Looking back

As I look back through photos from the past few years, I am reminded of the incredible experiences I’ve had since joining the IBVM. I find it hard to believe all that has happened, and, oh, the places I have been. I am in awe of it all and filled with gratitude.

Arriving at Loretto Abbey in September 2014. I was struck by how beautiful it is.

Received as a candidate with the IBVM.

Helping Marren to dress for a Canadian winter. 

Our evening tea time at the Abbey.

My first visit to New York City and the United Nations – March 2015.

Halloween at the Abbey – October 2015.


Received as a novice – December 2015. 

Memories of the Philippines and Vietnam – 2016. First year/canonical year of novitiate.

My second visit to New York City and a chance to intern at the IBVM UN NGO – April to July 2017.

Discernment retreat for profession of first vows. Pondering the future – August 2017. 

This prayer of Thomas Merton has accompanied me for much of my adult life and it has been in my heart many times over the past three years:

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
– Thomas Merton

It still rings true to me now, even with my first profession just a few weeks away. There is always an element of risk in life; we cannot ever be completely certain of where we are going or what will happen. Certainly over the past three years much has happened that I could not predict, and I suspect the future will be the same. I have come to see that religious life, despite sounding quite tame and restrictive, is anything but. There is a lot that is unknown and much joy that comes in the discovery.

Breaking free from obligation


Sometimes prayer feels easy and natural and I can’t wait to have some quiet time to spend with God. Other days it feels like a chore and I have to battle with myself to slow down and do it, all the while fighting off distracting thoughts and the desire to be doing something else. These days, particularly, as I am wrapped up in the “ending of my normal life” (which sounds rather melodramatic but is true) I find it hard to pay attention.

Elsewhere on this blog, I have talked about the Examen, a daily prayer recommended by St. Ignatius and a key tool for discernment. What I haven’t really mentioned is my own struggle to pray the Examen regularly, and frankly, to sometimes even be interested in praying it. It’s not completely about a lack of discipline on my part because I do pray the Liturgy of the Hours every day without fail, so I think the problem is more about motivation.

I find that the traditional formula for the prayer doesn’t quite do it for me right now, or rather, that it is too big and too broad for me. I get lost in it. These are the steps to the Examen, as directed by St. Ignatius:

  • The first Point is to give thanks to God our Lord for the benefits received.
  • The second, to ask grace to know our sins and cast them out.
  • The third, to ask account of our soul from the hour that we rose up to the present Examen, hour by hour, or period by period: and first as to thoughts, and then as to words, and then as to acts.
  • The fourth, to ask pardon of God our Lord for the faults.
  • The fifth, to purpose amendment with His grace.

Although the prayer is supposed to last only about 10 or 15 minutes maximum, I often become fixated on a specific point in my day or on my sins and the 15 minutes stretches into 20 minutes or longer. 20+ minutes of intense self-criticism – not at all the purpose of the Examen. I tend to put the emphasis on reliving the various events of my day rather than on seeing them in relation to God’s working in me. As a result, I often pray the Examen without a lot of enthusiasm, mostly out of a sense of obligation, and rarely feel enriched by it.

However, all of that is changing thanks to Reimagining the Examen by Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ.

I noticed this book on the bookstore shelf and flipped through it, after having seen it advertised online. I skimmed the introduction and thought I would give it a try. The author offers 34 varieties of the daily Examen, including the traditional version. Each follows a particular theme from Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, such as:

  • Spiritual freedom
  • A particular relationship
  • Habits
  • Gratitude
  • Repulsions, inspirations, desires

I’m about halfway through the book and already my practice of the Examen has changed quite significantly. I’m sticking to the 10-15 minutes daily quota but the 15 minutes is a richly focused reflection and dialogue with God (a crucial element that was not so robust in my previous practice). I enjoy the guided instructions – they help me to keep on track and keep to 15 minutes with minimum distraction or my mind wandering off.

The fact that each day is different and, at this point, since I am still making my way through the book, new, I find that I am actually excited to pray and I anticipate it during the day. I am also finding that keeping a journal of my Examen prayer is a very helpful way to see how God is present in my life. It’s only one sentence but it summarizes that day’s experience and it helps me to keep fresh in my mind how God has been active in my life that day.

So for anyone who may want to start the practice of the Examen or for those who may currently find it a challenge, I recommend that you READ THIS BOOK.

Halloween revelry


Halloween at the Abbey is not a quiet affair. When I moved in last year I was initially worried that I had experienced my last fun Halloween. I love getting dressed up, attending Halloween parties, and giving out candy to trick-or-treaters. I thought maybe the sisters didn’t do such things and that I wouldn’t get to enjoy Halloween anymore.


Happily, nothing could be further from the truth. Halloween is great fun here. The infirmary has a party every year (I haven’t attended but I have reaped the rewards of their leftover treats!), and we get nearly a hundred trick-or-treaters stopping by for candy, some of them Abbey students hoping for a glimpse of the sisters. I’ve continued the tradition of dressing up as well.  This year I dressed as Cleopatra although many of the sisters thought I was the Queen of Sheba! The costumes the kids arrived in were fantastic too – we had zombies, skeletons, a zebra, the 11th Doctor from Doctor Who x 2, fairies, a firefighter, dinosaurs, hockey players, baseball players, princesses, and even a dog dressed as a pumpkin. All in all, a terrific Halloween.

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Heading into the homestretch


I received my official acceptance letter to the IBVM novitiate a few weeks ago. It was exciting to hold in my hand the proof of my acceptance and to know that I will be entering into the next stage of formation with the community.

I’m sure a lot of people think that religious communities these days are pretty desperate to have new members so basically anyone who walks through the door is guaranteed a spot. Not so. There was a lot of work involved in that acceptance: interviews, discussions, paperwork (you’d be surprised to find out that religious institutes like paperwork as much as the government does!), not to mention my intensive psychological assessment at Southdown in the spring. Needless to say, I am very happy to be accepted and I am looking forward to becoming a novice…and going to the Philippines!

But before I write about that upcoming adventure, I want to talk about the here and now. I’m entering into the homestretch of my time as a candidate. I’m starting to wrap things up at work (only a month left!), I’ve been trying to squeeze in as much time with family and friends as possible (I’ve been to Ottawa twice this month to see friends and to spend time in the office, and I’ve been to Calgary to see family), and I’ve been studying like mad to retest my French levels for my job.

SLE meme

I’ve also been trying to get my financial life in order – my house and old life that’s tucked away in a storage unit in Ottawa – so that it takes care of itself while I’m a novice. In a sense, I am starting to distance myself from my current-soon-to-be-former life. At times, it has felt overwhelming. I’ve cried quite a few times, mostly in the chapel during prayer. The closer I approach the novitiate, the more excited I become, but also the more scared I feel. What am I doing? Is this really the right thing to do? What if it all goes horribly wrong and I’m far away from home? What if I suck at being a novice? And really, what exactly will I be doing for a full year in a tropical country – how much praying can I possibly do?

Thankfully, I have had a lot of support from family, friends, and the community so I haven’t gone totally berserk yet. And most importantly, each day I give God my fears, my hopes, my worries, and my busyness and ask him to see me through it all. Day by day and checklist by checklist. Because in the end, all of this work, all of this preparation, and all of my life, is for him.


Giving thanks

I was in Calgary last weekend to celebrate Thanksgiving with family. It was a perfect visit. Lots of family time, lovely weather to enjoy being outdoors, and a delicious meal to cap it all off!

I love Alberta in the fall – sunny days and gorgeous gold and orange foliage – fiery bright. Sadly, I was there a bit too late to see the leaves, but if you closely at the pictures, you can see a bit of colour here and there!


Bearing Fruit


I would like to follow up on a post I wrote earlier this year about being a child of an alcoholic. I wrote then about seeking transformation – shining a light on old wounds and allowing them to be healed. I am happy to report that I am making progress. It’s not quite the instant transformation I was hoping for, but a slow and intentional one.

I began meeting with a counselor in the summer. At first it was really awkward and difficult. Who wants to dredge stuff up again with a stranger? And I also worried that I was being self-indulgent. Things weren’t that bad. I can handle it on my own. It’s self-centred to be so focused on myself and my struggles.

But the more I think about it, and the more I see the counselor, the more I recognize how necessary it is. It’s necessary for my discernment, and frankly, necessary to live happily and healthily. I find it hard to put into words eloquently (I’m reduced to a cavewoman-like “Be me better: love more.”). Luckily, Anthony De Mello, SJ says it for me (again, taken from Seek God Everywhere):

…the child needs to receive love. That is what is happening to us, since so many of us are still children. We need to look after the child in us; we need to give ourselves the love we have been deprived of for so many years. Unless we realize that, we will jump into love with others in a forced and strained way. If I sacrifice myself for others, that is the most pernicious thing I can do because there is a subtle pride in that; there is a kind of resentment. I am not a cheerful giver. I am tinged with guilt, with an ideal. In reality, I do not love you, I love the ideal. When our needs are met and we have grown, the tree bears fruit. Love comes spontaneously, we do not produce it. George Soares said to us once: “The New Testament is against good works. Christ did not say, ‘I am sending you out to do good works,’ but said, ‘I am sending you out to bear fruit.’”

I am beginning to bear fruit – at this point I feel like a small wizened Rudolph crabapple, but in time I will be majestic.


Also, I’m learning that it’s important to balance the serious with the light so here’s a video of Stephen Colbert living out my dream! Doing the whistle solo on Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard!!!

The View from the Box


I’ve completed three shifts at the UN GIFT box so far over the course of the Pan Am Games with two shifts to go during the Parapan Am Games. There have been many volunteers on hand to greet people, share information about human trafficking, and encourage people to sign our petition asking the Ontario provincial government to develop an action plan to address human trafficking.

This experience has been my first as a sort of streetside evangelist. It offered me a lot of food for thought as I had plenty of time to observe the people passing by on the sidewalk.

The first thing I noticed was how individual focused our society has become. This was not a total revelation, of course, because our society has been heading this way for a long time, but this was my first experience observing it in action for a prolonged period. Just standing on the lawn of St. James Cathedral, I got a real eyeful of the kind of society we have become.

People of all generations strode past me purposefully, avoiding any kind of eye contact, ignoring my friendly “Good morning!” and “Hello!” and completely focused on getting to their destination. Some wore headphones and sunglasses to block out the noise and the sights around them, some were busy talking on their phones, and some just didn’t want to engage.

A lot of the time I felt invisible.

(Though one instance made me laugh out loud: some guy burst out, “I have a girlfriend!” when he walked past me a second time and I said hello to him again.)

And to be honest, it didn’t bother me a whole lot. Mostly because I saw myself when I looked at these people. I am guilty of being self-absorbed a lot of the time. On my way around the city, I have dodged the energetic Plan Canada and Medicins Sans Frontiers volunteers many times. I walk quickly and purposefully, sometimes looking at my phone, not really noticing the people around me.

Standing there, as Sarah-the-streetside-human trafficking-evangelist, I realized that that is NOT the kind of person I want to be. I don’t want to rush through life ignoring other people. I don’t want to make other people feel invisible or ignored. Instead, I will try to walk more slowly (although it’s very hard) and force myself to stop and spend a few minutes chatting with the people who are trying to get my attention and see where the Holy Spirit leads.

The second thing I noticed was how open and friendly many of the homeless people in this city are. They have a voice that they want to share and it is beautiful, though usually heart-breaking. More often than not, the men and women who were living on the streets were more ready and interested to engage with me and talk than the more affluent-seeming people walking down the street. And quite often they would share their stories with me. I was moved by their openness and I sensed that they don’t really have the opportunity to talk to people who will just listen to them. No one asked me for money, they just wanted to talk. They signed the petition. They wished me good luck and then kept on with their day.

The view from the box revealed God at work in the most unexpected ways.

GIFT Box @ Toronto Pan Am Games


London 2012 GIFT box

The Pan Am and Parapan Am Games are taking place in Toronto this summer (10-26 July and 7-15 August, respectively)! 250,000 visitors are expected to descend upon the city for the Games (some of them are already here – I’ve met them on the subway). With a crowd that size, this is a great opportunity to spread the word about human trafficking in Canada and around the world.

Over the next two months I will be volunteering at the UN.GIFT (United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking) box located at St. James Cathedral at 65 Church St. (King/Church) in downtown Toronto. Created by STOP THE TRAFFIK and UN.GIFT, the Faith Alliance to End Human Trafficking here in Toronto is the driving force bringing the GIFT box to Canada. Versions of the GIFT box have been featured at other international sporting events like the London 2012 Olympics and the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. GIFT boxes have also appeared in Brazil, Slovakia, and the U.S.

What do you know about human trafficking?

  • Human trafficking is the recruitment of movement of a person, by deception or coercion, for the purpose of exploitation.
  • People who are trafficked are often bought or sold for forced labour, sexual exploitation, forced street crime, domestic servitude or even the sale of organs and human sacrifice.

Did you know that Ontario has the highest level of human trafficking in Canada? 511 people reported to have experienced human trafficking in only three years. Human trafficking is an underreported activity so this number is expected to be much higher.

If you want to combat human trafficking in Canada and raise awareness of this issue, go the Faith Alliance website or look for a local organization fighting human trafficking in your city.

Malcolm Guite

Blog for poet and singer-songwriter Malcolm Guite

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