Monday, February 27, 2017

The role of signs in discernment.

I don't have a GPS, and in some places it won't work anyway, so I always print driving directions when I'm going to a new place. Unfortunately, sometimes the directions refer to a road that doesn't exist anymore or a road that is closed and I have to take a different route. Then I get lost and need to call someone for directions. When this happened in Montreal on my way to a science conference, Allison was gracious enough to search a map to figure out where I was and guide me to the hotel.

I don't know if everyone has had the experience of driving while someone tries to explain directions by cell phone, but it usually goes something like this: "Do you see a 7 Eleven up ahead? Drive to the 7 Eleven. If you pass the cow made out of hay bales then you're going in the right direction." Am I suppose to stop at the hay bales? No, they're just a sign that I'm going in the right direction. Am I suppose to stop at the 7 Eleven? No, it's just the farthest landmark that I am able to see from here.

This seems to be how God encourages me in the spiritual life, but I tend to over-interpret and think "He must want me to stop at the hay bales!" or "I made it to the 7 Eleven, I should apply for a job and work here for the rest of my life!" This is because I'm impatient to reach the destination, wanting to skip over that journeying part. Instead of asking "Are we there yet?", I impulsively assume that we must be there. This has been especially obvious during my discernment process.

For example, as soon as I started discerning with the Sisters of Life, they started showing up everywhere! When I went to the Defending the Faith conference in Steubenville, Scott Hahn mentioned that Cardinal O'Connor (their founder) had once visited their memorial to the unborn. Then, all of a sudden, one of the volunteers at our prison ministry brought in a newspaper article about this fantastic group of Sisters, which happened to be the Sisters of Life. And just a little while later, I was volunteering at the Missionaries of Charity with a friend who was asking about my discernment. A nice couple had shown up earlier wondering if the Sisters needed help with anything. They overheard our conversation and the wife said to me, "I saw you come in and thought, she looks like a Sister of Life." And she told me that her and her husband used to live in Stamford CT near the Sisters of Life retreat house before moving to Baltimore a couple of years ago. That's one heck of a coincidence! All of this made me think, "Wow God, you must be calling me to enter this community!" Then I finally visited the Sisters of Life and loved so many things about their community. But if the proof of the pudding is in the eating, then something wasn't quite right. It didn't seem like the right flavor for me.

So then I was very confused. I've listened to so many vocation stories that sound just like this. God calls and then provides a bunch of confirmations and it ends happily ever after. If this wasn't the right community for me, then why did God provide all those confirmations? But as Ravi Zacharias points out in his book The Grand Weaver, a calling can only been seen clearly in retrospect. I was blessed in so many ways through my visits to the Sisters of Life and I'm sure that God wanted to encourage me to continue along that path until it was time to turn off, and not a moment sooner. Lots of times, the final destination is not clear until you've already gotten there.

Similarly, once I started discerning with the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth, it seemed certain that this community must be for me. It seemed like God had been preparing me for this all along. By some strange coincidence, most of the Daughters daily prayers matched my daily prayers for the LMCs, including the prayer of abandonment by Bl. Charles de Foucauld. Their charism is to mirror the Holy Family of Nazareth, which is essentially the same as the LMC charism. In fact, the LMC movement was originally called the Nazareth Family Movement. But I was especially amazed to find out that the foundress of the community had traveled to St. Joseph's Oratory to ask Sts. Joseph and Andre to intercede for the community just prior to its foundation. She had promised to bring the Sisters on pilgrimage to the Oratory at the time of their profession. Meanwhile, it just so happened that I had been at St. Joseph's Oratory, praying in front of the incorrupt heart of Brother Andre and asking for God's direction for my life, just three weeks before hearing God's call during my silent retreat. This would be the perfect vocation story! Surely I had found the right place. And yet after visiting, I wasn't quite sure anymore. It seemed like God wanted me to keep seeking.

Looking back, it was such a wonderful gift to discern with these communities, and I'm so grateful that the Lord allowed me to rest with them along the way. In the meantime, I have learned not to rely on signs and wonders in my discernment, as though I can just read the tea leaves and know the answer. I really do have to try to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit, abandon myself and see where I end up. In the short term, these signs can encourage me that I am following the right path without necessarily indicating where I will end up. When I do end up in the right place, I will be able to look back and see more clearly how each landmark guided me to the final destination.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Discerning God's Call: Part 6

After hearing God's call during my silent retreat, it was a growing love for sitting in silence with God that led me to consider primarily contemplative communities. At the time, I didn't know about many religious communities so I started surfing the internet. I must have read about hundreds of communities from cloistered contemplatives to active communities. I needed to narrow down the options somehow, so I just picked the communities that seemed the most attractive to me and trusted the Holy Spirit to guide. With every community I contacted the Lord blessed me tremendously! One of the great gifts of this process is that once you've contacted a community they will start praying for you.

Both in the time leading up to and the month following my first come-and-see retreat (with the Sisters of Life), I received dramatic inner healing and spiritual growth. God also used the Sisters to bring about my total consecration to Jesus through Mary, something the Lord had recently begun asking me to do. I even saw growth in my family relations, resulting in deeper spiritual conversations following my time with the second community (Children of Mary). On my third trip (to the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth), I felt even more convicted of God's call after talking with a Sister who left a career in aerospace engineering to pursue her vocation. However, when it comes to entering a particular community, Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata said: "We must love all religious orders but we must fall in love with our own." After meeting with these communities I felt as though I loved them all, but had no greater attraction to one than another.

I knew from the discernment experience of a friend that I would have to rely more on the guidance of the Holy Spirit than on my own reason. This friend had been certain that she was called to the Missionaries of Charity. After getting as far as submitting an application and beginning her preparation for entrance into their community, her application was declined due to concerns about her condition of prosopagnosia (face blindness) which was seen as an obstacle to the MC ministries. But several months later she announced that she had been accepted into a fully cloistered Benedictine convent and, although she had been excited about an MC vocation, she was now beaming with supernatural joy. She thought she was called to the MCs, but God knew her better. ("For the Lord sees not as man sees [,,,] but the Lord looks on the heart." 1 Sam 16:7)

I would say that my discernment has looked less like a process of human reasoning than a step forward in the dark followed by a pause to consider whether I should take another tentative step in the same direction or return and start along a new trajectory (perhaps later to change my mind and return to the initial trajectory!). Sometimes the Holy Spirit gives no additional information and leaves me to my own devices. I then make a decision based on what is hopefully spiritual intuition, and maybe a little bit of human reason. Other times the Holy Spirit reveals things about me and the discernment process that make the path a little bit clearer. Of course, the Holy Spirit also leads through external circumstances by closing some doors and opening others. Ultimately this has been a process of getting to know myself better and growing in discernment of spirits.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

7QT: Ideas for Lent

Time to prepare for Lent, Ash Wednesday is in four days! Here are seven good resources. Here's hoping everyone has a happy and transformative Lent!

--- 1 ---
I'm always looking for ways to force myself to exercise. It has been a huge failure lately. But Lent starts on Wednesday and I'm going to commit to 20 minutes of cardio at least 3 times a week. Mom and I have a great new apartment in a complex that has a pretty nice gym for cardio and strength training. Unfortunately, I don't ever go there. In an effort to remove any remaining excuses I have for not exercising regularly, I'm considering trying running in place. Supposedly this is pretty much as beneficial as running outside or on a treadmill, and costs a whole lot less than a home gym.

--- 2 ---

Live the Fast is a great resource for Lent. Their fasting breads are nutrient dense and taste pretty good and the bread is fermented so it can survive shipping. Supposedly, the main reason that I can't live off of water and crusts of bread like St. Philip Neri did for most of his adult life is that the bread was a lot more nutritious back in his day. (Well... I'm not sure Live the Fast would recommend fasting on their bread every day, but it is a great apostolate.) The Live the Fast multigrain rolls need to bake for six minutes so, in the morning of a fasting day, I would bake all of the bread I needed for the day and bring it to work with me. That said, I'm probably going to start buying bread locally because it's hard to fit a bag of 36 rolls in my freezer.

--- 3 ---

I've come across some great reading for Lent. I LOVE the book What Jesus Saw from the Cross, by Fr. Sertillanges, which talks about Jesus' interactions with all of the different groups of people present during his crucifixion. But I usually just skim through the first chapter which is a description of what he actually would have seen in terms of architectural structures and natural landmarks. Maybe I'm not good with spatial reasoning or I'm too unimaginative but it reminded me of reading the blueprints for the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament. Anyway, the book has endorsements from Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Cardinal O'Connor and St. Teresa of Kolkata, so you know the rest has to be good!
Regarding Judas' inability to repent and accept God's forgiveness:
"From the Cross, since here all is forgiveness and redemptive suffering, Jesus does not curse the disciple who has gone astray. He has no anger in His heart; but He leaves him 'in his own place,' according to those terrible words of the Acts [Acts 1:25], for he had made his choice between that place and Calvary. [...] With sorrowful majesty He withdraws His gaze from one who fled Him with an everlasting flight. He has no glance for the 'son of perdition'." In other words, God doesn't send souls to hell, they choose it.

--- 4 ---

The book Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week always knocks my socks off. It is packed full of amazing insights and I always wish I had a photographic memory so I could retain more. Because I don't, I could probably read this book 100 times and still learn something new every time. Pope Benedict XVI presents Jesus' journey through the Passion to the Resurrection in simple and straightforward language that I think would be accessible to most people in small bits.

Regarding Jesus' large group of disciples:
"Jesus' followers are absent from the place of judgment, absent through fear. But they are also absent in the sense that they fail to step forward en masse. Their voice will make itself heard on the day of Pentecost in Peter's preaching, which cuts 'to the heart' the very people who had earlier supported Barabbas. In answer to the question 'Brethen, what shall we do?' they receive the answer: 'Repent'--renew and transform your thinking, your being. This is the summons which, in view of the Barabbas scene and its many recurrences throughout history, should tear open our hearts and change our lives." How often do we fail to defend Jesus out of fear even when our silence makes it seem like we agree with those who attack the faith?

--- 5 ---

For my birthday, a friend gave me the book 33 Days to Merciful Love by Fr. Michael Gaitley. The book is a 33 day long, do-it-youself retreat to consecrate oneself to God's merciful love. I learned today that because March 19 is a Sunday, St Joseph's feast day is moved to March 20 which is the day to start the retreat in order for it to end on Divine Mercy Sunday. Isn't that cool? So I will be making this retreat in addition to re-reading Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelly, a practical yet challenging do-it-yourself retreat specifically for Lent.

It's always good during Lent to get back to learning the Word of God. Sometimes I commit to listening to the Audio New Testament whenever I'm driving. One can also commit to learning a scripture song each day, for example, Sing Through the Bible, based on the One Year Bible. This year I'm thinking about listening to the audio version of The Bible in 90 Days by Zondervan, which I will obviously not finish by the end of Lent. But I've already started this method of memorizing scripture which essentially consists of reading the same passage each day for 50 days and then rote memorizing. The memorization part is suppose to go much faster and be retained much longer.

And, of course, Stations of the Cross! Little Lamb Music recorded Liam Neeson reading St. Alphonsus Liguori's version, which is available on YouTube. Opus Bono Sacerdotii, one of my favorite charities, offers the Divine Mercy Stations of the Cross for the intentions of priests. Fr. Zulsdorf has recorded several versions that are available on his blog, including Cardinal Ratzinger, Bl. John Henry Newman and the Franciscan stations. I'm sure there are other fantastic versions out there so feel free to share! Or share your own ideas for a transformative Lent. :-)

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

Friday, February 24, 2017

Discerning God's Call: Part 5

For a while I had a difficult time understanding exactly why I would not feel called to enter a teaching community. Finally I listened to Sr. Juana Teresa's vocation story about finding the Disciples of Our Lord Jesus Christ and something she said resonated with me. Essentially, if I'm teaching a math class then I can try to work in references to God by, for example, promising to pray for the students and maybe taking five minutes at the beginning of class to read from Pascal's theological texts, pointing out that he was both a Catholic and a Physicist. But for the most part I need to be talking about math and helping the students to learn it. The school, the parents and the students are entitled to that. They have a right to expect me to spend most of the time discussing math. If I were to spend significant amounts of time talking about other things, even God, then I would not be fulfilling the duties of my state in life. In fact, it is extremely important to have math teachers who are able to integrate their spiritual lives with their work lives and fulfill the duties of this state, for example, through the spirituality of Opus Dei (the Work of God).

The same is true of my current job as a research scientist. I can share with my coworkers my latest spiritual endeavors and offer to pray for their intentions, but my employer has a right to expect me to spend most of my time and mental power on problems of atmospheric composition, satellites and instrumentation, solar flares, etc. To spend significant amounts of time either actively sharing my faith or directing my thoughts toward God is not within the scope of the duties of my state in life. My employer provided me with a job description which I accepted and I am getting paid to deliver on that. Realizing this, I have tried to incorporate the teachings of St Josemaria Escriva and St Therese (The Little Way) into my work in order to spiritualize the secular tasks that are required by my state. This is a beautiful spirituality for those in secular life and I fully believe in the universal call to holiness, realizing that my job is in no way incompatible with the spiritual life. However, I feel a persistent, strong desire to pray continually and preach the gospel at all times which, so far, has been a source of sorrow… as though the very walls around me are crying out.

That said, it is amazing how many opportunities the Lord has given me to share my faith, for example, explaining Papal Infallibility to senior scientists at lunch and debating religious liberty and conscience violation while riding with a coworker to a team meeting. It comes up quite often considering every conversation is brief and somewhat isolated. Sometimes I feel discouraged that most of our short conversations focus on trivialities, but I think this is a consequence of the environment. It is difficult to connect with people and be fully present to them amidst the frenetic activity. An emotional connection is so necessary in order to communicate at a deeper level. Of course I have tried, and I think this has born fruit in situations such as those mentioned above.

Recently I finished reading The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun, about a Chinese Christian who has been imprisoned several times for the faith. I was struck by Yun's observation: "In a way, even though I was now free, I found it difficult to leave the prison. Inside, the spiritual fellowship with my fellow Christians had been very deep and sweet. The bonds we made were very strong. We served one another in love, and shared our whole lives with each other. In the outside world people are busy and have many things to do. Most of our relationships are little more than skin-deep." Often, the skin deep nature of my work relationships makes it difficult to share the faith.

But the difficulties of my present circumstances have little bearing on the course my life will take. As we know, we are all called to take up our cross and follow Jesus. In terms of vocational discernment, the only important question is: what is God calling me to do? If God desires for me to stay in my current job then I need to be abandoned to Divine Providence and accept that as my calling. I will pray and trust that the Lord will open my spiritual eyes to see Him present in that place. However, I do believe that God enkindled in me a desire for Religious Life and spoke directly to my heart at Holy Cross Abbey. So for now, I'm continuing along this discernment path.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Discerning God's Call: Part 4

retreat house chapel at Holy Cross Abbey

I've been reading the book, In Sinu Jesu: When Heart Speaks to Heart. It's basically the spiritual journal of an anonymous Benedictine monk who, during Eucharistic adoration, was inspired to record certain messages from God. He writes:

"The vocabulary and the style are mine, but the substance of what I wrote came during prayer, without any effort or prior reflection on my part. There would be an inner movement to write, and I would write until the inspiration stopped. After writing, there would be a grace of quiet union with Our Lord or with Our Lady."

Once, on a silent retreat at the Trappists' Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville VA, I had a similar experience. It was the Vigil of the Feast of the Holy Trinity in 2015. After spending a good amount of time praying in front of the tabernacle in the austere chapel at the retreat house, I was relaxing in my room. Then, all of a sudden, I felt compelled to write. Words flowed onto the page followed by a deep sense of peace. After a short period of time had passed, I slowly read through the words I had written.

"I am the bridegroom and my spouse is the Church. Every member of the Church, my body, will be espoused to me in a chaste consummation of love. I love you. I have taken away your sins. You were washed clean in Baptism and set free to love me without shame. Do not be afraid to love me because of your past sins. In Heaven we will be espoused but my love is impatient, why must we hold back? Why must we wait to give ourselves, to abandon ourselves to each other? I am ready. I am the maiden in the Song of Songs waiting for you to come to me, to meet me in the chamber. You think that you are the one searching for me, but I am the one searching for you with my infinite, as yet unrequited, love. Receive my love and return what I have given you. Your wedding gift is the pearl of great price."

Praying and meditating on these words, it began to seem to me that the Lord was calling me to religious life and that I was hindered by feelings of inadequacy due to sins committed before my baptism. Within the next two days the Lord made it clear that such stains, which have been washed white as wool by the blood of the lamb, present no obstacle.

As Fr. William Doyle, SJ wrote in his fantastic document called Vocations: "Often that invitation is extended to those whom we would least expect. Magdalene, steeped to the lips in iniquity, became the spouse of the Immaculate; Matthew, surrounded by his ill-gotten gains; Saul, 'breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the Christians,' each heard that summons, for a sinful life in the past, St. Thomas teaches, is no impediment to a vocation."

"The first duty of the consecrated life is to make visible the marvels wrought by God in the frail humanity of those who are called. They bear witness to these marvels not so much in words as by the eloquent language of a transfigured life, capable of amazing the world." (Vita Consecrata)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Discerning God's Call: Part 3

Through my frequent spiritual reading I began to learn more about God's love and the path to contemplative union with God which, as St. John of the Cross and many others taught, is the end goal of every spiritual journey. It is the path to perfection. I began to spend a lot of time in acquired contemplation, practicing the necessary disposition for receiving God's gift of infused contemplation. I spent a lot of time in the desert, spiritually speaking. But occasionally God would bless me with a more intimate experience of his love.

A Meditation on the Sacred Heart of Jesus

True love is love that causes us pain, that hurts, and yet brings us joy. That is why we must pray to God and ask Him to give us the courage to love.
--St. Teresa of Kolkata--

He came to live in me and suffer in my body. "See me. Recognize me. Know me. Burn with love for me." The kiss of Christ crucified is a sword through the heart. Yet honey itself is not sweeter. "When you burn with love for me, you will burn with love for all souls." O Holy Spirit, Fire of Love, immolate me as a burnt offering to our Heavenly Father!

Our Lord Jesus holds his Sacred Heart in his outstretched hand, offering it to me as he does every day in Holy Communion, that I may drink of the blood and water flowing from his Divine Heart. He comes to me in this way, that I may receive him physically in a chaste consummation of love. That I may be in him and he in me.

The widest land doom takes to part us, leaves thy heart in mine with pulses that beat double. What I do and what I dream include Thee, as the wine must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue God for myself, He hears that name of Thine, and sees within my eyes the tears of two.
--Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese, 6--

The Lord greatly increased my desire for union with Him and I began to pray a prayer of abandonment shared by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange in his book Three Ages of the Interior Life. "My God, make me know the obstacles which I more or less consciously place to the working of grace in my soul. Show these obstacles to me at the moment when I am about to place them. Give me the strength to remove them, and if I am negligent in doing so, do thou deign to remove them, though I should suffer greatly. I wish only thee, Lord, who alone art necessary. Grant that my life here on earth may be like eternal life begun."

Later I would be led by the writings of Fr. Sebastian, the founder of the Lay Missionaries of Charity, to a Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation by Pope St. John Paul II called Vita Consecrata (Consecrated Life). There I read: "In the countenance of Jesus, the 'image of the invisible God' (Col 1:15) and the reflection of the Father's glory (cf. Heb 1:3), we glimpse the depths of an eternal and infinite love which is at the very root of our being. Those who let themselves be seized by this love cannot help abandoning everything to follow him (cf. Mk 1:16-20; 2:14; 10:21, 28). Like Saint Paul, they consider all else as loss 'because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ', by comparison with which they do not hesitate to count all things as 'refuse', in order that they 'may gain Christ' (Phil 3:8)." (Vita Consecrata)

The Lord has given me tastes of his Divine Love that have left me longing and thirsting for God, pining for Him like a dry, weary land without water (Psalm 63). I had lived joyfully and easily the gift of celibacy, and now I cannot conceive of any human relationship satisfying this longing for divine love. The Lord Jesus thirsts for each of us individually. Mother Teresa heard his words "I thirst" as an expression of his yearning for union with each one of us, a yearning symbolized in the Song of Songs. Pope Benedict XVI explained in the encyclical Deus Caritas Est that God's love for his people is both passionate and selfless. "God is the absolute and ultimate source of all being; but this universal principle of creation—the Logos, primordial reason—is at the same time a lover with all the passion of a true love. Eros is thus supremely ennobled, yet at the same time it is so purified as to become one with agape." Indeed, how could one help abandoning everything to follow him?

At this point, I still had not discerned a call to the Religious Life, but I believe that God was steadily preparing my heart.

"It is the Spirit who awakens the desire to respond fully; it is he who guides the growth of this desire, helping it to mature into a positive response and sustaining it as it is faithfully translated into action." (Vita Consecrata)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Musings on the Religious Life

The vocation to Religious Life is truly a calling, a free gift of God, to enter into the inner circle of Jesus' companions. "Soon afterwards, he began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses." (Luke 8:1-3) 
All Catholics are called to Holiness, but those in religious life (monks, nuns, friars, religious sisters) are called to a more literal following of the historical life of Christ. It is a call to live the Gospel: "The consecrated life truly constitutes a living memorial of Jesus' way of living and acting as the Incarnate Word in relation to the Father and in relation to the brethren." (VC)* All are called to live a certain poverty, chastity and obedience but the Religious is called to manifest the extreme poverty, chastity and obedience of Jesus. For example, the rich young man kept all the commandments, but when asked to relinquish all of his belongings and follow Jesus he went away sad. The vocation to religious life is essentially the same call.

The Desert Fathers (hermits) can be considered the first to enter religious life. Some say they did so because Christianity had gained greater acceptance and it was no longer likely that a person would suffer martyrdom in the literal sense. Therefore, they chose to leave the world and 'crucify' their own desires in order to die to self in a spiritual martyrdom. The religious life is a white martyrdom, through which the individual is emptied of self and filled with Christ. This can also be seen as the path of contemplative union with God.

St. Bernard and St. Thomas Aquinas referred to Religious Life as a second baptism. As in the first baptism we die to our previous life of sin, in professing perpetual vows we die to our life in the world. We are consecrated, or set apart, for the service of God. (This is one of the reasons why the Religious Sister receives a new name, because she has died to her previous life. It also indicates a new kind of relationship with God, like when Abram was renamed Abraham.) This requires a complete giving of self, a pouring out, that is modeled by Jesus' death on the cross and the outpouring of blood and water from his sacred side. "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." In this way, the religious life is a life of sacrifice for love of neighbor and, ultimately, for the salvation of souls.

*Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata (Consecrated Life) by Pope St. John Paul I

Saturday, February 18, 2017

7QT: March for Life and more

In which mom and I get tricked again by the March for Life. We thought we had seen the whole March and it hadn't even officially started. Doh!

--- 1 ---

Somehow I always have trouble finding the hundreds of thousands of people gathered for the March for Life. You would expect it to be easy! But I have a true gift for not finding things.

This year I went to the March for Life with mom and it was AWESOME as usual. It's like a great big Catholic family reunion, including some family friends like the Lutherans for Life and the Eastern Orthodox.

--- 2 ---

It wasn't too cold this year but it was really windy. Mom and I walked about a quarter of the way and prayed part of the rosary with a group of seminarians. Mom paused for a while with a group of people who had been conceived by rape and were giving an interview. It turned out to be Rebecca Kiessling's group. She was featured in Mike Huckabee's documentary "The Gift of Life" and her story thoroughly convinced me that, even in cases of rape, abortion is not acceptable.

--- 3 ---

And it turns out that a lot of fantastic people were conceived through rape:

--- 4 ---

Anyway, for a while mom and I stood on the steps of a building to watch everyone pass. After maybe 100,000 people passed by there was a huge break and we could see police cars in the distance. We figured it was over and almost went home. But after loitering for a while we could see the big March for Life banner and flags (at about 0:42 in the time lapsed video). We realized that we hadn't even seen the main part of the March! We were probably there for about an hour more, watching the rest of the people walk by. Then we joined some teenagers toward the back and finished the March to the Supreme Court building.

--- 5 ---

I've mentioned the secular Pro-Life groups in the past but wanted to share an excerpt from a great blog post. Of course, I don't think that there is any compelling reason for abortion but I agree with the rest.
The act of abortion itself, if done without compelling reason, is unjust treatment of the unborn. In a society that condones injustice, everyone in the society is diminished – men and women. That act is particularly harmful to the woman. It treats a fundamental female function as a disease that has to be cured surgically in order for the woman to be more like a man. When pregnant women feel they must resort to abortion for the sake of career goals, pregnant women’s genuine contributions to society are deemed insufficient to win society’s rewards, without their first employing violence against the weak. Abortion pits the woman against her child in an unequal contest. Either she must willfully deny the humanity of her child—an increasingly difficult fiction to maintain in the era of modern technology—or consciously recognize that her child is human and alive just like her, and settle their conflicting interests through might makes right. Both possibilities place a psychological burden on the woman alone.

--- 6 ---

On a brighter note, Andy came to visit me and mom at the end of January and we went up to Noxen PA to visit Grampa and Flo for a couple of days. He just got accepted to nursing school and we're all pretty excited about that. Back in Maryland, Andy and I tried the Fractured Prune but we were a little overwhelmed by all of the flavors, kind of like the make-your-own ice cream sundays we had as kids. We decided that the french toast (or was it pancake?), which sounded the most boring, was the best. I think it had maple glaze and cinnamon and sugar.

--- 7 ---
FYI, I did make the french onion dip and it was fantastically awesome with our Terra's Taro chips. For my birthday, we made some more dip and had some friends over for pizza! We used zucchini flatbread for crust, nightshade free red sauce, vegan cheese and turkey pepperoni. For a birthday cake, mom made me a yummy chocolate microwave mug cake.

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
Paleo Zucchini Flatbread --  squeeze out as much water as possible
Microwave Mug Cake --  with Lilly's chocolate chips

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

Friday, February 17, 2017

Discerning God's Call: Part 2

Blessed Sacrament Church in Seattle

In July 2014, I went on a work trip to a conference in Seattle. After praying that the Lord would give me grace to see Him present at the conference, my mind was filled with interesting thoughts regarding a theology of science. It reminded me of a small group of Dominican Friars formed to address the relationship between faith and science. I recognized the freedom that these friars have to pursue God in all things, a freedom I do not feel like I have in my present position, and began to imagine my life as a Dominican Sister. To my surprise, the more I thought about it the more I felt drawn to the Religious life and it seemed to fulfill my deepest yearnings, including:

1.) a public vow of celibacy

For quite a while I have felt called to celibacy for the sake of the kingdom, recognizing that living the single life leaves a person free for the matters of God, as St. Paul pointed out (1 Cor 7:32).

 2.) a spiritual family

One of the obvious downsides of lifelong celibacy is not being able to start a family of my own, but I saw that living in community provides a spiritual family where a spouse and biological offspring are lacking.

3.) community support of my faith

Nowadays it can be difficult to stand up for the faith because so often it feels like I'm standing alone. In community, we can bolster each other's faith and be more courageous in our witness.

4.) radical modesty and physical witness through the Religious habit

Nowadays, simply wearing a religious habit makes a strong statement of faith.

5.) living with Jesus in the Eucharist or within a few minutes walk

After having spent time in retreat houses with tabernacles, I desperately wanted to have such easy access to Eucharistic Adoration on a regular basis.

6.) prayer as a priority and greater discipline

In the Religious life, one has access to Mass and the Divine Office and the rosary every day and regulated penances, and plenty of opportunities to share the fruits of contemplation.

My previous complaints started to seem silly. I had complained that modern-day religious orders are not penitential enough; however, the consecrated life demands many difficult sacrifices that my current life does not. And certainly God is capable of sending whatever suffering necessary to make me grow in holiness! But my biggest concern was that my family needs my financial and emotional support. However, surely when a woman enters Religious life her relationship with family grows deeper and the Lord provides for them in the ways that she no longer can. My final argument had been that the vow of obedience would not leave me fully apostolically available to the Holy Spirit. Essentially I was afraid that my superior may not be guided by the Holy Spirit and that God would not be free to lead me directly if I were under a vow of obedience. But nothing can stand in the way of God's will. The Religious life started to seem a little bit less scary and a little bit more possible.

A couple of times before, I had wondered about Religious life but brushed it aside by rationalizing that I couldn't even consider such a thing while my grandmother was alive. At the time I had thought that she had many years left, but the Lord knew differently. Now just one month after her death I was already thinking about it again. This week, each morning before the conference, I woke up with this idea in my mind. One morning I planned to go to Mass at Blessed Sacrament Church, which had adoration then Divine Office then Mass then rosary. That morning in the shower, as I was again pondering potential Religious vocations, I picked up my foot to step out of the tub. My other foot flew out from under me and I fell into the bottom of the shower after smashing my head on the wall. I didn't seem to have a concussion, but I wondered if maybe the devil either didn't want me considering a vocation or he didn't want me getting to this church (or both). Feeling tempted to skip Mass, I pushed myself to go anyway.

The first day I attended Blessed Sacrament was the Feast of the Birth of St. John the Baptist. Father talked about how John the Baptist went to the desert and grew and became strong before beginning his ministry to the Israelites. Father said that sometimes we will go years or even decades simply growing and becoming strong in our faith before God calls us to a mission. But we should pray for the mission to be revealed to us when the time comes and work at growing stronger in the meantime.

During the week of the conference, I went to this parish for three days and every day I was surprised anew at the beauty of the Divine Office chanted by the priest and some parishioners. I felt like I was experiencing some of Heaven on Earth and yearned to be able to have such an experience every day. It renewed my love for the liturgy and gave me a deeper sense of longing for the consecrated life.

As I mentioned before, our local priest had encouraged me to look into some active communities, so one night I decided to watch some vocational discernment videos on YouTube. It actually threw me into turmoil! For example, the video showed Sisters joyfully playing volleyball and I had repeated flashbacks to volleyballs smashing the glasses off of my face. I also saw a wonderful Sister doing an amazing job of teaching an elementary school class. But teaching elementary school is one thing I feel almost certain I am not called to do. After watching the video, I felt sure that if I were to become a Sister I would be forced to be a kindergarten teacher who plays basketball every day and that I would never be happy. This threw me into a sort of depression. At this point I had heard of active communities and fully-cloistered contemplative communities and I didn't feel called to either. I didn't realize that there were other options in between.

On Wednesday, having obsessed for over a day about vocational discernment, I realized that the Lord doesn't want me to lose my peace and that I don't have to determine my entire future in the period of a few days. And so, again, I set aside any discernment and left the matter in God's hands.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Discerning God's Call: Part 1

Me and gramma at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore

My mom recently became friends with a young lady from Africa who asked how I came to consider the possibility of religious life. Below is Part 1 of I'm not sure how many posts on the topic.

"It's good that Sarah has faith. I just hope she doesn't go overboard and become a nun!" Later on, my grandmother decided she shouldn't have said that because "I guess it's suppose to be a good thing when somebody becomes a nun." But the idea of becoming a nun seemed so impossible to me that I couldn't imagine why my grandmother was worrying about it.

Of course, I have noticed the big push to get teenagers and undergraduates to visit religious communities and for the guys to learn about the priesthood. The idea is to encourage young Catholics to consider these vocations which they might otherwise think of as 'too hard' or 'great for someone else but not for me'. And in fact, many young people are surprised to find that they are inexplicably attracted to religious consecration. However, I became Catholic at age 29 with a career in research science. Making a bunch of visits 'just in case' really wasn't feasible for me.

And so, discerning religious life is not something that was really on my radar. I often prayed for direction in my life and for God's will to be made known. I even prayed that God would give me a specific vocation; you know, maybe I would open a halfway house somewhere. However, every time I asked God, I seemed to get the same non-answer: "Now is not the time to ask this question. Keep doing what you're doing and come back later."

It's not that I felt certain that God would not call me to religious life, but I didn't see much point in exploring the option before feeling called to it. It's not a vocation that one can choose. The call has to come from God. And God wasn't answering with what I might be called to do.

At the end of 2013, instead of meeting with my primary spiritual director, I started meeting with a local priest for several months. We got talking about vocations. When I told him about the amazing way that Divine Providence had led me to a career in research science, he figured this meant I was called to the secular life and not religious life. I wrote a letter explaining this to my grandmother who was pretty sick with cancer, knowing she would be comforted.

It was kind of nice to have that door closed. But after a few months of getting to know me, Father was singing a different tune. He was beginning to think that maybe I actually am called to a religious vocation. He started recommending that I visit some active communities. Unfortunately, this was the worst time for me to visit anyone. My grandmother's situation had gotten considerably worse and now she was in the process of dying. I used all of my vacation time to see her as much as possible and I was so stressed out! Cutting out any unnecessary activities was the only way for me to stay sane. Not only did I not visit any religious communities, but I stopped spiritual direction altogether. However, I did respect Father's advice and left the door open to the possibility of visiting some communities in the future.

The door was back open, but I still didn't have any sense of God calling me. So I continued to hold off on any kind of vocational discernment pending further direction from the Holy Spirit.