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Friday, 14 December 2012

Vocation Stories: Sister Emily of the Mother of God

“My child, do you see, there is only One; it is He, the Only Truth! Ah, He fascinates,
He sweeps you away; under His gaze the horizon becomes so beautiful, so vast,
so luminous… My dear one, do you want to turn with me towards this sublime Ideal?
It is no fiction but a reality.”
Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity

These words of the young Carmelite, Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity sum up what my journey to Carmel has been: a living encounter with Him who is The Only One.

The first time I ever thought of becoming a Sister was in the second grade while preparing for First Communion. We went on a day-retreat in the mountains and a Sister was in charge of all our activities. It was the first time I remember meeting a Sister and what struck me most was the sense of her being “set apart”. I had no idea what it meant to be a Religious, what their lives were like, the sacrifices that they made, but the short time we spent with her influenced me so deeply because her “set-apartness” for God was so real, so beautiful and so attractive.

I look back now and I see how God was planting seeds in my heart. The life of a Religious is a living sign of the encounter with “the Only One”, and in making this life seem so attractive to me, He was calling me to know Him for myself.

The memory of that first encounter with the Sister on retreat remained deeply in my heart. As life went on, the thought would come and go as many nice dreams often do. But the Lord intended that it be more than just a nice day dream! In His goodness, the Lord nurtured those seeds of longing for Him through the gift of my family.

I have grace-filled memories of hiking and camping, swimming down waterfalls, sleeping under the stars, rising at midnight to see Jupiter and Venus, learning to ski, and fish and climb big rocks. All of these experiences were so simple, yet, it is in the simple that God lets us see His face. It was through these experiences that my parents gave me the gift of encountering God and experiencing His goodness. They opened my heart to Him by teaching me how to wonder at creation: to feel small before the immensity of the ocean, to be lost in the thought of the endless universe and the awesome complexity of a little flower. On those long trips and hikes, we found hours of silence and learning to be in awe of the One from whose hands came all the beautiful things we saw.

The second thing I remember during those years of my life was the vivid experience of watching my mother battle cancer for seven years. There are few words to express such an experience, but in the midst of it all, God was making a space for Himself in my heart. When I was 11 years old and in the 6th grade, my mom died. Even though I could not see it at the time, in His providence, the Lord used this experience to direct my heart to “things above.” The suffering and doubts that every person encounters in their own unique life journey were means that our Lord used to reveal His Heart to me.

As I finished Middle School and got into High School, I searched and tried to make sense of my life, myself, the world. I was longing for something to fill my heart, and I was so unsatisfied with everything I turned to. As I went through High School that ‘haunting’ little thought of becoming a Sister kept coming to heart. Already there was a deep conviction that only by being His would I be truly happy. Nevertheless, I kept running from His nudging invitation and tried to make other things foremost in my mind.

The gift of music was invaluable to me. Thus, most of my time was spent in bands, orchestras, auditions, and hours of practice. Friends and parties filled whatever other time there was. Yet, even through music, Jesus was gently whispering to my heart. Soon the practices, concerts, and auditions meant very little to me according the successes of the world, but they became a means of allowing the deepest parts of my heart to speak to Him and to listen to Him reveal His goodness and beauty to me.

In my sophomore year of high school, He gently reached down and gave some concrete direction to all that He was doing in my life. I went on two retreats, which were truly life-changing experiences. Through these retreats, I encountered Christ in a totally new and completely PERSONAL way. I was “fascinated, swept away” and I made the resolution to attend daily Mass. This daily encounter with Christ sustained me and directed me on the path He was opening up before me, even though I did not always cooperate or understand.
The year following, (which happened to be the Jubilee Year 2000) a woman from my parish approached me and invited me to visit a convent of Sisters that she knew. Inside, my heart, still afraid of the weight of His love, said “LEAVE ME ALONE LORD!!!” but to her I said, “Sure, I’ll go if you want me to.” She arranged everything and one day I found myself driving in the front gates of the Motherhouse of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles. Even though I did not want to be there, to my surprise I felt a deep peace and was filled with the clear conviction, “This is where I am going to spend the rest of my life- this is home.” A few months later, I had the tremendous grace of receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation and then traveling to Rome for World Youth Day.

Surrounded by millions of young people alive with faith, and walking the streets that hundreds of Saints have walked and listening to the words of our Beloved Holy Father strengthened me. The night of our prayer vigil with John Paul II, I stood alone in the huge crowd of pilgrims, overwhelmed by the encounter with the living Church that I saw in their faces. As I waited there, praying, watching for the Holy Father to drive past us, Jesus gave me the grace of firmly knowing what He was asking of me, and the courage to not turn back. After returning home from Rome, I wrote to the Sisters and asked to visit again. Throughout my senior year, I visited almost every weekend, and grew more deeply in love with their life of prayer, simplicity, joy and unity. But more than that I grew more in love with HIM.

Three months after High School graduation I began year of candidacy with our Community and the following year I entered the Postulancy. Each day I am filled with a deeper sense of gratitude for the gift of belonging totally to Christ as a Carmelite Sister. Each day He continues to open up before me that horizon which is “so beautiful, so vast, so luminous”- that horizon which is Him alone.

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