Sr. Mariae Agnus Dei
When my twin sister and I were born, we numbered six and seven of what would eventually be eight children, making for a childhood full of life, creative adventures, and loving chaos nestled in the woods of rural Maine.
While a public school education didn’t afford much in the formation of faith, my mind and heart grew to appreciate and engage the spiritual world of Divine love and grace through the witness of my parent’s lives and a powerful experience I had when attending a summer Catholic youth conference before my freshman year of high school. For the first time I was exposed to Eucharistic Adoration. I remember gazing at the Eucharist and being pierced to the heart. I knew it was God. Tears rolled down my face, my soul was filled with peace, and my heart was filled with an invitation – “live life with love and compassion.” I was overwhelmed by God’s personal love for me. As I began high school I started making different choices. My encounter with Jesus in adoration that summer filled my heart with great expectations for life. God had a plan for me and I wanted to live it. Though many activities and passions filled my high school days, when it came time to graduate and look for a college one priority rose above all the others. I wanted to go somewhere I could nourish the seed of faith planted that summer and let God’s plan for my life unfold. Following the lead of grace, I left Maine and headed to Washington D.C. to begin a degree in nursing at Catholic University of America.
The next four years were pivotal in my faith journey. Whether encountering patients as a nursing student, training with teammates for cross-country meets, or attending the many activities offered on campus, God sought to reveal Himself and draw me into a fuller vision of faith. For the first time I had Catholic community, friendships, and opportunities to learn how to pray, all of which served to guide me through the joys, sorrows, uncertainties and challenges of my college years. The discouragement, confusion, and pressure I felt trying to keep up with a world that measured worth on appearances or by what one could do or achieve, fell away as I listened to the words of John Paul II, especially his teachings on the Theology of the Body. I was drawn into a new world of hope realizing my immeasurably dignity, sacred worth in the eyes of God, and the call to self-gift as a means to fulfillment. As my relationship with God grew and I became more and more open to His love I began to look at the deeper questions of my heart with Him. Who am I? How do I live life in a way fulfilling? Where am I called to love and be loved? As I encountered vibrant young religious and the beauty that emanated from young married couples who shared a love founded on God, my heart was filled with freedom to entrust my future entirely to Him. I knew the beauty that I sought to live and possess in life would source and center on Him, and He was the only one who could lead me there.
One afternoon I went to the large Basilica on campus to pray. As I visited the various side chapels devoted to Our Lady, the Lord placed Romans 12:1 on my heart. “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice…” In that moment I knew the loving gaze of God the Father. I experienced deep within my heart the call to be a “living sacrifice” for the Lord, and to live in response to His great love for me. While this grace didn’t grant understanding about whether I was called to marriage or consecrated life, it steadied my heart in a time when it was discouraged and impatient with the purifying process of discernment. Fear and anxiety would at times grip me. Did I miss my call? How come I didn’t know yet? My young twenty-something-year-old heart was discouraged at not having an answer to that deep ache to lay my life down in love. This experience of prayer steadied me. God’s promise of abundant life and love would be fulfilled – I just needed to be patient with Him.
When I graduated college, nursing jobs were abundant. I could find work anywhere and in any field. I decided I was open to anything, except I didn’t want to stay in the WashingtonD.C. area and I didn’t want to do intensive care nursing. As I explored hospitals and programs, grace led me right to the door I had closed. After a bit of an arm wrestle with the Lord, I surrendered to His will and began working in the intensive care unit of a hospital just outside D.C. city limits, ready to be surprised by God in last place I planned to be.
Though steadied by a prayer life and vibrant community of Catholic friends, working in intensive care as a new nurse was challenging and often discouraging. The dignity of the patient was often lost amidst the technology and fast-pace of the floor, co-workers readily opposed my Christian ideals, and love seemed all but lost in the conviction that health-care was a business of economy and utility rather than healing, service, and ministry. Little did I know that as each night shift passed the seeds of my vocation were beginning to grow. This year brought to life the charism that I was soon to be called to – that of protecting and enhancing the sacred dignity of life.
Late into a quiet night shift, I was sitting at the nurse’s station and grace drew my attention. Something in my heart had shifted. It was as if a door had opened, and God was inviting me to step through – to look at a part of my heart I had yet to explore with Him. I called the vocations director for the diocese as soon as I got home and scheduled a time to meet. I knew I needed help exploring this new grace that filled my soul.
The vocations director gave the best advice I could have received in that sacred time. He simply told me to go and be quiet before the Lord and pray for the grace to know the deepest desires of my heart. He concluded, “and pray for the grace not to be afraid of what comes in answer to that question.” As I left the meeting my whole soul was filled with a peace I had never experienced before. I continued on to a nearby Church for Mass, knelt down in the pew, quieted my heart and let the Holy Spirit lead my prayer. My interior seemed to possess nothing but the peace of Christ’s presence. As it came time to receive the Lord in Holy Communion I knew He was inviting me to receive Him in a new way. The veil of my heart was drawn aside and the Lord answered my prayer. I was given the grace to see that the deepest desire of my heart was God. God and God alone was the treasure of my heart and worth all my life and love. A loving invitation followed this realization. It resounded throughout my soul with gentleness and clarity, “consecrated life with the Sisters of Life”.
As my heart received the grace of this call I could see God’s presence of mercy and love in every moment of my life – in all the crosses, resurrections, joys, sorrows, and challenges. Each were for a reason, each had helped prepare me to respond to this moment of invitation with love and freedom. Forth from my heart poured a most pure, love-filled, totally free “yes!” to the Lord –a yes that led me to enter the Sisters of Life that fall, and continues to draw me deeper and deeper into the inexhaustible beauty and gift of His love today.