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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
 
 
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Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. I believe that's a Henry David Thoreau quote, but forgive me when I admit that though I have a lovely old hardbound copy of Walden, I have never read it. :X
This post is mostly taken from the notes I wrote during my fateful Come & See retreat. It's the same retreat that started this blog, the same that initiated my "betrothal" period, the moment that started my path firmly on the road to religious life. November 15-17, 2013.
The following insights were given in a talk about Discernment. Mother Mary Clare, mother superior of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is not only an awesome speaker, she is also a beautiful mother to so many, including myself. Without further ado:
  • Don't let the season of discernment drag out. If you are single, and you start doing some serious soul-searching to see if you are called to religious life, don't get the idea that you'll meander your way through this for two or three or five years or until God smacks you in the head or "the right man" cuts in on that lovely dance you've been dancing with God. Expect to spend about six months to a year earnestly discerning religious life. More about what it means to "earnestly discern" in the next post. And if Mr. Right comes around—and Mother warned us that you should expect Mr. Right to cut in AS SOON as you start this discernment season—you say "no" to that date. Because Mr. Right will be willing to wait on your heart a little longer while you spend this time with Jesus. Know that you can always take another "season" to reconsider religious life later, once your 6 mos./year-long discernment is finished and after you move on to other things.
  • Invest in good female friendships. There is so much beauty in growing in relationship with fellow sisters. Not only do these women help you to feel less lonely, or help you to not "need" a man in your life, such friendships also encourage you, give you examples in faith, and allow you to learn more about yourself. Women who are honest with you about how they receive you (and perceive you) can actually be profound instruments in the hand of God as you discern your vocation.
  • Visit a few convents. Mother encouraged us to see around 2-3 different places. And how do we decide what orders we're supposed to choose to visit? Pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, desires. This is like the number 2 rule of discernment, after praying. Pay attention before you go, like when you're visiting the order's website, or having email discussions with the vocations director for that order. Pay attention while on the retreat, especially to your feelings and desires. Do you feel at peace, at home, comfortable, happy? Are you anxious? Are you fearful? Are you freaking out because you think if you're there for another TWO WHOLE DAYS they're gonna fit you up in a habit before you can blink? And do you want  to be there? Do you hate it? Do you find yourself constantly fighting internally to follow the prayer and communal life they've invited you into for that brief period? And as far as the questions of "how many places do I visit? how will I find the order that's right for me?" are concerned, don't get caught up in the idea that you'll have to trot the globe to find the right home. Like with Mr. Right, God is not going to put the order you're meant to belong to out of reach, beyond the realm of possibility. He'll lead you where you're meant to go. And if the first two or three convents you visit all leave you with some "off" feeling, or some "missing" element, or just plain "I did NOT have a good time there" feeling, then do, keep looking. And if it was just a good experience, or an equally great retreat at more than one convent, go back. Go again and see what the Lord wants to say this time.
  • Read some good spiritual materials. There's A LOT out there. Here is the list of suggestions from Mother Mary Clare:

The Discernment of Spirits by Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV
The Examen Prayer by Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV
Union with God  by Bl. Columba Marmion
The Meaning of Vocation: In the Words of John Paul II (published by Scepter)
A Right to Be Merry by Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C.
"...And You Are Christ's" by Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M.
Vita Consecrata (Consecrated Life) by Bl. Pope John Paul II
Essential Elements in the Church's Teaching on Religious Life 
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccscrlife/documents/rc_con_ccscrlife_doc_31051983_magisterium-on-religious-life_en.html
For myself, A Right to Be Merry and "…And You Are Christ's" are on my immediate "to read" list. Another book that is just a beautiful spiritual "game changer" if you will is Interior Freedom by Fr. Jacques Philippe. It really gets to the heart of the modern soul trying to break free of her fears.
  • Make a decision. At the end of it all, after six months, nine months, or a year, choose. God honors your decision. If you have given Him a season, and He has called you to religious life, you will know. See my post about the signs that you will know. And if you choose another vocation, be that marriage, consecrated virginity, or the community of a secular institute, live freely and fully in that decision, knowing that you have nothing to regret because you pursued the Lord's will without reserve.


 
 
"Vocations are born in prayer and from prayer; and only through prayer can they persevere and bear fruit." –Pope Francis
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I am just a little bit reminded of the song in the movie Enchanted, "How does she know that you love her? How do you show her you love her?"
But the real question I am asking myself is, "How do I know that I'm called to religious life?"
In my previous post, I mentioned the VISION vocation network. They also had a link on their website for a vocations guide. In this insightful guide is an article about "The 5 Signs that You Might Have a Religious Vocation."
I'm the type of blogger/person to approach everything I read with a grain of salt. Or perhaps more than one grain. I have discovered that this is a symptom of my jaded cynicism, which is a character trait I do not want to cultivate, but, well, it does help me to stay real. And be less gullible, or less easily swayed by the first thing I enjoy reading. So even though I am sharing these "5 Signs" with you, please go read the original article and form your own opinions based on this and other sources of information available to you about The Call. And please, follow Pope Francis' message as quoted at the top of this article.

Ok, so five signs. The article makes them a bit poetic. They are as follows:
1. A peace like no other
2. Your deepest desire
3. With God all things are possible (i.e. the possibility of religious life is open to you)
4. Others can see it
5. Joy: the irrefutable sign

Praise God He has already given me these "signs" in the few short weeks I have been 'betrothed' to Him! I do not pretend that my life changed drastically when I received the call and said, "Yes!", even though my perspective on life changed. I still struggle to spend enough time in prayer. I still get caught up in little details that may end up being meaningless. I still go to work every day and come home feeling as if my accomplishments are negligent. But we press on, because He is faithful.
1. I actually experienced more peace than joy when Christ proposed to me. There was a stillness in me, a calm certainty once I said Fiat, that this was indeed what God wanted me to do. This was what all my life before had led me to. Then came joyful awe  that He could love me that much, could love me so particularly as to desire me to become His bride.
2. In that same hour, that "fulness of time" one might say of my own history, I saw clearly my desires. I saw how much I longed to be set apart from the world, set apart to belong entirely to Him, spend my days in prayer, in greater knowledge of Him, and in serving in just exactly the way He wants. I even saw how my capacity for such a life was cultivated in my own education and spiritual upbringing.
3. God is making it possible in my life. I have just a few school loans to pay off, I have a job I will be willing to relinquish in even just a year from now, I have no long-term commitments keeping me tied to the world, and I have a heart that belongs entirely to Him. I am furthermore blessed to have very supportive family and friends to bless this season of my discernment and encourage my vocation.
4. I just experienced this last weekend: I was talking to a childhood friend of mine, sharing my little testimony about how the Lord "popped the question" as it were, and she told me that she wasn't really surprised to hear me share it. That she had mentally been adding me to a list of women she knew who were sisters or nuns for a while now. It was not a certain thing to her, but she already thought of me as someone she could see joining a convent. It was a beautiful testimony, and a gift to my discerning heart. I was touched to hear it.
5. Ah, yes. This is something I generally have an abundance of. Several people have commented about my joy, about my zeal for life. How many chances I have had lately to experience joy. Every time I tell someone or talk about it with someone I already have told, I feel like my insides are glowing. Not lovey-dovey, stomach-feels-all-twisty kind of romanticism but something brighter, bubblier, and, if possible, steadier, more resilient. Granted, everyone I have told has reacted positively, if not outright ecstatically. (I told a group of college woman I was a mentor to and they freaked out just as if I were getting engaged to Prince Charming…which in a way, I am!) And somehow I just trust that the Lord will keep the flame of my joy constant even when I tell someone who reacts in a negative or critical way.