Hello friends! My name is Sr. Philomena Clare. I grew up in a wonderful Catholic family in Baltimore, Maryland. My family was part of an equally wonderful Catholic home-schooling community. It was a rich Catholic environment where I received a firm faith foundation and was encouraged to know and love Jesus. I grew up having a fair amount of interactions with religious sisters and consecrated women. I was very much inspired by the consecrated women I met and seeing them on fire for the Lord and totally given to Him impressed me as a young girl. I remember wanting to be like them.
While I was attracted to consecrated life I never considered religious life until I was in 8th grade. As an 8th grader I went to a youth conference where I found myself standing up at a vocation call. (It’s like an altar call except for those who feel like the Lord may be calling them to religious life or the priesthood). The priest asked at the end of Mass for anyone who thought God might be asking them to be a religious or priest to stand. My heart whispered a fervent “yes” to that question, and God gave me the grace to stand.
Not too long after that youth conference another one of my friends who had heard about me standing at the vocation call gave me a “nun catalog” (yes, they exist, there’s an online catalog too if you’re wondering). I flipped through the catalog and came across our sisters’ page. I was absolutely taken by what I saw and read. In the catalog our sisters were shown worshiping charismatically before the Blessed Sacrament.
Seeing our sisters worshiping the way I desired to worship – hands raised in praise before Our Lord exposed in the monstrance- absolutely captivated me. I read the little blurb below the picture about our community and I remember thinking to myself “if I’m called to be a sister, I want to be that kind.” I marked the page and put the catalog on the book shelf in my room where it sat for the next couple years through high-school.
During my high school years I continued to be open to religious life and I began to really own my faith. My personal relationship with the Lord deepened throughout those years. As I began to make plans for my future I was certain of only one thing- that I wanted to be doing God’s will. I earnestly sought the Lord to lead me to show me what studies I should pursue and what jobs to consider. I was seeking His will in all things, but He remained silent.
It was His mercy that He remained silent because through His silence He showed me how closed my heart really was to His will. At one point I went on a retreat and it was on this retreat that the Lord transformed my prayer so that it became honest and truly open to His will. I prayed before our Lord in the Eucharist, “Lord, all I know is that I love you…. All I know is that I want to serve You in this life…to bring You honor and glory. I want to use the gifts and talents You gave me to build up Your kingdom! So, please… tell me Lord!…how, when, where do You want me to work for the glory of Your Kingdom?… God, please, all I want is for my life to bring You glory. Just tell me how! I will do whatever it is You want of me, only tell me…” Again I was met with silence. I resigned myself to leaving without an answer. But before I left adoration that night, I pulled out a meditation that I had been intending to read over retreat but hadn’t yet. It was about the Syrophoenician Woman. The Meditation (from St. Claude de la Columbière’s Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence) said:
“Consider the workings of Divine Providence and think that the refusal you meet with now is only God’s stratagem to increase your fervor. Remember how He acted towards the Canaanite woman, treating her harshly and refusing to see or listen to her. He seemed to be irritated by her importunity, but in reality He admired it and was delighted with her trust and humility, and for that reason He repulsed her. With what tenderness does He repulse those whom He most wishes to be indulgent to, hiding His clemency under the mask of cruelty! Take care not to be deceived by it. The more He seems to be unwilling, the more you must insist.”
I felt God’s love washing over me. It was as if God the Father was reaching down and scooping me up into His arms, embracing me and comforting me saying, “I see you. I see you seeking my will. That is all that I want from you; I want you here with me seeking my will. That’s all I want. Don’t you see? I want to be the center of your life. I want you to want My will to be done. I want you to love Me the way you do now. I want you to hunger for and desire my will. All this was to increase your fervor.” I cried as this revelation settled within me. I felt seen and loved. And I understood then that God had heard me all along and had been working all that time to bring me to this place where I desired Him and was willing to surrender to His will.
In the summer following that retreat, I felt the Lord inviting me to visit a certain community of sisters for a week, though I felt no attraction to them. However, the Lord used that time away living with the sisters to speak to my heart a truth that would be foundational for my call to religious life.
This truth came during a one-on-one conversation with a sister who stopped me mid-sentence and asked me, “Judy (That was my baptismal name), do you know that God loves you? That He really loves you?” I was completely taken aback. I couldn’t speak. Of course I knew that Jesus loved me. I knew the song, “Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.” But then I realized I didn’t know. I may have known it in my head, but I didn’t know it in my heart. And that realization hurt; I felt the ache, the longing to know God’s love more deeply. I wanted to know in the depths of my soul that God loved me. I was so good at loving Him, but I had not learned to let Him love me. As the sister spoke to me the truth of the depth of God’s love for me I was overwhelmed. I felt His love pouring down on me. I knew every word she was speaking was true; He loved me; He saw me as I was and loved me. When I went home after that visit I left with homework: to let Jesus love me.
In the summer following that retreat I spent a lot of time with Jesus in adoration just falling into the Lord’s love and allowing His love to envelop me. The Lord was opening my heart to the fact that not only did He love me, but He was in love with me.
At the end of the summer I prayed a novena to St. Philomena, my confirmation saint. It was the first time I prayed a novena to her and it proved very powerful. I had a list of intentions that I was offering it up for and one of those intentions happened to be my vocation. That wasn’t unusual for me; at this point I was in the habit of praying to know God’s will for my life and for the grace to carry it out. But this time St. Philomena obtained a very clear answer to my prayer.
I went to Mass at the end of the novena, August 11, the feast of St. Philomena. St. Philomena’s feast day falls on the same day that the Church celebrates St. Clare. On that day the communion antiphon, in honor of St. Clare, was Luke 10:42. As I was kneeling, preparing to receive communion, I heard the priest read the antiphon: “She has chosen the better part.” Those words hit me like a ton of bricks and I was winded where I knelt. I heard those words and I knew it was God calling to me, inviting me to do the same- to choose the better part, the best part- HIM.
Right after Mass I had a four-hour car drive to the beach for a week of vacation with my best friend and her family. The majority of that drive was spent in inner turmoil wrestling with the words the Lord had spoken to my heart. My heart was torn between my desire to live in God’s will, which, I was pretty sure, given what I had experienced in Mass, was for me to discern religious life, and these suddenly strong desires for a husband and family. But I kept coming to this conclusion- “It all means nothing if I’m not living in God’s will, I would never have true peace… and His will is for my happiness!” I wrestled for hours.
At one point in the car ride, exhausted from wrestling internally, I tried to escape it and turned on my iPod. I had it on shuffle and after a couple of songs, just for fun, I told the Lord, “why don’t You pick the next song.” Well, the song He picked was Frank Sinatra’s “I Love You”. The lyrics in that song are:
“I love you, little girl, I love you, three words that are divine…and now, my dear, I’m waiting to hear the words that will make you mine.”
Yup. My jaw dropped. (I didn’t ask Him to pick any more songs for me after that.) It was one of many little things the Lord did during this vacation to woo my heart.
That week of vacation turned into a week of retreat for me. My friend and I were committed to praying daily together (Mass, the Rosary, Mercy Chaplet, morning and evening prayer) so I found myself immersed in grace. I spent a lot of time thinking about both vocations and about my heart’s truest desires. I wanted more than anything to do God’s will because I knew that I would find blessing and joy and peace. He seemed to be inviting me to religious life, but I was clinging to my ideas of romantic love. I wanted my first kiss! I wanted to hold hands. I wanted to date someone! He was asking me to give up all of that. That was a lot to me. And yet, what was all of that if I wasn’t living in God’s will? I couldn’t be at peace with withholding my yes. A couple of days later I found myself completely surrendering to God and giving Him my yes.
I didn’t have to wait long for confirmation of my call. The very next day at Mass, the Gospel was Matthew Chapter 19:12:
“Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”
The Lord used this and other moments to assure me my experience of letting go of marriage for His sake was real and that He was inviting me to look closer at this call to be His.
I knew the Lord was calling me. I knew I would need to discern religious life more actively and more seriously. What was the next step then? Because I was already signed up for college classes for the fall semester and I was not ready to run off to a convent yet, I continued my studies. I was sure that with that step in place I was meant to have at least that semester at college. But after? I wasn’t totally sure. Continue with school and earn a degree?
Throughout that fall semester, however, the Lord continued to call to me and I began to wonder if I was meant to enter sooner rather than later. If I did finish my education, I would need to take loans out, and paying them off could mean waiting a total of 4-6 years to enter. The insistency and consistency of the call coupled with my financial status led me to discern with my parents to take the spring semester off to focus on discernment. I would continue to work, but would not take any classes so I would be able to visit communities and give more time to prayer.
In February I visited our community for the first time. As I spent time with the sisters, I found myself feeling so comfortable with them. I experienced a familiarity about the way of life. I thought to myself, “Wow, this feels like family.” It wasn’t a wham-bam experience of walking through the chapel doors and being flooded with a sense of home. It was nothing grand, but just this sense that I was with my new family. I came back for a “come and see” and the Lord kept opening doors for me so that when I was invited to begin the application process, I felt sure that He was the one inviting me to take this step. I felt at peace with the application process knowing that I was not the only one discerning this decision to enter. I knew that God was inviting me to take this step in applying and I would take that step and whatever step He revealed next.
Then, oh happy day! After completing the application process, I was accepted and had the joy of scrambling to find all the things I needed in order to enter on August 11, 2013. That day was a very special date. Exactly one year after God called me on the feast of Sts. Clare and Philomena I found myself living my “yes” as I entered into religious life to begin the great adventure that is the discernment and formation process! Please keep me in your prayers as I continue to discern my call to the religious life and to this community!