Love, the driving force: a journey of discernment

Chronicling my formation with the Loretto Sisters (IBVM)


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Summer days

A month and a bit have passed since I left New York City. (The withdrawal pains have subsided.) It has been a busy time with lots of activity and travel and not much time to tend to this blog. It has been a relaxing time as well, like an extended summer holiday.

I left New York for Saskatoon and made a five-day retreat with twenty-one other young religious from across Canada, facilitated by the wise and insightful Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI (more to come on the talks from the retreat in a future blog post). It was an energizing experience and consoling to meet other religious who share similar concerns, hopes, and dreams for the future of religious life in Canada.

The view of the South Saskatchewan River from Queen’s House Retreat Centre in Saskatoon

After the retreat, I spent time with family in Rosthern, SK and then in Calgary, AB. It was so good to be reunited with family and friends again, most of whom I hadn’t seen in about two years, before I went to the Philippines for the canonical year of my novitiate. Naturally, there was lots to share and to catch up on. It felt a bit strange at times relating my experiences of the Philippines because my year there seemed like a year out of time. There was an odd feeling of time displacement; I couldn’t keep track of the time I’d been away. Regardless, it was so good to see everyone and to feel connected again. Being with my family reminds me of who I am and where I have come from, and I am grateful for that. My family is very much a part of my spiritual journey even though I don’t get to see them very often.

The statue of Our Lady of the Prairies at Queen’s House

After a week or so back in Toronto, I made a trip to Ottawa. I hadn’t been to Ottawa for nearly two years so again there was that sense of time displacement. It was coupled initially with a feeling of nostalgia for my old life. I visited my old house (even did a bit of yard work there), met with friends and colleagues, and visited my old parish (I happened to be there just in time to celebrate the installation of its two new pastors). I had time to catch up with good friends and to glimpse again the life that I have missed off and on these past few years. As the visit progressed, I noticed that the feeling of nostalgia lessened and was replaced by a feeling of deep gratitude for all that I had experienced in Ottawa during the 10 years I lived there. I came to recognize that that part of my life is truly over now and I do not desire to go back and resume it. It was a beautiful and life-giving season in my life but now I am called to something else and to be somewhere else and I desire with all of my being to give myself to this new life and new path that I am walking along.

I think this is a good place to be – mentally, spiritually, etc., – as I prepare to make a discernment retreat next week that will lead up to making my first vows (potentially in December). I am not caught up in false feelings about the past and I am not bound by expectations for the future. I feel that I am calmly in the present, ready to be with God in a sacred space, and to talk about all that has gone on in my life over the past few years and all of the graces, gifts, and opportunities that God has been giving me as I move closer to making my first vows.

Please keep me in your prayers starting Monday as I make an eight-day silent retreat at Loyola House in Guelph. I will keep you in my prayers as well. Love and blessings to all!


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God went mad out of love for us

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I’ve been reading a lot these days (admittedly, this is not new behaviour).

I just finished an excellent biography of Flannery O’Connor (Flannery by Brad Gooch) and I’m partway through Ignatius of Loyola: The Psychology of a Saint by W.W. Meissner, SJ. It’s a weighty book, both physically and mentally, but very interesting. On my subway journeys, however, I am reading Seek God Everywhere: Reflections on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius by Anthony de Mello, SJ. (Can you sense my current Ignatian theme?) Anyway, this morning I became totally engrossed in it (so engrossed, in fact, that I missed my subway stop and had to loop around back – whoops!). This passage had me caught up:

At the root of pure creation there is an act of infinite love. God falls for us; this is the unbelievable news. That means he would lose himself for us. This is too shocking that God would be a victim of the passion that we call love. Then we are told the shocking thing that God loves us so much that he gave up his goodness for our sake! Hello! This is a bit too crazy. God went mad out of love for us. Then we must be very lovely. What we have stressed in the past is how lovely God must be that he can love us like this. But nobody has yet said how lovely we must be, that God could fall for us like this. Both are true.

Think of it! God went mad out of love for me and you!

That’s something to savour on the way to work each day.


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Sickness and healing

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(Photo: Conversion on the sick-bed / by A. Chevalier Taylor, From the Votive Chapel at Wimbledon / http://www.heritage-history.com/?c=read&author=pollen&book=loyola&story=conversion)

I’m just getting over a bout of pneumonia. I came down with some kind of cold or flu on Boxing Day when I was in Calgary and it turned my Christmas vacation plans upside down. I ended up staying 5 days longer so that I could recover enough to travel. I was shocked, a few days after I returned to Toronto, to feel the symptoms return. I went to see a doctor and found out that the illness had developed into pneumonia.

Consequently, I spent the entirety of this past workweek at home in bed, recuperating. I can’t recall when I’ve ever been this sick. It was very discouraging. Generally, I am quite a healthy person and I felt like my body had betrayed me. I was worried because I had already missed time at work for being sick and stuck in Calgary and I felt anxious about taking even more time off. So it was not with joy that I took to my bed.

I received wonderful care from the sisters though. Sr. Marianna was my nursemaid for many days, bringing me tea and freshly squeezed orange juice, and making sure I was okay. I was offered a space in the infirmary if I felt I would recuperate better there (I chose to stay in my room to have easy access to my books). Meals were brought up to me. Kind words of encouragement were offered. On Thursday the nurse came to check on me and gave my lungs the all clear. I was so relieved. And grateful.

Today is the first day that I have actually had much energy, and it feels fantastic. Although I’m being mindful to not overdo things, it feels so good to follow a more normal routine today. I finally did my laundry! And sorted my mail! Things are looking up.

At first while I was sick and stuck in bed, I fixated on feeling awful. Every symptom took on an exaggerated quality and I couldn’t find any comfort. I couldn’t focus on anything to pass the time other than mindless tv watching and sporadic light reading. After a couple of days, I was able to focus and felt a desire to tackle some reading that was a bit more thoughtful. My candidacy director gave me a copy of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s autobiography shortly before Christmas. I had read it a couple of years ago when I first discovered Ignatian spirituality but I had forgotten a lot of the details. I spent a day delving into his account of his life and it reawoke my admiration for him and for his spirituality.

He was an incredible man – so self aware and observant. Holy, dedicated, always striving to know God’s will in a given moment. I love that he developed the Spiritual Exercises from his own intense attempts (and they were intense!) to understand God’s will and to know God deeply. He recorded all of his insights and developed a powerful set of prayer exercises to help one come to know God, discern God’s will, and to make decisions. I used the Exercises during my vocation discernment, and it led me to the freedom I needed to make the decision to apply to be a candidate with the Lorettos. Using his Examen prayer, I am able to look at my day more closely and see God’s presence. His method of scriptural contemplation helps me to see Jesus and talk to him as naturally as I do to my friends.

Anyway, as I read the autobiography, I recalled the First Principle and Foundation of the Exercises:

The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord, and by doing so, to save his or her soul.

All other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings in order to help them pursue the end for which they are created.

It follows from this that one must use other created things, in so far as they help towards one’s end, and free oneself from them, in so far as they are obstacles to one’s end.

To do this, we need to make ourselves indifferent to all created things, provided the matter is subject to our free choice and there is no other prohibition.

Thus, as far as we are concerned, we should not want health more than illness, wealth more than poverty, fame more than disgrace, a long life more than a short one, and similarly for all the rest, but we should desire and choose only what helps us more towards the end for which we are created.

Of course, being sick, I was fixated on the part about not wanting health more than illness. I don’t like being sick. I hate being sick. It’s inconvenient, it’s uncomfortable, and sometimes it’s gross. But often a person doesn’t have much control over being sick, and that’s what I felt St. Ignatius was telling me in that moment. I am sick, I can’t force myself to not be sick, so I just have to be sick. And try to find God in this time of illness. This freed me up to be patient, to be sick and not grumble or feel anxious about it, to just be sick and be with God as I rode it out. A very different experience for this girl! (A big thanks to Iggy!)

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I expect to write another post about Mary Ward soon. When I finished the Ignatius autobiography, I started a new (to me) biography of Mary Ward. Reading is in progress. I’m sure I’ll have lots to share about her when I’m finished.