In September of 2014, I saw the Mercedarian Sisters again. I was invited to their retreat house in Baton Rogue Louisiana. Originally I could not attend this retreat because of my job. One night I prayed “Lord if you want me to go on this retreat, you have to intervene.” Two weeks later, my job let me go and it was just in time to let Sister J. know I’d be able to go!
The theme of the retreat was discernment so I heard many talks about how to tell God’s will and about becoming a sister. As is common, Jesus got to me using a priest. The recently-ordained priest spoke about loving through disillusionment and offering up your brokenness to Jesus. With tears in my eyes, I looked away from him because Jesus looked right at me through him. During the Divine Office, I felt such peace- and a little giddy too because I seldom get to pray with a group of strong Catholic women! One of the older sisters, Sister Dulce, sweet like her namesake, spoke to us. Her speech about giving everything to God was so inspiring. The Blessed Sacrament was taken from the tabernacle and then we processed to the main retreat house. The Mother Superior held the ciborium in veiled hands, marching in the forefront. As I sang along a song I barely knew, soft candles glittered besides me. It was both haunting and beautiful.
Lo and behold, next evening was Sr. Dulce’s birthday! We sang a song, ate cake and then she was presented with a large doll of Our Lady of Ransom. I didn’t get to see it up close so after the festivity died down and people departed for bed, I snuck into the living room and knelt before it. Our Lady, clad in white folds, a fierce yet gentle look on her face, glanced down at two men on their knees. Her hands delicately brushed the chains on their wrists as though love itself would break them free. I stared for a long time, thinking of all the priests held captive by sins, temptation, persecution and worries. I thought of my friends and family and lastly, my former self, trapped in anger.
Although the retreat went well, on the plane ride home, my head swam with doubts and fear. I remembered how beautiful, strong and holy the other girls seemed then looked at myself, awkward, weak and wavering. I knew immediately that I wasn’t nun-material. Trusting in God proved itself to be an uphill battle. Every time I visited him in the tabernacle and said “I’m not worthy of this,” his only answer was: “trust me.” Many times, I didn’t want to contact Sister J. yet I kept in touch, convinced God didn’t lead me through all this just so I could run away with my tail between my legs (which is my normal response to just about everything!).
While praying, it occurred to me that I should visit the Mercedarian Sisters again. I needed to see them in daily life and get a feel for their liturgy. Liturgy is a huge deal for me and nothing makes me run for the hills more than guitars and clapping! In our emails, Sister J. suggested I visit, even before I mentioned it! We decided April would be a good time. I excitedly made plans to visit their main convent in Cleveland, where they ran a Catholic School. Doubt and fear tried to eat at me on the flight there but I dismissed them. As soon as I arrived, great peace came over me. The first thing we did was adoration with the school children. The children hadn’t arrived yet so the postulant I’d met on the earlier retreat walked me to the church. Stepping inside, I inhaled the smoky scent of candlewax. Easter lilies clothed the transept. Pine branches reached to the ceiling. Atop the dim steps, a stone altar greeted me, a golden tabernacle gleaming behind it. My breath left me and I stood there gaping. I hadn’t seen such beauty in years!
We took our seats and Sister J. led the squirmy, bouncy children in. They reminded me of youth group. I hesitated to sing the childish songs, looking awkward and silly- but the kids didn’t judge. I knew this time was important for them. It delighted me seeing them praise Jesus. As for the liturgy, it was solid. The celebrant was a Mercedarian brother and he had me the moment he pulled out Greek during his homily. As I walked up to receive communion, the altar boy held out a gold plate. A sight for sore eyes!
After a long period of dryness, the consolations overflowed. God stayed close the whole time. Instead of going into the schedule or “horarium”, which includes daily adoration, I will remark on the peace I felt. A stillness and serenity that I have rarely if ever, known in my life. It was as if nothing could trouble me. Every fear or irritation got quickly cast aside. I didn’t let my thoughts brew as they were accustomed to do. I found along with the peace, happiness. Jesus and I “talked” about many things but I don’t remember them. Our conversation was more like thoughts fluttering to and fro without a sound yet with understanding.
The time went quickly and I didn’t want to leave. At last Sister J. sat down with me and simply asked me to wait four weeks then decide if I was serious about entering their community. A little of that peace followed me home. I took it while it lasted, praising Jesus and sorting out my thoughts. As usual, I didn’t want to act. My confidence was so low. Even if I wanted to enter, with my poor life experiences and enormous debts, what chance did I really have?
Our Lady of Ransom, pray for us.