Sr. Mary Gemma- He fulfills all my desires

St. Therese once wrote, “I know, O my God! that the more You want to give, the more You make us desire.” Since I first read that a few years ago, I have discovered that the Lord has an amazing way of fulfilling the desires of our hearts, however imperfect they may be, in His perfect plan. He can change our hearts if we are willing, and we just need the courage to say yes without hesitation. I often look back and smile at how God has led me to Him since then, transporting me from a small town in Eastern Washington to Toronto, Ohio!

No flashes of lightning or moments of revelation played a role in my life—just a constant draw toward the Lord. I was raised in a Catholic homeschooling family, and I grew up with a solid foundation in my faith from the beginning. I was always open to the idea of a religious vocation, but I just never thought it could happen to me. I assumed I would become a wife and mother like my own mom, and dreamed of falling in love, getting married, and having lots of children. Like every young girl, I would imagine what my Prince Charming would be like – when would I meet Him? How would He sweep me off my feet? Little did I know then who He might be, and how He would woo me.

Looking back now, I can see how God prepared me to answer my vocation call by letting me practice submission to His will in little things. I decided to attend Franciscan University of Steubenville, where I joined a household, Sacrifice of Love, during my freshman year. There I was challenged to imitate the crucified Christ in my daily life. I began to try to live this covenant in little ways each day, in my homework and my friendships, trying to do small things with great love.

I had always felt secure in the love that my own wonderful father had for me and the love that the Heavenly Father had for me, but I still wanted something more—to be caught up in a love story. At the end of my freshman year at Franciscan University of Steubenville, I went on a weekend retreat for young women called Capture My Heart, an opportunity to grow in an intimate relationship with Jesus. I expected it to be filled with corny messages about femininity, and I was a little skeptical. But I was surprised during the retreat by how much I was moved. I had never before thought of the Lord as a lover who wanted to pursue me and who wanted to fill every desire of my heart. In one weekend, my whole relationship with Jesus was changed. He wanted to take me even deeper into the love story He was writing for me. After the retreat, I began spending more time in Eucharistic adoration, time in silence to listen to the Lord and the stirrings in my heart.

In the fall of my junior year, I heard a homily by one of the Franciscan friars on campus about Jesus’ command to pick up our crosses and follow Him. He gave a number of examples of how we could do this in our own lives, including this one: if you’re discerning a religious vocation, go on a discernment retreat! I could have been the only one in the room when he said that, because his words were meant for me. I knew I needed to play a more active role in at least considering religious life—and how could I do that if I had not even visited a convent? I started researching websites and was soon overwhelmed by all of the communities. I looked up the Franciscan Sisters, T.O.R. of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother because I had seen them around campus. I saw that they had a retreat planned for fall break weekend and immediately signed up.

Any hesitation I still had about religious life just dissolved when I was with the T.O.R.s – there was no place more natural for me to be, no place more joyful and genuine that I had ever been. I was blown away by how much their sisterhood reminded me of my household, and even my own family. They were just normal women, each with their own story, who had been transformed by the love of Christ in their lives. I could not help but fall in love with their examples of joyful submission to the will of God. I began to think that I would not be able to resist saying yes if the Lord did ask me to be His bride.

About a year later, I went bridesmaid dress shopping with some friends. In one of the stores, while we were waiting for the bride-to-be to try on a dress, I went through one of the racks filled with beautiful white dresses, some with silver beads, some with pearls, some with long trains. I can still remember moving my hands through the dresses, and hearing distinctly in my mind the words: “This is not for me.” I knew that I would not be that kind of bride. At first I felt sadness, but then a supernatural joy. I knew that was the Lord, speaking in His own quiet way, telling me His plan was so much greater.
I went on another discernment retreat with a Franciscan community in Indiana, but the whole time all I could think about was the T.O.R.s. I couldn’t ignore that, so I got back in touch with the vocation director and planned a come and see visit for January. When I was able to live their daily life with them for those four short days, I knew it was the life I had been longing for. It became clear to me that the sisters’ life of prayer and of sacrifice was the life of holiness I always wanted to lead. So I kept coming back. After a longer visit during my spring break, I was invited to start the application process. By God’s grace, I did!

I spent a year back home with my family, working to pay off my student loans and continuing to listen to the Lord’s voice. Like everything else in my life, I had to trust that the Lord would fulfill His promises at the perfect time. On August 14, 2011, I entered the Franciscan Sisters, T.O.R. and I am so happy to be where He wants me! As Psalm 20:4 says, “May He grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your plans.”

I know that I owe my vocation to Our Lady’s protection and guidance. On Dec. 8, 2008, I made my consecration to Jesus through Mary and in May 2009, on a mission trip to Lourdes, I knelt in the grotto where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette and prayed for direction for my life. I know that she is interceding for me and constantly leading me to the foot of the cross, to love and suffer with her Son. And I pray that I will remain there for the rest of my life.Sr. Mary Gemma Harris, T.O.R.

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