Newly minted novice

Last Thursday, December 10, 2015, the feast day of Our Lady of Loreto, I was received as a novice to the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loretto Sisters) here in Toronto.

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As the day approached, I felt a mixture of joy and fear. Joy for this next step in my discernment and formation with the Institute, but also fear of the unknown and all of the newness that lies ahead when I go to the Philippines.

To prepare myself to be received, I spent time in prayer and reflection, using a booklet on consecrated life as my guide. I really only used the first couple of chapters of the guide, focused on the heart and mind of the consecrated person (identifying the call to religious life) and the response of the consecrated person (saying yes to the call). These alone provided plenty of fuel for reflection.

Experiencing a call to religious life is mysterious. It is hard to explain the drive and longing felt by someone called to religious life: the desire to give fully of oneself in the service of God and God’s people, and the profound desire to know God. I find it very difficult to express how much I long to know God, to understand God’s plan for the world. I have so many questions for God. I also feel a deep desire to serve God by caring for all people. And over time, I feel more and more drawn to life in community. I pondered all of these things as I waited to be received.

During the reception, I felt peaceful and joyful. I was moved by the joy of the sisters who participated in the reception, and I felt (and feel!) so grateful to be part of this community. There is so much life and love here.

I received the Loretto cross (which I happily and proudly wear) and gifts to help with my discernment during novitiate: a bible, the IBVM Constitutions, and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. All of these will come with me to the Philippines and help to guide me.

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So now, as a newly minted novice, I am trying to live fully each day with the community here and love these sisters as much as I can before I depart. And I am continuing to pester God, to try to know him better, and be open to the gifts and graces he has given me.

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Venerable Mary Ward, foundress of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, pray for us.

 

 

 

Halloween revelry

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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.

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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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The View from the Box

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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.