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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To live the Constitutions

A follower of Mary Ward, just like a Jesuit, can only be someone who has experienced what it is to be loved unconditionally by God, who has at least to some degree attained indifference, who knows (again experientially) what is it is to be a forgiven sinner, who has been profoundly attracted by the person of Jesus Christ and become committed to his project, who has learnt the art of discernment through being wisely accompanied, at least once, in making a life-changing decision, who has entered into the suffering and death of Jesus Christ and received intimations of his risen life and glory, who embraces herself, her life, other people and all creation as gift, hence becoming sensitized spiritually to recognize God in all things. Without these graces no one can understand, still less live, the Constitutions. They are not addressed to anyone else.

From: O’Leary, Brian. “‘Hither I Must Come to Draw’ Mary Ward and the Ignatian Constitutions.” The Way 51.3 (2012). p.35

I love this passage. I came across it during my reading last week and it has stayed with me. I have been pondering it for several days. For me, it sums up beautifully the relationship between the Spiritual Exercises and living out our Constitutions. We live by grace.

 


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Newly minted novice

Last Thursday, December 10, 2015, the feast day of Our Lady of Loreto, I was received as a novice to the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loretto Sisters) here in Toronto.

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As the day approached, I felt a mixture of joy and fear. Joy for this next step in my discernment and formation with the Institute, but also fear of the unknown and all of the newness that lies ahead when I go to the Philippines.

To prepare myself to be received, I spent time in prayer and reflection, using a booklet on consecrated life as my guide. I really only used the first couple of chapters of the guide, focused on the heart and mind of the consecrated person (identifying the call to religious life) and the response of the consecrated person (saying yes to the call). These alone provided plenty of fuel for reflection.

Experiencing a call to religious life is mysterious. It is hard to explain the drive and longing felt by someone called to religious life: the desire to give fully of oneself in the service of God and God’s people, and the profound desire to know God. I find it very difficult to express how much I long to know God, to understand God’s plan for the world. I have so many questions for God. I also feel a deep desire to serve God by caring for all people. And over time, I feel more and more drawn to life in community. I pondered all of these things as I waited to be received.

During the reception, I felt peaceful and joyful. I was moved by the joy of the sisters who participated in the reception, and I felt (and feel!) so grateful to be part of this community. There is so much life and love here.

I received the Loretto cross (which I happily and proudly wear) and gifts to help with my discernment during novitiate: a bible, the IBVM Constitutions, and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. All of these will come with me to the Philippines and help to guide me.

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So now, as a newly minted novice, I am trying to live fully each day with the community here and love these sisters as much as I can before I depart. And I am continuing to pester God, to try to know him better, and be open to the gifts and graces he has given me.

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Venerable Mary Ward, foundress of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, pray for us.

 

 

 


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Happy Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola!

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Today is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). I have a real soft spot for St. Ignatius and his spirituality. Even though it was only fairly recently (just over 3 years ago!) that I discovered him, his methods of prayer and discernment have changed my life, helping me to find God in all things.

Mary Ward, the IBVM foundress, had a deep understanding of Ignatian spirituality and many of the practices of Ignatian spirituality permeate the Institute’s way of life.

Check out this great video about St. Ignatius to learn more about this amazing saint!


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When calamity strikes

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By nature, I’m a fairly conscientious person. I like to get things done. I make timetables and lists, and I check the “To Do’s” off as I finish them. I like itineraries. I guess what I really like is predictability and a sense of control.

I’ve noticed over the course of the last few months, however, that the more I try to order and schedule my life, maximize my time, and be the most efficient I can be, I end up getting knocked totally off course! Case in point: for the past couple of weeks, I had diligently spent time in prayer and reflection in order to prepare for our big Canadian Provincial meeting that was to take place at the end of March. It was my first time participating in such an event and I was really excited about it. I had my notes carefully prepared, and I was looking forward to sharing my thoughts with the sisters. But then last Wednesday, calamity struck!

15 sisters, 3 de la Salle brothers, and several of the staff at the Abbey came down with norovirus. The next day, 4 more people were hit (including me, which makes this illness #4 or #5 I’ve been stricken with since Christmastime – which, by the way, better not be indicative of my future in religious life!). By the weekend, only a handful of people had been spared. I’m happy to say that everyone is recovering well, but we did have to postpone the big meeting. I was disappointed. Even amid severe stomach cramps, I had hoped that somehow we could still make it happen.

Instead, I used the quiet time (immobilized on my bed) to read about Mary Ward’s companions. Since reading a few biographies of Mary Ward earlier in the year, I have been very curious about the lives of her first companions. Not much is known about these women other than what is revealed in correspondence and some of the Institute’s historical documents. These women were quite young (some joined as young as 15 years old!), adventurous, dedicated, and faithful. They endured severe poverty, illness, uncertainty, and persecution. They were put in charge of schools and the formation of novices, were put in positions of authority in foundations in foreign lands, and were required to make difficult decisions. They often went years without seeing Mary Ward, with only letter correspondence to stay in touch. Many of them died while still young (30 years old and younger). Yet they were faithful to Mary Ward’s vision, to their call to religious life, and to the community.  They inspire me and I aspire to grow to be like them – to be steadfast and faithful (in sickness and in health!) and to be open and responsive to God’s working in my life.

And maybe, just maybe, to relinquish the “To Do” lists once in a while.


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Mary Ward’s charism

It has been a very peaceful and quiet week at the Abbey. Last Sunday, my friend, Fr. David Bellusci, OP came to Toronto to give the sisters their Lenten retreat. From Sunday evening until yesterday at lunch, there was a hush over the Abbey. I really enjoy silence and solitude so even though I wasn’t actively participating in the retreat (had to go to work), I still benefited from the quiet atmosphere. There was a definite sense of prayer and tranquility, which was a lovely way to begin the season of Lent.

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As mentioned in my last post, I wanted to write a bit about Mary Ward’s charism. For the last month or so, my candidacy director has been teaching me about the charism. I discovered that I had been totally wrong about what the charism is! Whenever anyone asked me about the community’s charism, I would always respond “Well, I think they are mostly a teaching order.” That, my friends, is not what the charism is! I guess that might be considered their apostolate (but don’t quote me on that either), or apostolic work. But it’s not the charism – whoops.

The charism, is, in fact, something much larger. Charism is a gift, a call to service and it is intended for the church (the people) rather than just for the individual or individuals in a community. Leading up to the full elaboration of the charism for her Institute, Mary Ward experienced three insights. The first was that she was not meant to join one of the established communities (Poor Clares, Benedictines, Carmelites) but something ‘other’ and this ‘other’ would give glory to God. Her second insight guided her in the structure of the Institute, and she was inspired to “take the same of the Society”, meaning that she was called to adopt the structure of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), something that had not been done by a female community before. Her final insight provided the fullness of the charism: that the spirituality of the Institute would nurture in its members an interior attitude of freedom (meaning the freedom to refer all to God, or find God in all things), justice (being redeemed or saved by God, made pleasing to him, surrendered to God), and truth (also referred to as integrity – a wholeness or unity between the interior and exterior of a person).

[From the IBVM Canada websiteWe look to Mary Ward’s vision of faith to inspire us and to enable us to understand our common vocation. We desire to foster that interior freedom of spirit, deep sense of justice, love for truth and cheerful attitude which she regarded as essential to fullness of life in her Institute.]

These insights occurred over the space of several years, which really seems to confirm Mary Ward’s trust in God and her patience and faithfulness in waiting for God’s direction. I think it also indicates that we are called to continual growth, and as our relationship with God matures and deepens, more is revealed to us. Mary Ward’s charism is beautiful and represents an ideal. I suspect it will take me a long time to grow into it. Real surrender, vulnerability, humility, and trust are involved, and I struggle with all of those things.

Happily, Lent provides an opportunity to be purposeful in prayer, to be present to God, and to examine those parts of myself that need to grow. I hope that all of my friends and family who observe/participate in Lent will feel renewed by God’s presence in their lives.

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the freedom to refer all to God

On Wednesday, we had an evening reflection entitled “Praying with our Experience”, facilitated by Sr. Margaret Kane, CSJ.  As the first in a series of special community sessions for the Year of Consecrated Life, Sr. Margaret led us through a reflection on Mary Ward’s gift to the IBVM and to the world.

We were given a series of images of Mary Ward (posted below) to meditate on and questions to guide our reflection. It struck me as the sisters were sharing their reflections, how much they love Mary Ward, how she continues to inspire them, and how she has influenced their lives.

Many of the sisters talked about her courage, her determination, her resolve to follow God’s will no matter the opposition or obstacles she faced. The images show Mary Ward as a woman of vision, a woman who is grounded in the person of Jesus, a woman who was free to always move forward.

Sr. Margaret then talked about one of Mary Ward’s gifts to the IBVM community: the freedom to refer all to God. Much like St. Ignatius of Loyola, Mary was able to find God in all things – in her apostolic work as much as her contemplative prayer life. Her sense of freedom extended to her relationship with God, whom she called Parent of Parents and Friend of Friends. For Mary, God was at the centre of life.

Sr. Margaret encouraged us to be like Mary Ward and to pray using our daily experiences. Through the daily Examen prayer, we can look upon our day through God’s eyes, moved by the Holy Spirit to see God working in the stuff of our daily lives, and find the freedom to give all that we have to God.

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Tomorrow we celebrate the Feast of Mary Ward (we have been celebrating Mary Ward week this week, beginning with Wednesday’s reflection, and school Masses on Friday, and culminating tomorrow). We will have a special Mass and community gathering to remember Mary Ward and reflect upon her life. I feel very happy to be here for this celebration and to witness the impact Mary Ward has had on the women I live with and the larger community in Toronto.