18 May 2019

To my graduating class at TAC

Dear TAC Class of 2021,

     We’ve been through a lot together. Freshman year we had two different campus evacuations, not to mention all of the changes that came with opening the Northfield campus. Sophomore year we had, well, sophomore year, and an extra-big freshman class under us, and many good people who left our class for different reasons.

     I can honestly say that for almost two years, I never thought I would be one of the ones to leave our class. Not until Easter break did it even become a possibility. It is bittersweet to be leaving all of you, who are wonderful people and have taught me so much. And as sudden as my decision was, it was partly my fault; I’d been telling God this whole year that I was okay with leaving school if that was what He wanted. He took me seriously. I guess that’s how God works. If you give Him everything, He takes everything. I won’t pretend that there wasn’t a small part of me inside that regretted telling Him I wasn’t attached to getting a degree. But it’s better this way. Now I can pray for all of you as you finish junior and senior year and go out into the world!

     Thinking about our class, as much of a challenge as we’ve been to ourselves and the other classes, we are a good group of kids. I will miss each and every one of you. Knowing there are many of you I’ll never see again is hard, especially when I remember the good times we had inside and outside of class. But that’s the amazing thing about offering my life to God in prayer and penance: the work I’ll be doing isn’t limited by time and space the way we ourselves are. So I can be one of you spiritually, if not physically.

     To my freshman and sophomore sections and seminars, you guys are amazing and have such beautiful souls. The relationships we can develop with one another through class discussion are really unique. Thank you all for sharing some of yourselves with me by being a part of my intellectual formation. You have touched my life in a way that I probably don’t even realize yet. Thank you for your patience and charity toward me during our archeological digs for the Truth. If I am any good at living in community as a nun, it will be in large part due to your examples of love for God and neighbor.

     To those I never had in class, I’m sorry I missed the opportunity to learn with you and from you. But thank you for our conversations outside of class, many of which were equally as educational for me. I hope I made a small difference in your lives, just as I hope my life from here on out can affect yours for the better.

     All of you, Class of 2021, are beautiful people so full of love and life and an energy I always admired. There is so much love for one another within our class. I know that all of you will go on to do amazing things after TAC. You can’t be such a dynamic and enthusiastic group for nothing! You give me confidence that our generation really can change the world. I know that you will.

     It has been an honor to be a member of this class. I actually almost graduated high school a year early and came to TAC a year early, before deciding to wait. I think that was because God wanted me to be with you. Looking back, it seems indubitable that I came to TAC specifically to find my vocation. And God knew what He was doing, putting me into a group of people like you! Each of you can be confident that you helped me discover God’s will for my life, in some small way at least. I hope that I have done the same for you, in some small way at least. For me, college was more a “school of the Lord’s service” than a place for secondary education. The maturity, emotional and spiritual, that I have gained here are doubtless what allowed me to respond to God’s call. His ways truly are mysterious, and truly are wonderful.

     Best of luck for your junior and senior years. I will be praying for you all, and I know you will be successful in whatever you end up doing. Please pray for me as well. May we meet again in Heaven.


16 May 2019

A Love Story

     Anyone who knows me knows uncertainty scares me. I'm terrible at making decisions and I'm afraid of commitment for the most part. So how am I ever going to find a religious community to join, let alone actually join one?
     Well, God took care of that for me a long time ago, without my realizing it.
     And now here I am, preparing to enter the Norbertine order as a Canoness of the Bethlehem Priory of St. Joseph. Not only joining a convent, but leaving college to do so. That's a pretty drastic decision. But really, it wasn't my decision. It was God's decision, and He made it a long time ago. He just showed it to me over Easter.

     I feel as though my life has always been a puzzle, with pieces strewn here and there, and I didn't know they were connected or even that there was a puzzle. But God knew, and he put all the pieces in front of me. The solution was right there, but it took one intense Triduum and a few nuns to show me how to solve it. And now it all makes sense, and I am amazed I didn't see it before; but maybe I wasn't meant to see it before.
     The Norbertine Order fits my personality perfectly. I would say that it's like God took my personality and interests and made a religious order out of them, but it's more the other way around: He took an order and made a person to belong to it. Now I know why I never felt at home in other orders: there was still one out there for me! I never imagined it would be this, well, easy to join a convent. They say that you can be pretty confident you're doing God's will when you start doing it and obstacles just kind of...melt away. I've definitely experienced that so far. For example, my student debt to pay off before entering was thousands of dollars less than I expected it to be. Thank you, TAC financial aid! Other such small things have occurred which indicate, it seems to me, that I'm on the right track.
     Obviously, it's going to be difficult in a lot of ways. One of the few disadvantages of a large family is I'm leaving a lot behind when I leave the world! I will never be around to watch my nieces and nephews grow up and I'll never go to the weddings of the rest of my siblings. But at the same time, what a deep and profound spiritual bond I can have with my family members and friends, as I give up my whole life in prayer and penance for them and for the world! I will be like their full-time spiritual tech support. Frankly, I will be a lot more useful to them than in any other circumstance.
     This whole year leading up to the discovery of my vocation has been a lesson in love. Freshman year for me was all about learning to trust God, and in a similar way the theme of sophomore year was learning to love. Love God, love other people, love myself, love life and the joys and sufferings that come with it. Learning to love every minute He gives me and live it to the fullest. It is through love that we have life and "have it abundantly".
     Learning to love will be a slow process for me. It's a good thing you don't have to already be holy to enter a convent! I have so much to learn from my Sisters, and they - God bless them - will have a lot to put up with from me. One of the sisters told me their community would be a challenge for me, but I wonder if I might end up as more of a challenge for them! Praise God for His mercy in giving us the grace to live out our vocation well; otherwise, I think it would be next to impossible.
     I am terrified yet excited to begin this new adventure. It takes a lot of faith going into something with so many unknowns, but God has gotten me this far and if I just follow, He'll lead me where I need to go. Prayers for me during my preparation and entrance would be greatly appreciated. Saying good-bye to the world is hard, and saying hello to religious life will probably be just as hard, but it will be worth it! After all, the Lord tells us to leave our families and everything behind to follow Him. It's easier said than done, but with the help of a multitude of prayers and plenty of grace from God, I know I can do it.

14 May 2019

Why I love the traditional Mass

     Growing up, my family went to Mass in the Extraordinary Form and in the Novus Ordo just about equally often. I am very appreciative of this "bi-ritual" upbringing, because it has prevented me from thinking that either form of the Mass is the only acceptable one and that those who go to the other are somehow wrong. As time went on, we got into doing music for one of our parishes, and the Latin Mass community in our diocese dwindled due to a shortage of priests, so my family became more exclusively Novus Ordo. In high school, we moved even farther away from access to a regular Latin Mass, so the option as good as disappeared from my life. At the same time, I was growing to love the Latin Mass more and more.
     My appreciation for traditional Catholicism can, in large part, be credited to a good foundation of education in sacred music, provided by my parents and music teachers. Even as a baby, my mother tells me she used to sing me to sleep with the Salve Regina chant, and my father has been putting on good baroque and classical music every Sunday morning for as long as I can remember. That kind of environmental formation gave me a preference for Gregorian chant and ancient polyphony over more modern sacred music. I used to listen to Gregorian chant whenever I was upset because it calmed me down better than anything else. With this and continuous music lessons from first grade until the end of high school, as well as helping with music ministry in countless circumstances, I became more and more disenchanted with modern church music, and wondered why it seemed to have pride of place over the ancient melodies of the Church.
     In spring of my senior year in high school, I spent a week with the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. These nuns are exclusively Extraordinary Form, so I got to reconnect with my roots during my stay there. I think it was during this visit that I had the realization that every saint I knew who died before the 1960's (which is the vast majority of them) had attended the Traditional Latin Mass, and those who had lived monastic life had prayed the Office in the Extraordinary Form. Knowing that, and praying the Mass and the Office in the same way they had centuries before, made me feel akin to my favorite saints in a new way. This, I realized, was the life of the universal Church up until very recently, and now almost no one is exposed to it.

   Here at TAC, we lean rather traditional with regard to the Liturgy, and my suspicion is that this traditionalism is one of the reasons for our high ratio of students who attend daily Mass. I find that people my age like concrete things. Things that are objectively good or bad, that don't depend on the times or the culture or one's own feelings. People my age need something like that to cling to, when everything else--society, friends, maybe grades--seems to be in constant flux. This is evidenced by the fact that even though all Masses at TAC are traditional, there is a growing number of regular attendants at the Masses our chaplains offer in the Extraordinary Form. In other words, the more reverent, objective, and ancient it is, the more people my age like it.
     I have found this in myself as well. I've always loved all the pomp and grandeur of the traditional Liturgy, and I do love old things. I don't like being asked what I think; I like being told what the Faith is and expected to believe it and act on it. With matters as important as eternal life, I don't think the Church should be consulting me, or catering to me. The Church knows better than I do. I like the Traditional Latin Mass because there's no negotiation involved. The Mass is what it is, take it or leave it. This characteristic emphasizes--along with other aspects of the TLM--that the Mass is truly a sacrifice, one that spans across space and time and never changes. Mass isn't supposed to make you feel comfortable, or even fill you with love; it's supposed to make you praise God, no matter how you feel. Sometimes, having no choice is better. What is faith, after all, if it depends on our current emotions? The virtue of faith is that we have it despite our emotions.
     Not to mention the sublime beauty of the Church's tradition. To ignore Sacred Tradition is to reject our spiritual and cultural heritage. The deposit of Faith is made up of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, which is what makes the Catholic Church different from Protestant denominations. Let's not downplay the difference. Isn't society all about celebrating differences, anyway? We've got ancient chants and fancy vestments and "smells and bells", in addition to classic Christian hymns and homilies. Let's embrace the extra.
     This is all definitely not to say that the Novus Ordo has no place, or even that the Extraordinary Form is always better. It is just to say that tradition is good, and we shouldn't forget how ancient our religion is amid fretting about being "relatable". Because people my age don't want relatable; we want real.

02 January 2019

Tumbling into 2019

     Merry Christmas, and happy New Year! It's hard to believe yet another 365 days have passed and I'm still living and loving in this beautiful, fast-paced world of ours. I thought about doing a "2018 in review" post, but I didn't do much in the past year besides be a student, and there's little else in view for the near future, so I decided to pass it up. 
     This year, I really wanted to come up with one good, solid thing to make my Resolution and put all my effort into living it out. The problem was, I couldn't think of anything concrete enough to put into practice on such a large scale. (Things like "be more patient" and "learn to let go of control" were nice ideas, but unrealistic as achievable goals.) So, instead, I thought of a few smaller and less life-altering things to make into habits this year. What, after all, is virtue but a good habit? (Please don't quote Plato at me for saying that.)
     Daily, I'm resolving to do morning and night prayer when I wake up and go to bed, write in my journal, and make an examination of conscience. These are all things I already habitually do, but writing them down and making them official helps me not to forget. 
     Weekly, I plan to do at least one creative thing such as art, writing, playing piano, etc., as well as set aside time to write letters and make phone calls.
     Monthly, I want to get rid of/give away 3 - 5 things I own but don't need or don't use (this category will mostly be clothing). Lately I've been feeling the burden of owning too much stuff, and while minimalism sounds nice in theory, it's hard to put into practice. 
     As more general resolutions, I want to focus this year on prayer and penance, especially penance, which I'm not very good at. In addition, I'm going to see how well I can live out the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience before I find a community in which to live them out as a religious sister. 
     Doing all these things is certainly less romantic than making a giant, all-around Resolution, but I think it will be more doable. 
     With that, I ask for prayers - and promise prayers in return - for a happy, healthy, and holy 2019! 

24 December 2018

An Article on the Incarnation

Earlier this year, I was asked to write something to contribute to a piece in our diocese's newsletter, the Bishop's Bulletin. They got five people who live out different roles in the diocese to submit a few words on preparing for the Incarnation. My entry is the last one on this link:

18 December 2018

Sophomore Year

     Hello, world! I’m Maria, a sophomore at Thomas Aquinas College, and that means I spend every minute of every day either in class, at work, at Mass, or studying! Sounds nice, huh? It is, but the lack of free time/sleep really gets to you. Which is why, on Christmas break, I am enjoying an abundance of free time and sleep. And I have time to write a blog post.

     Sophomore year is crazy. Everyone says it’s the hardest year at TAC, and that seems about right to me. The step up from freshman year, in terms of both workload and content, is huge. For instance, we’ve gone from reading ten pages of the Gospel of Luke for a theology class to reading 60 pages of St. Augustine’s arguments against the Pelagians and wondering if predestination takes away free will. We’ve gone from naming the Ten Categories in philosophy to arguing about whether chance exists and analyzing Aristotle’s deceptively concise definition of motion in the Physics (with little help from the Coughlin translation). 150-page seminar readings, which were horrifying and infrequent last year, are now the expected norm. It’s a ridiculous amount of work, and there’s little payoff at this point.

     But I love it. There’s something exhilarating about getting into the nitty-gritty of the intellectual life and literally devoting all your time to your studies. It feels medieval, in a way. You really get to know what the vocation of Student—with a capital S—entails. The human mind is incredible, and the capacity of an average 19-year-old girl to understand and retain thousands of pages’ (and years’) worth of knowledge is incredible.

     As we are finished with first semester finals, part of me feels like we’ve hardly learned anything. But that’s because we’ve finally begun to wade into the waters of the truth, and now we’re realizing just how big the ocean is. How can our 90-minute discussions of a few paragraphs of Aristotle’s Physics, or a few lines of St. Thomas’ Latin, get us anywhere, in the grand scheme of things? Well, you’ve got to start somewhere. And, in a way, you have to forget about the size of the ocean in order to have courage to step into the water. It’s going to be a long journey—a lifetime long, or more—but that is all the more reason to get started.

     This life is not for everyone. That is evident, now that we’ve begun it in earnest, in how many people we’ve lost from our class this year. None of us really knew what we’d be getting into when we came back to campus after the summer, and I think none of us can say we were pleasantly surprised. We’ve lost the bright-eyed enthusiasm of freshman year but don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel like the upperclassmen do. But you learn to keep going, because the end goal of all your lost sleep and eyestrain and scribbled pages and chalk drawings is worth the suffering involved in reaching it. No one said it would be easy. If we want the truth, we have to work for it. We have to desire it with a persistent, almost foolhardy desire that doesn’t let us give up before we’ve reached it. The more we learn, the more we realize we don’t know, and that’s a good thing. Anything which leads us to greater dependence on God is a good thing on some level. Participating in this vocation of Student, and knowing that every time I open my City of God or practice a prop or do a science lab, I am doing God’s will, is a difficult and beautiful way to live life. As Pope St. John Paul II put it, "Study is an expression of the unquenchable desire for an ever deeper knowledge of God, the source of light and all human truth." (Vita Consecrata, 98)

     They say that “sophomore” means “wise fool”. Typically that isn’t a compliment. But there may be some wisdom involved in realizing how much of a “fool” you are—how much you don’t know. And that, it seems to me, is what sophomore year is all about.