Lenten Prayer – with Mary

When I was discerning religious life, I had no intention of entering with the Canossian Sisters.

I know, I hear my friends saying, “Er…but Sr Lisa Marie, isn’t that the religious order you are with?”

Yes. I am a Canossian Sister, and have found my home in this beautiful Canossian religious family. How is it that I am here was settled by one prayer that our Sisters around the world pray each morning, asking for the intercession of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows:

Father, you willed that Mary
be at the Foot of the Cross
sharing in the sacrifice of your Son.
Grant, that
through her intercession,
we may bear within ourselves
the image of Christ
Crucified and Risen,
and spend ourselves
with untiring charity
for the good
of our brothers and sisters,
through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

I remember the first time I heard the Sisters pray these words, I knew.

It was as though, like the Baptist to his disciples, ‘Look, the Lamb of God.’ And when they heard this, they followed Jesus (John 1:36-37).

When I heard the words “image of Christ Crucified” and “spend ourselves with untiring charity”, I intuitively knew I found my spiritual home.

During this Lenten season, it is a time to follow the Lord towards Jerusalem. We can imagine his knowing each footstep carried him closer to future he didn’t want, yet, he walked on the same out of love for the Father and for us, for the ‘good of his brothers and sisters’.

This is my Lenten journey. This is the Canossian way of life. This is my Christian way of life. May I walk it in love for the Father each day ‘with untiring charity for the good of our brothers and sisters’. May others be inspired desire to follow this way of service to the Father, through the contemplation of the Greatest Love on the Cross, with Mary at their side. Amen.

The Path of Love

Today, in commemoration of my ten year anniversary of profession, I break retreat for a brief instant to share my gratitude that God would take me to be His own.

No words express my sentiment better than those of our Foundress; she writes in her memoirs:

“I have to tread the path of love ( I must do this!), so I took courage and began as usual to give in to some expression. Gradually, my old desire for the glory of God swept over me. As I repeatedly offered myself to the Lord, it crossed through my mind that this might be the right moment to pronounce the vow of perpetual chastity. Then, with all the affection I could muster, I pronounced my vow. The thought of belonging wholly to Jesus Christ overwhelmed me to the extent that I could think of nothing else. I simply told our Lord, that henceforth, He would be my very own, and I begged Him to take care of everything.”
Saint Magdalene of Canossa
Foundress, Canossian Sisters

So, rejoice with me today, that God loves us in such a way that He, the Maker of the stars of heaven, would stoop down  and espouse Himself to a mere creature such as myself.


Note: back to retreat now. I’ll re- emerge Sunday. Holding the intentions of my readers in my prayers. God’s abundant blessings upon each of you! Sr. Lisa Marie

About Spiritual Motherhood

Simcha Fisher at National Catholic Register wrote a post exploring her own understanding of what spiritual motherhood is about:

“This notion (spiritual motherhood) gave me hives for many years, since I was already fully surrounded by my offspring before I started to feel really comfortable or confident in my role as mother. Maybe my problem was that I was expecting to feel motherly right away…once I started to feel it more for my own children, I took my responsibility toward the motherless people of the world much more seriously.”

She goes on to ask, “…if you, like me, had to learn to adapt to this role, what helped you get there? Do you still struggle? If you don’t have physical children, do you feel that you’re fulfilling this vocation?”

In reading Simcha’s post, I could relate with her on many points, even though I have never given birth to children of my own, I have had to grow into my own ‘motherhood’.

Ever since I was a small girl, I had an aversion to barbies and dolls, preferring to care for animals instead. Maybe it was because the dogs, cats, rats, rabbits and hamsters were really living, breathing things, rather than plastic and immobile objects. Yet, I also remember the first time I held a real baby, my little brother Michael. I was afraid I would drop him, and so instead of holding him with love, I held him in fear.  On the other hand, I had from a young age an affinity for Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I remember my first introduction to her when I was seven. I was sitting in my Nana’s playroom, and of all the toys she had in the closet for us, I would always go to some books in the corner of the room, a series of them had a section on countries and cultures. One day, the book I picked up was featuring India and the story of Mother Teresa. What struck me was, in fact, her caring for the broken human beings she encountered with great tenderness and compassion. The story made me ponder how was it that she could care so deeply about these whom she didn’t know. What was it that made her pick up that first dying man on the street? Was she afraid she would ‘drop him’? That he might die in her arms rather than get well?

Sr Lisa in Indonesia

My ‘awakening’ to my calling to be a mother to others first came the summer after my first vows, in 2002. I was helping with the summer program for Catholic youth in Vimercate, Italy. I was playing futbol (soccer) with the children, and managed to score a goal. The boys started cheering, “Madre, Madre, Madre!” I was looking around to see who they were talking about – who is this ‘Mother’ they were shouting for – sheepishly remembering that is the title the Italians use for religious women – Madre. Mother. It was a moment of reconciling for me, both my call as a celibate who, under a vow of chastity, chose to follow Christ in this way, offering my own motherhood to God and in doing so became a mother to God’s children, all humanity.  It is an overwhelming thought.

After ten years of professed life, I am still discovering what it means to love those who are not my own, and in the process understanding more deeply my own vocational call to religious consecrated life. As Simcha mentions in recalling her own experience, it was – and continues to be for me – a growing into motherhood. The key to its success is not our inbred feminine disposition for nurturing (although I imagine having it, makes the motherly role come more naturally), but more important is one’s steadfastness in their living out their vocation. This makes sense reading Simcha’s words, “I was already fully surrounded by my offspring before I started to feel really comfortable or confident in my role as mother.”  These words ring true in my own experience, the importance of living faithfully our calling goes way beyond one’s feelings: it is commitment.

This idea of commitment plays out so true, recalling my own childhood, being one of seven children. We were a handful for my mother, that much I remember, often teasing each other to tears.  I often wondered what superpowers my mother was endowed with by God, by the very fact she did not lose her sanity in the process of raising us. When she said her ‘yes’ in marrying my father, that yes meant accepting the fruit of their marriage – children. The late nights caring for us when we were sick; and later picking us up from detention after school. The sacrifices to the things she would have liked to have had so that her children would have opportunities. Now that I am grown, I often reflect on her motherhood as an example for my own. I am sure there were times she was fed up with us and our craziness and wanted to get away, yet she stayed the course, loving us even when we showed little or no signs of appreciation. This is the motherhood that I strive for.

Here are some ways I celebrate my spiritual motherhood.

On one hand, I think of the desert Fathers and the many who would come out to the desert to pray with them and find sound counsel. In this way, I see myself a spiritual mother when I take someone under my wing to help them in their spiritual journey, by sharing from my own experiences the workings of God. I also feel I am a mother in this sense as I carry in my heart all who ask for my prayers; my heart is burdened for their concerns, their sufferings, and my heart rejoices with them in their successes. This plays out big time in the classroom, teaching catechesis, working with youth; the need to be attentive to the heart of those in my care.

Sr Lisa in Tanzania

I am also a mother by my call to availability, to be willing to interrupt my day when I encounter someone in need. It happens from time to time that I am stopped along my way by others because of my habit – the exterior sign of my consecration – and asked to talk with them, or pray with them. These are pinnacle mother-moments. Where through being present to these strangers, I present them to the Heavenly Father, and Jesus, His Son. Some of these moments hold me in dread, not knowing how to respond, much how I felt when I was five years old, holding my little brother in my lap.  Thus, the Holy Spirit becomes my companion, that God’s word may reach the soul in front of me, that I might be given words to say to him. These encounters have strengthened my desire to take each person who I encounter and love them, realizing that their Heavenly Father would want it so.

Who do We Give our Hearts To?

A new friend of mine from the Newman Catholic Center at Cal Poly University shared with me a little story that I thought is a good lesson for all of us:

Ever since she was a young girl, she knew she would one day meet the right man and marry. She spent her time and energy waiting for that day, looking for the right man, and eventually, joyfully finding him.

Then, all of her attention went into the planning for the wedding, to mark the first day of their lives together as special. Invitations were sent out, guests arrived to the beautifully decorated church, and the bride, with her heart fluttering in excitement, was almost ready.

The maid of honor helped her into her exquisite dress. The bride was radiant, her joy was mirrored back to her when she took one last look in the mirror before making her way to meet her soon-to-be husband. Only….

There, in the corner of the bridal suite, in the shadows, sat Jesus weeping. The bride’s heart was full, and had no room left for Him.

___

Many may think this is a story to encourage one to think again about giving themselves totally to Jesus through becoming a religious sister, brother, or priest.

But in truth, the moral of the story is so much more.

We do this to Jesus, shut him out of our lives, every time we fill our hearts with other desires before first making our hearts the home for our King. Was the young woman wrong to desire to find a worthy spouse? Of course not. No more wrong as for one to dive head first into a calling as a religious or priest. BUT for either vocation to be successful in its entirety, the spiritual home must first be nourished with the Divine love that makes us whole in both body and spirit; the in-dwelling of the Holy Trinity.

It is in this wholeness, that we are equipped to give ourselves fully to another. It is only then, the bride who runs to meet her bridegroom will be found carrying more than her beauty to the union; she will be bringing the gift of God himself.

Laboring in the Vineyard

One of the advantages of studying at a Pontifical University in Rome, was the opportunity to come in touch with so many seminarians preparing for the Priesthood. I have met so many awesome then-seminarians (now, awesome priests!) who made my theological training all the deeper because of their own daily profession of their calling to become shepherds of souls through the administration of the Sacraments. One such then-seminarian, now-diocesan priest, Fr. Jason Vidrine shared the following video promotion for the Norbertines of Orange (Norbertine Canons Regular in Orange County, California). We were both privileged to have among our classmates some of the young men in the video. Their charism and intensity of community life is portrayed beautifully here.

I recommend to any young man called to the priesthood and religious life to consider a Norbertine vocation.

___

Prayer to Discern a Vocation

Lord, there are so many things in my life that I do not understand,
so many questions about the future that I need to ask.
What is Your plan for me?
What is the work You want me to do?

All I really know is that You love me.
Show me the road You want me to walk –
to fulfillment, to happiness, to holiness.

And if You are calling me to
priesthood or to the religious life,

give me the strength to say “yes”
and the grace to begin even now
to prepare myself for the challenge
of a life spent in Your service and
in the care of Your people.

I ask You this in Jesus’ Name.

Amen.

Theodore Cardinal McCarrick
Archbishop Emeritus of Washington

From Punk to Monk

A new reader of my blog, Punk to Monk, has started his own, “reflections on the transition from raucous musician to religious monastic.” Like many young adults, he tells of his wondering away from the faith of his youth, and how God somehow weaseled himself back into his ‘punk’s’ heart. He explains:

“From punk to monk–that is my story.  I was baptized and brought up Catholic but wasn’t really all about practicing it.  My mother, raising me and my brother on her own, made us go to Church and receive our Sacraments.  Because of my lukewarmness toward my faith, I of course fell away when I left for college on the other side of the country.

That’s where I discovered sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  Got me a girlfriend.  Got me into alcohol and other illegal substances.  And, found I could play a pretty mean guitar.”

His story is an uplifting one of youthful angst meeting sober reality of coming of age, and the longing for something more than he was finding. You can read it in full here.

___

Let us remember to keep this young man, and others, in our prayers as they discern a life of self-giving through the consecrated life:

Lord God, grant to Your people health of soul and body. Through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, may we grow in Your likeness and increase in the humility that marked her life.

Convinced of Your greatness and our lowliness, we ask for many vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. May You be praised in the raising up of these new servants for Your Kingdom.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

That “V” Word – Vocation

A young friend of mine tweeted: “ahh that “V” word! Scary! Lol”. Yes, the V-word. I had just tweeted to her that St Magdalene of Canossa tells us, “God has given you a great gift by giving you a vocation…such a big grace!” Scary, to be sure.

I dedicate this post to her, and to all young women like her who are seeking to do what God wants, but with so much information and opportunity it really does get confusing along the way to hear closely what it is exactly God has in mind. I promised her I would write on the subject, and so, I wish to share my reflection of my own vocation that I shared with my Volunteers back in 2006 following my perpetual vows.

Reflecting on my vows three words come to mind that encapsulate the whole of my religious vocation: ‘here I am’. This is the response I gave at the celebration of my final vows on the 3rd of December 2006 when then General Superior, M. Marie Remedios called out my name before the Bishop Domenico Sigalini and the assembly at the Church of St Magdalene Canossa in Ottavia – Rome. It was my response to a call by God to participate with Him in His plan of salvation. God called my name and I responded.

All of us are called by God but in various ways. Our Christian life is a life of learning to respond according to the state of life we live: some of us are single; others of us are married with children; others of us are religious and priests. But all of us have the same duty of learning to respond whole heartedly to God.

When we open the Bible, we find stories of many who have been invited to follow God, and how they responded. Abraham responded to God with these very words – here I am – in Genesis 22,1 when he was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac to demonstrate his faith, and in his faithful obedience he became the Father of Nations (Rom 4, 1- 17). Moses too received an invitation by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and when called, responded the same way: ‘here I am’ (Ex 3,4). And so also with the Prophet Isaiah when the Lord asked ‘whom shall I send?’ (Is 6,8) Isaiah’s response was ‘here I am, send me’. What is it then to be ‘called’ by God?

The word ‘vocation’ comes from the Latin word ‘vocare’ which means ‘to call, to summon, to invite’. Our vocation then – to the religious, singular or married state – is an invitation to live according to the will of God. And how do we know the will of God? This is the journey of each person to discover what God wants for him or her, but it is always tied to the mission of Christ who said, “my food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish His work” (John 4,34). The ‘work’ of the Father is redemptive, bringing about liberation for all humanity bound by sin from the time of Adam and Eve. Christ came to fulfill this plan of salvation through His life, death and resurrection. All Christians are called to collaborate in this redemptive work by bringing others to know and love God the Father through Jesus Christ. We too are called to hunger for all to know God through fully living out his will through our love.

We learn to share our faith through our experience of God; an experience that is manifested in our life of prayer. Prayer, then, is the key to knowing the will of God. A comedian in the United States was keen of saying ‘you can’t have a relationship with someone you don’t talk to.’ In other words, you can’t have a relationship with God without making time to talk to Him and listen in the silence for His Word. I like to look to Mary as an example: the young girl from Nazareth who listened to God, and her listening prepared her heart to respond when God called her to be the Mother of our Lord, Jesus (Luke 1:28-38). In her example we see the fruit of prayer – a receptive heart ready to do whatever God asked.

When I entered as a postulant with the Canossian Sisters in 1998, I began to respond to God in my prayer where I found a desire in me to dedicate my life to service of God. Although the desire existed in me to want God’s will, I struggled constantly with my own desire and wants; I struggled with fears of letting go and failure. These are the struggles of humanity that each of us grapple with. St. Paul spoke of this struggle when he said in his letter to the Romans: “for the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want” (7,19). One of the most important things I have learned in all my years of preparation for my final vows was that despite my sin – doing the things I don’t want – God continues to love me. Our humanity is so used to judging people based on what they do, or in religious circles, how good one is. My experience of God has taught me that despite my weakness, my failure, my small capacity to love as Jesus loves, Christ still loves me and desires me to belong fully to Him. I have found that I will never be perfect or worthy to belong to Christ Himself; but I have also found that God wants me anyway. He takes me as I am and I find that it is His love that perfects me. And slowly, with His grace which flows always through the Sacraments, I am being transformed to be more like Him and more able to love like He loves. This new awareness has prepared me to choose a life of belonging to the One who is Love, with a desire to live my life so to make Him known.

During my preparation for my vows, I discovered in myself this readiness that dares to give everything to fulfil God’s will. In my Bible the words ‘here I am’ are translated as “ready” (NAB). I had to ask myself, ‘am I ready to do this – to give everything I have, and everything I am – to give myself to God forever?’ I found within my prayer the answer: an unhesitating ‘yes’. It is a response that has taken time to mature through the years as I have discovered for myself the vastness of God’s love. I was happily surprised in the days before my final vows that I was ready, and could hardly wait to stand before the world to say, “Yes, Lord, I am yours forever.”

My word to my friend, and to all who are in the hunt for God’s will: take up the example of Mary, who ‘pondered these things in her heart’ (Luke 2:19 and 2:51). Eventually, all these ‘ponderings’ (our praying over daily events) will come together and help you know what is the path for you. And you will find that the Lord has lead you all the way.

Prayer for a Generous Heart

Father in Heaven, you have blessed us with many gifts.
You chose us before the world began,
To be your adopted sons and daughters,
And to live through love in your presence.
Give us wisdom and insight to know your purpose;
Give us courage to follow where your Spirit leads us,
Give us generosity to serve you in our brothers and sisters.
We make this prayer through Christ our Lord.

DVC – Based on Ephesians 1:3 ff.

—Other Helps—

You may find these links on vocations helpful:

vocation.com

Canossian website

Stay close to God in His Word and in His Sacraments. These are great tools which prepare the heart to be ready for what God has in store. Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament helps too.

Find a good listener to let you ponder out loud, so that you can hear the movements in your heart reflected back to you through conversation. This could be either a spiritual companion or a spiritual director.

Read the Bible daily. Let God’s word speak to you, and be attentive to the people in the scriptures that appeal to you.

You are not alone on your journey. Praying for young people in discernment is one of my favorite prayers!

___

Thanks, Sophia, for the cross-post at Always Catholic. Grazie mille a te!

God Speaks to the Heart

On the feast of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), the first reading is taken from the book of the prophet Hosea (2,16.17b.21-22):

“Thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will lead her into the desert and I will speak to her heart. She will respond to me as in the days of her youth, as when she came up out of the land of Egypt. I will espouse you to me forever: I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the LORD.”

With love and benevolence, God unites himself to His people and thus, to each soul. He speaks intimately to each heart, in the silence of the “desert”, away from the worldly clamor.

Let St Teresa be an example for us today. She was a woman of keen intelligence, a fine career, but her heart was captured by Christ Crucified. It is only there she was satisfied – to give herself to a life of loving and studying the Greatest Love. There, in the desert of the Carmel – the cloister – did she find her greatest treasure: St Teresa Benedicta wrote:

“One can only gain a scientia crucis (knowledge of the cross) if one has thoroughly experienced the cross. I have been convinced of this from the first moment onwards and have said with all my heart: ‘Ave, Crux, Spes unica’ (I welcome you, Cross, our only hope).”

Edith Stein was arrested by the Gestapo on 2 August 1942, while she was in the chapel with the other sisters. On 7 August, early in the morning, 987 Jews were deported to Auschwitz. It was probably on 9 August that Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cruce, her sister and many other of her people were gassed. Biography

Wasted for Love – A Vocation

Today, as I celebrate nine years of consecrated life, I am posting a reflection I gave on the eve of my final vows in 2006.

Reflecting on my vows three words come to mind that encapsulate the whole of my religious vocation: ‘here I am’. This is the response I gave at the celebration of my final vows on the 3rd of December 2006 when the General Superior, M. Marie Remedios called out my name before the Bishop Domenico Sigalini and the assembly at the Church of St Magdalene Canossa in Ottavia – Rome. It was my response to a call by God to participate with Him in His plan of salvation. God called my name and I responded. All of us are called by God but in various ways. Our Christian life is a life of learning to respond according to the state of life we live: some of us are single; others of us are married with children; others of us are religious and priests. But all of us have the same duty of learning to respond whole heartedly to God.

When we open the Bible, we find stories of many who have been invited to follow God, and how they responded. Abraham responded to God with these very words in Genesis 22,1 when he was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac to demonstrate his faith, and in his faithful obedience he became the Father of Nations (Rom 4, 1- 17). Moses too received an invitation by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and when called, responded the same way: ‘here I am’ (Ex 3,4). And so also with the Prophet Isaiah when the Lord asked ‘whom shall I send?’ (Is 6,8) Isaiah’s response was ‘here I am, send me’. What is it then to be ‘called’ by God?

The word ‘vocation’ comes from the Latin word ‘vocare’ which means ‘to call, to summon, to invite’. Our vocation then – to the religious, singular or married state – is an invitation to live according to the will of God. And how do we know the will of God? This is the journey of each person to discover what God wants of him or her, but it is always tied to the mission of Christ who said, “my food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish His work” (John 4,34). The ‘work’ of the Father is redemptive, bringing about liberation for all humanity bound by sin from the time of Adam and Eve. Christ came to fulfill this plan of salvation through His life, death and resurrection. All Christians are called to collaborate in this redemptive work by bringing others to know and love God the Father through Jesus Christ. We too are called to hunger for all to know God through fully living out his will through our love.

We learn to share our faith through our experience of God; an experience that is manifested in our life of prayer. Prayer, then, is the key to knowing the will of God. A comedian in the United States was keen of saying ‘you can’t have a relationship with someone you don’t talk to.’ In other words, you can’t have a relationship with God without making time to talk to Him and listen in the silence for His Word. I like to look to Mary as an example: the young girl from Nazareth who listened to God, and her listening prepared her heart to respond when God called her to be the Mother of our Lord, Jesus (Luke 1:28-38). In her example we see the fruit of prayer – a receptive heart ready to do whatever God asked.

When I entered as a postulant with the Canossian Sisters in 1998, I began to respond to God in my prayer where I found a desire in me to dedicate my life to service of God. Although the desire existed in me to want God’s will, I struggled constantly with my own desire and wants; I struggled with fears of letting go and failure. These are the struggles of humanity that each of us grapple with. St. Paul spoke of this struggle when he said in his letter to the Romans: “for the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want” (7,19). One of the most important things I have learned in all my years of preparation for my final vows was that despite my sin – doing the things I don’t want – God continues to love me. Our humanity is so used to judging people based on what they do, or in religious circles, how good one is. My experience of God has taught me that despite my weakness, my failure, my small capacity to love as Jesus loves, Christ still loves me and desires me to belong fully to Him. I have found that I will never be perfect or worthy to belong to Christ Himself; but I have also found that God wants me anyway. He takes me as I am and I find that it is His love that perfects me. And slowly, with His grace which flows always through the Sacraments, I am being transformed to be more like Him and more able to love like He loves. This new awareness has prepared me to choose a life of belonging to the One who is Love, with a desire to live my life so to make Him known.

During my preparation for my vows, I discovered in myself this readiness that dares to give everything to fulfil God’s will. In my Bible (New American Bible – NAB), the words ‘here I am’ are translated as “ready”. I had to ask myself, ‘am I ready to do this – to give everything I have, and everything I am – to give myself to God forever?’ I found within my prayer the answer: an unhesitating ‘yes’. It is a response that has taken time to mature through the years as I have discovered for myself the vastness of God’s love. I was happily surprised in the days before my final vows that I was ready, and could hardly wait to stand before the world to say, “Yes, Lord, I am yours forever.”