Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Nail on the Head

This is beautiful and wise advice from the blog of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George: Advice from a Postulant. It echoes much of what I've experienced in my discernment, especially that part about allowing Jesus to talk to you on HIS time!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My Story

I wanted to take the time on this Feast of the Immaculate Conception of our Lady to share a “chapter” of my vocation story. This date has a special significance in it, as you will see…

I was blessed to growing up in a family striving to live the Faith fully and radically. Two huge graces of my formation were being homeschooled all of my life and my family’s commitment to attend daily Mass from the time I made my First Holy Communion at age 6.

Throughout my childhood, I used to say that I thought I was called to a religious vocation. Then, around age 12 or 13, I began discerning the married vocation. At first, I remember being a bit in denial, almost frustrated to be thinking about marriage (“I always thought I was supposed to be a sister!”). I then realized that the married vocation is a beautiful one, also, and that it was fine to discern that path. The desire for marriage grew very strong in my heart, particularly as I saw so much lust and brokenness within today's marriages. I truly desired marriage as the sacrament it is intended to be. I longed for children to raise up as warriors to confront the culture of death. I dreamt of having what I call a “real” wedding, with lots of children and families present, beautiful modest formals, and purity as the crown.

From about age 13 to age 20, I thought this was my calling. But my greatest prayer regarding my vocation was to trust God. I worked hard to remain open to whatever path He might show me.

When I graduated from homeschool high school in Spring of 2006, I did not feel the Lord leading me to leave home immediately, or to enroll full time in college. I had been involved in catechesis and parish Religious Education since I was 15, and had quickly discovered that I love teaching. I am also an avid musician (singer, violinist, and pianist) and, having studied Suzuki violin since age 10, teaching private music lessons when I was about 15. I enjoyed this very much as well, and went on to complete training and registration as a violin teacher with the Suzuki Association of America.

After graduating from high school, I took a few classes at the local community college, and was able to apply myself more fully to my teaching (both music and volunteering as a catechist a few different parishes). Then the opportunity opened for me to become the Religious Education Coordinator at St. Joseph Parish (where I had taught for two years). I began this role in Fall of 2007 to the present.

Another apostolate I have tried to keep up on the side is the Rosa Mystica Modesty Movement, which I founded in 2004.

The Lord has stretched and taught me in so many ways the past few years. Last summer, I sensed He was preparing me for something new…but I wasn’t sure what that would be. On July 31 while in Eucharistic Adoration, I wrote in my journal:


I feel as though I am being led by You right now completely blindfolded – on
a zigzagging path. I am trying with all my being to grip unflinchingly to Your
hand, for I neither know nor can see the direction You are taking me. The world
tells us to forge ahead on our own, but that is impossible for me. With all the
effort of this frail heart I am trying to trust, listen, and follow. The way
stretches out fearfully unknown – but if I never let go of Your hand, I hope,
trust, and believe that I won’t lose myself.

My younger sister, whom I am very close with, was applying to Christendom College in Virginia, and I thought that perhaps I was called there too. Last November on Christ the King weekend (Nov 22-23, 2008), I visited Christendom and fell in love with the wonderful Catholic atmosphere and well-rounded, devout students. The visit left me with a great spirit of hope and excitement.

The following weekend (Nov 29-30), I gave up being at the family Thanksgiving gathering in order to attend the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises led by the priests of Miles Christi. I’d known since the summer that I was supposed to attend. Going on the retreat, I thought I was discerning between two immediate paths: to remain home and continue my work in religious education (and other apostolates), or sever those ties and attend Christendom to receive the excellent formation offered there.

The retreat master, however, offered another viewpoint during my spiritual direction. When he asked me about religious life, and I responded that I was open to, but not pursuing that direction, he encouraged me to “more actively” discern that path. “I'm not telling you what to do”, he said, “but just telling you what I sense”. I listened to his advice, but had been asked about religious life enough times over the years that it was not a bulldozer for me as I know the question can be for some. I did shed a few tears coming out of the confessional, feeling like I might need to give up some of my dreams.

I went home rather confused…the counsel I’d received was not part of what I thought I was praying about when I went on that retreat!

Throughout the next week, quite a few “little” things kept cropping up related to the topic of consecrated life. Then, on Saturday, December 6, we received a phone call about our Bishop Roger Kaffer (who is now deceased). He was living in a retirement/care home due to his failing health, and because of a setback needed someone to be with him throughout the day. Our family took turns for a few-hour shift. When I went over mid-afternoon, there was another older gentleman there with the Bishop. We met each other with brief introductions, and I mentioned my role as a CRE (Coordinator of Religious Education). Tim had brought Bishop Kaffer Italian gelato, which was one of his very favorite treats. The three of us then prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. In the informal conversation that followed, Tim asked me if I’d every thought about religious life. I gave my usual answer: I was open to it, but was not currently pursuing that direction. He looked at my quite seriously and said, “Because you are going to be a sister. I sense it.” For some reason, the bishop – who I am fairly certain had not heard this little exchange – decided right then to start talking about our Diocesan Vocations Director, Fr. Burke Masters. He launched right into Fr. Burke’s vocation story, in which a pivotal point was someone he did not know coming up to ask him to become a priest.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of all this, especially when, as we parted ways shortly after, Tim looked me in the eye and said, “You are going to make a very good sister.” Now, I know that some devout folks like to joke around with all young Catholic singles about becoming priests or sisters, but this gentleman’s comments were not at all made in a jesting way.

After leaving the bishop’s room, I went to Mass in the chapel, where my recent encounter stayed on my heart. And (should I say “of course”?) one of the petitions was something about a generous response of young people to the call to religious life.

I went home and told my family, still not sure what to make of it. I didn’t want to discount it, but at the same time, one shouldn’t treat everything as an infallible sign.

My orchestra played a concert that night, and I remember being struck that while I was performing, my mind was not really on the music, but thinking and praying about my vocation.

A seminarian friend was also visiting, and, among other things, brought up “missed vocations”, the Proverbs 31 woman, and the parable of the talents in the discussion that night. That kind of grabbed me…everything just kept being on the same theme!

Over the next day (Sunday, December 7), the related promptings increased till they seemed like they were coming from all directions. I recall opening the Magnificat publication to a reading on consecrated life. Things kept pointing – I was noticing, but not responding a whole lot… until that evening. I was up late and randomly opened up the book The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila. I’d never read it, though I wanted to. In the place I opened to, St. Teresa went on for whole chapter about spousal union with Christ, and not resisting His betrothal. That was when I broke down…and I said through my tears, “Okay, Lord, I think I get the message.” I came out and looked at the clock: 12:01 on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. I’d been told over and over again to entrust my vocation to our Lady, and here was this moment of revelation on the dawn of her feast. I ran for my rosary and gripped it while crying and praying for half an hour, spending time revisiting the website of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. They were the community I knew the most about, and I’d always admired their charism.

I went to bed with a lot of peace and joy. The promptings continued on throughout the Feast day. I opened a piece of mail from the Mater Ecclasiae Fund for Vocations and my eye fell on a quote from…you guessed it: St. Teresa of Avila. (I felt like she was following me around!) I got in the van to drive over to the university for choir practice and turned on the CD player, hoping for some soft music. But what came on was actually a talk CD on “Nurturing Religious Vocations”. I was in awe.

I had to share with someone. Standing in the university hallway waiting our voice lesson, I told my dear sister Sarah everything from the last few days. I remember saying, “I just had to tell someone. It’s like if a girl gets engaged and she has to tell someone…I feel like the Lord proposed to me.” We just cried and hugged in the hallway until our voice teacher came out asking if we were ever going to come in for our lesson.

The Gospel that night for the Marian solemnity could not have been more fitting: “I am the handmaiden of the Lord; be it done to me according to Thy word”.

The next few weeks were joyful and filled with warmth. It was like “being in love” is classically described – everything is surrounded by a rosy glow, and the heart is secure. As they say, the whole world could come crashing down around you and it wouldn’t matter, because you and your beloved are united. What a beautiful time and a treasured grace.

I thought I was called to the Dominican Sisters of Mary, and signed up for their next retreat weekend in February. (I’d been to one three years earlier, but was at a very different place of discernment then.) In early January, I shared with my parents about my discernment. I’d told both my sisters after December 8, but hadn’t wanted to give details to Mom and Dad right away, because I knew they would be so excited that all our friends would quickly know. And that’s exactly what happened. :) I didn’t mind, though, because a lot of wonderful people began praying for me.

Summarizing the months from February 2008 to now is difficult to do. There have been a lot of very hard moments. On my retreat with the Sisters of Mary, I received many affirmations of the call to be His bride, but not necessarily in that community (wonderful as it is). Since I love teaching, Dominicans were still very attractive, so I spent a few days with the Nashville Dominicans in April. And that was when the Lord got very quiet. I’d explained the definition of love to children lots of times as “a decision, not a feeling”, and it was like the Lord said, “Okay, live that”. I sat in the chapel for hours, praying, writing, and trying to listen. He seemed to say “Not here, not yet”… and that was all. Part of me wanted to just say, “Fine, I’ll come here this fall,” and have the question over with, but that thought did not bring peace. I had to learn to be content to wait on His timing, to be willing to just be with Him even when the feelings are dry.

He has extended this lesson quite a few times the past eight months. It has been the hardest spiritual time I have ever experienced. The moments of sweetness and security I’d enjoyed in Dec ’08 and Jan ’09 were replaced with a lot more temptations and interior struggles. I still believe He calls me to be His bride, but not knowing when, where, or how makes me much more vulnerable and inclined to doubt. I simply must believe and know that He is working in me through every step of this journey. Even when He seems far, He is fashioning this soul. Hope has to be a daily, sometimes hourly act of the will.

If you are still with me after this epic, thank you for reading. In honor of a year since my "engagement", I renew my intention to trust my Beloved. Please pray for me to stay strong and faithful, so that in His own perfect time and marvelous way, the Divine Lover may script the rest of my story.

A little daughter,
Claire

Monday, October 26, 2009

Recent and Relevant

I just posted a reflection on my other blog about my experiences of the past few days. The lesson of "not me in control" is highly relevant to discernment of one's vocation!

As I heard a speaker say recently: "The Christian life is like riding a tandem with God. He's in front. We just pedal."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Little Flower


Happy Feast of the Little Flower! May this dearly beloved saint of the "little way" show each of us how to love with a truer, simpler heart.

"Our Lord does not come down from Heaven every day to lie in a golden ciborium. He comes to find another heaven which is infinitely dearer to him — the heaven of our souls, created in His Image, the living temples of the Adorable Trinity."


—Saint Therese of Lisieux

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Rose

It is only a tiny rosebud,
A flower of God’s design,
But I cannot unfold the petals
With these clumsy hands of mine.

The secret of unfolding flowers
Is not known to such as I,
The flower God opens so sweetly,
In my hands would fade and die.

If I cannot unfold a rosebud,
This flower of God’s design,
Then how can I have wisdom
To unfold this life of mine?

So I’ll trust Him for His leading
Each moment of every day
And I’ll look to Him for His guidance
Each step of the pilgrim way.

For the pathway that lies before me
My heavenly Father knows
I’ll trust Him to unfold the moments
Just as He unfolds the rose.

~Unknown
~~~
What a stirring and soothing reminder! In the life of Faith some unknowns will always be ahead. With trust, let us allow the strong yet gentle hand of the Master unfold and open the petals of our lives. In His time, I can become a fragrant bloom.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Beautiful Words

We just received a phone call from Dennis, a consecrated single member of the AFC (an apostolate which our family has befriended for some years). It's been quite a long time since we've had contact with him, and since my parents are out of town right now, I updated him on the family. I want to remember his energetic response at my mention of discernement:

"Every child in the world becomes your child...nothing beats the joy of consecrated life!"

Thanks, Dennis, for your joyful witness!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Arms of God

"Cast yourself into the arms of God
and be very sure that if he wants anything of you,
he will fit you for the work
and give you strength."

(St. Phillip Neri )

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Encouraging Encounter

Today I went to 11am Mass at the nearby hospital. Afterward as I saw in the pew, a lady whom we've been aquainted with for some time (although I confess I don't remember her name!) came over to me all bubbly, saying in an excited whisper, "I heard someone say you are thinking of becoming a nun. Is that true?" When I answered in the affirmative, she was all encouragement. "When I heard that, I thought, 'Isn't that just fabulous? She is just so perfect for that!' You are one of the really special people I know, the kind of person that leaves you feeling good when you've seen them."

Needless to say, I was both touched and lifted by the encounter. And it's not the first of its kind...so many have had similar reactions to my discernment. I realize that I am blessed to be the recipient of such affirmation. I know that plenty of young people respond to their consecrated vocation with little support from family and friends. My case is the quite the opposite... there are so many dear souls both supporting and praying for me on this journey. (Just tonight at a wake, a homeschool mother told me her 10-year-old daughter prays for me "by name" all the time!) The support also brings with it a few challenges of its own — there have been times I've faced a bit of worry about not living up to all the expectations. But I realize that fundamentally, the widespread support is a truly great blessing. It's a little like the "community" aspect of a courtship, only a slightly different kind of courtship.

Thank you, Father, for the Mystical Body of Christ.

Butterfly

Thank you all for your prayers! I am doing better. I'd like to share a quote that was timely and encouraging...

Just as the butterfly must wait upon its maker to be transformed, so must we. God is His infinite wisdom has a sovereign and individual plan for the transformation of our hearts and minds. Psalm 27:14 says "Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!" Being transformed is a process, so do not loose heart. "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus."

~from a past issue of the Girlhood Home Companion (Volume 1, Issue 12)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Lord,

I am trying my hardest. Really, I am. But I am weak and tired, and I never knew how thankless serving You could seem to be. I can totally echo Teresa of Avila today..."If this is how You treat Your friends, Lord, no wonder You have so few". I re-consecrate to You the broken, struggling vessel that is me. I trust that there will be an end to the tunnel, a calm in the midst of pain. I trust that You are pruning me for future greatness (You better be!). I trust that though I can't see the why in it all, You can...

~~~

To my readers (if anyone is left reading this neglected blog by now): I'm having an extraordinarily rough day, so could I please petition for your prayers for this tired soul? The main struggle right now has to do with the obstacles I'm facing as a parish catechetical leader. A boost of grace would be a big help. Thank you so much.

~~~

Vocationally, the journey is still in progress. I tell you, He sure does like to max out this trust thing. As in, lead us blindfolded for extended periods of time! But with Him in the driver's seat, I just trust and listen. After all, that is what a handmaiden does. He directs in His time...not mine. In an interesting way, I heard just the other day about a community that I hope to learn more about. I shall try to share more when time allows...

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end."

~Ecclesiastes 3:11

Monday, May 25, 2009

On Options

I wrote on my other blog about "Daddy-Daughter Date" I had yesterday. After Evening Vespers at the Poor Clares, we ran into a priest whom I haven't seen in a while, but who knew me by name and face (he actually led a retreat I attended about 5 years ago). He's, like, the only priest in our diocese that wears the cassock full-time, which is so neat. But I digress. :)

We chatted briefly, and I requested prayers for my discernment. His brief advice was along the following (I'm paraphrasing best I can remember): "The thing about the young people of today is that they want to keep all of their options open. And then nothing gets done. They're afraid to leave some options behind, but this is necessary for them to carry out the one(s) they are meant to do."

A valuable nugget of advice...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Music and Meaning, Part II

Part I here.

One of the songs on my playlist is "While I'm Waiting", which I heard for the first time in Fireproof. The arrangement is a bit more on the upbeat than the music I generally listen to, but the lyrics and melody have resonated with me greatly. This song has been a great consolation to me in recent months. In many ways, it has become the cry of my heart. I'll let the lyrics speak for themselves...

I'm waiting
I'm waiting on You, Lord
And I am hopeful

I'm waiting on You, Lord
Though it is painful
But patiently, I will wait

I will move ahead, bold and confident
Taking every step in obedience
While I'm waiting
I will serve You
While I'm waiting
I will worship
While I'm waiting
I will not faint
I'll be running the race
Even while I wait

I'm waiting
I'm waiting on You, Lord
And I am peaceful
I'm waiting on You, Lord
Though it's not easy
But faithfully, I will wait
Yes, I will wait

I will serve You while I'm waiting
I will worship while I'm waiting
I will serve You while I'm waiting
I will worship while I'm waiting
I will serve you while I'm waiting
I will worship while I'm waiting on You, Lord

...After all, isn't this is what being a "handmaiden" is all about?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

His Mercy

This past Sunday (the Feast of Divine Mercy), after a week filled with many graces, but also with many difficult moments, it was powerful to pray the prayer after the Chaplet of Divine Mercy...

Eternal God, in Whom mercy is endless,
and the treasury of compassion, inexhausible,
look kindly upon us, and increase Your mercy in us
that in difficult moments, we might not despair,
nor become despondant,
but with great confidance,
submit ourselves entirely to Your holy will,
which is love and mercy itself. Amen.

It amazes me sometimes how I can pray some prayer plenty of times, maybe even for year, and then it will hit me in a whole new way at a time when it becomes really personally relevant. That prayer, especially the last five lines above, was like a balm to my soul on Sunday. It was exactly what I need to pray and hear at that moment!

"But I will call this to mind,
as my reason to have hope:
The favors of the LORD are not exhausted,
his mercies are not spent;
They are renewed each morning,
so great is his faithfulness.
My portion is the LORD, says my soul;
therefore will I hope in him.
Good is the LORD to one who waits for him,
to the soul that seeks him;
It is good to hope in silence
for the saving help of the LORD."
~Lamentations 3:21-26
(I didn't realize until recently that such a hope-filled passage was in Lamentations... thanks to Sr. M. Franchesca!)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Home

I got home a little while ago...my visit was both very beautiful and very hard. The Lord seems to be rather silent right now, not granting any convictions yet...which has demanded a continual re-entrusting to the work that I know He is doing in and for me, although I can't see or feel it. I definitely can't see the whole picture right now, but have to trust that He can.

I do wish that everyone with any discouragement about the future of the Church could see and know Sisters like those in Nashville. There is most definitely hope for the Church!

I rose at 5:00am with everyone else there, which was very good for me. If I can implement some similar disciplines presently in home life, I know I'll be much benefitted. :)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Prayer Request

He is Risen: Alleluia!

I ask for your prayers in a special way this week... I fly out this morning to spend a few days (today through Friday) with the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville, TN! Please pray that the Holy Spirit truly guide my path.

In Easter Joy,
Claire

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Quote of the Day

"To know whether God will have a person become a religious it is not to be expected that God Himself should speak, or send an angel from heaven to signify His will. It is not necessary that ten or twelve confessors should examine whether the vocation is to be followed. But it is necessary to correspond with the first movement of the inspiration, and to cultivate it, and then not to grow weary if disgust or coldness should come on. If a person acts thus, God will not fail to make all succeed to His glory. Nor ought we to care much from what quarter the first movement comes. The Lord has many ways of calling His servants."

—St. Francis De Sales

Monday, March 30, 2009

Quote of the Day and New Website!

"It was not you who chose me,
but I who chose you
and appointed you to go
and bear fruit that will remain."
(John 15:16)

Oh, that quote is SO meaningful to me, especially right now! The consecrated life was/is not of my own choosing. I have long desired so deeply for the fruit of motherhood. But His words, "I have chosen you to bear fruit that will remain"... could very well be referring to the fruit of spiritual motherhood.

Today I discovered that the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia have a most beautiful newly-redone website. I will be visiting them in a few weeks and it is exciting to explore everything on the new site. Be sure to visit it!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Open Wide the Doors...

"Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away and He gives you everything. When we give ourselves to Him, we receive a hundred-fold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ — and you will find true life."

-Pope Benedict XVI

Music and Meaning I

The playlist at right features about 20 selections that are very meaningful to my discernment. You may notice that there is a bit of a mix...a number of scriptural pieces and John Michael Talbot mixed with a few more contemporary hymns, and even a couple of significant ones from Classical/Pop singers.

I'd like to share about many of these beautiful songs, starting with Love Is Not A Fight and While I'm Waiting. (While I'm Waiting will be the theme of a later post.)

These two songs have grown on me since I first heard them in the magnificent film Fireproof. They are a little more on the "upbeat" side compared to most music I take to, but the lyrics fit so wonderfully into the movie that I fell in love with both. I have since found them to be very relevant to vocational discernment, too.

Love Is Not A Fight
(Warren Barfield)
Love is not a place
To come and go as we please
It's a house we enter in
And then commit to never leave

This stanza actually brings the cloistered life to mind (even though I don't believe I am called to the contemplative/cloistered vocation). In a larger perspective, however, is the call to interiorly "dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple." (Psalm 27:4)


Lock the door behind you
Throw away the key
We'll work it out together
Let it bring us to our knees

Love is a shelter in the raging storm
Love is peace in the middle of a war
If we try to leave,
may God send His angels to guard the door
No, love is not a fight,
but it's something worth fighting for

Love is a person, and yes, He is a shelter in the raging storm, and peace in the middle of a war! The paradox of "love is not a fight, but it's something worth fighting for" really speaks to me.


To some, love is a word
That they can fall into
But when they're falling out
Keeping that word is hard to do

Lord has very tangibly been showing me of late what it means to love as a decision, not based on feelings...of which mine can be very unreliable!


Love will come to save us
If we'll only call
He will ask nothing of us
But demand we give our all

Oh, how very true those last lines are! He does demand our all, whether it is through the consecrated life or not.



I will fight for you
Would you fight for me?
It's worth fighting for...


There are plenty of times of interior struggle to let go and accept the love He offers. And there have been temptations to distract me. My God fights for me...so I remind myself that He is worth fighting for. Even if sometimes, that fighting is against my own weak flesh!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Solemnity of the Annunciation

"Ecce ancílla Dómini.
Fiat mihi secúndum verbum tuum."
Behold, the handmaiden of the Lord.
Be it done to me according to thy word.
-Luke 1:38

Visit Women for Faith and Family for a beautiful history of the prayer "The Angelus"! This feast of the Annunciation is a special one for me. If you haven't made note of the blog header, now would be a good time to do so. :)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

An Unfolding Love Story

I've prayed since childhood to know and follow the unique calling Christ has for me. I have long dreamt of and longed to be a bride, to be a mother, and in recent months He asked me to be more open to total consecration as His bride, and the spiritual mother of many.

Discerning and discovering this call is presently a journey in progress. Many wonderful friends and family have offerend an outpouring of loving support and enthusiasm. I've also wished that I could freeze the most meaningful moments in a time capsule to revisit whenever I need to!

This blog may not be as intimate or personal as a heart-to-heart over a cup of tea, but I hope it may be a place where I can reflect at His workings and chronicle this unfolding love story — both for myself, and for anyone who wishes for a glimpse at the journey. May the manifestations of His love to me be for you just as deep a blessing.

In His Heart,
Claire H.

...A Chosen Handmaiden