Saturday, December 31, 2016

7QT: Lessons learned in 2016

I pray that everyone has had a peaceful conclusion to the 2016 calendar year and that God blesses you and your families throughout the year to come. Happy New Year!

Below I share some lessons learned throughout 2016.

--- 1 ---

In January of 2016, I took an assertiveness training at work during which I learned that assertiveness is not synonymous with aggression but rather consists of communicating in a way that is honest, direct and effective so that others know what I think (ideally) without feeling threatened or manipulated. I also learned the importance of 1.) apologizing when warranted and 2.) not apologizing when unwarranted. I've tended toward over-apologizing which, in addition to making me come across as weak and overly submissive, can make a genuine apology seem insincere. Since this training, I have noticed that communicating assertively is far less stressful than my usual non-assertiveness.

--- 2 ---

Some of us have an unrealistically negative view of ourselves. Any unrealistic view is unhealthy and a sort of pride that is disguised by false humility. Assertiveness training also showed me the importance of nurturing our self-confidence by spending enough time in company and in situations where our positive qualities will be recognized and affirmed. This is different from fishing for compliments and patting ourselves on the backs, and also means that we need to accept genuine compliments when they come our way. Sometimes we discourage others from providing this support, because we reject their appreciation. Not only is this no help to me, but it can even be harmful to the self-esteem of the one offering the compliment.

--- 3 ---

In order to support others in this way, we must notice and frequently communicate our appreciation of their positive qualities in a way that is genuine and not at all manipulative, in other words, in a way that is disinterested. When we notice something good about another person or his/her behavior it is ok, even commendable, to tell them. Here is a tip: Don't give flowery but meaningless compliments like "You are every lovely word I could possibly think of." The more specific the better. For example, last month I gave an oral presentation and a friend said, "I like how you incorporated humor into your presentation by adding that joke." This was a compliment that I could understand and internalize.

--- 4 ---
Franciscan Postulants with fully professed Sisters

During 2016, I also made discernment visits to four different religious communities. (Wow, that's WAY more than I realized!) I learned more about the progression into religious life: After a period of discernment, if a woman is invited to apply for entrance into the community and is accepted, she will often move in with the community for a period called Aspirancy, which typically lasts on the order of months. During this time the woman has not officially entered the community and typically wears her street clothes. (At the end of each period, both her and the community decide if she will continue.) Assuming she continues, she will enter into Postulancy, during which she is given a frumpy outfit to wear and will conform to the lifestyle of the community for at least one year. Upon passing into the Novitiate, she will begin wearing the full habit and will begin formation in earnest. This typically lasts two years. For a woman to continue after Novitiate, she will make temporary vows with the community. She will live as a temporarily professed member of the community for several years before making her final, perpetual vows. The whole process generally takes about eight years, which provides plenty of time for further discernment.

--- 5 ---
A happy stomach is a stomach filled with acid.

In February, I was convinced that I had a stomach ulcer. During my work trip to St. Augustine, I started feeling horrible, burning pain after eating. Since I couldn't go to the doctor, I started taking proton pump inhibitors and the pain went away even after I finished the full course. Unfortunately, pain started coming back in the summer so I finally got checked out. The doctor discovered that I had low stomach acid. What I learned is that low stomach acid results in basically the same systems as high stomach acid/ulcer/GERD. Sometimes people treat the symptoms with antacids and actually make the problem worse because their issue is low stomach acid. After taking acid supplements for several weeks the problem seems to have worked itself out.

--- 6 ---
It is possible to live a fairly normal life on a highly restricted diet!! Of course, no two persons' dietary restrictions are exactly alike, but mom has Type 2 Diabetes and has settled on a program that eliminates grains, soy and dairy and allows only one serving of fruit early in the day, among other things (e.g. no white potatoes). She also has to avoid pork and can only eat beef twice per week. And of course, she has been limited to non-glycemic sweeteners, primarily stevia, monk fruit, chicory root and erythritol. So far we've found the following fantastic (and often expensive) products, some with slight cheats (e.g. a bit of rice or potato starch). These are particularly helpful at times when we need to grab a quick meal or will be in a situation when others are snacking on products that mom can't have. I may revisit this list and add to it as we identify new lifesaver products.
--- 7 ---

We've also found lots of fantastic recipes, many of which we used for our yuppified "traditional" Thanksgiving dinner, sometimes with slight modifications. We also decided to brine the turkey, which did make it more juicy.

Coconut Flour Orange Cranberry Bread -- sub coconut oil for ghee and stevia for honey
Almond Flour Blueberry Muffins -- sub stevia for honey
Paleo Pumpkin Muffins -- mixed the pecans into batter, adjusted ingredient ratios, sub stevia for honey
Almond Feta Cheese -- sans herb oil
Vegan Paleo Green Bean Casserole -- sans nutritional yeast
Parsnip Turnip Puree -- sub olive oil for ghee
Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Squash -- with fruit juice sweetened cranberries, sub olive oil for butter and tapioca flour (in half amount) for all-purpose flour
Vegan Spinach Artichoke Dip -- see cheese recipe below
Melty Stretchy Vegan Mozzarella --sans nutritional yeast, sub blanched almonds for cashews
Paleo Apple Pie with Grain Free Crust -- sub stevia for honey, either pre-cook filling or bake for much longer than stated in recipe
Apple Pie Filling and Streusel Topping -- next time I'll try this filling with the above crust
Dairy Free Pumpkin Pie Mousse -- with WAY less stevia than called for in recipe
Sugar Free Chocolate Nut Butter Candies -- with almond instead of peanut butter
Lemon Coconut Candy -- subbed more lemon in place of lime, serve at room temperature

We've also made three sauces for our zucchini and squash noodles, which we froze in large ice cube trays.
Spinach Basil Pesto -- sans Parmesan cheese
Nightshade Free Red Sauce -- sans nutritional yeast, sweetened with tiny amount of stevia
Paleo No Peanut Sauce -- sweetened with tiny amount of stevia

And for a New Year's Eve snack I just made:
Dairy Free French Onion Dip -- sans bacon, sub dill for rosemary, see vegan mayonnaise recipe below
Homemade Vegan Mayonnaise -- sans mustard and sweetened with two drops of stevia

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain't the Lyceum!

Friday, November 11, 2016

7QT: Learning Scripture Through Song

In which I make some more pilgrimages, do some other Catholic things and finally start learning some Bible verses. Woot!

--- 1 ---
Our Lady of La Leche y Buen Parto (Milk and Happy Delivery)

As mentioned in a previous post, I went to Florida for another work trip in February. This time we met in St. Augustine. I was super excited to find out that this is supposedly America's first parish and the site where the Spaniards landed and celebrated the first Mass. On this site, called Nombre de Dios, is also the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche which houses a statue depicting Mary breast feeding the baby Jesus. A coworker visited the shrine with me and I prayed for some friends who are trying to conceive. Later before my flight I took a walk back to visit the museum where I met a man from Vermont (small world!) who told me all about Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, the founder of St. Augustine, and showed me the man's coffin which, admittedly, looked pretty darn cool.

I arrived in St. Augustine on Tuesday night just before Ash Wednesday so I went to Mass at the Cathedral Basilica which was easily within walking distance. The next morning I went to Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and remembered to pass through the Holy Door for the Jubilee Year of Mercy. As usual, I stayed in the pew to pray for a while before leaving. An older gentleman stopped on his way out to ask if he could pray for my intention. Explaining that he is a Carmelite he took out what was the largest brown scapular I've ever seen and had me hold one end in my lap while he held the other end against the back of my shoulder. Then he prayed a wonderfully beautiful prayer and we chatted for a while. I think he said his name is Richard and that he lives on a horse farm. He told me that all of the bones in his ankle are shattered and that doctors tried to put it back together with screws but they pulled out and so the doctor wants to amputate--so pray for Richard's ankle! Also pray for the young street musician named Brandon who spent a coffee break telling me his story.

--- 2 ---

In May, mom and I went with Carl and Jeremy to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in DC. We also attended the Vigil Mass the evening before, celebrated by Cardinal Sarah (nice name!) from Guinea. Mom, who is not Catholic, decided to come through the communion line with arms crossed to receive a blessing from the Cardinal. When she got to the front, the Cardinal stood holding the Eucharist and looking confused until the man holding the Communion-plate whispered into his ear and then he gave her a blessing. I guess it's not a universal sign! But she did finally get the blessing and the next day there was a book singing for God or Nothing and I got to speak with the Cardinal. Actually I just said "Thank you, I'll pray for you!" and he said, "Yes, please pray for me." Still, I was excited.

--- 3 ---

I showed some of the Catholic wonders of Santa Fe, NM in a different post entitled 7QT: A Santa Fe Pilgrimage, but managed to see some new things during a work trip this summer. This time I visited what is suppose to be the oldest church in the country, San Miguel. Unfortunately I did not get to attend a Gregorian Chant Mass with Schola which would have been AWESOME! Instead I attended Church at the Basilica which, I discovered, has Stations of the Cross by Gib Singleton, the man who designed the corpus for St. John Paul II's crosier.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

--- 4 ---

At the end of August, mom and I went with Carl to see a DC Padres game at the Bowie Baysox Stadium. The Padres is a team of priests and seminarians that plays several games each summer against local high schools. The Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara, our local blue nuns, were there to cheer them on. It was a good time even though mom and I were both on special diets--no hot dogs for us!

--- 5 ---

Mom and I have been memorizing scripture verses through songs and we have three sources that have been so unbelievably helpful that I'll post one from each for the last three Quick Takes. The first is Seeds Family Worship, a band that has a bunch of videos with words on Youtube and has several albums that can be purchased from their website.

"Cast your cares on the Lord, and He will sustain you. He will never let the righteous fall." Psalm 55:22

--- 6 ---

The second is a band called The Rizers (short for Memorizers) that also has a bunch of videos on Youtube and a few albums that can be purchased on their website.

"Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always and pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18

--- 7 ---

Shannon Linville also has a bunch of videos on Youtube. Her style is targeted toward smaller children, but it's still a great way to learn scripture.

"A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." Proverbs 15:1

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain't the Lyceum!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Drinking condemnation.

Another meandering walk through my amateur understanding of theology…

I was listening to a talk by Mother Margaret Mary, the founder of the Children of Mary community in Ohio (they have a channel on Youtube), and she was talking about the way in which many Catholics understand (or rather don't) what we call the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. (I have no idea if I've posted the right video, but that's ok because everything Mother Margaret Mary says is AWESOME.) She was at a church for a Eucharistic Holy Hour and afterward saw the two young altar servers. She said something like, "isn't that wonderful to be able to serve Jesus when he's really present in the Eucharist?" They agreed. Then she asked what that means to them, that he's really present. "Is he really there, like your parents who were there? Or is he really there in spirit? Or is it a symbol of him really being there?" And they said "Ummm… I guess it's a symbol." GAH!!! That's not at all what the Real Presence of Christ means. Quite literally, it means that he's REALLY there.

Catholics believe that during the Mass when the priest speaks the words that Jesus spoke at the Last Supper (this is my body, this is my blood) the wafers and wine literally become his body and blood even though they still look, smell, feel and taste like wafers and wine--thank God for that because it would be much harder for me to drink from a cup of what looks, smells and tastes like blood! Some super geniuses have explained how such a change, referred to as transubstantiation, could come about (e.g. St. Thomas Aquinas). But it's not like drinking blood and eating flesh in a cannibalistic way. The whole Jesus is present in any fragment of wafer or drop of wine. I like to think of it as the mini-Jesus, who gets mini-er the smaller the drop of wine becomes. Once the presence of the consecrated bread/wine is gone (for example, I've digested it or it has been petrified or burned into ashes or whatever) then the mini-Jesus is also gone. Where does he go? Same place he was before, I guess, he's just no longer physically present in me. I don't know, that's why it's called a mystery. But what is he doing while he's inside of me? (Is he singing songs like Jonah?) What does it matter that he is physically present within me?

When I'm in a state of grace and receive Holy Communion, Jesus comes into my body in a special way for the period of time during which my body digests the host. Jesus himself said that his body is true food and his blood is true drink. It has a nourishing effect. The scripture also says that he will make his enemies his footstool. While he's in there he starts making whatever enemies he finds into his footstool, conquering them one by one. He also heals any wounds he finds. Essentially, he gradually makes us holy and transforms us into himself (you really are what you eat!). But his power to do this depends on my openness to his grace and belief in his power to do so. If I am weak in faith the effect will be small, not because Jesus is weak but because I have in a sense not given him permission to use his full strength. And God does not force himself on anyone.

Let's say I have been trying to give up some venial sin, like complaining about the weather. If I start receiving Holy Communion every day, Jesus will continue his healing work and make it easier over time for me to stop doing that. Whatever inside of me makes me want to complain will become weaker and weaker as Jesus makes his enemy his footstool. However, each time I complain I am in some sense choosing the enemy over Jesus. If the sin is venial, and so I have not made a conscious decision for the enemy or a conscious decision to offend God, then Jesus will take away the sin the next time I attend Mass. Even so, it is beneficial for me to take advantage of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation which will strengthen me even further to avoid this sin in the future and will provide extra healing for the negative effects of that sin. Why not fight with every weapon available?

However, when I commit a mortal sin, I am no longer in a state of grace. Then I have allowed death and darkness to enter in and take the place of the light and life that are the presence of the Holy Trinity. In a sense I have given the enemy permission to do his destructive work inside of me. It's not the same as possession, in which I've literally given a spirit permission to take over my will. But I've taken the devil's medicine which can only harm my soul. If I committed the act willingly and knowing that the Church believes it to be a sin then I have chosen the enemy over God regardless of what excuses I make to rationalize my action. It doesn't matter if I think that God shouldn't be offended what I've done, who knows the mind of God? Sin often looks good to us. (Even Satan can appear as an angel of light!) I have no choice but to trust the Gospels and the Church.

After committing a mortal sin, I must not receive communion! Not only would it be an offense against God but I have, in a sense, revoked the permission I gave for Jesus to act within me so receiving communion can no longer do me any good. And so, in a way, Jesus is left powerless against the enemies within me--not because he is powerless, but because of the weakness of my faith. ("Jesus could not do any miracles there. […] He was amazed at their lack of faith." Mark 6:5-6) Instead of healing and defending me, he is sent back to the agony in the garden where he sees that his precious gift of self has been scorned and rejected. My unworthy communion is Judas' kiss for Jesus. Thus the effect of communion on my being is actually the opposite of what it was before and, as St. Paul said to the Ephesians, "You drink condemnation on yourselves. This is why so many of you are dying." It is sin and the rejection of God that brought death into the world in the first place.

If we have died with him, we shall also live with him;
if we persevere, we shall also reign with him.
But if we deny him, he will deny us.
If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful,
for he cannot deny himself.
2 Timothy 2:11-13

Through mortal sin, I break my covenant with God. A covenant is a binding agreement. Giving my life to Jesus is binding. But when I have broken this covenant it is no longer binding, and no amount of well wishing will change that. God allows there to be consequences to our actions. Just as I originally had to go to the Church for Baptism in order to pass from death to life, I now have to return to the Church for the Sacrament of Reconciliation to reinstate my Baptismal covenant and to enter again from death to life. (Although it's not theologically sound, it can be helpful to think of it as though I've unbaptized myself.) Until I have gone to the Church for this Reconciliation I'm still in the realm of death and not in a state of grace. Therefore, it is foolish for me to receive Holy Communion, which will only do greater harm.

If something keeps me from returning to the state of grace (for example, if I am in a second marriage and have not yet found a way to rectify the situation), then I should remind myself that God's mercy is infinite and have hope that he will allow me to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. However, I should NOT presume God's mercy and act as though I am in a state of grace when I know that I am not. In this case, the Church recommends that I make a spiritual communion. Many Saints have indicated that a spiritual communion can be as efficacious as a physical communion when one has the proper interior disposition.

Here is a great article by a woman who is remarried and handling the situation in the best way she can:

Even outside of the state of grace, I can adore Jesus in the Eucharist. Spending time in Eucharistic Adoration is beneficial for everyone, even the unbaptized. I know because I used to make a Eucharistic Holy Hour every morning during RCIA. I could feel a calm and a peace within the adoration chapel that I was sure came from the physical presence of Jesus. If simply touching his garment could heal a lifelong affliction, then what miracles of grace will come through sitting in his presence?

During my year of preparation for Baptism, I felt encouraged that if I were to die before my official entry into the Church then God would grant me the grace of Baptism by Desire. The authority of the Church maintains that this mercy is extended to those who die as catechumens, with a clear intent of being Baptized. Certainly the same goes for those who are killed for the faith during preparation for Baptism, as was the case with Saints Felicity and Perpetua who received the Baptism by Blood. I have great hope that a person who is not in a state of grace but who is obeying the teachings of the Church when it comes to the Holy Eucharist (i.e. not receiving) and who desires to return to full communion with the Church would receive an abundance of God's mercy if he/she died before absolution could be obtained through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

I have great respect for those who, although not currently in a state of grace, maintain respect for the authority of the Church and the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist while hoping in God's mercy. May we one day all be in perfect communion!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Holy Week in Boston (aka Nazareth).

One of my friends at work recommended that I visit a brand new community called Daughters of Mary of Nazareth as my next stop along the path of discernment. This community is founded by Mother Olga of the Sacred Heart, who grew up in Iraq as a member of the Assyrian Church of the East. She originally founded a community in that church before converting to Catholicism. Recently, Cardinal O'Malley of Boston approached her about starting a new community for women. The primary patron of the community is Blessed Charles de Foucauld who founded his own community (posthumously) called the Little Brothers (and Sisters) of Jesus. He lived an extremely ascetical life as a hermit and spent several years in Nazareth. Inspired by his charisms of spiritual brotherhood (welcoming all with an open door policy) and spiritual childhood (depending entirely on God in all things), the Daughters live what they refer to as the Nazarean spirituality of the Holy Family.

I spoke with Mother Olga in January and she recommended that she and I spend a period of time in prayer, discerning whether or not God is calling me to visit the community, and then regroup to plan my visit. I immediately prayed a St. Therese novena (nine days of prayer) and followed it by a novena to Our Lady of La Leche. The latter was inspired by a work trip to St. Augustine, FL where the Spanish first landed and said Mass and where the first Marian Shrine was established in the US. This was the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche, or Our Lady of the Milk, who is depicted breast feeding the infant Jesus. Hopefully I will post more about that trip later. Anyway, it turns out Mother Olga has a special connection with Our Lady of La Leche and was amazed that God had brought me there. We talked on the phone for a while and she recommended that I visit during Holy Week.

I arrived in Boston on Tuesday. The Daughters and Mother Olga picked me up in their 15 passenger van on the way to the Chrism Mass at the cathedral. This is the Mass where all of the oils to be used for the year (oil of catechumens for Baptism, oil of the sick, and oil of chrism primarily for confirmation) are blessed by the bishop and dispersed to all of the parishes and shrines in the diocese. I entered right into the action when, midway through Mass, the seminarians brought hundreds of bottles of blessed oil from the sanctuary down into the basement to be divided into prelabeled bags for each location. I spent about half an hour wrapping the glass bottles in paper while others bagged and then the hordes came down to receive them.

The Daughters have new digs in Quincy, MA where a convent was available on the grounds of a local parish. The convent is modest but beautiful with plenty of room for the community to grow. The Sisters took very good care of me and there was an intense family atmosphere. Their charism definitely shines through. On Wednesday we hosted some local pregnant ladies and new moms with their babies from a respite house (like the Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life). We had Mass and sang songs and ate dinner and eventually called it a night.

Thursday night we went into Boston for the Maundy Thursday Mass at the cathedral followed by night prayer and adoration until midnight when the Blessed Sacrament is taken to a hidden location until Easter vigil. The Missionaries of Charity were there when we arrived and I recognized Sister Noelita who was recently at Gift of Hope in Baltimore! She was amazed to see me with this religious community and promised to pray for me. After the service I met a man with the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher who lives in Vermont and has family in my hometown! What a small world.

Good Friday was a rainy day, but we joined a group making a Seven Churches walk while carrying a large wooden cross. This takes after the tradition of visiting the Seven Pilgrim Churches in Rome throughout the course of one day. Mother Olga carried the cross between two of the churches, which was an amazing feat because of her tiny stature. When asked what prayer intention she was carrying it for she said, "for the conversion of ISIS."

On Friday night, we went back to the cathedral for the Veneration of the Cross, which is the traditional Good Friday service. Instead of receiving Holy Communion, everyone comes forward to kiss a wooden cross. The one used at the Archdiocese of Boston contains a relic of the true cross of Jesus. Supposedly, St. Helen (the mother of Constantine) when back to the site of the crucifixion and was able to find the remnants of the cross that had been used. Fragments of the cross are dispersed in various locations around the world, with several in the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington. The Sisters were very excited because I had told them that this Easter Vigil is the 5 year anniversary of my Baptism. They pointed out that the gift for 5 year anniversaries is suppose to be wood and one of the Sisters suggested that this opportunity to venerate the wood from the true cross was my gift from Jesus. And who knows, maybe she was right! Because unbeknownst to us, the photographer for the archdiocese had taken the perfect picture which Mother Olga happened to notice a couple days later on the archdiocesan website.

We spent a lot of Saturday preparing for Easter, buying Easter lilies and decorating the convent and even dying Easter eggs. You know, the practical stuff. Later that day we picked up some ladies from the pregnancy home and brought them to the Easter Vigil Mass at the Sisters' parish. The next day we went to the Easter Sunday Mass at the same parish and then visited two nursing homes. The priests didn't have time to visit the nursing homes and say Mass so we provided Communion services during which the Sisters and I did the readings and sang hymns and Mother Olga distributed Communion. The residents were so grateful to have us there that some of them even started crying. It was such a wonderful way to start Easter and I'm glad that Mother Olga let me be so involved, treating me just like the other Sisters. I think I really got a taste of the community life.

While I was there Mother Olga loaned me a small booklet called Spiritual Childhood by Little Sister Magdeleine of Jesus. I wrote down my favorite quotes on the qualities of Spiritual Childhood:

"Trust like that of a child for its father or mother, and surrender into God's hands--trust and surrender of a tiny child who, when his father pretends he's about to throw him off a terrible cliff, bursts out laughing when he sees the cliff beneath him, because he knows he's safe in his father's arms."

I can't say that I approve of fathers pretending to throw their children off of cliffs… but I get her meaning.

"He's safe because he loves his father, and he's sure that his father loves him. He knows for sure that his father will never let go when he holds him out over the void, or heaves him up over his head. He is sure that nothing bad can come to him from his father."

"The immense dreams and desires of an undaunted and daring spirit, natural fruit of the child's trust that his father loves him and will never abandon him."

"They will cross the most tightly closed borders without threatening anyone--no more than a little child threatens grown ups, because they are not afraid of his influence, nor his critical intellect, nor his harsh judgements; and the child itself is so small it could not possibly consider itself of any consequence."

I had a fantastic week with this community but left with no clearer understanding of where or to what I might be called. My spiritual director suggested that I take a break from discernment because the past month had been particularly difficult with a lingering upper respiratory infection and an unexplained bout of hives that only went away with steroids. And so, thanks be to God, I took a couple of months to relax before starting up round two.

P.S. I should note that I also got to see the very first Dunkin' Donuts, right there in the Sisters' hometown!!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Semi-contemplative Snowzilla.

When I first started learning about religious communities I thought they only came in two flavors: active or contemplative. The contemplative communities are fully cloistered and often only leave their enclosure in times of emergency (e.g. for medical treatment or the death of a parent). Active communities often spend enough time in outside ministries that they have full time jobs (e.g. teaching or nursing). I didn't really feel called to either of these lifestyles. Later I learned about active-contemplative combo communities like the Sisters of Life.

At some point during my search, I remembered a friend telling me about a revival of the hermetic life. In other words, one could become a diocesan hermit. This is something like a cloistered "community" of one. Although I didn't necessarily feel called to this life either, I was curious to know more. During my search, I came across a new religious community called Children of Mary, founded by a woman who was originally discerning a vocation to the hermetic life. She had already unofficially lived the life of a hermit for about ten years and came to a point that she desired to make official vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. She received the permission of her Bishop to write up a rule of life and move toward an eventual profession. However, not long afterward the Bishop contacted her and asked if she would consider founding a new religious community, accepting other women to live the contemplative life with her too. And so the Children of Mary came to be.

This is a lovely semi-contemplative community in Ohio that spends most of their time in prayer and manual labor, in other words a largely monastic lifestyle, and a small amount of time in active ministries. I was highly impressed when I read about the Sisters' homeless ministry. When asked to volunteer at a local soup kitchen they agreed only on the condition that they could set up a temporary chapel for Eucharistic Adoration every time they visit. I remembered how our homeless winter relief shelter always seemed to be fighting an inevitable fall from spiritual ministry into mere social work. The Children of Mary Sisters have a fabulous solution to that problem. Their main focus is making Jesus known, loved and adored in the Blessed Sacrament.

A couple of months after visiting the Sisters of Life, I contacted the foundress of the Children of Mary and asked if I could meet the community. The timing was providential, as five of the Sisters were on their way to the March for Life in DC. I set up to meet the Sisters for Mass and adoration at a church in Bethesda, have some breakfast and then take the Metro into the city with them for the March.

The March was on Friday this year so I took the day off and stayed with mom in Alexandria on Thursday night so that I could Metro to Bethesda the next morning. We knew that a monster storm was expected to start on Friday afternoon and I wanted to stay with mom over the weekend. I got to the church before the Sisters and stayed in my pew when they arrived because I didn't want to distract them from their prayers in preparation for the Mass. Since I was the only one to hang around after Mass, they knew that I must be Sarah and one of the Sisters came over to introduce herself and tell me the plan. We would stay in the church for a little over an hour and then move to the school cafeteria to eat our breakfasts.

On the way to the cafeteria I was introduced to each Sister, with a hug! The Sisters were quiet during breakfast, I think they're used to eating in silence. Overall I would describe the Sisters as peaceful and radiant in a way that drew people like moths to flame! So many people of all types came over to talk with the Sisters. On the Metro they each ended up in conversation with a brand new friend and they passed out prayer cards and DVDs wherever we went. I ended up spending about half of the day with the Sisters, leaving the March early because the snow had started and was falling fast. I hugged each of the Sisters and lamented the fact that I had to leave so soon, but I think it was the right decision. I managed to get back to mom's apartment and was snowed in there until Tuesday!

I've heard a lot of religious vocation stories of love at first sight, but I've also heard stories of women visiting many communities before settling on the right one. In the beginning I think searching for a religious community is like looking for a husband. In most cases, you set up your first date based on a vague feeling of attraction and generally decide whether or not to make a second date based on a slightly less vague feeling of attraction. Of course, all of this searching takes place in the midst of intense prayer and is not something that can be reasoned out completely.

I had some really nice casual conversations with a few of the Sisters and got a better idea of their daily life. After visiting the Sisters of Life I had wondered if I might be called to a more contemplative lifestyle, e.g. semi-contemplative. But after meeting the Children of Mary I just wasn't sure. Again I didn't feel any certainty that "Yes! This is the one!" so I decided to keep searching. In the meantime, it has been a huge blessing to spend time with these ladies.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Come and see.

So about one year ago on a silent retreat I was spending a lot of time in prayer and had a moment when I was sure that God was calling me to... well... something. And it seemed to me that this something might be a radically different way of life--perhaps entering a religious community.

During the next couple of months I spent a lot of time researching the religious life and learned a lot more than I knew before, which was almost nothing, about the wide variety of religious communities out there. I contacted the first community that really grabbed my attention, the Sisters of Life, and the vocations director invited me to their Come-and-See retreat, named after John 1:39. (The Sisters of Life is a community founded to "protect and enhance the sacredness of human life.") During the next four months I prepared for the retreat by working on various self improvements and trying not to worry too much. My main concern was that I had been asked to bring work out clothing because we would be playing ultimate frisbee. I haven't played a team sport in over ten years and continually imagined my glasses being smashed off of my face on day one of the three day retreat.

The trip up to the retreat house in Connecticut went smoothly until the last 10 miles when my Google Maps directions became unintelligible and I had to call mom to help me with her fancy Smart Phone technology. In the end, I actually figured it out on my own using the road atlas (woot!). As I had hoped, I arrived in time for Evening Prayer before dinner. And the whole weekend was a blast! Thanks be to God, there was an alternative to ultimate frisbee for us less active types. We walked to the cemetery to pray for the Souls in Purgatory, since we were still within the All Souls Day octave.

I knew that I would be one of the oldest retreatants since most women's religious communities in the US are looking primarily for women who recently finished college and it has been MORE THAN TEN YEARS since I received my bachelor's degree. But there were a few other oldies but goodies there for the weekend and the organizers made sure that I met the two aerospace-minded Sisters of Life; one had worked at NASA and the other at Harvard's Center for Astrophysics.

Throughout the weekend the Sisters introduced us to some of their apostolates. We visited Sacred Heart convent in New York City which is their holy respite for pregnant women and new mothers in need of support. We also prayed the rosary outside of a local abortion clinic and heard the testimony of a woman who came to the Sisters looking for inner healing after her abortion. One of the highlights of the weekend was a trip to St. Patrick's Cathedral to visit the tomb of Cardinal O'Connor, the deceased founder of the Sisters of Life. I was extra excited, because when mom and I visited about a year ago the church was covered with scaffolding and we weren't able to go to the crypt. This time we spent about twenty minutes praying down in the crypt which also contains the tombs of Pierre Toussaint; Cardinal Cooke, the founder of Courage International; and Archbishop Fulton Sheen!

The Sisters exuded a childlike bliss and seemed to have truly found their place in life. The atmosphere was permeated with great joy and I lingered much longer than I needed to after finishing lunch on the last day because I didn't want to leave. The drive home took about two hours longer than it should have because I kept getting lost in thought about the weekend and missing my exits. At one point I pulled off at a rest stop, still marveling at the joy I saw in the Sisters. As I entered the bathroom, I heard a country music song playing: "I want whatever she's got!" Mercifully taken out of the context of the rest of the song, that lyric pretty much summed up my feelings about the weekend--these Sisters have found the pearl of great price!

Over the next few weeks I pondered something that Blessed Mother Teresa (soon to be St. Teresa of Kolkata!) had said: we must love all religious communities but fall in love with our own. While not every love is a love at first sight, the retreat did not leave me with a sense of clarity that this community is absolutely the one for me. So after this first encounter, which was a wonderful start to my search, I decided to keep seeking.