So then I began the application process to become a candidate with the Lorettos and I did all kinds of brave things. For one, I told my parents! And then I told other family and friends and it wasn’t so scary. I told people at work. By and large, the response has been very positive and I have been supported by so many people.
The application process required more paperwork than I had anticipated. Aside from the application form, I had to provide copies of my baptismal and confirmation certificates and university transcripts (I had to search for long forgotten student id numbers!), undergo a medical examination, and write an autobiography. The autobiography was perhaps the most challenging component of the application process. I had never written one before. I didn’t know which elements of my life should be included or how I should write about my spiritual life. In the end, it was a worthwhile experience to struggle through. It provided me with a good opportunity to reflect on the path I have taken through life and how it has prepared me for religious life.
When I received the invitation to join the community, I had a lot of work to do: I had to find a new home for dog (which was a very painful part of preparing to move), try to find a way to continue my job from Toronto or perhaps transfer to a job that was based in Toronto, and vacate my house and rent it out for a period of a year or longer. It took a number of months for it all to come together, and I admit, at times it caused me a lot of anxiety and worry and I wondered whether it was worth it. But, it all did come together, by the grace of God, and here I am.
Although I didn’t feel particularly drawn to marriage and family life, it seemed like the normal thing to do, much better than becoming a nun. Instead of truly discerning religious life, I started to worry about why I didn’t want to be married. “What’s wrong with me?” I would ask myself. “Who cares if I have a longing within me for something “more” that I can’t explain? I should really just focus on more important things like getting married and developing my career.” So for a number of years I did just that. I muddled around, not really sure of what I wanted. I also got very involved in my parish. I found that I felt most alive and happy when I was active in the parish doing things to serve other people. I figured that eventually those feelings would spread to the rest of my life.
For a long time I pushed away the thought of religious life, even though it was always there in the back of my mind. Then in 2012, my parish made a study of the Catholicism DVD series by Fr. Robert Barron and as I watched the different episodes, the ache in my heart grew. I saw how beautiful and diverse the Catholic church is and my longing to be part of it, to be part of something greater than myself, took over. At the end of the series I knew I had to do something about it.
At this point I recognized that I couldn’t figure it out on my own. Left to my own devices, I would freak out or try to avoid discerning again. I knew I needed to seek the advice of a sage. So I went to see the associate pastor of my parish, who is known for being gentle but also very firm when it comes to discerning God’s will. He encouraged me to explore different communities and to listen to what God was telling me in my heart.
I went back to the internet. I didn’t know where else to go.
Again, I researched different communities, mostly Franciscan at first. Eventually, I came upon the website for the Loretto Sisters (also known as the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary) and I really liked what I found. I learned about their foundress Mary Ward, their adoption of Ignatian spirituality (although I wasn’t sure which St. Ignatius this meant – I figured probably Ignatius of Antioch because he’s always mentioned in the Litany of the Saints prayer (nope!)), and the international dimension of the community with their focus on social justice.
I decided to take the plunge and meet with the vocations director (even though I didn’t have a picture to go by this time!). A few months later, I went to visit the community in Toronto. Over the course of two years, I ended up visiting several times, and I noticed that I felt at home with them. I felt like I could be myself with them and that I belonged.
I decided to learn more about St. Ignatius (of Loyola, I found out! – at the time I couldn’t have even told you that he was Spanish) so I read a lot of books about him and his spirituality, and I fell in love. Soul mate alert! I felt like I had found someone who “gets” me. Last summer, I made my first 8-day Ignatian silent retreat in Guelph, and without being too dramatic about it, it changed my life. I experienced a totally new way of prayer – Ignatian contemplation. I met God, came face-to-face with Jesus as I prayed. Whereas before I prayed to a sort of Jesus void – a Jesus who was somehow all around me – I was now praying to a Jesus who was in front of me, or sitting beside me. I could reach out and touch him. It was like nothing I had experienced before.
While I didn’t come to a decision about a religious vocation on the retreat, I knew that I wanted to continue with the Ignatian prayer. I found a Jesuit in Ottawa who was able to lead me through the Spiritual Exercises towards making a decision about religious life. From last October until this past February, I went through the exercises and learned so much about myself – my fears, insecurities, attachments, my hopes and dreams, my deepest desires. And I learned about my relationship with God and experienced the deep love God has for me. When I made the decision for religious life, it was completely liberating. I felt like I was made into a whole person, not someone who feels constantly torn.
But annoyingly, the idea of religious life wouldn’t go away.
Eventually I got a bit fed up and went online and did some research about nuns. Mostly I looked at pictures of vocation directors. When I found one who looked happy and friendly and safe, I contacted her. But I was terrified. I remember thinking to myself What have I done? Eventually, I mustered up enough courage to meet with her and, in time, other members of the community. To my amazement, I really liked them. They seemed so normal.
However, any time they broached the idea of further discernment, I froze. I wasn’t convinced that God had called me. I was waiting for some kind of neon sign from heaven that would tell me what to do.
Surely, God couldn’t be calling me to religious life. God doesn’t call the wimpy! He doesn’t call people who are too scared to tell their family that they sometimes go to Mass on a weekday for fear of seeming too religious. He calls the bold and the mighty. I was anything but. I was full of questions and fear, and totally confused.