“I needed to give of myself more completely, more radically.”
Sr. Maria Teresa of the Sacred Heart
Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary Summit, New Jersey.
I clearly remember the second grade. It was my first experience of being taught by a religious sister, an Apostle of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and I quickly decided that I wanted to grow up to be a nun, too! Years later, however, I fell seriously ill with Lyme Disease and fell away from the Catholic faith as I was shuffled in and out of hospitals. After shopping around in different Protestant denominations, I felt God calling me home to the Catholic Church.
Coming home wasn’t easy, but as the Holy Spirit enveloped my heart, my mind was also set at ease as a dear friend explained the Catholic Faith in a way I had never heard in school. Suddenly all of the doctrine I had wrestled with became understandable to me. During my time away from the Church, I had been planning my life in the way I was expected … go to college, get a degree, get married, start a family. I had been dating a wonderful young man for a few years and we were very seriously considering marriage in the distant future. I was studying Biology and Religious Studies at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, and everything seemed right on track.
One night in my dorm, however, a close friend of mine challenged my presumption that I was called to marriage. I had never thought of asking God what He wanted to do with my life, I just always assumed I was going to get married like everyone else I knew. With this challenge from my friend, I remembered my early childhood longing to be a bride of Christ. I ended my relationship with the young man and began to truly ask God what He wanted from my life.
As time went by, the desire to give my life completely to Christ increased. When I thought about marriage and living out my life with a husband and family, it seemed beautiful but I knew that my heart would never be satisfied. I needed to give of myself more completely, more radically.
As I was searching the internet for more information on religious life, I came across a section of the website for the Sisters of Life that captured my sentiments exactly: “A religious vocation is about being so filled with the love of Christ that only giving oneself totally and exclusively back to Him will suffice.” I knew at that moment that what I wanted was to give my life to God as a religious sister … but not in the way I had thought. I wanted to be a Sister of Life or a Salesian Sister, someone out in the world ministering to Christ in the poor or teaching the Faith to the next generation. I was so excited about the possibilities — Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal, Sisters of Life, Salesian Sisters, Little Sisters of the Poor!
And then I heard Christ speak gently to my heart, “What about a cloistered order?” I didn’t even know monastic men and women still existed. Needless to say, I was not thrilled. Actually, I was completely horrified with the idea. Me? Shut away from the world forever? How in the world would that be helpful? Slowly, Christ began to reveal myself to me. The things I thought I could never live with — quiet, solitude, continual prayer — Christ showed me how I was already drawn to them, I just didn’t realize it.
But what about helping the poor and ministering to the needy? Through grace I began to understand the relationship between Martha and Mary. The highest calling for all mankind is contemplation and union with God. Cloistered individuals give witness to this by their lives. They attest to the fact that this is not the end but there is something better. Their constant prayer reminds us all that it is prayer that is the foundation and support of action. Cloistered individuals are today‘s Moses, standing on the hill with arms outstretched in prayer. As long as this prayer continues, the battle is won, but when this prayer falters the battle is lost. Joining a cloister is not throwing away your life or hiding from the world. It is embracing the world more fully. Without the life of cloistered men and women, the active orders and the priesthood would suffer.
My discernment with the Dominican Nuns of Our Lady of the Rosary seems to be anything but typical. It started when a nun from the Lockport Dominicans contacted me online and gave me the information for Summit. I contacted Sister Mary Catharine and set up a meeting. I can‘t say I felt “called” to Dominican spirituality at all. At this point I didn‘t know anything about it. Like with most things in my life, God told me to do something and explained why later! The first day that I visited the Monastery I walked into the parlor and noticed a picture of St. Dominic at the foot of the cross. I was amazed because it was the same image that had hung above my bed all through my childhood, but I never knew who the image was of! It felt as if St. Dominic had been watching over me since I was just a tiny child.
As my discernment with the Dominican Nuns intensified, I began to understand why I was called to this Order. I‘m a very intellectual person, and I love to become more acquainted with God through study and learning. For Dominicans, study is an important part of the life. Also, the Dominican Order has a unique relationship between its cloistered nuns and preaching brothers. St. Dominic understood the importance of contemplative prayer, and so he founded the first Dominican cloistered convent ten years before the foundation of the brothers. The Dominicans are unique in that the brothers and nuns are canonically bound to each other, and the nuns are under the Master General of the Order. This relationship really demonstrates the relationship between prayer and action, between contemplative and active orders. The entire Order is a testament to the power of prayer.
I‘m entering a cloister not to run away from the world, but to embrace it more fully. I‘m entering to offer my entire life as a sacrifice to Christ for the salvation of souls. I‘m entering to offer the grace from my little prayers for the Dominican priests and the priesthood in general. I‘m entering because nothing else in the world can satisfy my heart more fully than becoming a bride of Christ. I‘m entering because this is what I was created for.