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.