Kristen Chenoweth

It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal. 

– Pope St. John Paul II

I doubt I would’ve been able to articulate this desire for Jesus at a young age, but many of my earliest and fondest memories include going to church with my grandmother. She wasn’t Catholic (no one in my family was), but we attended Protestant services and Sunday school. It began to foster in me a longing for the Lord and a deeper understanding of Who He was and what this relationship of faith meant and looked like. During my childhood, my family and I weren’t a part of a faith community, but I had many wonderful Christian friends who helped to get me and my siblings involved in church events that eventually led to us becoming members of a small Lutheran church in our hometown. A year or two after joining this church I was baptized and began Lutheran confirmation classes, and it is at this point that my faith began to strengthen and flourish as I sought after the Lord and His Word, seeking to satisfy this desire to know Him and follow Him more deeply.

This desire stayed with me as I graduated high school and discerned what was next for my life. I soon went off to study Family Ministry at a small Lutheran liberal arts university with an eagerness to finally study theology and the teachings of the church in a more thorough and profound way. But as I began to study Lutheran theology, the more questions and gaps I found in Lutheran teachings. In an effort to better understand what I was learning, I posed questions, which unfortunately were met with annoyance from professors and ambiguous answers; and while I was discouraged at first, I believe it was this desire for Truth, and the faithfulness of Truth Himself – Jesus Christ, that later led me to the fullness of faith found in the Catholic Church and into deeper communion with Him.

As I continued to studying theology, my Lutheran professors began to hand-feed me resources that only continued to increase my openness to the Catholic Church and her teachings. While they presented skewed perspectives of the early Church fathers, doctrinal statements about the Sacraments, and claims about the Solas – they also gave me a starting place of resources to begin reading and studying these writings for myself. And by my surprise, the more I read the less it supported my professors’ claims, and instead started laying a foundation for me that the Church that Christ initially founded had – by much surprise to me – been preserved and maintained for all this time.

After a few years of wrestling through many questions, objections, and curiosities, I finally was able to give my full ascent to the Church and her teachings, and was received into the Catholic Church on October 28, 2017, just three short days before the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation! In the months that followed, my spiritual life was inebriated in the sacramental life of the Church. This period of deeper mystagogy was one filled with much grace and abundant joy, as I was able to fully participate in receiving our Lord in the Eucharist and the liturgical life of the Church.

As I continued fostering a deeper relationship with the Lord, I continued to be in awe of who He is and all He’s given me. I often found myself overwhelmed with gratitude for all He’s done and continues to do in my life and longed to pour out my love for Him with my entire being. I kept asking the Lord, “What is it you desire of me, Lord? What do you have prepared for me in this life? How do I best know you, love you, and serve you?” I found myself thinking about and praying about my vocation more intentionally; pondering what the Lord could be inviting me into.

At this point, I had never interacted with or encountered religious sisters or consecrated persons before, but I felt drawn to learn more about what a religious or consecrated vocation meant and looked like. I began looking into different orders, charisms, and communities and quickly felt overwhelmed with what little I knew and how “behind” I felt as a convert in my late twenties inquiring about all of this for the first time. At first, I thought the Lord surely couldn’t be calling me to Himself in this way with the obstacles of age, conversion, and student loans, but even as I tried to gently set it aside, it was constantly resurfacing in my heart in prayer and on my mind throughout the day.

After my first anniversary in the Church, I was so eager to encounter religious sisters and witness their living out of their vocation that I signed up for my first vocation retreat. After weeks of preparing my heart to be open to the Lord in whatever way He desired to speak to me, I felt the Lord asking if I would surrender all to Him – to let Him be enough for me and allow Him to be my everything. I left that first retreat with a wholehearted desire to belong completely to Jesus and experienced a peace that this could be the vocation the Lord could be inviting me to.

As I continued cultivating the graces from that first retreat, my heart had burst open to how intimate and beautiful a life as the Lord’s bride is in a religious vocation. The joy and fervor that the sisters had for the Lord, paired with their wholehearted gift of self, and encountering firsthand the balance of monastic and active elements helped me see for the first time what my life could tangibly look like.

But a few months after my first retreat, my mom became very ill and I became the caretaker for her and my two youngest siblings, still school-aged at the time. Discernment of my vocation still stirred in my heart but unintentionally took the backseat as I worked to create stability and care for my family. When things started slowly improving for my mom and for my family, COVID hit. After navigating the pandemic and coming out of quarantine, I began meeting with a spiritual director to help identify the Lord’s voice and what he was asking of me and to identify steps in pursuing discernment of religious life.

This time of active discernment under the guidance of my spiritual director was challenging, but encouraging, as we made our way through St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, the 19th annotation. I felt a further sense of peace and greater confidence that the Lord was calling me to Himself as His bride and began to discern where He was calling me to tangibly live out the fullness of my vocation.

I began looking into different orders and communities again, but continually felt drawn towards Dominicans. There was a likeness that I saw in the Dominican’s zeal for souls and desire to share with others the truth of God through the fruits of contemplation that deeply resonated with me. So I attended another discernment retreat with a second community. Again the desires of my heart were stirred, but I didn’t feel that this was where the Lord was calling me.

I felt discouraged and confused as I continued to navigate through this desire I believed the Lord to have placed in my heart, while also knowing that the Lord calls us in the particular: to a particular community, a particular spouse, Diocese, etc. I struggled to understand why the Lord would plant and cultivate these desires in my heart without opening a door that allowed it to come to fruition. But I believe that the Lord does not inspire desires of that which He cannot fulfill. So I brought my heartache back to the Lord and asked Him in charity to bring peace and clarity to the call and vocation He had prepared for me; to give me patience in trusting His timing, and to continually keep me close to Him as I sought to follow Him more closely in faithfulness and joy.

It was in Adoration during this time that the Lord brought to mind a concept I had learned during my time of administrative studies, the principle of course correction offered in the context of the accuracy of an Appollo rocket. It first gives the image of driving on a road that’s perfectly straight – or that gives the illusion of being perfectly straight. Of course, it really isn’t straight at all. It’s filled with little bumps and imperfections and subtle shifts. It then asks you to think about how we drive, even when we are on one of the interstates that seems like a straight shot, do we hold the steering wheel perfectly still? No, we move it back and forth constantly, making minute corrections to the course we are on. That continuous moving and adjusting of the steering wheel is so familiar, so second nature, that we probably hardly think about it anymore. But if we were to decide to hold the wheel rigidly in place, we’d be off the road within less than a minute.

This concept then gave the example of an Apollo rocket – On its way to landing astronauts safely on the surface of the moon, the miracle of modern engineering that was an Apollo rocket was actually on course what percentage of the time? 90%, 60%, 20%? It was actually only on course a mere 2 to 3% of the time. This means that for at least 97% of the time that it took to get from Earth to the moon, it was off course. In a journey of nearly a quarter of a million miles, the rocket was actually on an accurate trajectory for only 7,500 miles. And what’s amazing, is that it reached the moon – safely – and returned to tell that tale.

Why do I mention this concept? Firstly, if this machine, when at the time one of the most sophisticated, expensive, and finely calibrated pieces of technology ever devised, was correcting its own off-course errors for 29 minutes out of every 30, I felt the Lord remind me that wouldn’t it be reasonable to think that as we journey through this life, that we would need to continuously fine-tune and correct the trajectory we’re on as well?

Secondly, in continued dialogue with the Lord and as I applied this to my spiritual life, I had often felt like I was off course or not quite where I needed to be, especially in discernment as I faced my own obstacles of age, student loans, and prudently attending to the needs of my family. But as I continually sought the Lord, availing Him in the grace and strength given in the Sacraments of the Church, in attending Mass, and in receiving Him in the Eucharist as often as possible. He little by little – poco a poco – continued (and still continues) to course-correct me into a deeper and more intimate communion with Him. A pursuit that continues our entire lives until we arrive, God willing, with Him in our heavenly homeland.

Throughout this time in Adoration, I felt like the Lord was reminding me that each person, community, and experience I had encountered, specifically throughout my season of discernment, He was using to lead me into the fullness of the vocation He had prepared for me. Some course corrections were small and easy to detour from to get back on track, but sometimes the corrections were places of my heart that needed to be overthrown so that the Lord could once again reign as King and Lord of my life.

I began looking into different communities a third time, asking the Lord to direct my steps, and after a few months of praying with information on my community, I signed up for their week-long vocations retreat.

When I arrived with the Dominican Sisters, Immaculate Conception Province at Rosary Hill, I felt a bit weary in my discernment journey, but I disposed my heart to be faithful to His call and listen for His promptings, whatever they may be. While I felt a little guarded and unsure at first by aspects of the community, the Lord one by one, began pulling down my fears and insecurities, and instead replaced them with a deep love for the sisters and a peace of being fully present and most myself, like I had finally come “home.”

My community was originally founded in Poland by our Mother Kolumba Bialecka and has a three-fold apostolate of aid to the suffering through their work running nursing homes, teaching the truth of the gospel through their work in parishes and Dioceses, as well as their work to raise the level of education and culture through traditional education in Catholic schools and higher education. In experiencing the horarium and life of prayer that the Sisters abide by, and their heart for cradle to grave touch points in the ministry of their apostolates, I finally felt the Lord tangibly call me home to where I could best love Him and His Church as His bride and live a life of continual self-gift with a zeal for the salvation of souls – for His praise and glory and the good of His Church.

Over the years of my vocational discernment, the Eucharist has truly remained rooted as the source and summit of my faith and relationship with the Lord. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1324-1327), states that, “The Eucharist is “the source and summit” of the Christian life. The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself.” And I’ve found that to so surely be true.

Not only in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and in receiving Him, but also by means of Eucharistic Adoration. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is one of the greatest, and yet neglected gifts of the Church. We as Catholics, have the opportunity to spend time with the Lord face to face and yet we don’t always avail ourselves in doing so. He desires to draw near and abide with us, to draw us more deeply into our relationship with Him, so that we may more fully come to know and love Him.

I wouldn’t have been able to name it all those many years ago as a young girl, but I believe that Jesus has been calling me Himself over the entirety of my life. He has been my heart’s desire, my dream of happiness, my search for satisfaction; He is the One who has not let discouragement extinguish my desire to pursue the vocation He has prepared for me and has not let me settle or compromise for lesser goods along the way. He is the One who strengthens me to take up my cross, uniting my entire life with His, for the glory and honor of His name, and for the good of His Church. The Lord is so good and He has been unbelievably faithful; I can’t wait to see all that He has in store and what is yet to be fulfilled as I finally come home and enter with my community as a Dominican Sister of the Immaculate Conception Province.

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