06 September 2019

The Mystery of Vocation

     It is my last day at home, but somehow it hasn't hit me yet. The monastery I'm entering feels very distant when I'm sitting at the kitchen table eating lunch, or sprawled on the couch with a cup of tea and a blanket, or out shopping, or watching a movie. And yet, I know I couldn't stay like this. It's similar to how I felt going to college: I don't really know what to expect, but I know I'm doing the right thing, and I know that if I didn't go I would feel like I had never really begun my life.
     It's the feeling of blooming or coming out of a chrysalis, I guess. You know it will be hard and so, so different, and it's kind of scary, but there's no part of you that wishes you could go back to the way it was before, when you were a bud or a caterpillar. What butterfly wishes it were still a caterpillar? It's a poor analogy for the romance of God drawing a soul to Himself, but it's the best I can think of. Like all worthwhile things, it will be difficult. Of course I'll miss so many aspects of my life as it is right now - I'd be crazy not to - but I think it will be the way we miss the days of our childhood, looking back on them fondly, but not seriously wishing to go back to them. Jesus never promised a life of ease; in fact, He warned us of just the opposite. But He also said, "everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life." (Matthew 19:29)

     I believe that God created my soul for consecrated life. I believe it for a number of reasons, but the predominant one is that I desire to be a nun more than I've ever desired anything else. It comes with a sense both of urgency and of deep peace; a still, small voice. I worried, when I was younger, about how I was going to know when God was calling me to a specific vocation. Little did I know that He was already calling me, gently, even then. Every little part of my personality, every one of my interests, every bit of my being is marked with my vocation. That's why answering God's call didn't feel like making a decision; it felt like making a discovery. Cracking the code - or really being shown the solution - to who I am.
     It's something people noticed in me almost before I noticed it in myself. I can think of many times when I've been told I would make a good sister. When I made a quick visit to the Norbertines this summer, I brought along a few friends, and afterwards they said they could tell how happy I was at the monastery. I hadn't been conscious of any change in my own demeanor, but they could see it in me.
     If I were to give advice to someone on how to find their vocation, I would say this: it's already there inside of you, because God knew you before He formed you in the womb, and He created you for a reason. So take an honest look at yourself, your interests, and your desires, and then give it to Him to show you what to make of it all. Pray with St. Alphonsus Liguori, "Grant that I may love You always, and then do with me as You will."

04 September 2019

Let me suffer for You

     My constant prayer in these last few days before entering convent has been both "Jesus, let me suffer for You" and "Jesus, give me strength."
     Up until now I have had a very comfortable and easy life. Nothing really tragic or difficult has ever happened to me, and somehow I've always felt that it was because God was preparing me for something. I guess this is it - the "white martyrdom" of religious life. It reminds me of my patroness, St. Therese. She was the spoiled youngest daughter of her family, and had never really known suffering before becoming a Carmelite. Well, the same is true for me, in a way; I have never had anything important to worry me, and now I am becoming a Norbertine. That probably means I will have a harder time with some aspects of the life than some of the other sisters. But if I give that to Jesus, then He can use even my naivete and ignorance to save souls. I only need Him to give me courage.
     So many times I've asked Him why He blessed me the way He did. There can be few with the comforts of home, wealth, loving family, and good education that I have, and yet there are countless people more deserving of it. In His unspeakable mercy He gave me a life that some would dream of having. I will never understand why. I'm just doing what I can to repay Him for it. He has made my childhood and growing-up a joy and a perfect picture, so I will try to give Him my adult life and return to Him all that time spent in comfort. What would my life mean if I never suffered at all? Religious life certainly isn't anywhere near the worst kind of suffering, but I hope it will make up for a tiny fraction of His unmerited kindness to me. To give myself to Him is the best way I can think of to show my gratitude. 

     "From the one to whom much is entrusted, even more will be demanded," Jesus says (Luke 12:48). My life isn't much to demand - I am only one person in a world of billions - but it is the most that I can give. I pray that the Lord will give me strength to give it freely.

31 August 2019

Great Plains of My Heart

     My childhood was pretty fantastic in a number of ways, but one thing I consider myself the luckiest for is having grown up in the Midwest. I was born in New Jersey, but I will always be grateful for the fact that my family moved to Nebraska when I was still a baby. And when I was six we moved to an acreage in eastern South Dakota. Our time in the country were some of the best years of my life. I effectively grew up there, since we didn't move into town until I was fourteen. When I look back on some of the things we did, the games we played, and the peace and solitude we had, I can only be thankful.

     The things I learned from growing up in the country are more numerous than I'm sure I realize. We  had a lifestyle in which plans depended in a very real way on the weather, and the success of a season's harvest directly affected what food we put on our table. We lived off the land, to an extent, and I spent hours as a kid picking raspberries, shelling peas, braiding onions, and making applesauce, not to mention the jams we made and the vegetables we froze and stored in the cellar. We also had chickens from whom we collected free-range eggs, and many generations of farm cats who were supposed to help with the rodent population, but really just provided us with hours of fun. And, living in the rural midwest, we ate local grass-fed beef and pork from pigs raised by our friends. We also experienced devastating storms which made us lose power and blew down trees and even our windmill. Every fall, when the farmers harvested the corn or beans from the field across the street, we would get a swarm of asian beetles (orange ladybugs) on our back porch. Sometimes we heard coyotes at night, and more than a few times we came home to find a family of skunks or raccoons eating the cat food in the garage. 

     Midwest people are hardy, largely because of our brutal winters. One Christmas everyone we knew got snowed in and none of us could get to church. The winter of my freshman year in college, we had a solid ten days of -30 degree weather, when it was so cold the cars wouldn't start. The first snowfall would usually happen in October, and we often had blizzards in May and once a huge ice storm in the end of April. After all of that, less deadly weather occurrences seem like a breeze. And when your life can be put on hold like that because of the forces of nature, you tend to be good about going with the flow and not panicking when things don't go according to plan. 

     The sheer space between us and the nearest neighbors, the quiet summer nights with thousands of fireflies, and the time spent playing in our woods and wading in our creek, will always be impressed upon my mind. I am so thankful to have grown up in such an environment, and I am excited to be going back to my roots, in a sense, when I enter the convent! It won't be the midwest, but it will be wonderful to live in the country again, and never have to leave.

29 August 2019

Leaving College

     What a summer! Getting ready to enter a convent feels a bit like planning a wedding. Well, maybe not a wedding, but planning to get married. I am just ready for the preparation process to be over, so I can start my new life!
     I spent the summer on campus, working in the TAC admissions office. It was great to be on campus in the peace and quiet, and to have time to do things I don't normally have time for during the school year. It almost felt like a three-month-long retreat. I was also able to get together with friends before leaving campus for good. It doesn't feel real yet that I'll never be back there, but I'm guessing it'll sink in once I start cloistered life. 
     TAC was a blessing in my life in so many ways. On the academic side, of course, college was amazing. I spent two years reading and thinking in company with others who were reading and thinking, and for a temperament like mine, that's a little slice of Heaven. But beyond the academics, there was so much more that I learned from college, about God, myself, others, the Church...the list goes on. And I met people who have had a profound and lasting influence on me as a person.
     And, of course, if I hadn't gone to TAC I would never have even thought of visiting the Norbertine sisters! I can't credit TAC with my knowing about them at all, but I can credit it with making me actually notice them. One of our on-campus chaplains is a Norbertine, and we've had others visit now and then, which makes a strong presence for a little-known order. (Have I ever mentioned the beautiful variety of chaplains we have? -- A diocesan priest, a Jesuit, a Dominican, and a Norbertine, all living with us and being our spiritual fathers.) In addition to that, campus is within easy driving distance of the sisters' monastery in Tehachapi, which is really what made visiting them feasible before the beginning of sophomore year. And again at Easter, and a couple of times this summer. 

     It's funny, because as indecisive as I am, I never once wavered in my decision to go to TAC (which, by the way, I made when I was nine years old). I'd often wondered why I was so certain about that one aspect of my life, and discovering my vocation to the Norbertine order gave me the answer. God put me in the perfect position to be open and available to receive His call. I would never have come to California otherwise, and now I'll be spending the rest of my life there. So nothing was an accident, or a weird fluke. The Holy Spirit drew my heart west before I realized what was happening.
     Saying goodbye to my family this summer was really hard, and saying goodbye to school was hard too. Especially right now that the school year has already begun, and my friends are telling me about their new classes and tutors, there is a bit of a feeling of being left out. I think that'll go away once I get settled at the monastery, though. I'm "left out" now, but soon I will be included in something greater. This in-between period is weird, but I guess that happens with any transition.
     Anyway, it was a wonderful and prayerful summer, and I really am ready for my entrance, with apprehensions about it only coming up occasionally. I know God's got me, and so does my confirmation saint, St. Therese, who was also a cloistered nun! If she can do it, so can I, with her prayers. And a lot of other people's prayers.

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.