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Saturday, April 04, 2009

Pilgrim - Chapter 3

(click for Chapter 1 and Chapter 2)

I got into a cycle of regular Confession, never missed Mass, and my friends invited me to go to daily mass with them.  But I never did. I never even darkened the door of the Adoration Chapel, being entirely clueless as to why I should.  


Then, one February day, I think it was during Lent, for some reason I couldn't go to work. I hated my job, was completely stressed out, and that morning I was in tears just THINKING about work. But I wasn't sick so got up and went through the morning routine, knowing I needed to go. When it came time to leave, though, I couldn't get through the door. I couldn't open it. Something was telling me to STAY HOME.  I thought I was being ridiculous, certainly I needed to go to work!  But I was so emotionally distraught that I realized it was time for a "mental health" day, so I called in and said I was sick. I guess that was actually true, even though I didn't understand the nature of my "sickness."  

There was ONE place I DID want to go, though;  to the Adoration Chapel.  I wanted to go visit Jesus. I hoped He could give me the remedy for what was ailing me. Somehow, I knew I had to spend time in His presence.  On my way out the door, I grabbed a notebook, not understanding that inspiration, either.  But there it was.  

I sat down in the chapel, and looked at the Blessed Sacrament. Finally, almost in complete relief, I let the tears come. I  don't even think I was praying, just kneeling there crying my heart out.  After a bit I gained control of myself and took out the notebook...and began to write.  I wrote to Jesus, telling Him many things, writing about memories, regrets...many things. Finally I stopped and observed the monstrance, and began to write some more. About what Christ was offering to me, and what my response would be. 

Suddenly I stopped, shocked. I read what I had written, looked up at Jesus, thinking He could NOT possibly be saying what I thought He was saying. Was this a...a...proposal???? 

NO!  I began crying again, shocked, terrified, unworthy. Quickly I stood up and left the chapel, still crying, not knowing what to think. I went home, though, and started looking at different religious communities. What was out there?  COULD this be something I might want to do?

And again, my cousin's words came to me, haunting me. I'd never seriously considered religious life. But then again, I'd never been a "good Catholic". At that time, I was on my way, maybe, but, at least in my estimation, still not "there".  

That started a pendulum swinging; some days the life seemed attractive, other times it didn't.  And I didn't like praying the rosary in community, didn't even normally pray it every day!  I didn't think I wanted to spend so much time praying. But I did like the idea of helping the poor, I liked the idea of contributing to something real, not to a business I really didn't like.  

And then the pendulum would swing away and I was bored with the idea. It was usually around those times that some random person would say to me, out of the blue, "Do you think you have a Vocation?" I always said no, but then the pendulum would come back again and I'd find myself surfing the web for religious communities.  

I also began spending a lot more time in the Adoration Chapel, often even skipping lunch at work in favor of finding a chapel in a parish near the office. It was a very difficult time in my career, and had it not been for the availablity of those "mini-retreats", there was no way I would have survived with any sanity at all. In all liklihood, I would have lost my job.  With my entire being, I was seeking holiness and seeking Christ, knowing that without Him, I could do nothing at all. 

And still, the pendulum swung, back and forth, back and forth, almost tearing me apart. I thought maybe I was a character in Edgar Allen Poe's tale by the same title. This went on for a long time. Slowly I told a couple friends what I was thinking, and even told my Mom and brother.  That was a bad idea. That started Mom calling me nearly every day to ask if I still wanted "to be a nun".  She was absolutely convinced that I'd go knock on the door of a convent and never emerge again.  

I tried to go on different discernment retreats, but nothing worked out. I couldn't find anyone to take my dogs and I couldn't afford to put them in a kennel for the weekend. Or maybe the cost to get somewhere was too prohibitive. Some of my friends tried to "take over" and order me to do certain things, and I wasn't comfortable with those ideas. It wasn't the right time. And when I didn't do what they wanted me to do, those friends became angry with me. 

Then one day it occurred to me that I was going about discernment in the same way I'd gone about looking for jobs and choosing a career. Which, clearly, hadn't worked out well for me even in the proper context.  I realized that discernment was dependent upon God. Not me. So I simply stopped looking and put it in God's hands. I was open to His will, and it seemed religious life wasn't His will for me. So I shrugged and went on with my life, realizing I'd done my duty as a "good Catholic woman."  I'd seriously discerned religious life and now it was done.  

And the sense went away. I'd learned a great deal in that process, and through it, had come to a closer relationship with Our Lord. 

And thankfully, Mom stopped asking about it.  

Graduate School

The following summer, I attended a Catholic conference that was held locally, and, there, found my thirst for knowledge of God growing almost unbearably.  Since my conversion, I'd done a great deal of reading, had listened to Catholic Answers on the radio, and in fact, was always listening to Catholic Radio.  After the Conference, I again began to think about going back to school, this time to study theology. I learned that I wouldn't necessarily need to go for an  undergrad degree since I already had a B.A., but might be able to get straight into a grad program. But it seemed too expensive. A friend, though, encouraged me and made me ask an important question:   other people went to grad school...why NOT me?  

So I looked into it and applied for the Catholic Studies program at the University of St. Thomas, and was subsequently admitted, although as a special student.  As I could not qualify for financial aid under that status, I delayed my start...and learned about Ave Maria University's Institute for Pastoral Theology. The curriculum matched what I TRULY desired, so I took a course, loved it, and my application was accepted.  

I remember sitting in class one day, realizing what God had done to give me this great gift. I wondered how, though, exactly, I could have gone from the cesspool that was my life to being a grad student in theology.  There, sitting in that first class I took, I nearly wept with gratitude. 

Pursuit of Holiness and God's Will

Even though I didn't think God was calling me to religious life, I had a deep spiritual longing to be more united with Christ. I recognized the need to be committed, somehow, to someone, and it seemed that marriage really wasn't "it" for me, even though that's where I thought I probably belonged.  Yet, I couldn't really see myself in a home with children. I didn't know any guys I'd be interested in even dating, nor did I know of any who would be interested in me.  

So I learned to be content with my state in life, knowing God was there, that He had a plan, and it was my job to keep my eyes on Him.  Even so, there was an intensity in my longing that was nearly painful at times.  I was in agony, wanting to belong to SOMEONE, tired of being adrift, recognizing that this solitude isn't natural or part of God's original plan for humanity.  

A random question to a classmate about whether we had Third Order Dominicans in our area ended up being launched into the idea of starting a new chapter.  This seemed like a perfect idea, and I knew that although it wasn't a vow, it would be a new step in pursuing union with God.  I was very drawn to the Dominicans, and saw the intercession of the Dominican Saints in my life;  my own Confirmation Saint, I learned, was a tiertiary (3rd Order) Dominican, which, today we  refer to as "Dominican Laity".  

That continued coming up against walls, although we learned that there is a small chapter locally, so we were working with them to find an advisor.

Then something else happened, for God was not yet finished with me and had a BIG surprise in store....

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