Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.”
Mother Angelica’s Shrine
Mother Angelica was a cloistered Poor Clare of Perpetual Adoration nun who set the world on fire with the Catholic faith through her spunky personality on her live talk shows. She founded a monastery in Alabama and from it started the Catholic TV station EWTN that would become a global phenomenon. She then went on to build a beautiful shrine that would attract many pilgrims.
I had the honor of taking a pilgrimage to see these places. The 24-carat gold shrine is fit for a king (as it literally is—Christ the King). Mother wanted nothing less than what her Spouse, the King of Kings, deserved. Along the front wall, the breathtaking Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament is gold from wall to wall. The beautiful masterpiece can only but point to the divine—to the Creator himself. The Divine artisan, engineer, and architect is Beauty itself. The shrine has an eight-foot-tall monstrance, perpetual adoration, and you can go and hear (but not see) the cloistered nuns in their natural habitat singing the Divine Office of the church throughout the day. It sounds like angels singing behind the walls and echoing throughout—no wonder the name of the monastery is Our Lady of Angels! (Side note: you should add the shrine to your Catholic bucket list!)
Advice from a Cloistered Poor Clare Nun
My dad and I had the honor of receiving a parlor visit with one of the cloistered nuns, the vocation director, Sr. Jacinta Mary of Our Lady of Fatima. What a beautiful name and in the centennial year of Mary’s apparitions! Amidst finding out about her family (her twin sister is also a sister!), swapping prayer intentions, and seeing how small of a world it is within our Catholic connections, my dad asked what advice she had for me as I approach my entrance into the cloister. She closed her eyes for about 10 or 15 seconds and went into prayer, discerning and probably asking the Holy Spirit to guide her words to what the Lord needed for me to hear.
I thought it would be helpful to share her advice for others who are discerning religious life, whether active or contemplative, especially upon their entrance. I like lists so I have numbered her advice below and I have included how the advice can apply for anyone, not just those who are discerning.
1. Ask Big
She told me “God rewards your generosity.” Not that we require a reward, but when we say yes to follow him without reserve, God takes that and shows his love in return. He will pour his graces upon you through the Blessed Mother without reserve because of His love for you, his future Bride, and your yes. That being said, no thing is too small to ask, especially at the beginning time of your entrance. Ask for major graces—large ones because God is generous to you for the generosity you have shown in your “Yes” or “Fiat” like His mother said. After entering, call upon the grand graces of that first year. He has much to give you because of his abundant generosity.
For those not discerning: Ask big. The same applies for you. Call upon those graces of your vocation and your Baptism or the times when you received abundant graces. The Lord provides greatly to those who trust Him, seek after His will for their lives, and continue to say, “Let it be done according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
2. You Never Know Others’ Stories
The sisters you will live with will think and act differently than you because they come from diverse cultures, upbringings, and challenges. Every sister has her own story. Don’t judge her when she thinks differently from you.
For those not discerning: Don’t judge. Every person you encounter fights their own battle. The battle is already won. Look to the Cross to see.
3. Be Able to Laugh at Yourself
Have a sense of humor. Specifically, be able to laugh at your own insecurities. Lighten up. It’s not the end of the world. Humble yourself. God made you for a reason. Don’t be too hard on yourself especially when you enter. Laugh it off. Laughter is sometimes the best medicine.
For those not discerning: Smile. Enjoy life. Try not to be too self conscious. Embrace yourself flaws and all.
4. Be Small
Her closing advice reminds me of St. Therese, the little flower, my patron saint. Do all things little. Be humble. Get rid of pride. Especially in religious life, there will be an intense purification. Be in the moment. Do the small things well. Wherever you are called right now, do those things well. Be the least important, not the most popular. Clean the chapel with love. Do the dishes with a sacrificial heart. Each tiny, minuscule thing is a little way to love your Beloved more. Make it a way of life. Once you embrace your littleness, you won’t even realize it, but God will use you for big things. Don’t let the fame go to your head if He calls you to big things or to do more. Always embrace the little. When you have grandiose plans of how you will bring big things to the world, maybe it’s not your call or not your time just yet. Embrace the little everyday “yeses” to God’s will instead of your own will. Abandon yourself to Divine Providence. Take every moment to love Christ in the person in front of you, as Mother Teresa lives.
For others not discerning: Embrace the day. The hour. The minute. The second. Whatever you’re supposed to be doing right now. Do all things with LOVE. That’s all that matters. Tomorrow will take care of itself. Yesterday is in the past. “Go home and love your family,” as Mother Teresa says. It starts in the home, sometimes where it is the hardest to love people but makes the biggest lasting impact.
I asked another sister, Sr. Solanus, for advice before entering religious life and here’s what she said. (Sister is an active SOLT sister—Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity.)
5. God is working, even when it doesn’t seem like it
Be patient. Trust Him. Trust that He is always working, even when it seems like He is silent or distant. Life is not always the mountaintop experiences or flashing neon signs. Sometimes you will be in the valleys or the normal day-to-day life, like the everyday life of marriage. Your life is a heavenly marriage.
For those not discerning: Stay faithful to where He has called you to be. Don’t make some spur of the moment change when it seems God is not working in your life. Trust the process. Trust Him. Life involves the day-to-day interactions—the joys and trials. Even when you can’t hear or see Him moving in your life, He is working. Be grateful for the hills and valleys, peaks and caverns, windy roads, and rocks that sometimes get in the way. As the saying goes: “He writes straight with crooked lines.”
Life is a Gift
I am no professional at living these tips. That’s the beauty of entering the cloister. I have my whole life to work toward perfection. To try to be little in every way. To not judge. To be patient in the valleys of life. To laugh at my insecurities. To ask God for big things and praise Him in His generosity. To accept whatever He gives big or small because I do not deserve that which He gives me. Everything is gift and “everything is grace,” as St. Therese says.
I pray these tips may be helpful to you in your everyday life and please pray for me that I may take these to heart throughout my discernment and formation process. God bless you all, my readers. Deo gratius!
© Jamie Leatherby 2017
Photo Credit: Stock Snap