I was a romantic child and I still am! I still love fairy tales. As a teenager I would spend lots of time daydreaming about the prince that would sweep me off my feet, this future man who would complete me. Little did I know that He was already standing right there beside me. He had already pitched his tent on the surface of my heart waiting there until I invited him to pour Himself into me. I had no clue then that the strong masculine heart I longed to lean upon was Himself—His Sacred Heart burning ferociously with love for me.
I grew up Catholic, went to Catholic schools, and went to Mass every Sunday. My first experience of Him “pouring Himself into me” was at a visit to Franciscan University as a senior in high school. I was prayed over for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and I experienced and knew His love for me in a deep and personal way. Yet shortly after that, I met a wonderful young man who swept me off of my feet the last semester of my senior year of high school. This began a dating relationship that lasted two years.
My sophomore year of college I transferred from Franciscan University of Steubenville to Florida State University in order to be closer to my twin sister and to the young man I was dating. I was terribly homesick at Franciscan University as much as I loved it! At that time Florida State University was the #1 party school in the United States (and we were the National Champions in football! Go Noles!). That first year, I followed in the footsteps of my twin sister, joining a sorority and testing the waters of “secular” university life. It was very empty. It was also at Florida State University that I came in contact with the Brotherhood of Hope, a new group of religious brothers who focus on evangelization, especially on college campuses.
During the spring semester of my sophomore year they asked me to give a talk at the Catholic Student Union’s semester retreat. My boyfriend of two years was also attending. After giving the talk, two or three of the brothers came up to me separately and asked me if I ever considered a vocation to religious life. My first reaction was complete and utter nausea, as if someone hit me hard in the stomach. I look back now and realize that this reaction came from the many misconceptions of religious life that I was unconsciously harboring. Yet along with the nausea there was a little spark that was ignited in my heart … the slow creaking open of a door that had been slammed shut for many years. It was the witness of the Brothers of Hope that enabled this spark to ignite and the door to slightly crack open. The Brothers were so filled with joy and were the most authentic people I had ever met. I was moved by their authentic joy that sprang from their intimate relationship with the Lord. They were so happy without a human spouse and children and this was a powerful witness to me.
It was on this retreat that I experienced a new renewal in my own faith and felt a call to deepen my relationship with the Lord. I had a powerful confession experience and knew in my heart I was supposed to break up with the guy I was dating. This was very difficult and one of the hardest things I had ever done. But I felt supported by the Lord’s grace and He sustained me. After breaking up with him I began to focus on my relationship with the Lord and getting things in order in my own life. I felt called to not date for a time.
My junior and senior years of college were a sacred time of discernment, encountering the Lord in a new way as well as encountering myself, discovering my identity in the Lord. He was secretly wooing my heart as I became more and more aware of how He alone could be enough for me. I became very active in the Catholic Student Union on campus and began seeing one of the Brothers for spiritual direction. I began to attend daily Mass and pray every day. My thirst for the Lord was ever deepening and I knew that my life could not be separated from my Mother, the Church, no matter what my vocation. I wanted to live within her Heart. I would be walking across the Florida State campus and this burning desire would come upon me to be with our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. I would at times skip class to be with Jesus (I am not recommending this!) The idea of a religious vocation was persistent yet not always consistent. I was torn between the beautiful sacrament of marriage and being His alone. It was definitely a challenge!
The last semester of my senior year I attended a retreat. It was only a few months before graduation. At that time I was discerning between getting my Masters in Theology at Franciscan University or following the path of a religious vocation. We had Eucharistic Adoration throughout the whole retreat. I was very frustrated at this point and tired of “not knowing” my vocation. I was tired of the doubts and struggles that discernment entails. I remember sitting before our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and telling him, “I am going to go to graduate school at Franciscan University.” I conjured up everything in me to try to bring myself peace in this decision, but it didn’t work. I could not get Him to agree with me! The next day during the closing Mass when I was kneeling after receiving Communion, the Lord gave me a very clear image. I saw in my mind’s eye a crucifix and I was laying prostrate before it (at that time I did not know that this is what a religious does during the rite of perpetual profession). Then I heard the words clearly in my heart: “My daughter, I am your King, and I claim you as my own.” Moved to tears by this image and these words, I cried freely. I was sensing the Lord asking me to set my whole heart, life, will and desires aside for Himself alone. It was overwhelming—so overwhelming that after a few hours I completely denied it. I said to the Lord, “We are all your own through Baptism. Thanks for confirming that!”
The day after the retreat I was talking to my parents on the phone. We were talking about pretty basic things such as school, football, my car etc. In the midst of this conversation I was overcome with a sense of being overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and without really realizing what I was saying I opened my mouth and said, “Mom and Dad, I am being called to religious life.” I was completely shocked by what I said and wanted to kick myself. I couldn’t believe those words came out of my mouth! At the same time I was overcome by a deep peace and joy. I again cried my eyes out. I surrendered to what the Lord wanted for me and came to realize it was the deepest desire of my heart.
A week after talking to my parents I received a letter from my father. He had a lot of hesitations about me following this call at this time. He wanted me to pursue further studies with scholarship money or get some experience in the world by using my education. This was difficult for me because I did not feel called to do this, and I had never embarked upon anything significant without his approval. I met with my spiritual director and he clearly said to me, “This is what Jesus meant when He said in the Gospel, leave your father and mother… and come follow me.” I had to choose to follow where my Heavenly Father was leading me. After meeting with him I went into the chapel and opened my breviary to pray Evening Prayer. My eyes immediately fell upon the words of Psalm 45: “Listen O daughter, give ear to my words, forget your own people and your father’s house, so shall the king desire your beauty.” It was a powerful confirmation.
After graduating, I took a part-time job with a law firm as a runner and worked in campus ministry at Florida State for one year. My father ended up going on a men’s retreat that the Brotherhood of Hope put on shortly after I received the letter. At the end of the retreat he stood up and told the men there that after meeting and talking with the Brothers and spending time in prayer, he couldn’t imagine anything better for me than to be a religious. Another confirmation! I visited three different communities and this was where I found my home. My heart expanded when I visited here and I was flooded with joy. I entered in 1998 and made my final vows in 2006.
Religious life is not a fairy tale … being Christian isn’t either. Yet, my vocation points to the fulfillment of the greatest romance that has ever happened in the history of the world; the romance between God and man. This reaches its ultimate fulfillment only in heaven. By living the vows, I am living the life we shall all be living in heaven. I have put my foot on the threshold of that eternal reality where, God willing, we shall all live happily ever after.