Thursday, March 8, 2018

God's Providence

+ JMJ +

I am marveling tonight at the intricacy of God's plans, and how long they can take to come to fruition... yet, they inevitably do.

This afternoon, my father and I visited a nearby assisted living facility, because I think (and he agrees) that it's time for him and my mother to move to such a place because of the care they now need.

While our host at the center was chatting with us, learning more about my father, his life, his situation, she asked him how he happened to move to Carrollton.

Although they never knew this, their move to Carrollton has for years been a sore subject for me, because they moved here without consulting me, effectively trapping me in a job which I did not intend to keep for more than about 5 years.  I was then in the midst of a conflict with my supervisor (who was eventually fired), and I was planning to move on as soon as I found another suitable position.  Not only that, but I have never liked the culture of the South, and really wanted to return to the North or Midwest.

After they relocated here, it took me years and years to work through my resentment and frustration with being stuck here--and I suppose, to a degree, I never really got over being annoyed that I felt forced to stay, since they moved to this town in order to be closer to me. 

Today's meeting at the assisted living facility brought all those angry feelings back, but as I was musing on this tonight, it suddenly occurred to me that had I not stayed here, the wonderful thing that has happened to me--God's great gift to me, His miracle: another chance to have a consecrated life--would not have happened!

I am on the verge (I think so!) of being able to realize my desire to become a Sister again as a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia Kansas.  But, the proximate cause of this incredible development, was Fr. Rafael's "chance" remark in the Confessional 2 1/2 years ago, that he believed I had made a mistake in not trying to re-enter religious life after I left the Dominican Order in 1990.  And, again, if I had not been right here--in Carrollton, Georgia--I would not have seen, on that amazing night of March 12, 2016, the text of Sr. Crystal's speech about the Community which she planned to give for National Sisters' Week at the end of Mass that evening, and had left on the pew where she was seated in front of me.  At that time, I did not know her and had never even heard of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia Kansas! 

Honestly, I am in a state of shock right now, thinking about the fact that if I had gotten my way, and been able to move, none of what is happening now would have happened!  God planned this for me... He planned it for me--and what I perceived at that time, some 25 years ago, to be an annoying event which kept me from doing what I wanted to do, actually has turned out to be the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me.  God willing, I will enter the Novitiate of the Sisters of St. Joseph this coming Fall.  Wow. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

State of the Heart


One of the things I have learned since I began my relationship with the Sisters of St. Joseph, is that I lack awareness/memory of what God is doing in my life.   I remember the big things, the events that seem like miracles--but I have always wandered through life focused on trivial details, and seldom noticing the subtle things that God does, times He is present and active within and around me.

A unique prayer in which all Sisters of St. Joseph participate, initiated by our Founder, Fr. Jean Pierre M├ędaille, S.J., is called State of the Heart.  This activity is commonly done almost any time the Sisters gather as a group, and the purpose of it is to share among themselves... or dare I say, "ourselves," the movements of God which we have recently observed as we live out our ministries or other daily pursuits.  The format of State of the Heart is this: 

  • First, we are invited to remember the works of zeal in which we have been engaged recently. Works of zeal are any encounter or experience or event of our lives in relation to any creature or to ourselves. Quite simply, we ask: What are all of the things, big and little, that have occurred in my life since last I sat down to remember? Choose one or several incidents and reconstruct them according to time, place, persons, my actions, outcomes and how I felt at the time. 

  • Second, we consider what we have remembered and ask ourselves questions similar to the following: How does this experience remind me of other events in my life? How does it mirror a scripture or a maxim? Is there a pattern or a theme in my life that this event relates to? How am I feeling as I remember it? 

  • Last of all, we listen for movements within: What is moving in me now? Am I being drawn to something deeper? To gratitude? To action? What inclinations or desires do I sense within? What is happening within me? In this way, I feel and interpret what I have contemplated.

  • I now tell my story of the works of zeal and share my reflection with the gathered community. Each person’s sharing is received reverently, without critique, judgment, or comment. 

In order to do this prayer, it is crucial to be able to recall those times when God was acting and you knew it--and my problem is that I usually can't remember.  I read this recently in a book on prayer: 

Awareness is the beginning, middle and end of every stream of spirituality: listen, wake up, pay attention. 

...and that is precisely what I don't do, but want to learn how to do.  My hope is that one of the things I will gain from living with the Sisters is the habit of being alert and conscious of God acting in my life.  I realized recently that the main thing I want in life now, the only thing I really want, is to get closer to God, to know Him better--and I think that by joining the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, I will do that. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Getting Beyond the Fear and the Doubt


Despite hours and hours of reflection and prayer, I am still very torn emotionally about the decision that is before me... tortured, actually... but just now, I asked God--not to give me a sign--but to give me some clarity, to help me see this from another perspective, to get beyond the pain of giving up so much, and the fear that I am hurting others unnecessarily or too much... and He just did...

I have to be somewhere where I can make a difference... and I am not in such a place now.  That has been a lifelong obsession with me: it was the reason I left the University of Buffalo at the beginning of my career and went to work in a public library... I NEED to be where what I do matters, changes people's lives... and I am not there now.  Since I retired, I am living a mediocre life that is very comfortable, period.

There are other people who can provide my parents with the kind of care they need, it doesn't require ME--it doesn't require my talents, and what I have in my heart and soul, the gifts that God gave me... there are other people who can love my cats--better than I do, actually--I don't give them the amount of attention they want, because my mind is usually elsewhere.  As a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, I would be in a position to do work that is important in the world, work that furthers God's Plan for this world, and doing that is at the core of my identity as a Christian in the world.  I truly believe that.  And I need that.  I hope this means that I am finally past the conflict and the doubt.  +

Saturday, January 13, 2018

My Vocation Crisis


The other night, I awoke in the middle of the night to a terrible temptation against my vocation, the first one I have ever had:  all of a sudden, I said to myself, "Am I crazy???  Why would I want to totally disrupt my nice life right now... give up all my freedom, my beautiful house, my sweet cats, my friends and comfortable routines, a place I feel completely at home?  Right now, I have it made: I am accountable to no one.  I can eat and drink what I want, sleep and rise when I want, go where I want and when I want, buy just about anything I want... Why on earth should I give all up that for the uncertainty and the restrictions that will come if I join the Sisters of St. Joseph?  I am deliberately choosing a life which will be so much harder than the life I have now: this is an INSANE idea!!!!"

Doing this now, I would be giving up even more than I did when I went to the convent the first time, plus I am proposing to do it in my 70s, when normal people are completely settled and content.  Is this the stupidest move ever, or what?

Of course, I prayed, begging God to relieve me of this horrible doubt... and after a while, He brought back to my mind that time when I first knew that He was calling me, about 35 years ago.  It was when I heard the Gospel--probably at Daily Mass--of the Rich Young Man.  I remember so vividly how I felt when I heard Jesus say to me: "Sell all you have, give to the poor, and come follow Me." I was filled with an indescribable joy and excitement, and I realized at that moment, "YES!  That is exactly what I want to do, what I NEED to do:  and I will never be happy in life if I don't do it.  It's what I was born to do:  I can look back on my entire life, and see now how God was leading me toward that from childhood.  

And in addition, how can I possibly overlook the fact that when I begged God, on the night of March 10, 2016--because I was so miserable about not having fulfilled the vocation I know He gave me--to show me how I could still have a consecrated life, two days later, He showed me exactly where to go?  If that isn't an indication of His Will for me, I don't know what would be.

FINALLY I have found the "one thing necessary" so I am moving forward and never looking back again. 

I have calmed down since this happened, and I can visualize that although there will undoubtedly be a bit of a wrench leaving all this, I can also easily imagine how happy I will be living in Concordia with the Community I have already come to love so much.  Yes, I belong there.  I know I do.  +

Sunday, November 19, 2017

"...we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him..."


"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."  
Romans 8:28

This past Spring, I had a fight with Fr. Mario--and although I have begged him to forgive me, he either could not, or would not--and it has been miserable to be there ever since, because he is cold and distant all the time.  He warned me that he would be, but I truly believed that because he is a priest, he would eventually forgive me--but he hasn't.  I pray for him a lot, because I believe that the kind of pride he has, is deadly to the soul.  Perhaps because of his cultural background, he is obsessed with receiving respect, but that is not how Jesus wants His priests to be, not how He wants any of us to be:  we must be meek and humble, like Him. 

Today, however, I realized that although I have been suffering for months because of this, God actually used my fight with Fr. Mario to get me to leave Our Lady of Perpetual Help!  There is so much fervor and devotion in the congregation at St. Theresa's--it's completely different from the congregation at OLPH, which feels very lukewarm in comparison--and I love the diversity at St. Theresa's!  

They say the Rosary before Mass.  People don't come in and chat in the pews before Mass starts--it's quiet and people are praying!  Fr. Joe is such a good preacher:  his homily this morning was exactly what I needed to hear.. he talked about how he resisted his vocation, and lately I have been feeling great fear about disrupting my life so much.  I have lived in Carrollton for so long, I am very settled here.

In order to become a Sister, I have to leave my beloved friends here.  I have to clean out and sell two, maybe three houses--one of which I just bought and really love.  I have to find homes for a bunch of cats.  I have to arrange for care for my parents.  I have to MOVE TO KANSAS! 

I have secretly been feeling like maybe it's TOO HARD, and I just can't do it!  But after what Father Joe said today, I know I can do it, I know I must do it, and I know that God will help me do it.  So, Father Mario really did me a favor by chasing me out of his parish!  I now see that being forced to leave OLPH is really God's blessing for me! 

Friday, September 8, 2017

From Among All Women


Perhaps it is because I am thinking about the Birth of Mary, which is celebrated in the Liturgy today... but for some reason, I cannot stop thinking about and rejoicing in the unbelievable way in which God chose me, and how He has pursued me for my entire life.

Me.  Totally ordinary and undeserving.  He loved me and chose me for Himself, for no humanly discernible reason.  There are a million things wrong with me: I am selfish, lazy, irritable, proud, too fat, not pretty... and yet, He chose me!

One of my earliest childhood memories is seeing the Rosary given to my mother by her grandmother, hanging from the mirror on the dresser in her bedroom.  Whenever I was in there, I looked at it longingly.  If there was no one around, I would touch it, because there was something about it that fascinated and attracted me.

When I was a little girl, I used to dress up like a nun, and pretend I was one.  I saved up my allowance until I had enough money to buy my own Rosary and a Crucifix at the local dimestore, hiding it carefully in my room so no one would know.  When I was alone, I propped the Crucifix up on my dresser and knelt in front of it, not really knowing what I was doing.  I took my Rosary to bed with me at night, even though I did not know how to pray with it.   At school, I eagerly eavesdropped during lunch on the conversations of the Catholic kids, as they talked about their preparations for Confirmation. and which Saint's name they were going to choose.

Every time there was a movie on TV about priests or nuns, I watched it, making sure not to let anyone see how interested and moved I was. I'm sure I've seen Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary's at least a dozen times each! 

During my own preparation for Confirmation in the Lutheran Church, which our family attended for a few years, God sent His Holy Spirit to show me, when our pastor was trying to prove to us that the Lutheran Church was the One, True, Church--that he was wrong!  --and I resolved at that moment, that someday, I would be Catholic.  And although I did not have the nerve to tell anyone that I did not want to be confirmed as a Lutheran, during the ceremony I kept my fingers crossed behind my back, to signify to God that I knew I was lying, and did not intend to keep the promises I was making that night.

When I walked from my apartment to the campus as a University student, I passed a Catholic Church on the way, and longed to go in, but did not dare.  Although I professed to be an atheist at that time, there was a mysterious attraction I could not understand.

Despite my youthful intention to become a Catholic, as I got older and distracted by college and starting a career, I forgot and did nothing about it for many years--until I happened to be living with a woman who was a lapsed Catholic, and who decided she wanted to return to the Church.  Long story there, but because of that "chance" connection, I finally ended up converting at the age of 34.  Soon after that, I recognized that I was so drawn by love of Christ, that I wanted and needed to give my life to Him completely, so I became a Sister.

I left the convent before taking Final Vows, because I knew the place I had chosen was not really the place I was meant to be--and I made the assumption that it was too late for me to try to live out the vocation I knew I had, because I was too old.   However,  25 years later, when I finally returned to the Faith from which I had drifted away, God took me in His arms again, and suggested to me--through the words of a priest--that I had made a mistake!

A few months after that, in a miraculous answer to a prayer made in the midst of complete despair and anguish, He showed me how I could become a Sister again--to finally, at long last, give Him my life totally, just as He wanted and had invited me to do so many years before.

It has been all His doing, from start to finish.  I have done nothing, barely even responded to the incredible Love He has showered on me my entire life.  I don't deserve it, I know that.  I don't understand it, I know that too.  But all I want is to follow Him completely, give Him my heart and everything I have completely, and never stray from Him again.  My gratitude is indescribable.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Suffering With the Poor

I had never had the nerve to try to learn exactly how Crucifixion kills until recently.  It is even worse than I thought. I imagined myself with Mary at the foot of the Cross, wanting to leave so that I did not have to endure the pain and horror of watching, but unable to go because I could not leave Him, either...and I wept, wishing I could love Him as much as He loves me.

Being with our clients in St. Vincent de Paul is much the same...When we suffer with the people whom God sends to SVDP, we are standing at the foot of the Cross suffering with Jesus, witnessing His suffering, and not turning away--because we don't want to leave Him alone. This is how we can honor Him, this is how we can love Him--by staying there, even though we don't want to.

He would still do it: He would still suffer and die for us, whether we stayed or not--because He loves us THAT much! ... but in some mystical way, we are sharing in His suffering by staying, by going to these people's homes, by hearing what they have to say, by praying with them, and by helping them as best we can-- even though it's never enough.