One of my favorite passages from St. Paul comes in his letter to the Romans where he writes,
We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
It has been fifteen months since I applied and was accepted into the SSVMs. It has been just over one year since I graduated from Mount St. Mary’s with my degree in philosophy. And it has been almost ten months since I was hired at St. Rita’s parish as the director of faith formation. In many ways the time seems to have flown by so quickly that I’m almost at a loss as to where it went…
As I look back upon this past year, I can see so clearly the truth of St. Paul’s words in my life. Although this wait has been and continues to be extremely difficult, I know that God is using this time to teach me invaluable lessons. And He has blessed me greatly for both teaching and revealing these lessons to me during this time. I’d like to share a few of these lessons with all of you.
Important lessons learned:
How to serve–
“Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave” (Matthew 20:27-28). For most of my life, it seems, everything has been focused on me. My dreams, my achievements, my education. Working in the parish for this past year has taught me a great deal about how to love and to serve others; to be for others and not for myself. To seek and work for their good, above and beyond my own. A simple truth, but one that has been impressed upon me in a unique way through my experience at the parish. For the first time the community I am a part of is not there primarily for me- to support me, to teach me, to provide for me. Yet, how much I have learned and grown from this community by giving, rather than expecting to receive! A profound reality that I am only beginning to understand and experience.
How to interact with children-
I have always loved children… but I’ve not always been around them. In fact, anytime that I’d spend a substantial period of time around young children, I’d feel extremely vulnerable and insecure. Silly? Perhaps. But I just didn’t know how to interact with them.
One of the most rewarding lessons of this year has been learning how to interact well with children! At home I have had the blessing of spending much time with my two wonderful nephews and my adorable niece- ages 6, 4, and 2. I love these children (they are, perhaps, the greatest challenge to my vocation!)! And at work, I spent a lot of time with both our faith formation children and the three children going through RCIA. Now these RCIA kids were perhaps my favorite of the bunch- I got to teach them each week and with such a small group, we all became very close. And these children were bright and so very receptive to grace…
One night I took the trio into the church for a tour and to pray the stations of the cross. I showed them the Tabernacle and told them how Jesus is present and taught them how to genuflect. Well, at the end of our tour, one of the kiddos said to me, “Teacher Kayla, we need to go genuflect in front of Jesus one more time!” So we made our way in front of the Tabernacle, and the three of them all genuflected… then one of them stood up, approached the Tabernacle, kissed it, and said, “I love you, Jesus!” The other two did the same. And I was left in tears. At the final mystagogy session (a potluck with both the children’s group and adult’s), one of my children stood up to share with the entire group, “I just want to thank my teacher Kayla for teaching me all about Jesus and how much God loves me. I just love the Church so much…” and he trailed off, because he was overwhelmed with tears. And so was I. God’s children are so beautiful and I am so thankful for this time learning from them.
How to rely on God alone-
I must admit that this year has been a lonely one. During my time at college I was constantly surrounded by friends and role models… something that was stripped from me upon graduation. 3,000 miles away from all of my friends, all of my professors, my spiritual director… and with no one to replace them. It was and remains a tough reality for me. Yet I’ve found this sort of separation and isolation to be one of the most important lessons of all. I think the following advice, given to me by a young and holy priest, sums up this lesson well:
The call of the religious and the priest is to allow our craving for human relationships to be satiatied most profoundly in our relationship with the Lord Jesus. That is the heart of the celibate: room for God, no single human affection to crowd God out, living and loving for God principally and others for his sake. So your being torn apart from your closest friends is an opportunity to allow God to fill the hole in your heart!
Learning to allow all my desires for human relationships to be “satiated” in Jesus. Learning to live and love God principally and others for His sake. Not an easy lesson… yet one that is essential to the religious life. I’ve a long ways to go with this, to be sure.
How to bring the universal to the particular-
I probably could have worded that one better ;) Alas, it’s the philosopher in me. Seriously, though. Transitioning from university, where one is mainly concerned with big ideas, with the universal, to every day parish life in a poor parish… it’s almost night a day apart from one another. I immediately realized that there’d be no great philosophizing at the parish or lectures on important theological concepts. I needed to learn rather quickly how to apply those concepts to the everyday experience of faith.
What has struck me in learning to do this is how important it is that we who implement programs for the parish have some sort of understanding of how the program itself (and its philosophy) will affect the parishioners and their way of thinking. Specifically I am finding, with parish leaders (especially lay leaders), that there is no understanding of the distinction between grace and nature. Subsequently, the parish has adopted a few programs, meant to increase parish engagement, that I think are significantly flawed. The aim is good. And everything sounds good. But inherently within this program is the idea that we are in charge. That it is by our effort alone that anything is accomplished. That mere psychology will bring people to God.
So it’s a both/and. Parish leaders need to have an understanding of theology and philosophy. But also know how to apply it in everyday situations, in the life of an everyday parishioner.
How to abandon my will-
Detachment and abandonment. Learning to love God’s will alone. Living and loving God’s will for me right now and not sometime in the future. Accepting in faith the circumstances that He has placed me in and responding as best I can in love and humility. Waiting has taught me much in this regard. I think it can be summed up in two quotes, the first from Pope Benedict XVI, and the second from Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen:
However, there are many different ways of waiting. If time is not filled by a present endowed with meaning, expectation risks becoming unbearable; if one expects something but at the given moment there is nothing (in other words, if the present remains empty), every instant that passes appears extremely long and waiting becomes too heavy a burden because the future remains completely uncertain. On the other hand, when time is endowed with meaning and at every instant we perceive something specific and worthwhile, it is then that the joy of expectation makes the present more precious. Dear brothers and sisters, let us experience intensely the present in which we already receive the gifts of the Lord, let us live it focused on the future, a future charged with hope. -Pope Benedict XVI
And from Fr. Stinissen:
There is perhaps no more effective way to die to oneself than by patience. The natural man wants to know what is going to happen. He wants to foresee, decide, and make plans. There is no limit to his impulsiveness. By not listening to him, but by listening patiently to what the Spirit is saying to our heart, the old man in us moves toward a certain death.Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen, Into Your Hands, Father
I’m not sure I can say it any better than these two. My now is completely willed by God, for a purpose. Abandoning myself to God’s will in the here and now puts to death my own, impatient will. And how sweet it is to live in God and only in God! There is a great freedom in this sort of abandonment to Divine Providence! It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me… lives and loves and works in me. Simple words. Perhaps even words I’ve said before… but now endowed with much more meaning than ever before. And I recognize that I am only beginning to taste what it means to be completely surrendered to God. Simple words proclaiming a profound truth.
Everything works together for good… that’s the mystery of the death and resurrection of Our Lord, isn’t it? That so much good could come out of such an evil. Through grace God works all things, both good and bad, together for something amazingly good.
I’ve seen that most clearly in this past year. Don’t get me wrong- I still desperately desire to enter religious life and I am working as hard as I can to get there… but in the end, it comes down to God’s timing. And I am content with that. So long as I am doing His will, I am content. Perhaps He has another year’s worth of lessons to teach me yet outside of the convent. Time will only tell.
Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures – I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul: I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.
Rejoice heavenly powers!
Sing choirs of angels!
Exult all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!
Ah! Beautiful Easter Joy! I love Jesus! I love the Church! I love the Sacraments! We had 18 people receive the Sacraments of Initiation during the Easter Vigil- three of whom were the children I’ve been working with in RCIA for the past seven months. It was beautiful!
This Easter also marks the four-year anniversary of my baptism and reception into the Catholic Church! Praise God! I still remember that night as though it were yesterday. I remember looking up at the crucifix, just after my baptism, and realizing that my life had just begun. And four years later, let me tell you, I’ve never felt more alive! Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life!!
In other news, my journey to the convent continues, baby step by baby step. Praise God for all of your prayers and financial help! There has been influx of donors in the past few months and to that I must say thank you from the bottom of my heart. A special thank you to FDG… Words cannot express my gratitude for your generosity. “He who received you, receives me… and whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:40,42) I am nothing but a little one in the care and protection of our loving Father! God calls and He provides, and it seems pleasing to Him to provide through the charity of others. As long as wherever I am God uses me to invoke greater acts of charity out of myself and my neighbor, then may God be praised!
Here’s an update on where things stand financially for me. Nearly a year after graduation I have roughly $40,000 left in student loans. Which, starting from nearly $67,000, is quite the accomplishment! This has been through the generosity of many, many friends and benefactors. Plus my monthly contribution toward my loans, which, thanks be to God, is (save for gas money) my whole paycheck, meager as it is (parish salary).
For visual effect:
$40k is still a lot of money. Sometimes I look at that number and my stomach sinks. But, God is good, and He’s got it all worked out– somehow!!
A friend of mine suggested looking at the number in a different way… she said to think of it in parts. For example, two hundred donations of $200 completely eliminates the number. And as total goes down, so do these numbers.
As it is… it’s looking to be just about two years from now until I am able to enter, if I rely only on my own work and effort against the loans. Of course, I plan to continue fund raising through the Laboure Society, as well as applying to the Mater Ecclesiae fund this Winter. We’ll see what Divine Providence has in store!
My heart longs to enter… and it is difficult remaining in the world, shouldering this debt. But, God’s will be done. And I have beautiful friends and benefactors who support me in this journey! Please continue to pray for me and know that you also are all in my daily prayers!
He is Risen, Alleluia!!
I feel like God has placed me on a teeter-totter, with each end of the board represented by a desire He has placed into my heart.
On the one end, there is the desire to enter religious life… a strong desire that, unquenched, leaves me feeling empty inside… missing something… not yet whole.
And on the other end, there is the desire to be completely abandoned to God’s will for me… not as it might be, not as it could be, but as it is right now.
While it might seem that these two desires coincide perfectly, I feel like the fulcrum on which I’m balancing is too small. It is so tiny that it is near impossible to be perfectly balanced. I am constantly leaning one direction and then compensating in the next.
Where is the balance? Clearly I am where I am, and although the desire for religious life is overwhelming, it is currently impossible. $40,000 of student loans shackle and chain me to this world.
But do I view this set-back negatively? Or do I see in it the hand of God? Has He placed me in these circumstances for a higher purpose? A better purpose? Is He drawing more good from my present circumstances than if I were to leave all things now and enter?
Where is the balance?
I’ve tasted the balance a few times. To take each day as it comes, for it comes from the hand of God. To trust in His Divine Providence. Yet, at the same time, to recognize the desire for the consecrated life as Divinely planted. To recognize that my concern right now is to pay off my debt and to fund raise accordingly.
But not to focus too much on that desire. Not to fan that desire into such a flame that it burns hotter than my desire for God Himself and to do His will. My desire for religious life is ultimately directed toward my desire for intimate union with the Holy Trinity. To lose sight of, forsake or forget the latter, even by accident, would be a terrible thing.
It’s difficult!! I struggle with it each and every day. Sometimes I feel as though this intense desire to enter is being used by the Evil One to detract my attention and my effort of accomplishing and accepting and abandoning myself to God’s will today.
How can I recognize a desire as good and from God… how can I work toward fulfilling that desire… without losing sight of or becoming discouraged by, God’s will for me today? How can I love God’s will for me right now while still maintaining a vision of His will for me in the future?
This is my Lenten struggle. Letting go of all things that are not God, including those good things which are of God but I am too attached to. But it seems to me this time of struggle is a good one. It is an extended opportunity to develop the virtue of abandonment/trust (or as Fr. Ciszek says, it all comes down to the virtue of humility… of knowing our place before God). Too often we only focus our efforts on that virtue when something drastic happens to us. We are in a time of immediate trial and suffering, and so only then do we turn, and hopefully, give everything back to God.
Usually those times are not extended. Perhaps they last a week, or at most a month or two.
By no means do I consider my current situation a tragic one. There is suffering, yes, but only in so far as there is always suffering in the spiritual life (the desire for intimate union with God worked only darkness here on earth). Mine is not the lot of one like Fr. Ciszek, who spent 23 agonizing years in prison camps in Russia. Or those who learn this virtue by other means of intense physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering.
I do see the lesson in it. That has been a gradual recognition. I have yet to fully learn the lesson. And I don’t think it’s one that can be learned overnight. It’s a virtue. A habitual disposition. One that I am struggling with right now, but by the grace of God, I pray, it is worked and sustained in me. I see its value; I cannot yet attain it. Nor can I attain it. I will do my part as best I can, but ultimately it is a gift from God above, to be worked out by His grace.
The greatest sense of freedom, along with peace of soul, and an abiding sense of security, comes when a man totally abandons his own will in order to follow the will of God…
~ Fr. Walter Ciszek, He Leadeth Me
Happy Solemnity of the Annunciation to all of my friends, family, benefactors, and readers!!
Today is one of my favorite feasts in the Church calendar, and certainly it is my favorite feast celebrating our Blessed Mother. It is also my favorite mystery in the rosary upon which to meditate. And it also has connected with it many of my favorite pieces of art (like the painting pictured above!).
Why such a special affinity for the Annunciation, you ask? Because captured within the simple fiat of a scared young girl, we see the entire mystery of God’s love for us made present.
“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you…” This peculiar greeting by the angel Gabriel stunned the young girl. And it should stun us as well. It is no ordinary greeting. Full of grace. A title, not simply a description. In the Greek, kecharitomene. It is a perfect participle. For all of you non-language folks, a perfect participle implies an action that was done in the past, but continues now and will continue, presumingly, in the future. So here the angel is calling Mary “one who was filled with God’s grace, continues to be filled with God’s grace, and will be filled with God’s grace.” Makes you rethink the translation of “highly favored one”, doesn’t it?
But don’t pass over this thought too quickly.
What does it mean to be ‘full of grace’? Certainly, if something is full, there is no room for anything else? Especially something of the contrary nature? Mary, being full of grace (in all of the different tenses), was completely full of God’s grace, over-flowing, with room for nothing else. And she had been from her birth.
From here I generally question ‘What is grace?’ So often we pass over the word and its implications without so much as a second thought… Considering there’s an entire field of study on the question of grace, and considering there are many theologians far more qualified to speak on the subject than I… I will spare my readers any serious theological reflection.
Well, except maybe one thought.
In his Summa theologiae, St. Thomas teaches us that “the good of [sanctifying] grace in one is greater than the good of nature in the whole universe” (ST I-II Q. 113, A. 9, Ob. 1). What an amazing truth! That the grace of God present in the soul of one person is greater, and therefore brings more glory to God, than all of the created good in the entire universe!! Think about that next time you emerge from the Sacrament of Penance or you witness a baptism!!
And then think about the Blessed Mother, to whom the title kecharitomene was given, of whom it was said “the fullness of grace resides in you”. Given the greatest measure of God’s grace, our Blessed Mother, in her very being, gives back to God the glory due His Holy Name! How right she was when she declared to her cousin Elizabeth, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord!” Not only do her words declare it, but her entire being– who she is!! Her very being is a witness to the glory and greatness of the Lord!!
Knowing this… Who can praise the Blessed Mother too much?! Who can love her too much?!
And she, with great love, points us to her Son. With her ‘yes’, her fiat, the Word became flesh, to dwell with us. Incarnated. Made man. Immanuel. God-with-us.
Today also marks the 27th Anniversary of the Institute of the Incarnate Word (IVE), the male branch of my religious family. Our charism is directly linked with this great feast, for “we commit all our strength to inculturate the Gospel, that is to say, to prolong the Incarnation to all men, in the whole of man, and in all the manifestations of man” (Const., 5).
It is because of this commitment to “prolong the Incarnation to all men” that my religious family makes a fourth vow of slavery to Our Blessed Mother. She is the Mother of the Incarnate Word and it through her that any and all evangelization efforts bear fruit. It is through her that the Word is Incarnated in the hearts of every Christian, to renew His mystery in each and every soul!!
Enjoy this video marking the 27th Anniversary:
“Doing the little things well, is a great thing.” -St. Therese of Liseux
I was thinking about this the other day. Actually, I was talking about it with the Blessed Mother.
For such an extraordinary call, Our Lady lived a very ordinary life. I suppose that’s the real mark of the mystery of the Incarnation, isn’t it? Almighty God humbling himself to become man and to suffer death. The extraordinary entering into the ordinary.
And, in a mysterious way, raising the ordinary to the supernatural. Everything looks ordinary, yet something supernatural is happening.
We see it everywhere in our faith. Look at the mystery of the Eucharist. Ordinary. Ordinary bread; ordinary wine. Extraordinary mystery.
But back to the Blessed Mother. Full of Grace. Kecharitomene. That is her name. That is her vocation. She who brings more glory to God than all created things, all angels, all the saints… A house wife. A mother. She did daily chores— laundry, cooking cleaning. Life was quiet, for the most part. All those years in Nazareth. A simple life. Doing the small things well.
So often I am filled with the desire to do great things for God, “to be a bride for Your heart, to cover You with glory, to love You even unto death!” (Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity) A heart filled with love (thinking Les Mis?), ready to suffer and die for Love! Let me suffer martyrdom!
And of little things? Am I too full of romantic dreams of martyrdom to suffer those? Am I so enthralled with the potential of future acts of love that I overlook those opportunities in the here and now?
Courageous virtue is not for the future. It is right now. It is waking up when the alarm clock rings. It is performing your duties well, to the best of your ability. It is bearing patiently the everyday happenings that seem so mundane… so useless. Even when the heart desires so much more.
Essentially… courageous virtue is loving God’s will for you, right here, right now, and doing it perfectly. And by ‘perfect’ I mean, doing it to the best of your ability and giving the rest to God.
Is that not how Our Lady responded? Be it done unto me according to your word.
Is that not how Our Lady lived her life?
Let us strive to follow the example of the Blessed Mother, living the ordinary in an extraordinary fashion.
Grace does not destroy nature, but elevates it.
“O Incarnate Word, impress this lesson deeply in my heart and help me to understand the mysterious ways of Your love. You are coming to save and sanctify me, but You want to accomplish Your work in me by means of the most humble, ordinary, and insignificant circumstances. Give me the humility, faith, and blind trust of Mary and Joseph, that I may know how to recognize and adore Your work, adhere to it with docility and love, and know that You love to surround Your works with humility, silence and secrecy.”
~ Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy
SSVMs singing goodnight to Our Lady. After dinner/recreation, the sisters sing a song to the Blessed Mother before silence begins. Then the last of the dishes are done, night prayer is said individually, and everyone retires for the night. In the morning, the day begins with an immediate invocation to Our Lady, as each sister kneels and prays three Hail Mary’s when the bell rings. The Angelus is prayed three times a day, and the sisters all pray a daily rosary. And before each new period during the schedule of day (work, study, class, community walk, recreation, etc), the community invokes the Blessed Mother, praying a Hail Mary and invoking a particular title of Our Lady.
They love Our Lady! In fact, each of the sisters are named after a particular title/invocation of Our Lady. For example there is Sr. (well, actually Mother now) Mary, Joy of Martyrs or Sr. Mary, Mother of Divine Providence, or Sr. Notre Dame de Victoire. Although this tradition can certainly make for some interesting names! I hope no one takes Sr. Maria Mater Charitos (Greek for Mother of Grace!!) before I enter!
Each sister also takes a fourth vow of slavery to Our Blessed Mother, according to St. Louis de Montfort.
Here’s another fun video of the sisters singing about Our Lady. It’s a song that one of the postulants (now a simply professed sister) from Africa taught the rest of the sisters:
Viva la Virgen!
This time of waiting is difficult. My heart literally aches with the desire to enter. And it is more than a mere discontent with my current situation… I feel incomplete. I’m not yet all that I am called to be.
Yet, I recognize this time of waiting as a time of purification. Purification of my own will and desires. In a two-fold sense. First is somewhat of the obvious… abandonment to his will. Loving his will above my own. Clearly it is not his will I be in the convent at this exact moment; no matter how badly I desire it. These desires (for the religious life) have been written on my heart by my Jesus, but it does not yet please him to fulfill those desires. I asked the Lord, one night, why he should please to give me these growing desires yet not see it good to fulfill them (you can see that I’ve not yet fully learned his lesson) and responded with a very powerful image… I saw my heart and his hand carving these desires into my heart. With each subsequent ’round’ of carving, with the desires being carved deeper and deeper into the flesh of my heart, I suffered more and more… and I desired it more and more. The deeper it was written on my heart, the more painful it became, and the stronger the desire became. And then I heard his voice, “I do this so that this desire may never fade.”
There is a second sense in which I find my waiting as an opportunity for detachment… And, as backwards as this might sound, it is an opportunity for detachment from the desire for religious life itself. Obviously the desire for religious life is a great good, and one that I firmly believe has been given me by the Lord himself. Yet, I must love and desire Jesus above even that desire. How easily the evil one sneaks into the hearts of good souls with holy desires! He knows he cannot take way those good and holy desires, so instead he snares the soul into loving and seeking those desires over Jesus! How easily, how little we see it, that we love the gifts of God more than we love and desire him! Although these are good and inspired desires, we must not cling to them. We must, in a certain way, be detached from them, and seek only the Lord and his will. If we do this, and it turns out that he does indeed wish to fulfill our desires, it will happen by default. The difference is so subtle… I’m not sure I’m doing a good job of describing it…
And truly, during this time of waiting, I’ve found that as my desire for Jesus increases, so too does my desire for the religious life. I mentioned the wound of desire for religious life… but that is merely a side effect of the wound of love. That wound which inspires the desire to take up the evangelical councils, to offer oneself completely to the Lord, a sacrifice of love to Love…
Lord, You would this heart of mine with such a sweetness; I am paralyzed. You strike me down, Your sword laced with the nectar of Your love. What can I do but suffer under Your divine hand? You wound and medicate with one divine call.
What can I do? What can I do?
Though I wait (and work- don’t get me wrong, I’m doing all that I can to get to the convent!), I recognize that entering won’t fulfill all of my desires… Because my ultimate desire is perfect union with Jesus, my Beloved. While I strive for that union here on Earth, I know that it won’t be completely fulfilled until the Beatific Vision.
As it is… I’m still a long way from being debt free. When I was accepted for entrance in May, I had $68,000. That has decreased since and I am now looking at $45,000. Granted, praise God, that’s a good chunk covered in 9 months. I have been blessed with many, many friends and benefactors, whose gifts have helped immensely. It is so humbling to submit already, in spirit, to the vow poverty; relying on God’s faithful, completely dependent on God himself. What a beautiful mystery… that God is pleased to accept my sacrifice of love through the prayers, support, donations of his faithful!
I do ask for your continued prayers. I am aiming to be completely debt free and thus enter by this summer. A hefty goal, I know! But with God, all things are possible! So, please keep praying. Share this website with those you know. Prayerfully consider a donation. But most importantly, pray for me!