Sunday, July 21, 2013

Pearls of wisdom

Working on a few longer posts, but here are a couple tidbits from the last few days:

* Yesterday was my last event as the official photographer for the Redemptorists. It was the annual Mass to celebrate all the priests and brothers who are marking significant anniversaries of religious profession or ordination to the priesthood. At the end of Mass, the provincial mentioned to the entire chapel that I was leaving soon to enter the convent. There was an audible gasp from the half of the small chapel that didn't know that already (the other half being Redemptorists). Applause ensued and it was over all a very nice moment. In thinking about it later, I was struck by that gasp from the congregation. When you're the one in the middle of preparations to enter the convent, you have days when all you can see is the trees (or the boxes at the moment). At least I have those days. It's easy in the middle of all the details to forget the breathtaking part of all this. I hope and pray that I don't forget that gasp. Because it's what produced that gasp that's important -- the witness.

* A wise Redemptorist friend told me something yesterday that I found very hopeful. He's close to 80 years old and has probably spent close to 60 of those years as a religious. He thinks the world will eventually come to the realization that secularism has left a gaping hole in the very heart of society. When that happens, he said the church, and God, will be there to help heal that hole. This friend of mine said the religious life, and commitment to belief, isn't very popular now, but those who persevere in it now, who make that countercultural choice today, will be the ones who end up as the leaders when the church will really need leaders. I found that to be a very hopeful, and exciting, statement. I hope and pray that he's right.

* Packing has begun in earnest around here. Have I mentioned the boxes yet? The years immediately following my graduation from college saw me move four times in three years thanks to grad school and my first few jobs. Even though I haven't moved in seven years, I'm finding that I still don't like the process much. In the past, I remember thinking at some point along the way, that a vow of poverty really looked good in the face of all that work. Well, I found myself thinking that today, and chuckled because I've finally gotten my wish :)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sisterhood 101: Can I call/write/Facebook/email? Can you do the same?

This is the first in a series of posts you’ll see on some of the more practical matters. Several family and friends have asked how we can communicate after I enter.

First off, I will NOT have a cell phone. Period. The first three years of formation are an intense time of spiritual, human, and intellectual growth. It works better when there aren’t a lot of distractions. So, no, you can’t call me directly.

But letters are more than welcome! You remember those things, right? The paper folded up and sealed in an envelope that you have to close by licking that nasty adhesive, and then you write on the front of the envelope and stick a stamp on it and drop it in the mailbox?

Email is also acceptable. But, as I said, I won’t have a cell phone. Which means neither will I have a smartphone. Which means I actually have to sit down at a computer to check my email. So in those scattered moments when I do have time to check my email, I would be more than happy to find some personal notes in among the spam!

Facebook is also an option, though, see the previous paragraph about the lack of a smartphone and scattered moments to check in.

(And, sorry, but this blog will probably go on hiatus again, too.)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Why the religious life?

Some may wonder, “Why religious life? Can’t you do in the course of your current daily life what you’ll be doing with the sisters?”

It’s a good question, and one that’s worth answering, especially in a world that places a lot of emphasis on what a person does, that values people based on their ability to contribute to society.

The short answer is I chose the religious life because it was the answer to the restlessness, and no, some sort of volunteerism or social activism added with a regular personal prayer life all maintained in the course of my existing life wouldn’t have equaled an answer to the restlessness.

But, of course, there’s more to it.

I’m choosing the religious life because part of answering the restlessness was making a commitment. A life commitment. Sure, I could do that by getting married and taking seriously the vow to love and cherish my spouse till death do us part. But for me, the idea of marriage and a family was a restricting one.

I have been blessed to have beautiful and real examples of what makes a good and lasting marriage – in my parents and in many friends I’ve watched build their families over the last decade. Those couples and their families inspire me. The way they support each other, the way they’re raising their children, the way they witness to and live out their beliefs. I am in awe of them.

But every time I sit in a room full of young families and watch them in action and listen to their stories, I’m haunted by the thought, “But I want more.” A family of my own just isn’t enough for me! I know individual families that have done incredible things, and made huge impacts in the lives of those around them. But in my heart I knew I’d never be satisfied with that narrow sphere of influence.

I’ve spent the last four years working for a religious order, and have seen up-close the impact these men have in the lives of those they serve. Many of them have connections with people that go back 40 years. They are members of dozens of families, and they’ve impacted thousands of lives. Those in religious life will likely never know the extent of the impact they have until we all, God-willing, get to heaven. But that’s one of the things that attracted me to this life – the ability to impact the world, albeit in a quiet way. The ability to touch the world and leave behind an eternal fingerprint.

In a world with so much noise and opinions and information overload, I’m choosing religious life because I happen to believe strongly in something Pope Paul VI said in 1975. Addressing members of the Vatican’s Council for Laity, he said, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” Yes, it’s totally possible to be a witness as a lay person. But as a member of a religious community, especially one that wears distinctive clothing, I hope to be one of those witnesses the pope talked about. In a world where images are so powerful (have you noticed the amount of photos in your Facebook feed lately?), the sight of a woman in a habit, standing out in a crowd, speaks louder than anything that might come out of her mouth.

Those are only two of the underlying reasons for this choice, for my saying “yes” to this invitation. And that’s really what it is in the end. This isn’t about a career move. I’m not entering the convent because I got tired of my job or my line of work or because I was lonely because I wasn’t married or because I was somehow tired of my life.

No. This is an invitation to a radically different life, and it’s not for everyone. But it’s a life that spoke to my heart at its deepest level. That small whisper that said, “come and see.” A vocation isn’t something you decide you’re going to have and then make it happen. It’s a gift. And, like any gift, you’re free to accept it or not. But there’s no re-gifting allowed here. So this gift is really special, in fact it’s tailor-made for those to whom it’s presented. There’s zero chance that you’re NOT going to like it, a lot. And there’s also no way that you won’t ultimately find your deepest happiness in accepting it.

I’m still at the beginning of this journey, but I can already attest to the truth of that last line.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The restlessness story part 2

The restless feeling I was coping with wasn’t new. It had cropped up periodically throughout my life. Most of the time, I’d find some way to satisfy it and it would disappear. But not this time. Nope. It was time to deal with it once and for all.

The question was one that had haunted me since I was very young – do I have a vocation to the religious life? Dozens of different people had asked me a million times over the years whether I’d ever considered it. And the truth was that I had, but I had also always found a reason why I didn’t – or rather couldn’t – feel called to that life. I’d also never felt strongly attracted to a particular community or ministry.

Until one day about three years ago. One of the priests for whom I worked pulled me aside and said he had a personal question to ask me. He’d been watching me work that day – taking photos at the diaconate ordination of one of the members of the order – and a question struck him. He asked me whether I’d ever considered a religious vocation. He continued by naming two communities in which he thought I might fit well.

For those few moments, time stood still. I knew this was more than just a casual question because there was no way this priest could have known about my wrestling match with that question.

Later that week, I received a brochure in the mail about the IHMs; the sender was an IHM who was friends with this priest. He had asked her to send me some information.

The rest, as they say, is history. I looked up the IHMs online and perused their website. I liked the fact that much of their spirituality is rooted in the example of St. Alphonsus Liguori, who founded the Redemptorist order in 1732. Having worked for that order for the last four years, I’d come to know a lot about St. Alphonsus.

I visited the sisters for the first time for a discernment retreat at their motherhouse in March 2011. I was immediately struck by their hospitality, but most of all by their joy and their “realness.” These were real people who were dedicating their lives to proclaiming the Gospel, and not just to those they served but to each other. There was a tremendous respect for each and every person as an individual, and for the gifts and talents they brought with them to the community. They laughed and joked around. They prayed and ate together as a community. And they genuinely enjoyed the time spent together.

I visited on and off for much of the next year, and finally in April 2012, asked if I could apply to join. I had wrestled with that decision for months, but finally, and very simply, came to the conclusion that I had found the answer to the restlessness.

Applying is a long process that involves a lot of paperwork and evaluation on several levels. In addition to getting checked out by all your doctors, you need an autobiographical statement, school transcripts going back to high school, background checks, more than half a dozen character references, a financial statement, and intensive clinical psychological evaluation.

I began the application process on September 15, 2012, and was accepted into postulancy on April 18, 2013. And I’m happy to report that the restlessness is still gone….

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Wrestling with "the why" vocation story, part 1

So, as promised, here’s my story in a nutshell.

I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life as a journalist and communications professional. I spent about five years as a reporter and editor for daily and weekly publications in South Carolina, Maryland and Virginia. I was living the life I’d dreamed of growing up, but discovered much to my dismay that the industry I had so admired was no longer. Budget cuts, smaller staff, and increasing pressure to break even led me to the painful conclusion that it was time to move on.

Sometimes the best things in life come to us when we’re not even looking. That’s what happened when my current job literally fell into my lap. I applied, thinking I had nothing to lose, and next thing I knew I was beginning a new phase of my career as communications manager for an order of Catholic priests, the Redemptorists.

I was nervous and excited all at once. I’d never held a job outside of a newsroom in my life. But from Day One I know that I’d made the right choice. And, to my surprise, I realized I didn’t miss the newsroom half as much as I thought I would. Life was going swimmingly until about a year later.

I still loved my job, loved my apartment, loved being close to family and friends, loved my church and other activities. But something was missing. I was restless and didn’t know why. Well, I knew why. The question was whether I was willing to finally wrestle with that “why.”

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Watcher of the morn…sentinels waiting for dawn

Well, after a four-year hiatus, welcome back!

Returning readers who remember the beginnings of this blog will recall that it started as an outlet for me to share the adventures and musings created by my three-hour-round-trip commute. When the commute ended, the blog went on hiatus because a) a 40-minute (now an 8-minute) commute in the car just doesn’t generate the same volume of material as a 90-minute one-way via car, subway, and shuttle van, and b) the new job was a lot more demanding in the writing department.

But, I’m happy to say that the blog is back, at least for the time being, with a new purpose! Since the last time I maintained this blog, I have had four wonderful years at the aforementioned new job, and in the process have fallen in love with the love of my life! In the coming days and weeks, I’ll share the story and get into some of the details. But for now, what you’ll find in these pages is the story of my journey from my life as I know it to entering the doors of a convent as a postulant with the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Immaculata, PA. (From here on out, we’ll call them the “IHMs” since that’s their familiar nickname…and it’s less to type!)

The title of my blog “Watcher of the Morn,” came directly from the lyrics of the theme song for the 2002 World Youth Day in Toronto, which in turn took its inspiration from Scripture. I’ve always loved the idea of watching for the dawn, and the hope that it implies. When I really discovered Psalm 130, I was enamored by the fact that it, too, talks of waiting for the dawn – “My soul waits for the Lord more than sentinels wait for the dawn/More than sentinels wait for the dawn, let Israel wait for the Lord,” and it continues “for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.”

Hopeful words, no?

PS -- The posts here will be a mix of the philosophical and the practical. And the aim is to help friends and family navigate through this strange new world of "a family member/friend is entering the convent! Ahhhh! What do I do now?" So, if there's a burning question you want to ask, feel free to do so in the comments or via other means, and I'll see about answering it!