It is a graced gift to share with you my encounter with the Living God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and His Divine call upon my heart to follow Him through the footsteps of the Blessed Virgin Mary and our Seraphic Father, St. Francis.
I was born and raised outside of Charleston, South Carolina, the youngest of nine children of parents who were very devoted Catholics. Since my preschool years, both my parents suffered from serious chronic and debilitating illnesses, especially heart disease. My life growing up was centered on school and Church activities. My parents were very involved in serving God and His people in the midst of their personal suffering. Looking back, I see this as a time when the seed of my vocation was being nurtured, though I was unaware. Wherever my parents served the Church and community, so did I and all my siblings. But like most young people, I had not fully embraced the Catholic faith for myself, but only because of my parents.
During what should have been my college years, my life took a turn into pain and darkness which included a brief unhealthy marriage, two pregnancy losses and the death of both of my parents, who died within two years of each other. My grief and loss spiraled into some unhealthy choices. I see now that I had turned away from God at that time because I felt He had turned away from me by taking my parents so young in their lives. The pregnancy losses were also very distressing to me. I decided to run from the pain and darkness by moving and living with one of my sisters in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area. At that time I couldn’t grasp God’s ultimate gift for my parents and little ones, the gift of eternal life with Him forever.
Later on, in my early thirties, I experienced a “Visitation” from the Lord that broke through my darkness and carried me into His marvelous light. It was Easter Sunday, 1992, and my sister invited me to go to Mass. I had not been in a church since the death of my parents, and I wept through the entire Mass. Jesus so humbled Himself that He allowed me to receive Him into my sinful body to break through my darkness and restore my brokenness. From the instant of that miraculous encounter with the Living God, the wall around my heart cracked and the Holy Spirit moved quickly and powerfully in, burning truths on my heart about the Faith, Scriptures, our Holy Father and the teachings of the Church. The Eucharist saved my life! This experience was so powerful that I knew I was transformed into His new creation. I hungered for the Lord in a way that is indescribable. My return to the Sacrament of Reconciliation was such a gift of compassion and mercy. It was as if I was speaking directly to Jesus himself. Everything holy became alive to me. I became alive in the Lord! I attended daily Mass to received Jesus within me and frequented the confessional monthly. I soaked in the Scriptures, prayed the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet, read many books on the lives of the saints and Our Lady and continued to encounter the Sacred Heart of Jesus during quiet prayer in Eucharistic Adoration. The Holy Spirit was teaching me Divine Truth. I was totally Jesus’ and He was my all in all.
Shortly after this experience, the Lord transplanted me into a faith-filled young adult community in Catonsville, Maryland. This community was solid in its love for God and served His Church generously. Its youth and young adult ministries were especially thriving. I was nurtured and supported by many true and authentic Christian friendships. This, in turn, allowed me to grow deeper into the Heart of Jesus, who is the heart of God the Father. He was making the ground of my heart fertile and pliable, “ready for the harvest” (MT 9:27). The Holy Trinity was pursuing me. At that time I was committed to live my life as a holy, single and chaste woman on fire for the Lord. One day I told the Lord in prayer that He needed to be the one to lead me to my spouse, if He desired me to be married. I had made poor choices in this area in the past and I needed His help. I was stunned by His response. I heard Jesus’ gentle voice in my heart humbly ask, “Would you consider me?” He knew I was already radically giving my life to Him and His Church, especially through my ministry with youth and young adults. I humbly pondered in prayer the deeper meaning of His words and the Lord spoke to me again in such a gentleman-like fashion, “Would you consider me?”
During Mass the following Sunday, the first reading was from the prophet Hosea. The Lord spoke these words from this reading into my heart: “I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart … 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.” (Hosea 2:16, 21-22). He knew my heart was ready to hear His “proposal,” His invitation. This was the Holy Spirit’s confirmation for me that God the Father was pursuing my heart, calling me to my true and authentic vocation, to be espoused to His Son. This is who I was created to be from my baptism when I was a 12-day-old infant: to be wholly given, consecrated, set apart for God for holy purposes.
From that point on I was sold out for the Lord, as St. Luke writes in his Gospel:“This is my Body given up for you.” I was won by Love Himself. I knew the next step was to follow the Spirit’s lead of where and when to enter religious life. The Spirit placed four communities on my heart to visit. By the time I visited our community, I had a sense that this was home and where God would bring me to greater wholeness and holiness for my own salvation and the salvation of many souls.
Since then, the following scripture from St. John has been the Holy Spirit’s inspiration behind my vocation. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (Jn 12:24). I have learned the beautiful deeper meaning of death and dying, as the Lord has asked me many times, “Will you die for me?” In my early years of religious life, I didn’t understand what He actually meant by this. Does He want me to be a martyr? I didn’t think so. As the years of formation go on, He continues to ask me this question. I have found this to be the ultimate question on my Christian journey, especially as a religious woman. Who am I willing to die for? I now recognize there are many forms of death in this life besides death of the body: death of my own self-interest, sinfulness, expectations, selfishness, understanding, my own will and pride, the list goes on and on. I realize one of the greatest gifts I can give to the Lord is to die with Him from all these sinful inclinations. Yet I realize that I cannot do this on my own ~ it’s only by His love and grace! “When you find a pearl of great price, you go and sell all that you have and buy it” (paraphrase of Mt 13:46).