As you may have read in my previous post, I spent six weeks ministering at an early childcare center and elementary school in Milwaukee, WI. I had many wonderful experiences there -- which is no surprise when God is in charge! -- and found that these experiences extended into my daily routine as well.
Very close to our convent were three healthcare facilities: a hospital, a rehabilitation center and an assisted living home. Several of our Sisters minister in each of these capacities, so I had the opportunity to visit a couple of them. I went to evening Mass regularly at Villa St. Francis, which is the assisted living home. Sometimes I was able to stay afterward and talk with a few of the residents and once in a while I helped them to their places at table for dinner afterward. I eventually began helping at Mass as a Eucharistic Minister as well. On one such occassion I made my way with Communion through the rows and came up to one small lady in the back. I held up the Host and said, "The Body of Christ." To my surprise and delight she responded, "And you are His forever." It is a rare occasion in which someone will respond with something other than "Amen", since that is the practice, but never have I been greeted with a response so unexpected and loving as this one. When I went home that evening, I continued to reflect on her words, and I still do, as they speak of the commitment into which I am entering as I prepare for my first profession of vows.
The vows, as you may or may not know, are basically three promises we make to God in order to deepen our relationship with Him, ourselves and others. The vows we take (which are the vows most religious communities take) are poverty, chastity and obedience. In promising to live a life of poverty, I will promise to God to live a life of simplicity so that I can fill my life with His presence. It does not mean that I must live with nothing, but it does mean that I should not be concerned with obtaining more than I need and that I should be willing to share what I do have. In vowing chastity, I am entering into a spousal relationship with God alone. My family will be the family He chooses for me, the people with whom and to whom I minister in my daily life. The vow of obedience asks me to listen to the teachings of the Catholic Church. If there are teachings that I do not understand, or even teachings that I do not agree with, it is my responsibility to learn more about the root of those teachings so that I may live with them in patience. In terms of community life, the vow of obedience invites us to listen to one another and consider prayerfully what the Lord might be asking of us as individuals and as a community.
You see, then, why this woman's words had such an impact. Basically she was saying to me, "You
are committed to the Body of Christ forever." What a commitment! This means I am to serve my brothers and sisters -- that means all of you! -- in simplicity (poverty), charity (chastity) and humility (obedience). The words themselves do not sound daunting until I really think of what that means. It means that I must be willing to give my whole life, my very self, in the same way that Jesus did. There is a reason He asks, "Can you drink the cup that I ... drink?" (Mt. 20:22). He knows what courage and fidelity this requires! If I belong to His body, then this is what I am called to do for the rest of my life as a way of life. There are two things that give me hope 1) the Resurrection and 2) the fact that "for human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible" (Mt. 19:26).
Although this first profession of vows is not quite permanent, since they only last for one year until I renew them again, I know I need to be prepared to live these vows fully for the year that I do profess them. They will add a new dimension to my life in community and to the discernment process as I attempt to deepen the relationships I have been working on interiorly throughout these past two years in the novitiate. I trust all of you will continue to pray for me as I do for you!