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!!