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:

Leesha Plante
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.
Who 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.
And how 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

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:
You satisfy me, till I am quiet and confident in the work of Your Spirit I cannot see. –Audrey Assad, You Speak
Pictureby 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.

I have been struck, recently and most powerfully, by how much my vocation is also a marital vocation. In a very real, albeit spiritual sense, I take Christ's family as my own Mother, my own Father, even my own foster father. St. Joseph, protector of virgins, pray for us!
On Sunday, the last sunday of Advent, I began to weep after receiving my Lord in the Eucharist. I cannot tell why, for it is a stirring of my heart without words, but I believe it stems from a sense of overwhelming loved-ness. I feel so loved in that moment. And on Sunday the choir sang the above song, Of the Father's Love Begotten, during the Communion reflection, so that only inspired a deeper love for my Lord as my Father. This version of the song gives you a clearer understanding of the song's lyrics.
Then I had my first less-than-positive-and-nowhere-near-delighted reaction to my announcement to join the convent. An old friend of my grandmother's (product of the early post-Vatican II generation) warned me that her sister "tried that out" but was asked to leave because she was questioning a lot of rules, there are a lot of rules, and she was causing division in the community, etc. I just smiled and let it pass. But before I left the event, my dad, who had heard the conversation, took me aside and told me (with a choked up, earnest tone) that he did not like her warning, that he did not agree with her saying a consecrated person just has to "follow a lot of rules", and that he is delighted with my decision, and he couldn't be happier for me. I just received it with a smile and a "thank you", but as I was driving from the occasion, I was crying for the second time that day, just from gratitude for my Heavenly Father, who has given me His Son and my own vocation as a virgin bride, but Who has also blessed me with such a loving and wonderful earthly father. I know my father will be sacrificing much in "giving me" to the convent—little things like the daddy-daughter dance, the walk down the aisle, the father's toast; and big things like grandchildren—but he has supported and rejoiced in my vocation and for that I am ever grateful. Even my prayer meditation this morning included this (paraphrased) word from my Father: "Every father delights in receiving that simple tenderness which his little girl gives him."
I also rejoice at receiving Christ's mother as my "mother-in-law" but really, as a deeper union of mother and daughter than I have received from her before. My parish just put in a life-size statue of Mary in which she is depicted as very pregnant with Our Lord, her hand protectively resting on her belly, her other hand extended to receive all her other children. And I love that statue, first because it is the only time I have seen such a pregnant statue of our Virgin Mother, but also because it is such an incredible witness of Mary's role not as queen, not as virgin, but as mother. She is protective, she is responsive, she is tender, and real to her children. She is preeminently present in her children's lives, if they seek her out.
And as much as my mother has supported me—even joking about having Jesus as a son-in-law or throwing an engagement party for me—I receive so much intimacy and tenderness in my discernment from our Blessed Mother. She is a mother pondering the depths of my heart alongside me, showing me the path to live spiritual motherhood as well as joyful virginity.
And in his silence, in his immediate action for what the Lord asks of him, St. Joseph is my model of the contemplative-active lifestyle I seek.
Thus is my vocation a family affair. I am bound up in all the glory and virtue of my Holy Family, and ever grateful for the imitations of this Family I see in my own parents.

So in the beginning of my last post, I mentioned that I would later discuss Mother Mary Clare's suggestions for how to discern well. Again, you must take every source of discernment with a grain of salt (unless it's a source that's been canonized/beatified). So even though so many of us want to know that burning question of my post headline, "How do I know if I'm discerning the right way?", the truth is that there is no right way, no certainty for whether we are doing it right. Because God speaks to every unique soul in a singular, a totally unique way. However, wisdom in any discerning soul will honor the counsel that older, wiser, and holier heads pass along, especially when such counsel is entirely in keeping with Church doctrine, teaching, and exhortation. Not to mention it rings true with "common sense". So, without further ado:
  • Start praying, not thinking. It is easy for all of us (myself notoriously included) to "think" about discerning during our prayer time rather than actually "praying", actually having a conversation and listening to what the Lord wants. SO OFTEN my interior voice sounds like this, "Lord, I just think that I'm called to the active religious life because of these things in my personality. And I just don't do well with so much silence in my life. And just help me discern all the pros and cons of this particular order." That's not praying, it's having an interior monologue addressed to God, but really just sorting through my thoughts about it. My prayer needs to be something more like this, "Lord, I know that I feel drawn to the active religious life. But is that because I'm afraid of silence? Where do you want me to serve? Can you enlighten my fears and hesitations so that I can work through them?"
  • Keep your eyes fixed on Heaven. Be aware, interiorly of our ultimate goal, of the "Heavenly realities" of our life. In this way you will more strongly fight against Satan's attempts to lure you by worldly desires, thoughts, or possessions. Remember that the world cannot understand the idea that you may love Someone so much that you would give up that same world and all its pleasures for love. The world does not understand, many whom you know will not understand, and they will all try to lead you away from the call because they fear your "yes" to love is the greatest rejection. The world does not like to be sacrificed.
  • Ponder these things in your heart. Take Mary, our Mother, as your model. She kept all her "yes's" in her heart, she pondered all the words of the Lord, all the prophecies, all the miracles of her Son in her heart. Do not expose too rashly or too widely that greatest treasure…the love of your heart. Let your intimate union with God be a thing that you guard as the wellspring of your life. It was meant to be sacred, set apart, devoted if you will, to Him alone and for Him alone. This has been one of my greatest challenges so far. Because I am so eager to say, "I'M ENGAGED!!! I'm going to be the spouse of the King of the Universe!! God is so good to me!! Praise Him Praise Him Praise Him!!" I want to tell everyone, I want to tell all my Catholic friends. I want to see how my non-Catholic friends will react. But I bite my tongue, I search my heart. I test out my zeal. Do I want to tell this particular person because she ought to know? If I want to share it with a whole room full of people, or if I want to share it on Facebook, that is not right. I know it. That sort of desire stems from my desire to be approved of, to be celebrated, to be the center of attention, to even be somewhat infamous. Surely in some of my social circles the desire to be a religious is a claim to notoriety. I can imagine that will be the case among my coworkers in my secular job. I can share my joy with my family, with my most intimate sisters who will be supportive, who will pray for my discernment, who will hold me accountable to my commitments. As for the rest, well, I ponder even the deepest parts of my vocation within me.
  • Abandon yourself in Christ. This is it. This is the simplest form of holiness, the surest way to true joy. When we trust Him, we will hear Him. We will begin to know Him. We will allow ourselves to be filled with His love and transformed by it. In your abandonment of self, of fear, of worry to be emptied of all that and filled instead by Christ's love, Christ's hope, Christ's peace—you cannot miss the call to whatever vocation He desires for you.

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
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
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.