This is the last time I shall write. My discernment is far from over, but my ability to share it online has been constrained by obedience. This is one of my first acts of obedience—to relinquish not just many of my possessions, but also all of my digital communications. I am closing down my twitter, my facebook, my blog, my email. All future messages must come via that personal form—that handwritten card or letter. Therefore, as an encouragement to you to write to me, I give you my address:
Holy Trinity Convent
515 North State Street
New Ulm, MN 56073
God has richly blessed me in these last few weeks before entrance. I have visited many friends, I have kicked off a few things from my bucket list, and I have remained close to my Beloved in daily Mass and adoration. He has blessed me with so much peace and joy in the expectation of drawing nearer to Him. He has sustained me through the waiting, and has silenced any fears or doubts I thought I would experience.
I had the opportunity of going down to see the Handmaids at Sr. Agnes Pia's first profession of vows. My mother went with me, and it was (just like Mother Mary Clare's Perpetual Profession in June) one of the most exquisite and holy liturgies I have ever been to. I wept a little at her profession, partly from joy on her behalf, and partly from a sudden longing to make vows of my own. I had instantly felt a desire to kneel there myself and pledge vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to my divine Spouse and to the community of the Handmaids. After the vows, as I greeted the handmaids individually, each one expressed her joy and excitement at my near entrance. I felt so at home in their convent, such a part of their family already, that although I was excited to enter before I visited, my last visit only increased that excitement and joy and longing—again reconfirming how much I am called to live among them, and call them my sisters.
It is with great joy that I announce that I won't be going alone. My future course sister, Brittany, will be entering with me in two days' time, on the feast of St. Monica. I am so grateful to the Lord for giving me a sister to share all my progressions in the religious life with. It will be such a source of strength and consolation to have another sister in the order with whom I will share every stage of the journey simultaneously.
May the Lord bless you all abundantly—in even greater abundance that He has blessed me! I carry you in my heart every day, I offer you in the cup of blessing at every Eucharist, I lay you at the feet of my Lord and my Beloved in every Holy Hour. God is our good and gracious Father and He will never forsake you. The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and He will guide you in all your ways.
Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine.
"Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word."
All the Savior's Blessings,
the Devoted One
Image of the Holy Spirit, St. Peter's Basilica, Rome. Courtesy of Elizabeth Felshiem
A most beautiful word: acceptance. Connotes belonging, kinship, communion, wholeness. It is the oyster shell of that pearl which is the never-ending act of loving and being loved.
But I have news to share, not poetry. The Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus have accepted me! I am preparing to enter at the end of August, on the feast of St. Monica. There are many things of a practical nature to tend to, and still in the midst of all this business, I desire to plumb the depths of my soul and attend to what My Lord is doing there. This is the first time I have been able to explore those realms in writing.
This season is so much more than my experience of how I feel about joining the convent. I am, of course, thrilled, but feelings are fleeting. What is the enduring something that is stirring within me these days, in the wake of such prospects?
Acceptance to the convent means so much more than a feeling of elation, of joy, of acceptance, of the confidence inspired by the discovery of a definite vocation. It’s a perspective shift, a path that suddenly curves around a bend, a dazzling array of thoughts, emotions, actions, dreams—all colored in new, fascinating hues that project love and trust, ever deeper, ever growing.
I am filled with joy at the idea of joining. People have been congratulating me…even coworkers who aren’t Catholic, or perhaps not even Christian. And I am experiencing true freedom—that freedom which comes from “selling all I have to obtain the pearl of great price.” That has been the gospel reading at some point (or maybe multiple points) this week. I am receiving so much joy from giving away my “stuff”—my clothes, my coffee mugs, my books—to people that I know will enjoy them. It gives me greater joy to give these things away than I ever experienced in simply owning them for myself. And this is the anecdote of just one consequence of my acceptance, just one recurring experience of God’s love. He is anointing me in many other ways too, only a fraction of which I can understand or express in words.
I truthfully have no idea what it is like to live as a bride of Christ. But I am looking forward to it. And I am praying especially for faithfulness. That I may be faithful to Him. That I may be unwavering in hope. That I can discover my earthly home among the Handmaids and remain there, as if in a tent on Mount Tabor, and sing for the rest of my life, “It is good for me to be here.”
Do not think the title of this post is an advertisement for cannibalism. It is all very figurative. I do not mean that I taste good in the physical consumption of my body.
But I am willing to give you a taste of my soul, if you'll have it.
So, I have been chipping away at my application with the Handmaids (that's another blog article still waiting to happen), but I am getting there! One of the requirements of said application is an autobiography, of six to eight pages in length. I finally finished mine! (By finished, I mean, wrote the draft…I'm letting some friends read it for feedback.)
Anyway, I wanted to give you, my dear blog readers, a snippet, really the first few lines, of my autobiography. Who knows? Perhaps it will be the last bit of nonfiction I write about myself…barring the prayer journal, if the convent gives me that sort of thing. Hope you enjoy this brief glimpse into my soul. Keep praying for me. :)
Image found on Pinterest. Original source unknown.
Excerpt from "Consecrated One: The Narrative of a Discerning Soul
I believe I have very little to tell you. Even if the story of my life up until the present moment should be recorded for you, including all my memories, all my deepest feelings, all my dreams, and all my future hopes, it would still be so incomplete. Not just because I am only twenty-three and therefore have still so much of my life to look forward to; no, it is also, I think, a feeling that St. John articulates so well, that “all the books in the world could not hold the life of the Lord” and what He did while on Earth. I do not pretend to have as world-changing a life story as that of Our Lord, but I do think it possible that in the unique personhood that makes each human being different from another—in every thought left undisclosed, every fading memory, every fleeting desire, every future possibility left hanging in the balance of the Road Not Taken—this unique personhood surely is enough to fill the world’s books. And why shouldn’t it? If we contain in these short-lived bodies nothing less than immortal souls, then of course that which makes us unique, that which comes forth from our souls, would have enough worth and dignity and wonder and complexity to rival the contents of the world’s largest library. Such is the weight of our souls.
I suppose I have just revealed to you one part of me. I tend to be a bit long-winded, especially about poetic things, or philosophical things, or religious things. And no matter how many words I spend explaining my reasons for the incomplete knowledge of me that any biography can give, I do realize that the Lord knows every part and all of me, and that is a strange sort of comfort.
Behold the Handmaid of the Lord.
The time has come. It is high time I take some time to explain where
I hope to go, and who
I wish to spend the rest of my life with, and how
I plan to spend that time. As an aside, time has been on my mind, as I am reading Augustine’s Confessions and just finished his very metaphysically engrossing chapter about the nature of time and its relationship with reality/eternity. Ahem.
I have finally
applied to enter the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus! There are still a few pieces to submit, but Mother has assured me those can come in later. The Handmaids reside in New Ulm, MN, a small town. Because they currently serve a rural diocese, they have St. Isidore, patron of farmers, as one of their patron saints. Right alongside St. John Paul II. Their convent is converted from the New Ulm Cathedral middle school, when the school (wherein they teach) consolidated its middle school into the elementary and high schools. They are currently renovating an upper room for their new chapel, of which the small hermitage and potentially vaulted ceilings are the chief excitement of the renovation. No doubt in the near future Work Days will center much effort in this renovation.
If I am accepted, it will be my first experience of living in a rural community. I have had my childhood in the suburbs, and my young adulthood (however brief the stint of the last five years may be in my life) in the city, but I move on to new places and a new culture. So much for the where
are the Handmaids? They are beautiful young women, daughters of God. They are strong—they have already weathered much suffering in their efforts to establish themselves as a new religious order. They are pioneers, with great hopes to grow and expand to other dioceses. But most of all, they are real
. These are not the Maria VonTrapps and Sister Mary Clarences of Hollywood caricature. They aren’t drama queens—though they can be dramatic—and they aren’t nuns because they’re good at singing. They are real
, that is, they have real emotions, real fallen human natures, real humor, and real love for the Lord. They are striving for holiness, just like everyone else among the faithful.
I just spent another weekend visit with them. Again and again, it moves me to kneel in the chapel with them…to see the backs of their veils as they focus their attention on their Beloved, to witness and partake in this exchange of love. We had Holy Hour two times per day—and don’t be deceived, I was certainly distracted in my prayer times—but their
example of steadfastness and attentiveness at the feet of the Lord helps me to lift my eyes and again turn my mind and heart back to the Lord, no matter how far I have wandered interiorly.
And this is, I think, what it means to be a Handmaid. To remain attentive at the feet of the Lord, and then to serve Him in whatever He tells us to do. It is a life of love and a life of receptivity. It is radical, but it is authentic femininity.
am I going to spend my time? Well, a great deal of it in the next year will be in prayer and in formation or study. However, as a postulant (first year convent tenant), I will also be working in the various apostolates. Currently that’s helping the sisters who teach, serve in the diocesan offices, run retreats, lead faith formation, etc. They have a wide variety of duties, and it’s always adaptable, based on the current needs of the diocese. Never a dull moment, it seems.
Speaking of dull moments, I had a discussion with the psychologist who administered my evaluation for the convent application. It was nowhere near “dull,” but her notes from the tests I took explained that I had a “great sense of adventure” and loved to “try new things and see new places.” The psychologist was concerned about whether I thought that would make convent life difficult. I chuckled a little bit and told her some placating answer like, “I’ll take more appreciation in the little changes that will always naturally come.”
But the reality is that going to the convent is
the biggest adventure. Sure, the initial feelings of hype and change and radical living will fade after a bit (and maybe sooner than I’d like), but all the times I’ve spent with the Handmaids have showed me how busy
their life is, and not just with the same routine day after day. I think they are doing something different at least once a week! When I was there this past weekend it was the Ordination and First Mass for their newest priest, Fr. Sam. When I spent a week there, it was a Confirmation day retreat, a Teen Talks retreat, a visit from Bishop Cozzens, and intercession for the interview of a new school principal at their Cathedral parish school. They serve in so many ways—I can see how precious their time together at meal times and prayer times is truly sacred to them. Their life exemplifies the real need
of community in the religious life. A woman would burn out and despair after two weeks of their apostolate if she were not fed by union with God in prayer and a community of women to support her work and labor alongside her. Even their time of communal silence is fraternal
by nature…there is no room to feel lonely. I can attest to this by contrasting it with my present condition, in which my roommate has gone on vacation this week and I’ve spent the last two nights alone at home muttering to myself and watching a British TV miniseries. (Don’t worry, I’m hanging out with friends tomorrow, babysitting on Thursday, and celebrating a friend’s birthday on Friday, so I won’t be insane
with isolation by the end of the week.)
To conclude, this community has figured it out
, even if “it” doesn’t include everything
. They know what is essential, though, and this is what gives them joy and true freedom in their life, this radical Love-centered oblation of themselves to Love Himself. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux
–what is essential is invisible to the eyes. The Handmaids have rediscovered the heart of a full life as a religious in today’s world: The Sacred Heart. Union with His Heart, from which flows all communion among us human creatures, and perseverance in poverty, chastity, and obedience.Image courtesy of the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus
So a few weeks back I had some extended prayer time on a Saturday morning, and this contemplation came out of it…a sense from the Lord of what He has to say to me about the difficulties that may arise as I discern my vocation.
Image courtesy of the Christward Collective
It's finally here! And please do not mistake the headline of this post for a sad, depressive, or negative post. I am actually really super excited for my spring break. I called it not-so-spring because it's not exactly a "break" except in that it'll be different from my normal routine. And it's not exactly "spring" because there's still snow on the ground, sinking under the weight of the water coming out of the sky. Oh, yeah, we call that rain.
You see, I am excited because I am spending a week with the Handmaids. And I am a little afraid that I'm getting my hopes up too much. That I want this for myself, but maybe, just maybe, God doesn't want it for me. And I want SO MUCH to be attentive to Him, listening to what He wants.
So it's not a break because I'm going to help them in their daily work, and actually live out their horarium. I'll be doing a 9–5…sleep routine that is! And helping the sisters put on a high school retreat. And who knows what else?
But it will be a good break from my regular pace of life. And I'll get to soak up some major rays of love from the Son. Daily Mass, daily Holy Hours…i'll finally get an extensive chance at spending time with my "fiancé." And I get to practice the presence of God, totally Brother Laurence style. :D
My dear Teabiscuit (read=roommate) just reminded me not to anticipate a negative outcome, or be afraid that this is not What God Wants For Me. She said it's like a girl who starts thinking about breaking up with her boyfriend right before Thanksgiving because she's nervous about meeting his family. I laughed, and her words were reassuring. But the two ideas are similar, just not equally disconcerting.
Anyway, I meant this to be a short post, and a "mendicant" post, if you will. I come to beg prayers. You see, this will be the Next Big Step of my discernment, and I need all the prayer warriors in the world who know even the smallest part of this soul of mine to be praying and interceding on its behalf. Your prayers are not forgotten. And of course: I will bring all of you with me in my little soul, and carry you before the gaze of my Love, who is also your Love. When I sit at His feet, you shall be there too. When I serve His children, you shall work alongside me. When I feast at His table, you will be enclosed in my embrace…like the Sign of Peace. It is all I can give in return for the generosity of your prayerful hearts.
Cor ad cor loquitur. "Heart speaks to heart."
–His devoted one
Image from Prince of Peace Catholic Community:http://www.princeofpeaceparish.com/eucharistic-adoration.html
You satisfy me, till I am quiet and confident in the work of Your Spirit I cannot see. –Audrey Assad, You Speak by Dakos
Well, it has been a while. But the Lord has by no means been silent. It is only I who have remained absent. Or perhaps absent-minded.
Still, I'm trying to listen. And He is speaking pretty clearly. Like after I finally made it through the darkness, through the spiritual warfare, victorious in Christ and by His side for the retreat with the DSMME (Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist). It was a beautiful retreat (192 retreaters), filled with several lovely talks, lots of prayer, and the chance for all-night adoration (a Night with Jesus if you will). I partook of a two-hour portion of adoration.
Throughout the weekend, however, in spite of the beauty, tranquility, and joy that came from being close to the Lord and close to so many fantastic young women, I had the Handmaids on my heart. I was remembering that it felt so much more like home with them. I longed to pray the Angelus their way, with specific Handmaid gestures. I longed for the small family life they share, the intimacy of sharing in their life, and not feeling like an intruder, separated from the sisters. Even as I heard a talk about the importance of consecration to the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart, I remembered that the Handmaids have dedicated their name Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to the Sacred Heart.
And in a talk about spiritual motherhood, I remembered how I encountered real evidence of the ways the Handmaids are spiritual mothers and sisters to the priests and bishops in the local dioceses…and how much parishes, and young women in particular, need to see religious sisters in the parish working alongside priests. We need tangible witnesses of both spiritual fatherhood and spiritual motherhood—especially in the parish. It was then that I think I felt truly called and convicted, drawn, if you will, to the Handmaids' charism.
So. The Lord spoke clearly. And He's kept my heart "confident in the work of the Spirit", if you will, confident even in silence, or even if I'm not 100% certain this is right. Because I have come to realize I will never be 100% certain. God is too big to let His plans fit into the box of my needy certainty. He wants trust. So I give it as much as I can.
The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.
Trust takes time. And plenty of it. But I have found in the midst of doubts, in the muddle of impatience for the future—God is so good to me.
Right now it is easier to think that I won't accomplish everything I desire…both before entering a convent and afterward. I am afraid I will not make a good sister, or a good teacher. I know in spite of this fear that God's grace will provide for me. Furthermore, as long as I continue to have a desire to help people (and I truly long to be helpful to people in any way I can), God will use that desire.
I am gearing up for this coming weekend: a Come & See retreat with the Dominicans of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. By "gearing up" I mean I am choosing to spend more time in adoration this week, and I intend to make it to Mass every day. But a part of me is a little worried: what if I hate it? And if I hate it, is that because I'm just uncomfortable with the monastic style of their charism (and its relative increase in silence when compared to a familial order)? Or maybe I'll hate it just because I'm not called there?
I don't want to go even thinking I might hate it. Because when I went down to visit the Handmaids last November, I just remember being so thrilled to go on retreat, filled with such longing to be there and contentment and joy once I got there. Just because I'll be meeting sisters I don't know doesn't mean I'll be miserable. Best of all, I'll be meeting my Beloved there.
So. Enough with the worries and anxieties. These are the foxes in my soul. And I refuse to let them steal my joy.
for merely creative reasons, i am going to leave off all capitalization from this blog post. who needs capital letters in every sentence, really? although, i will make the one exception to capitalize the name of my Beloved. because the name of Jesus Christ is always worth perfectly correct english grammar. digression you think? don't worry, it won't last long.
my soul is feeling its worth. just like that lyric of my favorite Christmas hymn, o holy night. long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. there are many ways a soul may feel its worth. this hymn lays bare the mystery of the incarnation. the mystery that tells us we are so profoundly worth-filled or worthy that our Creator, our God would lower Himself and come down and become just like us. so much like us that His spirit would become encased in a human shell, capable of crying, capable of needing a mother, capable of being cuddled, capable of hammering nails into sturdy wood, capable of peering through human eyes to see the light and darkness in all the people, all the other ordinary human beings around Him. miraculous. we were worth that. our souls are worth that experience. God Himself wanted to become one of us for only one reason—that we could come to live in His house, could come close to Him and touch Him and remain in His presence. it would not have been, but for the Incarnation and the Resurrection.
i am feeling the worth of my soul in other ways, too. in its vastness. yes, our souls capsulated in our little bodies are vast. sometimes i imagine my soul as a sweet little home where Christ comes to dwell…it becomes my ideal cottage, even with its little cobwebs, its peeling paint, those things i attribute as my sins. but today i imagine the vastness, the cavernous quality of my soul. how empty it is while it waits for Him. and it is vast because it is a landscape meant to contain only one Being: its Creator. what wondrous love! far deeper than the ocean, wider than the distance in the skies from one star to another, my soul is pinned into this body, awaiting a love to fill it, fill it, and overflow from its vastness into infinity. can we even conceive the beauty of our own immortality? for we will live forever, and as we will it and God graces it, we will live endlessly in whole and complete love. no more longing, no more thirsting in the depths of these cavernous souls.
i am learning the worth of my soul in the painfulness of my sin. wondering, perhaps for the first time since i felt Him asking me to be His betrothed, whether i will fail Him in this. wondering whether i was really meant for such a lofty vocation. whether i desire it because it is actually His will for me, or whether i want it for the "virgin's glory" for the poster-child it will create of me. do i want it because i want to be notorious? the girl who became a religious, of all things? do i want it because i am lazy, and want to spend my time in "prayer" more than in "work"? i feel the worth of my soul in my motives, because they are tainted and that imperfection makes me question whether i can really risk such a priceless creation as my own soul for the sake of my blinded will. it feels as if i'm walking in the pitch dark, trying to find the door to get out of the dark, and in my hands i'm holding a glass rose that is so light and hollow it will shatter if i move too carelessly. i am terrified of tripping and falling.
all i can do is pray for a light. to trust that the darkness cannot last. for love is a light that guides me where i am meant to tread.
High time for a short one. I have written rather lengthily and didactically lately, so here's a more meditative post. I went to morning Mass today—I really love receiving my Lord in the morning—and Father had an encouraging homily about my post topic, the mindset of champions. He spoke of how easy it was, when we were children, to be so impatient on long road trips. "Are we there yet?" is our question that inevitably comes hours before we anywhere near our destination. And how marathon runners are so inspiring because they have somehow conditioned their minds or hearts or bodies to believe that they can finish the race, that it is possible, that they can go that next mile, even when their bodies tell them to stop.
So it is in our spiritual life. And I find, so it is in my preparation for religious life. I have always believed myself to be in the category of "slow and steady" when it comes to running. My pace may be like a turtle's, but I get myself into a rhythm where I can endure for a long time. Endurance running (or endurance jogging is much more accurate).
Father encouraged us today to have that mindset of marathon runners, the mindset of champions. To teach ourselves to go one more mile, to keep moving forward and push past the pain of the moment. Because the suffering is to be expected, the pain is going to be worth it in the end, and, in some way, the pain is what strengthens our will. For when we have the discipline to push past the pain, our will is strengthened into something a little bit superhuman. Not that we want to become masochists, or turn our pain into something we do for the sake of a stronger will. But we push past it for the sake of "the glory that is to come." Our path as Christians is to be marked by suffering, for it is literally the path of a Christ-follower, and His road led to ultimate suffering and beyond—to ultimate ecstasy.
I find I need to grow in the mindset of a champion. I am an impatient woman. I want to find my order now, or soon. I want to give my two weeks' notice tomorrow. I want to leave behind all I have and all I do to go and be who I am meant to become.
But that is not the way of champions. That is the way of deserters. I must wait, and patiently endure. I must commit faithfully to what still lies in front of me. I must get "my ducks in a row". I must finish these upcoming miles before the finish line—it would be inglorious for me to jump on a truck out of the marathon and speed right past the finish line, bypassing all the fruits of those miles in between, the miles of my upcoming months. I am not really willing to do that, even if my heart longs to give up this glory. I will push through that pain. And I will grow stronger because of it.
And maybe someday God will crown me a champion for it. Fiat.