Love, the driving force: a journey of discernment

Chronicling my formation with the Loretto Sisters (IBVM)

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True life is brimming

This is my first blog post as a professed member of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. What a thrill! I now write as a Loretto Sister. (I can’t stop smiling as I write this!)

Two weeks ago, I made my first profession of vows. I vowed poverty, chastity, and obedience to God for one year, according the constitutions of the IBVM, in the witness of community, family, and friends. I felt totally surrounded by love as I made my vows. I rested in the love of God and in the love of so many of the ones I love who were there with me. Afterward, how we celebrated!

Now, we are almost at the end of Advent. Christmas is on the near horizon. As I look back on the readings I chose for my first profession, I see how beautifully Adventish (Advent-like? Adventful?) they are.

The first reading I selected is from Isaiah (Isaiah 9:1-4, 6), which we do usually read during the season of Advent:

But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time, he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shone. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy;they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Those who have read some of my other blog posts will know that these verses are particularly dear to me. I have referenced them before, when writing about Manila and about New York City, when I have looked for inspiration to the homily Pope Francis gave on these verses at Madison Square Garden in 2015.

My novice director, Jane, noted my love for this homily in the reflection she gave during the profession:

Pope Francis gave a homily in New York City in 2015. His reflection was on Isaiah’s words: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” His words have deep meaning for Sarah.

This is some of what he said.  “In every age, the People of God are called to contemplate this light; a light meant to shine on every corner of this city, on our fellow citizens, on every part of our lives.”  “Go out to others and share the good news that God walks at our side. … “God is living in our cities.”  …”God removes us from the fray of competition and self-absorption, and God opens before us the path of peace – that peace which is born of accepting others, that peace which fills our hearts whenever we look upon those in need as our brothers and sisters.”   

What strikes me this Advent are the lines: “God removes us from the fray of competition and self-absorption, and God opens before us the path of peace – that peace which is born of accepting others, that peace which fills our hearts whenever we look upon those in need as our brothers and sisters.”   

I feel a constant nudging from God to open my eyes to the needs of those around me, especially those on the margins of society, and to respond with love. I know that I am being nudged to something more, and especially to look at my own life and to ask myself if I am truly at peace or if this is a superficial contentment. Do I look on those in need as my brothers and sisters? If so, how can I accept injustice? These questions poke and prod me and they invite me to trust that God will show me how to respond.

As a second reading for my profession, I selected an excerpt from a letter Mary Ward wrote to her spiritual director, Fr. Roger Lee, SJ, in November 1615. The excerpt describes Mary’s vision of ‘The Just Soul’, that is, a description of the ideal qualities of a member of her Institute – a woman of freedom, justice, and sincerity.

It seems a certain clear and perfect estate, to be had in this life, and such a one as is altogether needful for those that should well discharge the duties of this Institute. I never read of any I can compare in likeness to it. It is not like the state of saints, whose holiness chiefly appears in that union with God which maketh them out of themselves; I perceived then an apparent difference, and yet felt myself drawn to love and desire this state more than all those favours.

The felicity of this state (for as much as I can express) was a singular freedom from all that could make one adhere to earthly things, with an entire application and apt disposition to all good works. Something happened also discovering the freedom that such a soul should have had to refer all to God…I seemed in my understanding to see a soul thus composed, but far more fair than I can express it.

It then occurred and still continues in my mind, that those in Paradise, before the first fall, were in this estate. It seemed to me then, and that hope remains still, that our Lord let me see it, to invite me that way, and because He would give me grace in time to arrive at such an estate, at least in some degree. That word justice, and those in former times that were called just persons, works of justice, done in innocence and that we be such as we appear; and appear such as we are – these things often since occurred to my mind with a liking of them… I have moreover thought up-on this occasion that perhaps this course of ours would continue til the end of the world, because it came to that in which we first begun.

Again, from my novice director’s reflection: …on the front cover [of the Mass booklet] is our founder, Mary Ward, travelling lightly, moving forward, free, apt for all good works. It connects to Mary Ward’s vision of a just soul that we heard in the second reading.  Here is an authentic person, without attachments, with an attitude of openness, and a freedom to refer all to God.  Knowing Sarah, how could she not be drawn to become like such a person?

During Advent, I reflect upon Mary Ward’s words and I see that these are just the qualities I desire in order to encounter Jesus at Christmastime. Christmas is a time of profound mystery – we read the stories of Jesus’ birth and we ponder how it is that God could come to us in the form of a helpless child. How do we prepare ourselves to meet this mystery? How do I prepare myself to meet this mystery? I look to Mary Ward and see a way forward. Using Mary Ward as my example, I strive to grow as a woman who is free, a woman who is just, and a woman who is sincere. I strive to be a woman who will meet Jesus in the manger at Christmastime and who will follow Jesus as his disciple until the end of her life.     

I think I will end this blog post with more words from Jane, who ended her reflection so perfectly (you can see where I borrowed the title for this post): I end with these words from Sarah’s favourite poet and songwriter, Malcolm Guite. He captures what I feel is Sarah’s disposition right now:

The heart is wide open, the true life is brimming
And yearning to come flowing through
I lay down my burden and walk to the well head
And drink and then bring some to you


In between


The city surrounds me

I’m home now, back in Toronto with the IBVM (Loretto) community in Canada. I’ve been home for 3 weeks now and yet in some ways I still don’t feel like I’m fully home. I’m in a limbo space at the moment, also known as a liminal space – that threshold between the old and the new.

It’s odd that after spending a year in a country that felt so foreign to me for so long, my old, familiar surroundings have taken on that foreign feeling.

Mind you, my life is no longer quite the same as when I left Canada in 2015. I am no longer working at my job in the federal government. I have started part-time theology studies and I am living in a new community of sisters at Loretto College. And I am no longer the same person I was when I began the novitiate. I have been stretched and I have grown in ways that I will become more aware of as I settle back into being home.

In the liminal space there is both comfort and discomfort, both mourning and joyful celebration.

It has been so good to come home, to be back in the familiar. My body, for one, is grateful for it. I could feel my body physically relax as I stepped out of the airport upon my arrival in Toronto and I felt the cool winter air. Home. My body finally feels comfortable again. The dramatic change in temperature from the Philippines winter to the Canadian winter didn’t feel very dramatic to me. It was a relief. I can feel my body operating at a higher capacity than it was able to in the Philippines and I am enjoying that.


Snow! A beautiful sight when I arrived home.

Aside from the physical comfort, there has also been much joy in coming home. I was so happy to reconnect with my beautiful sisters at Loretto Abbey, to hear their stories of the past year, and to share my own with them. I was surprised (shocked, to be honest) to hear that the community followed my blog posts so faithfully and that the sisters were so interested in and attentive to what was happening in our novitiate community (for example, it has been noted that I have not yet written about the vow of obedience! Stay tuned for that…). It was actually very humbling to discover how faithfully the community had been praying for me and the novitiate community.

I have moved from the Abbey now to Loretto College and am getting my bearings here. I have gone from one extreme to another in the course of a year – from the simple living conditions of our novitiate house in Manila to the very generous and comfortable environment of the College, where I am living in a larger institutional setting.


Being welcomed by my new community

I am in school now, too. Navigating two theology courses – scripture and Christology – trying to wrap my mind around new terminology and concepts and opening my mind and heart to new ways of understanding and thinking about God.

In this liminal space, I have not yet fully made the transition from my experience(s) in the Philippines to this familiar yet new environment I am living in and the new mission of studies and ministry I am undertaking.

I find that I miss things about the Philippines more than I thought I would. Of course, I miss my companions a lot (which I had anticipated, and thank goodness for instant messaging and skype to keep us connected!) but I also miss the relaxed culture of the Philippines. I was really struck, especially upon moving to downtown Toronto, by the pace of life at home. People walk quickly, are so focused on getting to their destinations, and are often talking on or looking at their phones. It seems weird to me even though I was very much a part of that lifestyle not so long ago. But now it feels too quick and impersonal.

Another jarring experience has been, or I should say, continues to be, the sight of homeless men sitting on street corners. It makes me feel deeply uneasy. I notice them immediately and I also notice how people pass them by without even glancing at them. After my experience of witnessing poverty in the Philippines, I am really bothered by the sight of poverty in Canada. Poverty is widespread in the Philippines. It’s a very poor country and there is a shocking level of corruption that prevents social issues from being adequately addressed. But Canada is rich. Way richer than I had realized before. And we don’t have the same problems with government corruption. So what the heck is going on in our country that we allow people to live in such poverty and dire conditions?

In this liminal space, on the threshold of the old and the new, I am asking myself many questions. If I have truly experienced the inner transformation that I have claimed to have had last year, how am I going to live differently now that I am home? What am I going to do about injustice? Am I going to listen and respond when my best friend tells me to act?