Today we continue our series in honor of the Year of Consecrated Life with a sister from the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles. How fitting that June is also the month dedicated to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Again, totally not planned on my part, isn’t God amazing! I hope you read on and enjoy getting to know Sr. Marie-Aimée. I certainly did!
What is your name?
Sister Marie-Aimée of the Heavenly Father, O.C.D.
What is the name of your order and what is your order’s particular charism?
Our community is the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles. Most Carmelite nuns are cloistered, they serve the Church in and through a life of contemplative prayer. As active Carmelite Sisters, our charism unites the spirit of Carmel, the life of contemplation, to the active apostolate. Our sisters promote a deeper spiritual life among God’s people through education, healthcare, and retreats.
How did you know God was calling you to this life?
I remember asking many sisters this question when I was discerning my vocation. It seemed like most of them came to a point where they “just knew.” It was not a very satisfying answer as I was hoping for something a little more concrete, a little more certain. The reality is that God’s calling unfolds in the context of our relationship with Him and by “knowing” we really mean “experiencing” His call.
Growing up, my family only attended Mass on Christmas and Easter because we had to if we wanted dinner at Grandma’s house. I am convinced that this Irish Catholic grandmother prayed my parents back into the Church. We started attending Mass when I was a teenager and as much as I hated giving up one of my “sleep in” mornings, I had to admit that I getting to know God and realizing how much He loved me was worth it. As I learned about Catholicism, my love for God and our faith grew.
After my first year of college in Los Angeles, I transferred to Franciscan University of Steubenville because I realized that if I was going to spend money to study, I wanted to study God. As a Southern California native I was not excited about the idea of going to Ohio. Don’t get me wrong, Ohio is a very lovely place but it is cold. Very cold. Grey sky. Leafless trees. For months during this thing they call Winter. But I had looked and looked for any other school that offered a degree in Catholic Theology and had not found any, so to Ohio I went.
Within a couple of weeks I met our Sisters who were attending classes at the University. I had spent my whole life living within 15 minutes of one of our convents in Long Beach, California, and driving past it almost every day of high school never knowing it was there. I met the Carmelite Sisters half a continent away!
Initially, I introduced myself because I knew the Sisters were from California and I was very homesick for anything Californian. They invited me to pray with them at their evening holy hour to which I replied, “I’m not discerning.” Laughing, they said, you don’t have to be discerning to pray with us. At the time I was really thirsting for prayer in community (the Divine Office just isn’t the same on your own) and quiet time with the Lord so I ended up joining them quite frequently throughout the school year. At the end of the year, they invited me to a Come and See Retreat, to which I replied, “as long as you know I’m not discerning.” God must have laughed!
During college, as I spent more time with Him in prayer, at Mass, in adoration, I got to know the Lord better and recognize His voice in my heart more easily. At some point during my senior year of college, I realized that I had fallen in love with Jesus, He had captured my heart, and I couldn’t give my heart to anyone else as long as He had it in His keeping. And I “just knew” that this was His invitation to follow Him more closely and belong to Him completely. After graduation from Franciscan, I worked for a year with our sisters at that elementary school in Long Beach that I had driven past every day of high school before applying for Candidacy. I subsequently entered our community in 2004 and made my perpetual profession of vows in 2013.
Tell us a bit about what your day-to-day life is like.
Our day starts with the ringing of a bell at 4:55 a.m. and a sister singing “Praised be Jesus Christ and His Virgin Mother, Come to prayers sisters, come to praise the Lord.” I love it that the first thing we hear in the morning is the praise of Jesus and Mary.
We gather at 5:25 in the Chapel to pray the Divine Office, meditation, and participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass together. After Mass we eat breakfast.
During the day we work in our various apostolates. For most of my religious life, I have been a junior high teacher but for the last couple of years I have been serving in our Office of Mission Advancement, working on our websites, social media, and print projects. In keeping with our Carmelite charism, we keep silence during the day (except for the communication necessary to the apostolate we are in) cultivating that interior awareness of God Who is constantly present within us.
We pray the examen at noon and have a holy hour together in the evening with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, rosary, meditation, and Evening Prayer from the Divine Office. We eat all our meals together, with spiritual reading (or listening to a spiritual talk) at breakfast/dinner and recreation at lunch. Being in recreation means that we are speaking rather than in silence.
We also have recreation in the evening. Sometimes we take a walk, play a game, do crafts, or just talk, enjoying one another’s company. Following recreation, we pray Night Prayer together. We end the day by kneeling in the sanctuary of our Chapel, extending our arms, and praying “Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in You” together nine times before beginning Grand Silence, which is a deeper silence allowing us to cultivate intimacy with our Spouse. So the last words we speak each day are words of trust in Him. The goal of each day in Carmel is a deeper relationship with Jesus.
What advice would you give to someone considering a consecrated religious life?
If someone is having difficulty discerning if God is calling or not, I think there are a few things that can help. First, get a spiritual director. Talk to a priest or a sister. Most communities have a Vocation Directress who helps people who are discerning and calling to speak with her does not mean you have to join. Most of us need help when it comes to being objective about ourselves and what is going on within our heart. Second, pray EVERYDAY. Go to Mass as often as you can, get to a perpetual adoration chapel and spend time with Jesus. Spend time just sitting with Him. It is a lot easier to recognize His voice if you spend time everyday listening to Him. Lastly, if God is calling, say YES! This life is challenging and demands everything you’ve got, and it is totally worth it. He is worth it.
What does it mean to you that Pope Francis has dedicated this year (Nov. 30, 2014-February 2, 2016) as a Year of Consecrated Life?
I am so grateful for this gift from our Holy Father. Saint John Paul II said, “To carry out the Church’s mission all the rich variety of consecrated vocations are vitally necessary. Christians cannot accept with passivity and indifference the decline in vocations. Vocations are the future of the Church.” This year is a clarion call to Religious and Laity alike, to Wake Up the World to the beauty of Consecrated Life and its mission in the Church.
What is your favorite thing to do during your down time/recreation time?
Before I entered, I used to backpack and I still love to hike. Sometimes we have the opportunity to hike together in the local mountains here in Southern California, and yes, we do wear our habits when we hike. On a more regular basis, I enjoy doing anything outdoors, spending time with my sisters, playing the piano, and I am an avid reader.