Love, the driving force: a journey of discernment

Chronicling my formation with the Loretto Sisters (IBVM)


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Looking back

As I look back through photos from the past few years, I am reminded of the incredible experiences I’ve had since joining the IBVM. I find it hard to believe all that has happened, and, oh, the places I have been. I am in awe of it all and filled with gratitude.

Arriving at Loretto Abbey in September 2014. I was struck by how beautiful it is.

Received as a candidate with the IBVM.

Helping Marren to dress for a Canadian winter. 

Our evening tea time at the Abbey.

My first visit to New York City and the United Nations – March 2015.

Halloween at the Abbey – October 2015.

 

Received as a novice – December 2015. 

Memories of the Philippines and Vietnam – 2016. First year/canonical year of novitiate.

My second visit to New York City and a chance to intern at the IBVM UN NGO – April to July 2017.

Discernment retreat for profession of first vows. Pondering the future – August 2017. 

This prayer of Thomas Merton has accompanied me for much of my adult life and it has been in my heart many times over the past three years:

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
– Thomas Merton

It still rings true to me now, even with my first profession just a few weeks away. There is always an element of risk in life; we cannot ever be completely certain of where we are going or what will happen. Certainly over the past three years much has happened that I could not predict, and I suspect the future will be the same. I have come to see that religious life, despite sounding quite tame and restrictive, is anything but. There is a lot that is unknown and much joy that comes in the discovery.


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The First Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola

It’s Tuesday evening. We are gathered, seated in a circle, perched on couches and armchairs. Expectant. The candle on the centre table is lit. We watch the flame flicker and grow. I begin, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…”  

We have come together, seven students and me, to pray. We are making our way through a selection of the First Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, as adapted by Michael Hansen, SJ. Each prayer leads us into a deeper encounter with the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and into a fuller awareness of God working in us and in our lives.

The First Spiritual Exercises began as the prayer journal of St. Ignatius. In his journal he recorded his questions, the graces he received from prayer, his favourite scripture passages, and notes that helped him progress along his spiritual journey. He later used his journal as an instruction manual for giving his prayer exercises to others.

The First Spiritual Exercises are so called because they are the first exercises he gave to others and they are the first form of the full Spiritual Exercises, which are normally made during a 30-day retreat or over 30 weeks in daily life. The First Spiritual Exercises are arranged into four four-week retreats that together form a complete version of the full Spiritual Exercises. The retreats respond to a foundational desire for inner peace as well as a particular desire for love, service, forgiveness, healing, freedom or divine friendship.

In the five weeks that we have been praying the First Spiritual Exercises together, I have been amazed by the response. It has been a joy to pray and journey together through the exercises, and I have experienced abundant blessing from God through our prayer and spiritual conversation.

I have received the gift of God’s presence in a unique way while praying in silence with others. Although I do speak at times, guiding the meditation with prompts for the exercise, there are beautiful stretches of silence where we can hear only the ticking of the clock on the wall. In that silence, even as we pray individually, we are joined as one and together we encounter God. At times, the presence of God seems almost tangible. God is with us, bringing peace and calm in the quiet.

I’ve also received the gift of witnessing God at work in others. After we pray, using the meditation outlined in the exercise, we move into spiritual conversation, sharing a particular moment or experience in our prayer. I’ve been awed and humbled week after week by the sharing. I’ve felt such joy listening to group members describe how God spoke to them during their prayer, revealing something small or big about their lives and their relationship with God. Clarity about a decision that needed to be made, actions to take to heal a friendship, opening up to greater love for oneself. Each week I am reminded that God’s revelation in others and through others is profound and powerful. Together we are noticing the movement of the good spirit and the bad spirit during prayer, and we are beginning to discern the movement of the spirits over the whole of our five weeks (and counting) together.

Lastly, I have received the gift, the ever-renewing gift, of noticing how God is at work within me. I’ve noticed deep joy from this experience of prayer together and the opportunity to guide and mentor others in prayer (and to be guided and mentored in return). I’ve also noticed moments of anxiety and uncertainty. I’ve grown closer to God as I grow in understanding of my vocation to religious life and possibilities for future ministry and work. As I prepare to make first vows, I am striving to be attentive to the movement of God within me, and through the First Spiritual Exercises, God’s presence becomes clearer and clearer.

After each week’s gathering, I thank St. Ignatius for his attentiveness to the will of God and for his insights into the spiritual journey.

“The Spiritual Exercises are all the best that I have been able to think out, experience and understand in this life, both for helping somebody to make the most of themselves, as also for being able to bring advantage, help, and profit to many others.”
– Ignatius to Rev. M. Miona in 1536.


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distracted, impatient, and restless

I have been feeling very distracted lately.

When I try to pray, either my own personal prayer, or the Liturgy of the Hours, or even at Mass, my mind struggles to stay focused. After a few brief quiet moments, my thoughts go off on a tangent and I get caught up in something unrelated to what I am trying to mediate on. I begin to notice whether I feel hot, cold, anxious, tired, energized, bored, alert, or restless. I’ve been feeling restless a lot.

Part of it may be a sort of spring fever feeling – I want to get up and move around and enjoy the sunshine whenever it’s out. I’ve taken up running again, and even though I’m sluggish and out of shape, it feels like such a gift to be outside and be alive.

But part of the restlessness is also related to what I am trying to pray about. I am still praying for healing. It’s hard. Even though, by the grace of God, I have made progress and I generally feel much lighter and freer than when I began, I know I still have a long way to go. My triggers still trigger anxiety and insecurity (confronting my negative self talk is on my current ‘To Do” list). And I feel impatient to just “be healed” once and for all and never have to worry again.

I met with my spiritual director yesterday and talked to her about this feeling of impatience. She laughed with me about it and could sympathize. As we talked, it became clear to me that God isn’t using the lightning rod method of healing with me because there’s more that I will learn from the slow and steady route. I think God wants to give me gifts that can only be received this way (even though it’s not my preferred route – instantaneous would be fine by me!). Perseverance is the key.

I desire so much to understand, really understand, what my life is about – what it is that I am called to do on this earth. It seems so hidden from me. Sometimes I feel like I am on the brink of understanding. I get a tiny glimmer, and a sliveriest bit of meaning, and then it’s gone and I am back to my usual restless self, sighing and impatient.

**

My candidacy director has given me a book about the Catholic faith to make sure I know the basics before beginning the novitiate next year (although frankly each sentence of ‘the basics’ is a world of theology unto itself). For someone who has gone to Mass quite regularly throughout her life, and went to Catholic school, I am realizing that there is a whole lot I don’t know about the Catholic faith. I was probably taught more than I recall, but I can’t seem to retrieve that information from my memory banks!

Happily, this means I’ve had plenty of “eureka!” moments as I have been reading. And no doubt this is helping me along the road to understanding myself better (and my restlessness), understanding Jesus (and God) better, and opening me up to understand what it is I am called to do in this life. These passages have been roaming around in my mind for the past few weeks:

“Again, let us remind ourselves, Jesus was not putting on an act, or doing something extra. He was merely acting as a creature should act. He was simply open to the ever-present gift of his Father’s love. He let it enter and empower his every thought, feeling, word and action. It was what kept him alive: ‘Doing the will of him who sent me…is my food’ (John 4:34).

But if Jesus is already the perfect loving child of the Father, why did he have to die?

Because giving up one’s life is the total gift. Anything else would be less than perfect. There is nothing greater to give than life.

So Jesus had to give up his life because there was no greater way he could show his love of the Father. He had to give up his life because anything else would have been a lesser gift, and he wanted to do the perfect human thing.

But there is another reason Jesus had to die. He came to a world lost in sin. How could he save the world? By showing it how God acts in the face of hatred. God refuses to be vindictive. He wants no pound of flesh. He wants only to forgive, to heal, to reconcile.”

****

“No wonder we shy away from the cross. Our problem is not that it is painful, but that it is too great a sign of love. We do not love that way, and we are embarrassed when God does.

Our life of faith, it would seem, is a gradual coming to accept the unbelievable tenderness of God.

– Leonard Foley, OFM. Believing in Jesus: A Popular Overview of the Catholic Faith.

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My mind has also been taken up with thoughts of seeing friends and coworkers when I am in Ottawa this week. I am really looking forward to spending time with people I love and miss.