel guilty, I just wish people understood what really goes on behind convent doors.  I will be a bride of Christ – united with Him as husband and wife.  And what is the marriage bed?  The cross.

If you don’t believe me, read about Saints like St. Faustina, St. Gemma, and St. Francis(of course) who suffered both physically and spiritually with Christ to “fill up what is lacking,” but also to make reparation for those who do not repent of their own sins.

I invite you to be a special part of this life God is calling me to and to live out your vocation of love.  Let us work together to build up the Body by offering our time, talent, money, and most importantly, ourselves, to one another as free gifts.

P.S. Oh boy, do I have more to say about this – including the Franciscan idea of the “privilege of poverty” and some great nuggets from Henri J.M. Nouwen.  For now, I’ll let you chew on this.  I also have exciting things to reveal about how God is asking me to fundraise!

 

Watch Your Language!

I was talking to a friend recently about her future and she revealed that she really doesn’t know what will make her happy and can’t quite put her finger on what her deepest passions are.  Another friend distressingly confided in me that he feels like he doesn’t know who he truly is.  As I take part in conversations such as this and get to know people in their mid-twenties, and even older, who don’t know themselves, my heart breaks to see us drifting away from who we are meant to be.

Over the lifetime of this blog, I’ve referred over and over again to the need to convert how we say things back into the language of the Holy.  The topic of vocation is no different.  We need to reintroduce a language of vocation, a language of calling, into the culture.

When I tell people that I’m going to be a Sister, they ask me how I decided that.  I didn’t decide! This shouldn’t even be a question – we should all be aware that we have a unique calling in life and know how to discern that calling.  Religious life chose me – it is my calling from God.  My vocation is a gift which I can choose to receive or refuse.

In reflecting on and praying about the apparent lack of self-awareness among my peers, I began wondering, why am I different?  Why, at such a seemingly young age do I know my vocation and have the courage to respond to God’s persistent call?  The reason is that God placed amazing mentors, spiritual directors, and friends in my life who asked the right questions. 

Whoooo are you? Cindy Lou Who, of course!
Whoooo are you? Cindy Lou Who, of course!

We ask children what they want to be when they grow up.  This makes no sense! We are not “whats”, we are “who.”  We should be asking one another, who are you? and really be interested in the answer.

And this brings me to another point – it is only through relationships that we can discover our true selves.  We are made in the image and likeness of a God who is a communion of persons!  We were made by Love, to love, and to be loved.

Another crazy Truth which has been revealed to me lately, which can seem a little overwhelming, is the fact that, since God is infinite, there are an infinite amount of ways to express His love.  We often try to box vocation into the categories of marriage, singlehood, and religious life, but the fact is there is an endless amount of ways to live out the universal call to holiness.  A vocation is a specific and deeply personal invitation from God.  Each person reaches holiness by living out Love in a unique way.

The fact is that the of the deepest questions of our hearts are: “what is my purpose?” and more importantly, “who am I?”

The YOUCAT (Youth Catechism – It’s wonderful) acknowledges the importance of asking these questions: “The purpose of our life is to be united with God in love and to correspond entirely with God’s wishes.  We should allow God “to live his life in us”(Mother Teresa)…Every man asks himself the question: Who am I and why am I here, how do I find myself? Faith answers: only in holiness does man become that for which God created him…Holiness…is union with the incarnate love that is Christ.”

Holiness=Wholeness