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A Personal Tribute to Mother Teresa: My Mystical Journey to Darjeeling

A Personal Tribute to Mother TeresaIt happened one morning during my High School English class when I was asked to select and write about my role model. Mother Teresa’s image with the iconic blue and white habit immediately came into my head. Looking around, I noticed that others were writing about Madonna, Sandra Day O’Conner, and Geraldine Ferraro, to name a few. And, I began to wonder why I had selected a woman so detached from this world living a life of self denial with a singular focus to care for the poorest of the poor. And so began my journey of self discovery.

Upon graduation from High School, I had no idea what I was going to “do” with my life. I knew college was the next logical step so I dispassionately applied, registered, and found myself choosing a major and was still puzzled by what I was going to “do” with my life, a quandary I heartily laugh at now. As a wife and mother of five with a counseling business, I never have to ask THAT question. Thank God!

I settled on a Fine Arts degree with a minor in English. And, upon graduation, I worked in retail stores to begin to tackle the student loans, all the while neither certain of my calling, nor how to identify a calling. I was lonely, lost, and confused for most of my 20’s. I now see this time as a gift that gives me gratitude for the challenges I now face. But at the time, it was painful.

I was living at home and my mother received a letter from a former elementary teacher of mine who was also a friend of my mother’s and a Dominican sister. She was on a temporary leave of absence to care for her ill family members and she made a detour to spend a few days with us. She was a petite bundle of joy and she made me feel like I was important and that I had “gifts” and she set me on my mission. After the visit, she sent me information on a particular discipline that she thought would be a perfect match for my interests and my “gifts,” which I neither saw nor appreciated.

What I didn’t realize, when I set out to explore and ultimately pursue this new discipline known as Art Therapy, was that I was being put on a path towards service to the poorest of the poor in my community. I had two habit wearing women devoted to Christ seemingly pointing me in the direction of service. And, I started to panic. Am I being called to the convent? My immediate reaction was, NO! And, I felt guilty. It took me years to understand that a calling is a message joyfully sent and joyfully received. A calling is not a life sentence. And, I knew in the quiet of my heart that I always wanted to be a wife and mother. So, perhaps what I was hearing was, as Mother Teresa said, a call within a call.

Upon graduation from graduate school, I was employed as a home based therapist. This is like boot camp for counselors. I thought, what have I gotten myself into?! I had to travel to parts of my city I didn’t know existed and wish I didn’t know about now. I entered homes that were filthy, smoke filled, and teeming with rodents and pests. I encountered people that I would never have met had I not set foot on this path. And, there I discovered my gifts. I had a high tolerance for this sort of chaotic mess. And, I could see ways to help, however small, to relieve some of the suffering; to quench His thirst, as Mother Teresa described. My heart began to break for what broke His heart. And, now that I had encountered these souls, I couldn’t rest until I was somehow able to help.

Shortly into my life as a home based therapist, I met the man of my dreams. He brought me joy and filled my life with experiences and people that my introverted self would never have experienced. My primary calling became evident and we married and set out to start a family. Through the gift of our sacramental marriage we experienced an inexplicable increase in zeal for our once lukewarm faith. And again, Mother Teresa helped to give me direction. If I wanted to help others and bring about world peace, I must “go home and love my family.” So, I had the great joy and freedom to stay at home with my children for just over 13 years.

But that persistent “call within a call” led me to seek opportunities over the years to continue my work with those suffering in my community. It was a challenge to balance this with family and I kept Mother Teresa’s words in my head, “charity begins at home.” My family always comes first. My husband fully supports this and recently encouraged me to start my own counseling business. I felt completely unprepared and lacking in the skills to do this. But, then I thought of Mother Teresa’s train ride from Calcutta to Darjeeling where she left the comfort and predictability of the convent and demonstrated courage, initiative, and tenacity in pursuing her call within a call. And, I did it.

I am forever grateful to God for giving her to me as an example of self denial and a life of service to others. Who knew that this could be the source of the greatest joys in my life? She continues to inspire me and when I am discouraged, I think of her and I find the strength to go on. I raise my morning cup of jo to this powerhouse of a woman. Saint Teresa, pray for us.

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No, Son, You CAN’T Be Whatever You Want

vocations1One thing most loving parents say to their kids at one time or another is, “Honey, you can be anything you want to be when you grow up!” I used to think this was a wonderfully affirming statement—until I became Catholic.
 
I was married and pregnant with my first child when my husband and I converted together. For me, there was no “vocational discernment” process. When our daughter was born, I spent many bitter days as an immature new mother crying over the sacrifices I had to now make, resentful I hadn’t been given a choice beforehand. It chafed me royally that there were nuns in the world living it up on austere vegetarian diets and middle-of-the-night prayer vigils, while I had to eat things like steak and cheesecake, and didn’t have a choice about getting up in the middle of the night like they did. I was sure that if I’d been a cradle Catholic who’d had a whole host of vocational choices, I’d have chosen to be the next Mother Teresa of southern Virginia. (Somehow, it didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t have my wonderful husband and daughter if I’d become a nun.) 
 
One day, my husband pointed out the obvious: that my “Be in charge or don’t participate” personality would cause me problems in religious life. “You’d constantly be arguing with your superiors, Misty,” he said. “You’d never be able to silently follow orders if you knew there was a better, more efficient way to get the job done.” 
 
In one of my rare moments of humility, I begrudgingly admitted he was right. And that finally stopped my ridiculous romanticizing of religious life and finally started me down the path to embracing my vocation as a wife and mother. 
 
As idiotic as I’d been though, that initial wrangling with my vocation brought some very important truths. The most important being that we don’t choose our vocations—God does. Why God? Because He created us and endowed us with our own unique strengths and weaknesses, so even more so than ourselves, He knows which vocation will best help us to grow in holiness and make it to heaven. Just as an inventor designs a machine to work best with a specific kind of fuel, so does God design us to work best in a specific vocation.
 
Eventually, I realized that God had known exactly what He was doing when he’d called me to marriage and motherhood. The joy of giving and receiving unconditional love through motherhood was redeeming the damaged relationship I’d had with my own mother. Seeing my husband sacrifice for our children and treasure them was healing the distorted image of fatherhood I’d gleaned from my own father, too, which had served as a serious impediment to being able to trust God the Father. The good fruits of embracing my vocation are too numerous to mention, but I now feel grateful that I’d stumbled into the right vocation! (Or did I?)
 
I think we’ve all known someone who seems discontent in her vocation. I once met a priest who was upset when Benedict XVI was elected because, “I was hoping we’d get a pope who’d allow me to get married!” he told the stunned RCIA committee. This statement, along with the priest’s admission that he was loathe to preach on moral issues(!) made me wonder what exactly drew him to the priesthood. And we’ve all met women who, upon having children, calendar-watch until the kids go to school or turn 18 so they can “finally start enjoying life.” I’ve had at least one single friend who was hell-bent on getting married, despite getting sign after sign that she was likely being called to religious life. Most of us struggle within our vocations, but it’s not hard to see when a person is struggling with their vocational calling itself.
God, of course, can write straight with crooked lines and even if we resist His vocational calling; He can guide us into greater holiness wherever we end up. But like God, those of us with children want nothing more than to see our own kids reach their fullest potential. And the best way to ensure that they do is to help them discern and then assent to God’s vocational calling in the first place. My husband and I tell our five kids that they can achieve the greatest happiness and true peace if they surrender to God’s will and accept the vocation HE chooses for them. 
 
Can they be anything they want? Contrary to popular wisdom, no–they can’t. Temperamentally, I’d make a great nurse, but I can’t because I faint at the sight of blood. I admire engineers, but I don’t have the aptitude for math. Likewise for our kids: everyone has talents, but no one does EVERYTHING so well that the world is their oyster. Even more generally, though, our kids need to learn that the only true path to being the best version of themselves is by embracing the vocation that God has chosen for them. 
 
How can we best prepare our kids to hear and give their own “fiat” to God’s vocational calling? Here are a few practical suggestions:
 
1. Make vocational discernment part of their life early on. From the time our kids were old enough to get asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” we directed them to listen to God’s call. I even wrote a small book for my preschool-aged daughters, to get them thinking about vocational discernment.
 
 
2. Expose children to those who have answered the call to religious life. We’ve always invited priests, nuns, and brothers into our home to interact with our children. Kids have plenty of examples of people who answered God’s call to marriage, but they often see the calling to religious life as a calling for “special people, but not for me.” Let them spend time with religious, both men and women, so they can see that these are ordinary people (like them) who simply answered God’s call to that vocation, which is perfect for them.
 
 
3. Expose children to people who are called to the single life. This may be the hardest vocation for you to find friends in, as most of our culture assumes that the only two vocations are religious life or marriage. But for some souls, God does call them to live in the world singly, in Christ-like service to their friends, family, and coworkers. We are blessed that several of our closest friends are single men and women who tell our kids what joy they gets from growing their relationship with Jesus above all other relationships.
 
4. Watch movies and read stories about people in all vocations, and discuss their choices. There are many excellent movies out there about saints who were called to religious life, but there are other saints who lived singly and as married couples, too. Mix it up!
 
5. Emphasize that how we work out our salvation ought to be God’s decision above all. When your child says, “I want to be a pilot when I grow up,” respond with, “Yes, God could call you to that.” Or if they say, “I don’t want tobe a nun,” just say, “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what vocation God has in store for you, won’t we?” Don’t quash their excitement about their future; let them bask in the possibilities, as we once did. But gently reiterate that God ought to be in charge of setting them on the right path.
 
6. Pray as a family for vocations. For ALL vocations. Include prayers for priests and religious, but also prayers for married couples and single individuals to grow in holiness, too. The world is trying its best to convince our kids that the only path to fulfillment is a romantic, sexual relationship, so we need to ensure that our children understand that God loves diversity and has a unique plan for each one of His children. And finally…
 
7. Train your children to listen for God’s vocational calling. Every night, our children pray a simple prayer: “My dear Jesus, I want what You want for me.” Whenever they have a difficult situation, we tell them to take it to Jesus. Our hope is that over time, consulting God for every decision will be second nature. That reflexive habit of asking God to guide them will pay the greatest dividends of all when it’s time to make serious decisions about their vocation as an adult.
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Perspective on Pope Benedict XVI’s Resignation

Catholic Sistas welcomes back seminarian Craig DeYoung as he writes about Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation.

At St. Mary’s Seminary, ecclesial rumors spread like wildfire.  By 6:15 this morning, news of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation was making its way through our ranks.  After morning prayer and meditation, there was an explosion of speculation and opinion at the seminary.  Indeed, my first class this morning was dedicated to a discussion about the event.  This is no doubt to be expected as everyone comes to grips with the situation but I would like to make a few observations about what is happening and offer a hopeful perspective regarding Pope Benedict’s resignation.

I have observed among my brother seminarians that each is absorbing the revelation in their own way.  Some in silence, some in conversation, and others in the chapel.  Shock and sorrow seem to be the theme of many hearts, including my own.  Catholics (and non-catholics) have fallen in love with Pope Benedict XVI over the last eight years.  His teaching is profound, his heart warm, and his leadership solid and foresighted.  He has done much for our Church as the Vicar for Christ over these last years.

When I began checking the news before my first class I didn’t have to go far.  Rumor and speculation are at their peak as to why the Pope is retiring, what will he do after he retires, and will he will go back to being a Cardinal?  There is an unending discussion about who the next Pope will be and what the future of the Church will look like.  Will there be this change or that change in the Church?  And the list goes on.

As you’ve undoubtably noticed, everyone is talking about it.  Twitter and Facebook are wild with comments, links, and thoughts about the Pope’s decision.  News stations are calling anyone connected with the Church for comment.  Heck, I’m even writing a blog article.  Why is everyone talking about it?  Simple, it will effect the whole world and the course of history.  Kind of scary when you think about it that way.  At least for me it is.

I have my own thoughts and opinions on these questions but I’m more occupied with the growing sense of anxiety and anticipation among the faithful about what will happen after February 28th.  It is to this anxiety and anticipation that I would like to speak and offer the perspective of faith.

When Christ died on the cross, his disciples were devastated.  They had lived with Christ, fallen in love with him, and believed him to be the messiah sent by God.  When he died they were shaken deeply.  They did not know what would happen, where they would go, or what they would do.  Everything that had happened and that they had believed was put into question by Christ’s death.  Simply put, they were desolate.  With eagle clear hindsight you would think they would have remembered Christ’s words predicting his death and his promise of resurrection but they did not.  We, however, have something the disciples did not:  the resurrection of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

The joy of resurrection and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit assures as Christians today that Christ’s promises are true.  When any sort of storm comes upon us in the bark of the the Church, of which there have been many and will be many, we must hold fast to the promises of Christ and your faith in him.  Because he is always faithful, his promises are true.

What is happening now is not unlike what happened then.  We can lose track of the unshakable promises of Christ in the midst of the storms of life.  Remember now his words and promises.

Christ spoke to us along with the disciples who were terrified amidst the storm saying, “Courage, I am.”  (Matthew 6:50)

Jesus makes a promise to Peter about the Church that “the powers of death shall not prevail against it”. (Matthew 16:18)

About himself he promises, “lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20).  Also, he says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”  (John 16:13)  We have the assurance of Christ’s presence in his Church and his protection, along with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Moreover, we can be sure of Christ’s compassion for those who scripture tells us that, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”  (Matthew 9:36)  Immediately after this Christ sends out the twelve to preach the Kingdom of God and to minister to the crowds.

As we reflect upon the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, I think it is important to hold fast to these promises in our hearts and pray faithfully to the Lord now and always.  Ponder these promises and remember that Christ will not leave us without himself, his Spirit, or shepherds to guide us!  Put every event within the perspective of our faith and do not let your courage be shaken when storms come.

::Craig DeYoung, a published contributor with Catholic Sistas, is a seminarian for the Diocese of Austin and, God willing, will be ordained to the presbyterate in 2014.  A graduate of Texas A&M University, he became Catholic while in college and often refers to the Easter Vigil when he entered the Church as the happiest day of his entire life.  His deepest desire is that his heart be conformed to the Sacred Heart of Christ.  His favorite prayer is “Lord Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto yours.”::

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A Doctor, Teacher…or Sister?

As parents, we have heard the conversation a thousand times.  Our little ones talk about what they want to be when they grow up.  We usually hear ‘teacher, doctor, animal helper, mommy, ..’ and other similar choices.  It often changes and day by day they want to be 500 different things. It is always fun to see what they will say next. You just never know what will come out of the mouth of a child.

This very scenario was playing out again at my dinner table about a month ago.  My girls were giggling, going around the table and talking about what they wanted to be when they grew up.  My second born said “dentist.”  My middle child said “chef.”  And we all laughed and chuckled when it was my 3 year old’s turn and her answer was simply “what?”  Then Reilly, my oldest, chimed in.  “I want to be a Sister,” she said.  The kitchen fell silent.  I turned to her and said, “What did you say?”  She repeated herself candidly. “I want to be a Sister when I grow up.”

 

I was a little surprised at my initial reaction.  It wasn’t negative by any means, but it was just neutral.  I always believed encouraging my children in their dreams, including entering religious life, but I just never imagined one of my children would bring it up.  I’m sure it has a lot to do with the personal interaction Reilly has had with some of the Dominican Sisters at her school.  Her former Principal was a Sister – a truly kind and generous person, and an extremely hard worker.  She knew every child’s name and lifted the school up to such a high level of love and respect.  Currently, one of Reilly’s second grade teachers is also a Domincan Sister.  She has many of the attributes of our former Principal.  She is generous, respectful and kind when you speak to her, has a great sense of humor, and you can tell she just drinks up the presence of the children.  She is truly a blessing to have in the second grade teaching staff.

I finally talked to Reilly about her statement.  I asked her if she was still interested in being a Sister.  She told me she was.  I told her maybe she should talk to Sister E (the second grade teacher) about her feelings and see what she said.  Reilly then thought for a long while.  She asked me “Mom, can you have children if you are a Sister?”  I told her “Well, no, but you can work with children by helping them or being a teacher, or many other things.”  She thought about it a little bit and then said “Well I will still keep my options open.”  (As you can tell, she is a little beyond 7 years old on the inside)

I laughed to myself.  Here was my oldest daughter, only 7 years old, contemplating some very serious life choices and commitments.  I turned to her and said “Reilly, you can be whatever you want to be.  Whether it is a Sister, or a teacher, or a mom… all vocations are important.  You are only 7 years old.  However, if you have a dream, or a calling from God to be a Sister, always stay open to it.  Do well in school, be nice to people, but make sure to leave your heart open so as you grow, God can make your vocational calling clearer to you. If it continues to be a desire to be a Sister, it is a dream you should follow.”  We finished up the conversation shortly after.

I think the important lesson from this conversation for me, was to always remember to have the faith of a child and as much as praying is important, to make sure I also listen just as diligently.  God writes on our children’s souls before they are even born.  He already has a plan for them, which He has designed for a specific reason.  Remembering this, if our children express an interest in religious life, whether a priest, Sister, or lay person volunteer, we should always be encouraging of these dreams.  We need children to grow up and want to be Priests and Sisters in order for our church to continue to thrive.  We need children at the very least to grow up realizing that fulfilling a religious vocation is something to be proud of, and is in fact, important.

I think the best thing we can do as Catholic parents is to never discourage those dreams or those passing thoughts.  Jesus always admired the faith of a child.  Maybe sometimes, instead of giving our ‘well thought out’ answer, we, as adults should resign ourselves to that child-like faith.  We should trust in the calling God has for all of our lives.  When it comes to our children, we should be working especially hard alongside them to help them realize those footprints God left on their hearts.

This Advent season, as we prepare for Jesus’ birth, it is a perfect time to reflect on how we give ourselves over to Christ.  It is a good time to listen to our children, and learn from them how we can better surrender to the season.  It is also imperative we help our children realize how they can keep an open mind and open heart to truly hear what God wants of them.  We should help them to take His hand, and follow the path He has made for them. What our children ultimately choose to do with their lives might not be the vision that we had for them, but if they listen for God’s calling and follow Him it will be exactly what God has chosen as their special path in life.

Just last night, my four older girls were having the all too familiar “what will we be” conversation…again.  When it got to Reilly, she hesitated and said “Hmmm.. well, maybe I want to be a Sister…..or a doctor? “ I just smiled.  I have no idea what Reilly will be when she grows up.  Perhaps she will be a doctor, or a teacher, or a mom.  But perhaps, God has put a little foot print on her heart, even at 7, and perhaps as she grows the Holy Spirit will guide her to a life in the Sisterhood.

 Until then, it is not my job to discourage her or steer her on a different path.  My only job is to learn from her – to ask God to let me have the faith of a child as she has already so outwardly shown me, and accept with a willing heart His will for her future in our lives.  And either way, Reilly will have one proud Mama by her side.