Sr. Maria Teresa- make my desires Your desires

Sr. Maria Teresa Tortorice, Franciscan Sisters TOR

I would like to share with you how the Lord called me to be solely His, in living the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience. The first time I ever thought about being a sister was when I was in the sixth grade. I cannot fully put into words what it felt like. It was somewhat like a tug on my heart that was different from anything I had experienced before.  As I look back now, I can see that it was the Lord beginning to stir my heart to be His alone. I was not aware of what it meant at the time.  But the feeling was so different that I even mentioned the thought of being a sister to my religion teacher.  She said to me, “You sin too much to be a nun.” Being the gullible person I was, I believed her. I did not think about being a sister again until I was in high school.

Becoming a religious sister was never presented as an option in my family. What was frequently mentioned was marriage and having children. So, as I began my high school years I figured that I would do what everyone else was doing – I would date. This is what I was expected to do, or so I thought. I dated a couple of guys, but my heart was not in it.  When I was dating I realized I was looking for someone who could possibly be a marriage partner.  If the person didn’t measure up to my expectations, I would just move on to someone else. My Mom used to make the comment, “You are so heartless.”  I didn’t realize it, but I believe her statement was truer than either my Mom or I knew at the time. The Lord was trying to tell me something, but I was not able to hear it till much later.

I was blessed to attend Catholic schools my entire life.  Being from Alabama, which is only 2% Catholic, there were not many religious around for me to see.  Sr. Mary Leo was the only religious sister present in my high school.  Now and then I would visit with her, and I eventually worked up the courage to tell Sr. Mary Leo that I was thinking about the possibility of being a religious sister.   God indeed was planting seeds within me through my contact with this sister.

10th graders receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation in my parish were required to attend a retreat.  I missed the one planned for my confirmation class, so in place of it I went to a Youth 2000 Retreat with a group of students from my high school. (Youth 2000 is a retreat centered on Eucharistic adoration.)  During this retreat the Lord began calling me to Himself in a much stronger way.  As a result of our Youth 2000 retreat we decided to start a youth group at my high school based on the Youth 2000 experience. We met every two weeks and had adoration, worship through song, and regular confession.  These meetings would form a habit for regular adoration and confession that would become a part of the rest of my life.  Unbeknownst to me my life was being changed by sitting before the Lord’s Eucharistic presence and surrendering myself to Him. I believe that no one leaves the Lord’s presence the same as when they entered it.

I did not think seriously about being a sister until I was in the 12th grade. A foundation had been laid through my times of regular adoration and regular confession that enabled me to respond to the call a little more differently than before.  As most seniors in high school do, I began to look at colleges I might attend. Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio was recommended to me. I looked into it and fell in love with it on my first visit. They had three Masses a day, perpetual adoration, and confessions several times a week. (They still have all of this.) I knew that this was the place for me.

In the fall of 1998, I packed my bags and headed north to attend Franciscan University of Steubenville. It was solely by God’s Divine Providence that I was able to attend, because my family could not afford it or “so we thought”. My Mom says that somehow each time the tuition bill came in, the money was there.  God had a plan for me, and going to Franciscan University was part of making it happen.  It was at Franciscan University that I first met many religious sisters. There were sisters from over eight different religious communities regularly present on campus. My heart would get so excited when I would see a religious sister. My friends would talk about some cute guy walking across campus, and I would talk about Sister so and so. I slowly began to realize what my heart and the Lord were trying to tell me.

During my first year in college I went on a Vocation Discernment Retreat sponsored by our community. During this retreat I learned about the signs of a religious calling and how to discern a religious vocation. I left the retreat rather certain that the Lord was calling me to religious life, but I was not sure about which community I was to join. I still had much to learn about religious life and about our community. I did not know the differences among the various religious communities or what questions to ask, what charisms were, or even what to look for in a community.

Since I pretty much knew I was called to be a sister, I allowed the Lord to continue to direct me regarding what community I was to join. The only thing that I ever told the Lord about my vocation was to ask that He “make my desires His desires”.   And He did. The school year went by and I went home for the summer. Over the course of that summer God transformed me. I would go to adoration for what I would think was only one half hour, and when I left three hours would have gone by. This happened to me frequently over that summer. The Lord was placing in my heart the desire for the contemplative life. When I went back to Franciscan University, I decided to go on another Vocation Discernment Retreat with our community. This time it was much different. The Lord had been changing my desires to match His. But after the retreat I was still not sure which community the Lord wanted me to join. So, the Lord continued working in my heart. Later that year, I experienced the Lord prompting me to attend a “Come and See” with our community (an extended visit during which we live the life of the community). I learned more about our community during this visit and felt more drawn to it.

The next year I began the application process to enter, but half way through it I sensed the Lord asking me to wait and finish my degree before entering.  I learned that there are two parts to the discernment involved in making this decision: 1) deciding which community to join and 2) discerning the correct timing. I only had done the first part of the discernment. I ended up spending the next two and one half years doing maintenance work for the sisters on a weekly basis and getting to know each of them more personally.   All the while, the Lord was continually changing my desires to the point where our community was the only place I could imagine joining. The Lord taught me lessons and gave me confirmations of my vocation through my time of waiting. Two scripture passages the Lord continually gave me over my college years are:

Isaiah 62:2-5 “Nations shall behold your vindication, and all kings your glory; you shall be called by a new name pronounced by the mouth of the LORD. You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the LORD, a royal diadem held by your God. No more shall men call you “Forsaken,” or your land “Desolate,” But you shall be called “My Delight,” and your land “Espoused.” For the LORD delights in you, and makes your land his spouse. As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.”

Matthew 10:8-10 “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give. Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick”.  

I did not realize until after I entered community that the latter Scripture also was instrumental in St. Francis’ life.

I finished college in December of 2002 and entered our community in Sept. 2003.  In Mark 10:29-30 Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come”.  I can testify that these words of our Lord are true. I have already experienced this hundredfold of Jesus’ promise in my life. The Lord cannot be outdone in generosity. I pray that you may see His guiding hand on your own journey.

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