Thuy Ngan Tran

There are two events that I can confidently say have changed my life completely, unexpectedly, and most wonderfully. The first was Come and See 2016 with the sisters of the Lovers of the Holy Cross, Los Angeles (LHC-LA). The second happened six years later. Prior to attending Come and See, I was a lukewarm Catholic. I did what I knew I should do and believed what I should believe as a woman of faith. 

However, my faith then wasn’t about loving God; it was simply about following a set of laws and ideals. To me, God was God, THE CREATOR whom I should revere and worship. God was not someone whom I loved; He was someone whom I feared and respected.

“Do you know Jesus? Who is Jesus to you?” my Come and See spiritual director, Sr. Maria, asked me. “How would you love someone if you don’t even know that person?” I did not know Jesus. But interestingly, I thought I knew that Jesus was not calling me to religious life. I think Jesus knew I was not ready to listen to Him then. Still, He was very generous toward me and gave me the grace to become more prayerful. At the same time, I also became very curious about getting to know Jesus. However, I ended up learning facts about Jesus more than I learned about the person of Jesus. I thought it was not possible. He’s God! What would it even look like to have a personal relationship with Jesus?

Up until June 2022, I never imagined a day when I would be filling out an application to join a convent. After my Come and See in 2016, I thought I had already “ruled out” religious life. Back then, I thought God had called me to the single life. There were many things I wanted to do with my life –many things I wanted to achieve – so I thought I would be most free to pursue them in the single life. Knowing what I know now, I didn’t truly discern during Come and See. I simply thought about what vocation would best fit my lifestyle. Thanks to the mercy of God, I was never content with the call to single life. On the one hand, I bought into the idea that a “strong, independent woman” doesn’t need a man in her life. On the other hand, I was trying to deny that I wanted to be deeply known and loved. This unconscious, internal battle presented itself as a restlessness and curiosity to “discern the other two vocations: single life versus marriage”. That was what I told Sr. Kimberly when she asked why I wanted to attend the LHC-LA’s silent discernment retreat.

I had thought about attending a discernment retreat a few years back but was never able to follow through because of one thing or another. Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened. And after that, I got into medical school. Throughout my first year of medical school, I still wondered about my vocation: marriage or single life. To my credit, I was very sincere. Whenever I felt a physical attraction to a classmate or someone I met at church, I would ask Jesus to guide and protect my heart. If this is the man you have planned for me, then please help me to know him better. If not, please protect my heart and let me not see him again. Ask and you shall receive; there were 2-3 people I only saw once or twice and never again. After listening to my reason for wanting to attend the discernment retreat, Sr. Kimberly kindly informed me that the main purpose of the retreat was to encounter and grow closer to Jesus. “Yes, Sister! That too! My birthday happens to fall within the retreat dates so it would be a wonderful opportunity for me to spend time with Jesus on my birthday! ” And what a special day that was! I encountered Jesus! I met him at the Jordan River after His baptism. He reminded me of our friendship: He knew me from even before I was born and had been with me through all the major and minor events of my life. He was my friend! At some point in my life, I neglected our friendship. But Jesus had found me again!

Never in my life had I thought it was possible for me to give up everything to follow Jesus, especially medical school. “If you want to truly discern your vocation, you can’t just present to God two options and tell him to pick from the two that you already narrowed down,” I remember Sr. Maria saying to me during spiritual direction at the discernment retreat. “You also need to be open to God’s plans for you.” I honestly thought I was open…but only to everything that wasn’t medical school-related. I was sure that medical school was in God’s plans for me. If it wasn’t, why did I work so hard all these years? In prayer that day, I asked God all the “Why?” questions concerning my life. He answered each of them, except “Why did you allow me to get into medical school and even finish one year of it?” I felt dissatisfied with God. However, He had His timing.

The following day Sr. Maria gave me two prayers by St. Ignatius of Loyola to meditate with. The first prayer was called “Suscipe”. “You have given all to me. / To you, Lord, I return it.” This line stood out to me not because I found it relatable. Rather, I desired to have the same sentiment. However, I realized I could not actually put it into action because of my attachment to medical school. “Please help me, Jesus, to more willingly give You everything.” Again, Jesus answered my prayer, and quite immediately, too.
His answer came in the form of the second prayer Sr. Maria recommended to me, The First Principle and Foundation: “All the things in this world are gifts of God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.” I remember thinking: What if the goal of medical school isn’t to become a doctor? What if it is a gift from God to help me to know Him better? In that case, the goal has already been achieved! 

As a first-year medical student in a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) program, I learned to use my hands to diagnose and treat patients. Jesus did that! He didn’t have the technology we have today, nor would He have used it to treat the people He encountered when He walked this earth. Jesus used His hands to heal people! And I know a little of what that must have been like because of my year in medical school. Even my journey toward medical school has helped me to be a more compassionate person. In that moment – less than ten minutes of sitting with Jesus – He not only answered my questions about medical school from the previous day but also helped me release my grasp on medical school. If the goal isn’t to become a doctor, then how much longer Jesus is allowing me to continue with school is extra grace. In less than a day, Jesus had freed me from the chains I had placed on myself for years. He freed me so that I was truly open to discern where He was guiding me. Surprisingly, with medical school out of the way of my heart, everything pointed to “Why not give Jesus a chance?”

This discernment decision came to me on the second to last day of my six-day retreat, which was a month before I was to go back to school. Although unexpected, I was at peace. As I was applying for a one-year leave of absence from school and waiting for the decision from the Lovers of the Holy Cross community, I did not know for certain if religious life was God’s plan for my life. I only knew for certain that if I wanted to discern His voice most readily, then I needed to fully focus on seeking His will. I would be doing both school and Jesus a disservice if I tried to balance both at the same time. I expressed this sentiment to the Dean of Students and the Dean of the Osteopathic Medicine program when they asked to speak with me personally prior to approving my request. “I’m going to tell you honestly, I will not approve of your leave of absence at this time. I think you should finish your second year of medical school, take your board exam, and then take a break. Or take a break after your 4th year when you have already secured a residency position.” This was the first thing that Dean Gilliard told me during our meeting. Both deans wanted to understand why I decided to pause my education after receiving the academic recognition of the Dean’s List. I know for certain that the Holy Spirit was at work during our conversation that day because, at the end of it, his mind was changed – the leave of absence was approved. After having been in the convent and being formed as a religious sister, I am now even more certain that God will make all things happen according to His will. All that He asks of me is my faithfulness and trust in His love.

Four days after my leave of absence approval, I finally arrived at Jesus’ house at the Lovers of the Holy Cross convent. I was ready to take an entire year to discern with Jesus. To my surprise again, within the first two weeks during our beginning-of-the-year recollection retreat, Jesus made it clear to me that He was calling me to a more intimate relationship with Him. The certainty of my vocation is revealed through the peace I experience as I am embracing the call to become a religious sister. Compared to before, I no longer feel restless: no more back and forth between single life or married life, but a deep trust that religious life is God’s will for me. The certainty of my vocation is also evident in the joy I’m experiencing, especially as Jesus is revealing to me my weaknesses and wounds. It still amazes me that in such a short amount of time, Jesus has been able to transform me to resemble more closely who God created me to be: someone who is loved and able to love. I had wanted to be deeply known and loved. Who else could know and love me more truly than Jesus? No one. I’m certain of this. Even more amazing is that His infinite and transforming love stirs in me the desire to love Him more. Someone who I desire to love more. I’ve never thought that about anyone. Yet, that is who Jesus is to me. He is my friend. He is someone whom I neglected. He is someone who found me. Above all, however, my Jesus is someone who loves me and whom I desire to love more and more. By the grace of God, I’m learning how to do just that each day I get to live out my vocation in the convent.

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