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,


  1. Thank you so much for sharing your story, Claire. It encourages me to keep praying and trusting in God. I'm so glad I know you.

    God bless,
    Vicki M.

  2. That's such a lovely story Claire! I don't think I've ever heard the whole tale.

  3. Thank you, ladies. Love you both!

  4. Claire, were you ever able to check out the Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Santa Ana Ca? I'll be praying for you. Mrs. Pocta

  5. Thank you for sharing, Claire. I've been praying for you as you discern... keep me in your prayers, as well. God bless!

  6. Be assured of our prayers and many thanks for sharing your story. You are most welcome to visit our blog. The link is www.thoughtactioneire.blogspot.com

    Ireland recently celebrated the Feast of St. Brigid.


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