Love, the driving force: a journey of discernment

Chronicling my formation with the Loretto Sisters (IBVM)


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Catching up

I need to catch up on my blog! Over a month has passed since my last entry. (This appears to be a habit…) So much has been going on that I intend to write about soon – I’m back into theology studies, involved in several exciting and rewarding ministries, and I’m starting to prepare for my first profession of vows with the IBVM.

But first things first. The discernment retreat! I haven’t shared about it yet.

To some extent the retreat is a bit hard to describe. It was very unlike the first 8-Day Ignatian retreat I made 4 years ago (when I was discerning to become a candidate with the IBVM) and nothing like the 30-Day Spiritual Exercises I made in the Philippines in 2016. It didn’t feel like work at all, it felt like a vacation.

At Loyola House, the grounds beckon.

I arrived at Loyola House at the end of August fully armed with what I thought I needed to make a good retreat – a stack of the journals I’d kept for the past three years, a bible, and a book on Mary Ward’s spirituality. To me, they seemed like the perfect resources for a discernment retreat. What a great decision I was sure to make if I consulted these books. Naturally, I spent the first day of my retreat taking full advantage of them – praying, reading, reflecting, and making notes to share with my retreat director. I was happy because I thought I was doing good work.

When I met with my retreat director the next day, however, we both realized that I was going about the retreat all wrong, despite my good intentions. I had embarked on the retreat prepared to wrestle with God, to work hard at making a decision about first vows. But I discovered that I had, in fact, already made the decision about vows (after all, I have been discerning for the past three years). Instead, God was inviting me to play. I was totally surprised. I was unsure whether it would be a real retreat if I didn’t follow a structured schedule of prayer. After much reassurance from my retreat director that I wouldn’t be goofing off, I spent my remaining retreat days marveling at God’s creation and delighting in each day’s new discovery.

The first thought that came to mind when I saw this bench was: ‘it’s Tardis blue!’ What a great place to sit and wait to meet The Doctor…or maybe God will turn up instead.

I walked a lot. Two or three hours a day, all around the property. One day I was captivated by texture. I stopped to caress, to really touch and feel the different textures and composition of the flowers, stones, tree trunks and bark, wild grasses, and leaves that I came across. Another day I was captivated by the sunlight and how it played off of the hills and valleys, the trees and fields. And on another day, I was drawn to hidden places – the light behind a grove of trees, a tiny flower nestled in amongst a tangle of grass, the sun peeking out from behind a cloud. I felt that God was beckoning me to explore hidden places within myself.

I also played in the arts and crafts room with the paint, pastels, and collage materials. I tapped into my childhood joy of creating with bright colours, without worrying whether the final products were any good. It was spontaneous and fun and made me wonder why I don’t play like this more often.

The entire retreat was suffused with a sense of peace and contentment and fun – a real joy at just being with God rather than being caught up in doing. It was more contemplative than active, and such a different experience than I had expected. My retreat was a confirmation of my vocation to religious life and a confirmation of my desire to become a member of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I can’t deny the sense of rightness and happiness I feel when I think about life as a Loretto Sister. The retreat also confirmed that God is always with me and I don’t have to constantly work at the relationship; God wants me to enjoy it.

And now here I am, a month later, and life is very busy again – filled with studies and prayer and meetings and friends and celebrations and more. All the bits and pieces of ordinary life that God makes so extraordinary. I feel God’s invitation to enjoy it all, the ordinary and the extraordinary, and to continue to live in gratitude and awe as I eagerly anticipate my first profession of vows.

 

 


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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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On Retreat

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We’re making a retreat! For the next month our home away from home will be Sacred Heart Retreat Center in Quezon City. The long retreat is an essential part of our IBVM formation. We make the 30 day Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola once during our novititate and then again several years later before we make our final vows.

What are the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola?
(the following is taken from Ignatian Spirituality – a fantastic online resource!)

“The Spiritual Exercises grew out of Ignatius Loyola’s personal experience as a man seeking to grow in union with God and to discern God’s will. He kept a journal as he gained spiritual insight and deepened his spiritual experience. He added to these notes as he directed other people and discovered what “worked.” Eventually Ignatius gathered these prayers, meditations, reflections, and directions into a carefully designed framework of a retreat, which he called “spiritual exercises.”

Ignatius wrote that the Exercises: “have as their purpose the conquest of self and the regulation of one’s life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any inordinate attachment.” He wanted individuals to undertake these exercises with the assistance of an experienced spiritual director who would help them shape the retreat and understand what they were experiencing. The book of Spiritual Exercises is a handbook to be used by the director, not by the person making the retreat.”

“Ignatius organized the Exercises into four “weeks.” These are not seven-day weeks, but stages on a journey to spiritual freedom and wholehearted commitment to the service of God.

First week. The first week of the Exercises is a time of reflection on our lives in light of God’s boundless love for us. We see that our response to God’s love has been hindered by patterns of sin. We face these sins knowing that God wants to free us of everything that gets in the way of our loving response to him. The first week ends with a meditation on Christ’s call to follow him.

Second week. The meditations and prayers of the second week teach us how to follow Christ as his disciples. We reflect on Scripture passages: Christ’s birth and baptism, his sermon on the mount, his ministry of healing and teaching, his raising Lazarus from the dead. We are brought to decisions to change our lives to do Christ’s work in the world and to love him more intimately.

Third week. We meditate on Christ’s Last Supper, passion, and death. We see his suffering and the gift of the Eucharist as the ultimate expression of God’s love.

Fourth week. We meditate on Jesus’ resurrection and his apparitions to his disciples. We walk with the risen Christ and set out to love and serve him in concrete ways in our lives in the world.”

– See more at: http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-spiritual-exercises/what-are-the-spiritual-exercises#sthash.JrlX61n9.dpuf

Ever since I first heard about the 30 day retreat I have longed to make one. It seems like such an incredible opportunity to spend a month in prayer in such a special and focused way. I feel so grateful to have this experience.
Please pray for us while we are on retreat!
I’ll be back again in May!

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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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On retreat

Villa St. Joseph

Villa St. Joseph

I’m back from a weekend retreat at Villa St. Joseph in Cobourg, ON.

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Hosted by the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada, it was a perfect way to begin the Advent season.  There was time to read, pray, explore the house and grounds (at one time a summer home for the daughter of American President Ulysses S. Grant!), and of course, enjoy delicious meals prepared by their cook. I’ve come back the Abbey feeling refreshed and ready for Advent and the busy month of December.

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