Thursday, July 12, 2018

What Lifelong Bullying Can Do


I had a very unpleasant experience during the Lace Retreat I attended a few weeks ago, which has led me to a great deal of reflection--and insight!

A lifelong problem for me, is that whenever I perceive that someone is angry with me, I become absolutely paralyzedwith fear--completely non-functional, unable to think or act rationally. Unfortunately, I was not a "natural" when it came to making bobbin lace, and the Sister who was trying to teach me to do it, became understandably exasperated with my
slowness and seeming incapacity to learn the stitches as quickly as others.

I became so terrified when this happened, I could not control my emotional reaction.  I was unable to tell her what was wrong, and unable to follow her directions, because I was too frightened to hear and act on what she was trying to tell me.

What I came to realize however, is that this is the direct result of how my mother controlled me for my entire life!  She is a cold, unloving person, extremely domineering, who required total, unquestioning obedience in all things; if I ever dared not to comply in the smallest way, her anger was so awful, that I learned to “go limp” mentally and emotionally, as a way to cope and keep her from getting even more angry.  She is a classic bully: she has no respect for anyone, especially me and my father--we are very much alike, both very gentle people--because we cannot stand up to her, which leads her to feel nothing but contempt for us. She truly believes that everyone else is stupid, and she is the only smart one.

Until now, I had never been able to see or understand this, until I thought deeply about what happened between myself and the Sister who was trying to teach me, as I tried to figure out why I was so completely helpless under those circumstances. My perception that she was angry, caused in me the same reaction that my mother knows so well how to create--and so instead of being able to listen to what she was telling me and do it, instead I just froze, and actually got worse instead of better.

As unpleasant as this experience was, God brought some good out of it, by giving me this new insight into the root cause of my problem. In this suffering which has dominated my life, I have come to cling to these words:

“‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”

I really never understood until now, how deeply my mother damaged me. I blossom when treated with kindness and love, and shrivel up without it. All my life, I constantly looked for love, but never found the kind I needed until I found God.

This morning, as I was preparing to go up for Communion, it occurred to me for the first time (I am so slow!) that the Body and Blood of Christ could heal me! So I went up, thinking about the woman in the Bible who touched His cloak in order to be healed, begging to be healed by His touch. I am going to keep asking this every day, and perhaps He will choose to do it, I don’t know. It could be that this is just something I was destined to endure, because of what it has taught me about how to treat others.

This prayer by Cardinal Newman, is one I have made my own, because this is how I want to be…

Radiating Christ

Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with Your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly,
That my life may only be a radiance of Yours.

Shine through me, and be so in me
That every soul I come in contact with
May feel Your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!

Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine,
So to shine as to be a light to others;
The light, O Jesus will be all from You; none of it will be mine;
It will be you, shining on others through me.

Let me thus praise You the way You love best, 

by shining on those around me.
Let me preach You without preaching, not by words but by my example,
By the catching force of the sympathetic influence of what I do,
The evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You.


Wednesday, June 27, 2018

2018 Retreat Notes

I am in a Lace Retreat at Manna House in Concordia this week, and in addition to learning to make bobbin lace--which is a long-standing tradition in the Sisters of St. Joseph--the retreat theme is "Contemplating Our Stories."

Each day, we have been provided with a set of questions on which to reflect and write, if we choose to do so, and at the end, we will share some of our reflections with the group (again, if we wish to.)

Monday, June 25:  Stories around your birth, naming, Baptism, personal characteristics, uniqueness, God's imprint on you. 

I know that I was conceived shortly after my parents married (May 10, 1946), while they were both still in the Navy.  Mom told me that she tried to get out on a medical discharge, because Dad was due to be discharged before she was, and she knew she was pregnant so she wanted to leave with him.  However, in those days, pregnancy tests were not very accurate, and they kept coming back negative, so she had to stay!  I was born in Mom's home town of Detroit, Michigan, at Harper Hospital, which no longer exists.  I was not baptized, however, until I was about 7, because my parents were not practicing any religion. I remember my mother telling me that my father really wanted a girl, and how happy he was when I was born, and that as soon as he got home from work, he always wanted to see me right away and pick me up--waking me--which aggravated my mother.

Tuesday, June 26: Stories around the kind of family you grew up in, what were the rules/expectations and how did they shape you? Birth order, are you like either of your parents?  What did you like to do as a child, and has this affected your life?  How did you know you belonged (or did not), and where is God in all of this?

There were just the 4 of us, and we were always very close, and had a lot of fun together. My parents were very strict, however, especially my mother, and we got spanked regularly when we got out of line... my mother had quite a bad temper, but we were never allowed to display any anger whatsoever.  My mother was also very controlling and manipulative, and I was not given any freedom--but it was not until I sought therapy very late in life, that I recognized this and saw it as the problem it was... I always hated being so completely dominated by my mother, but it never occurred to me (until therapy) that I was actually free to resist her--until then, I really thought that I was not strong enough to ever say NO to her!  --so I spend nearly my entire life under her emotional control.  Although she seems very sweet to people who don't know her, she is actually capable of great cruelty and emotional abuse. I personally believe she is mentally ill, although she has never been diagnosed, because she knows how to act around strangers.

The way in which I believe God was in all of this, was that I can look back and see that from my earliest childhood, God pursued me... He wanted me for some reason I cannot understand.  And it was not until September 11, 1981, when I became a believer, that I experienced unconditional love.

This is my first bobbin lace project, a snake... lot of mistakes, but not horrible for a first attempt!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Living the Life


I just realized that I have not written anything here in quite a while, but I have a lot to tell!

A few months ago, Sr. Jean Rose, the President of the CSJ Community,
Sr. Jean Rosemarynoski, CSJ and Sr. Betty Suther, CSJ

conveyed to me through Sr. Betty Suther--who is my mentor and also the Novice Mistress--that it would be prudent for me to come and stay with the Sisters for an extended period, longer than the usual week during Assembly, so that I could be sure I knew "what I was signing up for."  So, although it took quite a bit of planning, I said I would come for the entire month of June.

When I told Sr. Dian, my friend in Cartersville, about this, she suggested that I stay even longer, so that I could attend the annual Theological Institute, and so I am here until the middle of July.

When I first arrived, all the Candidates were here, 1st and 2nd year, for 2 days of classes before the Annual Assembly started, and then once it began (evening of June 6th), there was the usual whirlwind of activities and meetings until the final event, which was the celebration of our 9 Jubilarians on Sunday, June 10th.  Very soon after that, however, all the Sisters who had come home for the Assembly left, and life settled down to what is normal for the Community.

I am staying at the Manna Retreat House (which was the original Motherhouse when the Sisters first arrived here from Rochester NY in 1884), which is just a few blocks from the current Motherhouse.  This is what my typical day is like, so far:  I get up at 6:00am (although the Sisters are free to get up whenever they want/need to), and if there is Daily Mass at 7:00am in the church right next door (Our Lady of Perpetual Help!), I like to go.  After Mass, I come back for a simple breakfast here, although I could go up to the Motherhouse if I want to for the huge breakfasts they serve there... but I like quiet in the morning, so I just stay here.

After breakfast, the house is quiet until about 9:00am, because, unless they have to go out, that's personal private prayer time for the Sisters.  At 9:00am, I currently have the responsibility of going downstairs and putting away all the breakfast stuff, and then checking in with our cook, Jackie, to see if any help is needed.  Usually I stay in the Kitchen for an hour or so, doing whatever she wants, and then I am free to do other things.  When there is a retreat in progress, however, and we have guests in the house, there is much more kitchen work to be done because we are feeding a lot more people than usual.  

Sr. Marcia asked me to help her with her project, compiling for future publication, the papers of Sr. Bette Moslander, who was President of the Congregation from 1975 to 1983, during a time of great change for the Congregation as they continued to evolve as as result of the changes in religious life called for by Vatican II.  She was an amazing visionary, and had a tremendous positive influence on what the Congregation has become, as they have positioned themselves to respond to today's needs in the Church and the world.  

So, I have been working on that, and in addition, I spent some time at the Motherhouse helping at the Reception Desk, I served juice and coffee during the Jubilee Brunch, I was sent to help with the Food Bank at the Cloud County Resource Center, to play Bingo with the middle school girls attending our Discover Camp, and I helped transport people to the airport--all kinds of odd jobs!  Besides that, of course I have to continue my studies in the Formation Program (we have classes once a month).

Lunch is around noon, and then we wash the dishes and resume our work, and many Sisters like to take a nap after lunch if they are free--and I enjoy naps too!  Supper is usually 5:30, and again, we wash the dishes and close the Kitchen for the night, and Community Prayer in the Sisters' Chapel is held at 6:15 every evening (except on Sunday nights, I have heard they usually watch 60 Minutes, haha!)

After that, everyone pretty much retires to their rooms to do whatever they want, and go to sleep whenever they want.  In general, the convent is pretty quiet most of the time, but there are no rules about that (like the Grand Silence we had in the Domincans after Night Prayer)--other than being considerate when you are in areas where people's bedrooms are.    

Even though I have not received a letter formally accepting me into the Novitiate, it's apparent that they are assuming that I am coming, which amazed me:  I was told where my room will be in the "cloister" area of the building--although they don't call it that--and I was encouraged to go back and look at it, measure it, and decide how I want to arrange the furniture and/or fit in anything I intend to bring with me when I finally move here from Georgia.  Today, I was given a mailbox in the office, too.  I had only been back to look at my room once, but this morning, Sr. Marcia asked me what I might want to get rid of, or need from storage, and when I told her that I was waiting until I got a letter from Sr. Jean Rose, she said she would speak to her about me today--and this afternoon I got a very sweet letter from Sr. Jean Rose, a "don't worry" letter, so--hard as it is for me to believe--I think this is REALLY HAPPENING!  

I am still pretty much in shock, frankly.  A little over 2 years ago, on the evening of March 10, 2016, I begged God to give me a second chance at religious life--and as you probably know, He sent me here specifically... and to my amazement, here I am.  An unbelievable miracle, that I keep thanking Him for every day. 

On the evening of June 24th, I will begin my annual retreat; I registered for the Lace Retreat, during which I will be taught to make the traditional bobbin lace, which the Sisters used to teach to women back in the 1600s, so that they could sell it and earn money to help support their families.  I am really looking forward to learning this ancient craft, and of course also deepening my relationship with God during this special week of prayer and reflection.  

And, if you care to see what my future room looks like (it's right by the fire escape, which I love), here are a few pictures of that: 

...and these are the views outside my 2 windows....

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Applying to Enter the Novitiate


I absolutely can't believe that I have reached the point where it is appropriate for me to ask the President of the Sisters of St. Joseph if I may enter their Novitiate.  What am I saying?  I can't believe it's even possible that I could be considered to become a Canonical Sister!!!!

+ Lord, you have led me on such an amazing journey: I bless You, I thank You, I adore You!

I was awake for quite a while last night, and--as is my habit--I was praying during much of that time.  The result is that I reformulated my letter this morning (4th revision!), to make it much shorter, more direct, more succinct.  I sent the text to Sr. Betty, the Novice Mistress, and she told me to print it, sign it, and bring it!

So, here it is:  

June 2018

Dear Sr. Jean Rose:

I am writing to ask permission to enter the Novitiate of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia KS.  

In the course of my studies with the Sisters, I have learned that I already possess the charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph. Without recognizing it as such, my entire professional life was characterized by striving to live the Ignatian ministry of presence.  As I review my life, I notice how important it was for me--in every encounter with my staff and especially the students with whom I worked--to embody love for them. I believe that this was God’s gift to me, to have such a strong desire to be the incarnation of love for those I served, even before I knew Him. Nothing was more important to me, and it was what I stressed continually to my staff: “Yes, I expect you to be competent and efficient--but more than anything, to love them--each and every person who comes into the Library to seek your assistance.”

You already know the incredible story of how God led me directly to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, when I begged Him to give me another chance to have a consecrated life. I promised that night, that if He would give me what I considered to be  impossible, that I would do whatever He wanted--and ever since then, I have been working toward honoring that commitment.

To put it plainly, I do not want to face Him at the end of my life, and have to admit, “Yes, Lord: I mostly did try to do Your work in the world, but I know that I could have done more--I could have given you everything, my entire life devoted to Your service!  But instead, I chose to keep the beautiful house You gave me, keep the privileges, the comfort and the complete freedom to do exactly as I pleased, because it was easier and more pleasant to do what I wanted.”  I would not be surprised to hear Him say something like, “Then you already know what the consequences are: you chose not to be totally one with Me, and thus it will be, through all Eternity.” And I will have nothing to say in reply, because I know He is just.

Please allow me to do what my heart tells me I want to do, and must do.

Yours in Christ’s love,

Carol Goodson

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Acatamiento: The Experience of the Transcendent God


In his Spiritual Diary, St. Ignatius of Loyola used the word "acatamiento," which is virtually untranslatable to English, to express his "...heightened awareness of the transcendental personal presence of God. It is a felt mood of mind and heart...."*

Reflecting on the times in my own life when I have been aware of God's Presence to me, I realize how easy it is to forget such experiences as they recede into personal history. They are important, moments to be savored and treasured, and I don't want to forget them! To that end, I decided I would try, when I have time and am in the mood, to write about some of them. Therefore, this blog entry will periodically be revised as I add additional memories to it. Probably no one will ever read it but me, but that's OK!
1. September 11, 1981: God comes to me on the bus! When I first moved to Georgia in 1980, I came with a friend/roommate, who, in addition to being an alcoholic, was a very troubled person in general.  I was pretty troubled myself at that time: I had gotten divorced in November 1977 after a very short and unhappy marriage, and following my bitter experience with marriage, I had arbitrarily decided to try out being a lesbian, since I felt like I didn't want to be around men again, ever!  Amazing as this sounds, at that time I honestly believed that you could actually choose your sexuality, and I decided I would be gay! So, after I got divorced, Marie (she is dead now, so I will call her by her real name) had become my lesbian lover, and my "project," as I determined that I would try to fix her life and turn her into a happier, more confident and functional person. 

I now see how controlling and manipulative this was, but whenever Marie wanted to do anything that seemed to me to be a positive move, I encouraged her in it.  For example, she expressed interest in getting a Master's degree, but believed that she was not smart enough to do it. I, however, knew that anyone with normal intelligence and determination could get a Master's degree, and in order to make this happen for her, I signed up to take the first course in her program too, in order to ease her into it by going with her and doing the same work. When she announced that she wanted to stop smoking, I agreed to stop smoking too, because I knew that she would never be able to do it if she had to live with a smoker.  Then, when she said she wanted to move to Georgia (where my parents had recently relocated), I agreed to that too--my secret motive being getting her away from her heavy-drinking friends and the gay bar scene in St. Louis. 

Once we moved, she immediately got a teaching job, but in a fundamentalist Christian school.  During the first or second week she was there, one of her students very aggressively recruited her to come to church with her. She was quite incensed, and told the student that she was Catholic.  She really wasn't; although she had been raised Catholic, she had not actually practiced her Faith for many years.  But when she came home that night and told me about this, to my great surprise, she said she wanted to go back to the Catholic Church. 

As usual, I immediately agreed to accompany her, because--despite being an atheist myself--I had the culturally conditioned assumption that going to church was "a good thing," the sort of activity that normal adults participated in.  It was only later that night, that I suddenly realized that this was something I just didn't think I could stomach.  Being a non-believer, the thought of having to attend church and pretend to a belief I did not have, seemed intolerable to me.  I did not know what to do, and I definitely did not want to disappoint her by telling her that I just couldn't do this... but I had one idea.  That night, and the following night, right before going to sleep, I said, "God, if You are really there, make me believe in You, because I don't." That was the extent of my effort: two snarky attempts, and I stopped.

A couple days after this, my boss sent me to the Georgia State University Bookstore to meet with one of their Book Buyers, who had promised to donate some books to the library where I was then working.  I arrived early, and while waiting for the Buyer to appear, I wandered around the store, enjoying the experience of being in a college bookstore again after so many years.  I found myself near the Religion Section, and as I looked over the titles, I laughed to see all the miscellaneous stuff that such bookstores typically classify as "Religion."  I noticed one book by an author I recognized, Thomas Merton. I had read his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, when I was in high school, and had liked it.  Impulsively, I bought the book, The Ascent to Truth, which is about St. John of the Cross.

I put the book in my purse and forgot about it until I was on the bus riding home from work that night.  Bored, I took it out and started reading it.  Although I still have this book, I have never been able to identify the sentence I read--but I read something, and all of a sudden, there was this amazing sensation of warmth that came over me, starting at my head and flowing down to my toes.  I can't explain it, but I realized I was in the presence of God, and in one second, I changed from a non-believer into a believer.

Fortunately, I was near my stop, because I was about to fall apart... I stumbled off the bus to my car, threw myself into the driver's seat, and began to sob uncontrollably with pure JOY;  I knew that I had finally found what I had been seeking, without knowing it--all at once, everything in my life seemed to make sense, and I was aware of being completely happy for the first time ever.  When I finally composed myself, I started the car and went home.  The experience was too profound to share with anyone, but I told Marie that I would call the local Catholic Church and request to begin instructions to enter the Church, which I did the next day.

I met with Fr. Frederick Flaherty, M.S., the pastor, the following week. RCIA barely existed back then, and this was a small parish, so he taught me one-on-one.  I soaked up everything I learned like a greedy sponge:  I loved EVERYTHING about the Catholic Faith, and I begged him to move up my First Communion and Confirmation, because I wanted to receive the Eucharist desperately.  He did escalate it slightly, and I was received into the Church on December 5, 1981.

I will reserve for the next story, another miracle God gave me in answer to prayer, which released me from my immoral relationship, which, of course, I had to leave behind when I accepted the truths of Catholicism. It's so amazing, though, to contemplate the fact that He was able to use an objectively sinful relationship to bring me to Him!  It is so absolutely true that He can use anything at all for the good of those who love Him.

2.  January 1982: God sends me a priest

Marie and I started attending Mass weekly once I began instructions.  We also found a group for gay Catholics called Dignity, which met in Atlanta, and we frequently attended their meetings. The priest who was leading that group, Fr. Henry Gracz, told me that it was OK to be actively gay and Catholic, and since I was quite naive at that time, I believed him--a priest would never tell you anything that wasn't true, right?

Thus, when it was time to make my General Confession prior to being received as a Catholic, I did not include any mention of my relationship to Fr. Flaherty.  However, once I actually became a Catholic, I started to question the validity of what Fr. Gracz had told me.  I had just finished a pretty comprehensive course on Church teachings, and I knew what was taught about sexual expression outside of marriage.  As time went on, I began to feel more and more uncomfortable, and began to avoid sex with Marie, although--since it was actually pretty rare--she didn't seem to notice.  However, I could not bear to admit to Fr. Flaherty that I had not been totally honest with him, because we had started to become close friends and I valued the relationship I had with him very much.

The same week I was received into the Church, I had begun attending Daily Mass at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Atlanta, which was right down the street from where I worked.  I also became very devoted to prayer, and since I was able to find an isolated place to go in my workplace, I quickly got into the habit of using most of my lunch hour for spiritual reading and prayer.  Anyway, about a month after I had become Catholic, early in January 1982, I began praying that God would send me a priest I did not know, so I could confess my sin, be absolved, and end the physical part of my relationship with Marie.  By that time, I had begun to accept the fact that I was not gay anyway, and although I felt I really did love her, I was strongly driven to conform completely to Church teaching.

After about a week of making this special request to God, Atlanta was hit with an historic blizzard on January 12, 1982. Although our office closed early that day, it was not early enough, and I stood at my usual bus stop for about two hours before the MARTA buses finally stopped running altogether.  My car was parked far away in College Park, and I had no way to get home.  Fortunately, anticipating the predicted weather, I had dressed very warmly--however, I had no idea what to do. I wandered around the streets of downtown Atlanta with a lot of other bewildered people for hours, each of us asking others what to do, but no one had any answers.  I remember going to an ATM and getting some cash out, thinking that I might end up in a hotel, although I knew I couldn't afford it.  There was a Kroger store downtown at that time, and I bought a loaf of bread and some bologna!

Finally, I remembered the Central Presbyterian Night Shelter for the homeless, which was only a few blocks from where I worked.  I had been planning to volunteer there, but had not yet gotten around to it.  I arrived just in time to be ushered in, along with a big line of homeless men waiting to spend the night there.  As soon as I got inside, the handful of volunteers who'd made it that night recognized that I, wearing my London Fog raincoat, was not a homeless person!  Since most of the scheduled staff had not been able to get there because of the weather, they asked me to help make sandwiches and get the men settled for the night. I gave them my bread and bologna, and got started. The person in charge introduced himself as Father North--and I realized immediately that here was the priest I had asked God to send me!  When I got a chance, I quietly told him that I was a Catholic, and would he mind hearing my Confession later that night, when things quieted down. About 2:00am, he invited me to sit with him, I confessed and he absolved me--although he also said that it wasn't a huge sin to be gay and Catholic!

I was absolutely in a state of profound joy--euphoria, really--having this heavy burden on my conscience lifted, and I spent the rest of the night talking to the men who couldn't sleep. All of us had to clear out at dawn, and I will never forget how I felt coming out into the bright sunlight on all that ice and snow, feeling as though I was deeply changed, and that life would never be the same again.

The buses had started running again, and I quickly got on one. It was amazing to see thousands of cars abandoned all along the interstate from the night before.  Although my car was covered when I got to the Park 'n Ride, I was able to clear it off and get it started, and I made it home very slowly, without incident.  I was floating on a cloud, but of course I could not tell Marie what had just happened to me.  It was not very long after that, perhaps a month or so, when I began to have the first thoughts that perhaps--unbelievable as it seemed--I might possibly have a vocation to religious life.

*Acatamiento, Ignatian reverence in history and contemporary cultureby O'Neill, Charles Edwards.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

My Letter Requesting Permission to Become a Novice


Well, the "moment of truth" is getting closer... I was told that I should submit a letter sometime in April to ask to be admitted to the Novitiate. Here is the letter I have drafted, but I have asked a few people I trust to read it to make suggestions for improvement. If you have any, I'd love to hear them!

I am writing to ask permission to enter the Novitiate of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia KS.

In the course of the studies in which I have participated during the past year and a half, I have learned that--without knowing it--I truly believe I already possess the charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph, in that my entire professional life was imbued with the Ignatian ministry of presence. This observation came as quite a surprise to me, as I reviewed my life and noticed how important it was for me--in every encounter with my staff and especially the students with whom I worked--to embody love for them: I was actually consciously aware of my desire to do this every time I stepped out of my office. There was a specific incident I could describe for you, if you ever want to hear it--which occurred during my first week in Library School--that sparked this deep commitment, but I now believe also that this was God’s grace, His gift to me, to have such a strong desire to be the incarnation of love for those I served. Nothing was more important to me, and it was what I stressed continually to my staff: “Yes, I want you to be competent and efficient--but more than anything, love them, each and every person who comes into the Library to seek your assistance.” I think they probably got tired of hearing it, because I talked about it incessantly!

As you know, I was formerly a Dominican Sister with the St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville TN: I made my First Profession of Vows in August 1987. I had no problems living religious life--in fact, I loved it--however, over the course of the years leading up to Final Vows, I gradually became aware of the fact that I was not able to be fully who I am as a member of that Community. As I had become more spiritually and emotionally mature, I sensed that I was playing a role as I tried to fit into their ethos. I very reluctantly and painfully reached the conclusion that I would not be acting with integrity if I remained among them: my interpretation of this, after much prayer, was that although I was convinced that it was God’s Will for me to be a Sister, it was not His Will for me to be a Nashville Dominican. Therefore, I asked to be released from my Temporary Vows and left of my own free choice in the Spring of 1990.

I was in a state of shock and bewilderment when I got home--and I had no plan for how to continue my life. In retrospect, I realize that I should have sought the counsel of my beloved friend, Fr. Frederick Flaherty, M.S., who had received me into the Church in 1981 and become my trusted spiritual mentor. However, by this time he had been transferred by his Order to a parish in North Carolina, and I was, to be quite honest, ashamed to face him, to disappoint him, after what I viewed as a great failure. I was 43 years old, and convinced that there was no chance any other Community would accept me at that advanced age, and so I decided there was nothing else I could do but resume my previous career as a professional librarian.

The next 25 years were horrible, as I struggled with deep depression. On the surface, I appeared to be fine, and no one except my doctors--who tried every possible medication to mitigate my condition--knew what was really going on with me. I felt terribly hurt, and blamed God for not protecting me from making such a mistake; I felt as though He had rejected me and refused my offer to give my life to Him. I was very bitter, and although I never intended to do so, I gradually drifted away from the practice of my Faith; I was too embarrassed to return to my old parish, and could not find another where I felt at home. I was used to the quiet and austerity of convent life, and I just couldn’t seem to adjust.

Deep down, though, I always knew that I would return to the Church someday, and “someday” arrived after I retired in September 2015, and at last was released from the stress of the heavy responsibilities of my job--and had the time and interior space to reflect on what had happened to me. Very timidly, I tried to pray again, and once I did, God revealed to me very quickly that what I had blamed Him for--the failure of my vocation--was actually my fault, not His. In my passionate desire to give my life to Him, I had never taken time to discern where I really belonged, in fact--once I thought about it--I realized that I had never even asked Him where I should go--I just went! He had not rejected me at all! Once I knew that, I couldn’t wait to come back, and I did so on November 18, 2015.

During my lengthy Confession that night, as I was explaining to Fr. Rafael Carballo where I had been for the last 25 years, he made the offhand remark that he believed I had made a mistake in not trying again to re-enter religious life after I left the Dominicans. I remember telling him that he was wrong, that he did not realize how rigid women’s Orders are, that they don’t want anyone over 35, and I was sure I was correct about that. But his comment stayed in my mind, and over the next few months, as I thought about it, I wondered if he could possibly be right: was it true that I had made a terrible mistake, and that I should have found another Community and fulfilled the vocation Fr. Flaherty and I knew I had?

Increasingly, I began to believe that Fr. Rafael was right, and once I recognized that, I began to suffer terribly. For quite awhile, I tried to convince myself that this was just the Cross I had to bear, and that--after all--I wouldn’t live that much longer anyway. I struggled to accept and endure it, but the pain kept getting worse and worse. Finally, on the night of March 10, 2016, I was alone in my room, and I said to God--practically screamed at Him, actually--”Lord! You know how miserable I am! I am going to ask You for something impossible! IMPOSSIBLE, I know!!!! But if there is any way I could still have a consecrated life--even now--show me, and I will do whatever You want.”

Two nights later, March 12, 2016, I went to the Vigil Mass on Saturday night as I was in the habit of doing. At that time, I always preferred to sit near the back, but on that night, after I had been seated in my usual spot, praying and waiting for Mass to start, I had the sudden impulse, about 5 minutes before Mass, to get up and move up about 5 or 6 rows. I have no idea why I did that, nor had I ever done anything like that before. But during the Consecration, as I was kneeling, I looked down, and on the seat of the pew directly in front of me was a white piece of paper, with the words SISTERS OF ST. JOSEPH OF CONCORDIA, KS at the top of the page. It was turned directly toward me: not upside down, not sideways--right in front of me--and although I realized I should not be doing this during the Consecration, I read what was written on the page, which appeared to be a speech about the Congregation. I was stunned, and I thought, “can it be? Is it possible that this is God’s answer to my prayer?”

I made a point of memorizing the name of the Order, and as soon as I got home, I looked it up on the Internet and found your website. As I explored it, I saw the description of the agrégée membership, and I remember thinking, “Wow, I could actually do that!” --because at the time, I believed I could not leave my parents. I also discovered that one of your Vocation Directors was in Georgia--Sr. Dian, of course. I emailed her at once, and I decided to include a link to a blog I have been writing for several years, My Catholic Journey. I wanted her to know my “story,” because I am definitely a reformed sinner, and I thought, “They will have to know this sooner or later, so I might as well be upfront about it right now.”

To my amazement, she emailed me back about an hour later, and asked if I could come to Cartersville the following Wednesday to meet her for lunch, which I did. The minute I met her, I felt an instant rapport. We had a wonderful lunch, and remarkably (to me), despite my age, she was very encouraging, and asked if I could come to visit in June, during the Annual Assembly. At first I said “no,” because I didn’t believe I could leave my parents alone that long, and it had been a long time since I had travelled anywhere. She persisted, however, and I said I would try--and indeed, I did come.

I was smitten by the Sisters, it was love at first sight. What convinced me that this was where I belong, was an event I was allowed to attend, during which the outgoing members of the Leadership Team were being honored. Many Sisters went up to speak in glowing terms about the work of the LT members, and it was obvious to me that they are women deeply devoted to Christ. All I could think--and all I still think--is that “I want to be with people like this! I could become a better follower of Jesus myself, by living with these people.” I have visited several times since, and my subsequent visits only made me more certain.

In addition, I should say this: although my parents are advanced in years, they are in good health and are financially secure. I would prefer that they move into assisted living, but it is their choice to remain in their home with their numerous cats. My brother, who lives in Atlanta, is very well-off, and I am sure that he will see to their future needs, and that they will want for nothing, so I am comfortable leaving them on their own.

Finally: I am convinced that God has given me a second chance to do what I was meant to do, and that He led me directly to you. Therefore I am asking that I be permitted to prepare to become a canonically vowed member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Particularity and Election


I listened to a podcast recently which I found out about quite accidentally, because someone posted a link to it on Facebook:

... and although I didn't especially care for the tone of these guys (seminarians who sound like frat boys), it was so helpful to me.

I have had this years-long guilt complex about the fact that God seems to have singled me out for special blessings... when I review my life, it appears to me as though He relentlessly pursued me since childhood--while I resisted and ignored Him for years--and that miraculously, He gave me this amazing gift of loving Him passionately--an overwhelming, irresistible desire to give my life totally to Him .... ALL THAT, in spite of the fact that I am so COMPLETELY UNDESERVING of it, completely unworthy of being loved so much!

This podcast really answered that for me, because they explained the idea of particularity and election--that God loves each person in a special way, and gives different graces to different people: He love us as individuals, not just one big group--just as we humans love some people differently than we do others.  It made so much sense, and finally put to rest my perpetual uneasiness about the apparent unfairness of Him choosing ME to receive such incredible gifts... and moreover, that I really AM lovable, in my own unique, quirky, messed up, sinful way!

So: it's OK for me to enjoy His gift, revel in it, reciprocate it... because it's a complete gift He decided--for some unfathomable reason--to give to ME. I know I am not explaining this very well... I hope it makes some sense.

Needless to say, afterwards I spent a glorious--albeit sleepless--night, in joyful communion with Him. I can just love Jesus now, with all that incredible passion that's in my heart, and with no guilt about how wonderfully glorious it is to be loved so much back!