Sunday, February 08, 2009
I guess I am one of those people who early in life God attracted to Himself. I come from a practicing Roman Catholic family and my early childhood was spent mostly with my paternal grandmother who was an epitome of a quiet, devout life. I grew up in the city but was by nature inclined to simple, country existence. My concept of God when I was small was formed by my observations of my grandmother and aunt - dawn Masses, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of Our Lady of Lourdes. I spent a lot of quiet times in this huge Spanish home of my grandmother, listening to passion plays read over the radio during Lent, accompanying my aunt to Catholic Women League (CWL) meetings and funeral wakes of members of CWL. It may sound boring for a little girl my age but I didn't find it so at the time. I had fun times too. I went with my cousins swimming in the river, catching frogs and putting them in jars, boating, collecting star fish on the beach and asking a hired help to fetch us some coconuts. I enjoyed my vacation time away from school. God has been very good to me even amidst the difficulties of life. I will always be grateful.
My first awareness of a religious calling was in high school. Our school was operated by the Pauline Sisters. They ran a radio station. I thought it was cool to be playing nice Christian music and then interrupted it with readings from Scriptures. Sister had a soft and gentle voice. I thought if I heard an angel's voice it probably would have sounded like hers. But like many that age, I didn't place any special interest on it. Life was just beginning for me and being a Sister seemed to me like a life meant for somebody else, not me. So I carried on with my life and graduated from high school.
I discovered the Carmelites after College quite by accident. By this time I've been attending Opus Dei, a Catholic organization of lay people who seriously lived their Christian life based on the Gospels and the teachings of Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer (now a Saint). I love to read spiritual books and the lives of Saints. I had just finished reading the life of a Carmelite who founded a Carmelite monastery in Paray Le Monial, France. Her name was Alexandra Di Rudini. I was very taken by the story of her life and moved by her call to Carmel.
I was walking one day on my way home from Opus Dei center when I noticed a place with people coming and going. It was a Carmelite monastery and they were having nine day novena to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. I decided to investigate and ended up staying for the rest of the nine days. The homilies were all based on Mary's virtues, divine motherhood or discipleship. On the last day, I received my Brown Scapular. This event had a very definite and lasting influence on me. The details of which will remain to be a secret between the Virgin and I. Mary became a very significant influence in my decision to enter the Carmelite Order. She will remain to be THE reason why I entered the Order. An elderly Sister dressed in the full monastic habit of Carmel was giving out Scapulars. She caught my attention. She was hunched over and frail. I saw in her something beautiful, something noble, a life all spent for God. These stirrings were from God, drawing me close and, inviting me to follow Him in the way of total surrender. My heart was filled with joy that night! The future for me seemed to be full of promises.
I went back to the monastery the next day and went to the same Sister with the enthusiasm of youth: "Sister, I would like to enter the convent. I am going to be a contemplative!" Sr. Germaine looked at me with contained amusement and said "I will speak to Mother Prioress about your request. Meanwhile, you can go and sweep the Chapel!" Talk about being brought down from heaven to earth! I didn't mind it at all. I felt I was now part of the "in-group." I became a fixture in that monastery and was even granted permission to enter the enclosure occasionally. The nuns nurtured me and taught me how to become a Carmelite by their words, actions and the books they gave me to read. I was 21 years old.
It was not surprising that I eventually entered this Carmelite Community. I entered in 1991 when the Order celebrated the 400th centenary of the death of Saint John of the Cross. I entered without my father's consent and with tremendous tension in the family. I felt hurt and without support. I also felt guilt at having given up my obligations as the daughter they have placed all their hopes on. I stayed with the Sisters for 3 years without any visit from my father. I loved my Sisters and developed a very strong attachment to them. I lived the life in all its fullness.But I wasn't fully happy. My family situation weighed heavily on me. At the advice of my Confessor I decided to leave. It was one of the saddest days of my life. I may have left Carmel but Carmel never left me.
OUT OF DARKNESS
When I left the enclosure, Mother Prioress' words stayed with me, "God has another place for you. You will always belong to Carmel. The bride is not for us." These words sustained me in moments of darkness and doubts. It was very clear that I was called to Religious life. I couldn't see myself married or raising a family even though I love children very much. I knew in my heart I want to belong to Jesus alone. He is my Beloved. But where was I to go? As the saying goes "when God closes a door, He opens a window." I found the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm. With my background as a nurse, it seemed like this was where God wanted me.
After many years of searching I have found my place in Carmel. Carmel has many streams but only one source- God. I have found my place among the workers in God's field caring for the Aged and Infirm. I have found peace and contentment in the knowledge that I have given myself to God forever in Obedience, Poverty and Chastity. The journey was long and the road had many twists and turns. I celebrated my 15th year as a Carmelite Sister in May of 2012. I love my vocation and am grateful to God for calling me to Carmel. I never regret my choosing to be a Carmelite. I cannot imagine myself otherwise. I continue to correspond to Mother Prioress many years later from that first day I swept the monastery chapel! She is now in her 80's and just received an invitation to her 60th religious jubilee. Sr. Germaine is now bedridden and looking forward to the final call of her Beloved. The response to God's invitation is not a one-time event but has to be nourished, renewed and sustained. But I know that with the Virgin Mary at my side and all the Saints of Carmel, God will bring me to His holy mountain, Christ our Lord.