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Interview with Sr. Joseph Marie, OP: Year of Consecrated Life

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Welcome once again to another post in our series for the Year of Consecrated Life. I have really enjoyed putting these posts together and getting the opportunity to communicate with a wide variety of women living in consecrated life. For the first time, with this post, we have an interview with a nun living in a cloistered convent. I think Sr. Joseph Marie is also our first Dominican. I enjoyed reading through her story and I hope you do too. Please keep reading to learn more about Sr. Joseph and the Dominican nuns of Menlo Park, CA.

Sister Joseph MarieWhat is your name?

Sister Joseph Marie of the Child Jesus, O.P.

What is the name of your order and what is your order’s particular charism?

We are a community of cloistered nuns of the Order of Preachers. The nuns of the Order of Preachers came into being 800 years ago when our Holy Father Dominic gathered women converts to the Catholic faith in the monastery of Blessed Mary of Prouille (France). These women, free for God alone, he associated with his “holy preaching” by their prayer and penance. St. Dominic entrusted the nuns, as part of the same Order, to the fraternal concern of his sons, and we remain so to this day.

Our community at Corpus Christi Monastery in Menlo Park, California was founded on May 29, 1921, when eight nuns from our founding monastery in Bronx, New York, left to begin a new foundation on the West Coast. Rev. A.L. McMahon, O.P., Provincial of the Western Dominican Province, desired to bring to the San Francisco area a contemplative monastery whose purpose would be to honor and promote devotion to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.  

The friars, sisters and laity of the Dominican Order are “to preach the name of our Lord Jesus Christ throughout the world;” the nuns are to seek, ponder and call upon him in solitude so that the word proceeding from the mouth of God may not return to him empty, but may accomplish those things for which it was sent.

We live out this charism by remaining faithful to the Magisterium of the Church and observing Papal enclosure. The celebration of the Eucharist and Divine Office is central to our daily life, as well as adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. In addition to liturgical and private prayer, community and study round out the pillars of our life.  

How did you know God was calling you to this life?

I had reached a point in my life when I realized I’d achieved so much and was truly living the American dream: a strong faith life, loving family, relationship and friends, education and a promising career, yet I still felt unfulfilled and yearned for something beyond my comprehension. I started looking at religious life and contacted a national vocations office that helped connect people to religious communities. They gave me the names of several communities in California and I was drawn to Corpus Christi Monastery by their horarium, the common life, the silence, study, government and adoration that is part of the daily life.

Over the next two years, I would visit and experience an indescribable peace, but then return to my life in the world and my discernment would be pushed to the back burner. But Jesus kept calling me back and finally I couldn’t resist Him any longer. Discerning a religious vocation is a lot like dating is to marriage – you may not have all the answers and you may have some nervousness and questions but you finally reached a point when you and the community know enough and you both just have to take that step of faith and follow your heart.

Tell us a bit about what your day-to-day life is like.

Our life is ordered to preserving the continual remembrance of God for His greater glory and the salvation of souls. A cloistered nun’s spouse is none other than Christ himself; her children are the downtrodden and the afflicted throughout the world she carries in her heart and prayers throughout the day. Our day begins before sunrise. In Dominican tradition, we have already spent some time in personal vigil prayer, each sister choosing to either pray after Compline the night before or to rise and pray before the Office. By 5:30 a.m., the entire community has gathered in the choir to pray Matins and Lauds.

Dominican sisters Menlo classAs Dominicans, we also set aside a portion of our day for study. We study not to simply acquire knowledge, but to know better the One we love; Dominican study is a form of prayer. The celebration of the liturgy – the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the seven hours of the Divine Office – is the heart of our whole life and the primary source of our unity. The summit of our day is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is followed by a time of thanksgiving and Terce (Midmorning prayer).  

The remainder of the day is filled with the ebb and flow of the Divine Office, personal prayer and various work assignments and classes for the novitiate. Work tasks around the monastery vary greatly and it’s beautiful to see how each sister is able to put their talents, knowledge, and strengths at the service of the community, sometimes in unique and unexpected ways! Each sister also keeps at least one hour of adoration during the day.  

The bell for Vespers (Evening prayer) rings at 5:00 p.m., followed by lectio divina, supper and recreation. The day draws to a close with Compline, the favorite hour for many Dominicans; there are many miracles and graces associated with it in our history and the processions while chanting the Salve Regina (in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, patroness of our Order) and the O Lumen (in honor of Our Holy Father Dominic) are very special to us.  

What advice would you give to someone considering a consecrated religious life?

First, it’s not as complicated as you might think. All vocations start with an invitation by God, rooted in our baptism, to grow in holiness in a particular way of life and to live the mission of the Church – that is, to proclaim the Good News of Jesus to others. So whether you ultimately discern God is calling you to married life, religious life, or some other life of service, such as dedicated single life, your first steps should be the same and aimed at growing to be the person God created you to be in Him.

Pray daily to Jesus and our Blessed Mother. Receive the Sacraments frequently. Avoid sin and grow in virtue. Consult a good, well-informed spiritual director. Consider and pray to God about the reasons you feel drawn to one particular vocation or another. Do not wait for heaven to dispatch an angel to reveal to you God’s will! He is answering your prayers by the movements of your heart. As Bl. Hyacinthe-Marie Cormier, O.P., advised a postulant: Tell yourself very seriously: What would I wish I had done at the hour of my death, on the day of my judgment? Right now, do what you need to do so that later you will have accomplished it. It is a question of a happy or an unhappy eternity…

About Contemplative Vocations: Just as God calls whom He wills, there is no particular type of person He calls to the contemplative life. The cloisters of monasteries are filled with introverts and extroverts, artists and accountants, those who never went to college and those who hold Ph.D.’s. If you find yourself wanting to spend more and more time with God in silence, have increasing feeling of something missing from your life despite success and relationships you have, or wanting to “do more” in love for others, you may have a calling to monastic life.

Dominican Sisters MenloWhat does it mean to you that Pope Francis has dedicated this year (Nov. 30, 2014-February 2, 2016) as a Year of Consecrated Life?

It’s already been such a grace-filled year! Building a culture of vocations really is the work of the entire Church. Sadly, many young men and women are not asked, or even actively discouraged from discerning a vocation to consecrated life. And those who are in consecrated life are often not supported in their vocations, or there’s simply a lack of awareness of how important these vocations are for the Church. We need each other and so to have this time to learn more about and support consecrated life in the Body of Christ is tremendous.

What is your favorite thing to do during your down time/recreation time?

Depending on the day, I might be found reading, walking, gardening, playing sports, playing the piano or guitar, or in our art studio working on a project.


Mary P.

Waiting Patiently on the Lord

Waiting. It’s such a difficult verb to master. Just reading the word makes me feel antsy. We especially in modern America don’t like to do it. We’re not very good at it. We want what we want when we want it (right now). We get agitated when people sit at the traffic light for a second too long after it turns green. We start celebrating Christmas after Halloween. And what would we do without Amazon Prime with its free two-day shipping?

cat-waiting-for-the-mail-9924I’ve noticed that I’m especially bad at waiting patiently on the Lord’s timing.  I want the Lord to get my husband the promotion at work that he’s in line for. I want Him to make it possible for us to move to a more comfortable home in a safer area. I want Him to bring about the conversion of certain people in my life. I want Him to fix the problems in the Church and in the country. Plus a whole long list of other things (some of which are more noble desires than others). And I want Him to do these things now. Shamefully, I find myself feeling envious when other people get things that I have been hoping for.

Morning Prayer of the Divine Office on May 30 spoke about this issue. The reading from 2 Peter was about waiting for the Lord to create a new Heaven and a new Earth, where there will be perfect justice and righteousness. These two lines struck me: “So, beloved, while waiting for this, make every effort to be found without stain or defilement, and at peace in His sight. Consider that our Lord’s patience is directed toward salvation.” They reminded me that the Lord’s plans and His timing far exceed the goodness of our own. They are perfectly suited to each one of us, and perfectly ordered to our salvation. I knew this intellectually, but really trusting and resting in it is the hard part. This passage addressed that difficulty by telling us what we should be doing while we’re waiting for the Lord to accomplish His plans in our lives: we should be working on becoming the kind of people that God intends for us to be; we should be trying to grow in holiness.

So how do we do that?

  • Develop a good prayer life. I have heard often that parents of young children shouldn’t worry about setting aside prayer time each day because they are busy, and they can just offer up every action as a prayer (and maybe throw in a few Hail Marys while they are doing the dishes). While I completely understand the busyness and exhaustion of parenting small children, and I agree that we can and should be offering up all of our works to the Lord, I think it’s very important to set aside time for focused prayer as well. The Lord desires that one-on-one time with us, and wants to use it to refresh us. St. Francis de Sales said that everyone needs a half hour of prayer, except when we are busy – then we need an hour. Prayer will help us become better spouses and parents (and Christians) – it will not hinder us in accomplishing what we need to accomplish in our day. I think it will also help us to develop more trust in our Father, so that we will be more able to wait patiently on Him and His plans, and we will conform our will to His.  We can start small, maybe five or ten minutes at a time (if you have ten minutes to read this article, you have ten minutes to pray).  Pray a morning offering; pray a decade of the Rosary; read a Scripture passage and meditate on it; start praying the Liturgy of the Hours (you don’t need the fancy set of books; I use Spiritual reading (e.g. saints’ writings) should also be part of our prayer lives.
  • Cultivate gratitude. When we are grateful for the things we do have in our lives then we are usually more patient in waiting for the things that we don’t have. To work on becoming more grateful, we should make an effort to actually say “thank you” to God each day. Starting a gratitude journal, or having each family member say something they are thankful for each night at dinner or before bed are good ways to remember to do that. We must make it a point stop looking around at what others have and focus on the blessings in our own lives. God has a unique plan for each of us.
  • Work on accepting the current situation and making the most of it. Waiting for something to change in our abandonmentodivineprovidencelives is going to be extra painful unless we learn to accept the situations we are in rather than dwelling on what we don’t have. And, the fact is that our situations might never change in the way we want them to, because God’s will might be different from ours. If we are miserable until we get what we want, then we might be miserable forever.
    I highly recommend the book Abandonment to Divine Providence to anyone who is struggling to find joy and peace in their lives. In it, Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade says that “by all creatures, and by every event the divine love desires to unite us to Himself,” and “The present is ever filled with infinite treasure, it contains more than you have the capacity to hold.” In other words, God wishes to use every moment, every struggle, every situation in our lives to bring us closer to Him. Spending our energy wishing away our current situations in hopes of something “better” means missing out on opportunities to become holier. Part of sanctity, he says, is “accepting that which we very often have no power to prevent, and in suffering lovingly…things that too often cause us weariness and disgust.”
  • Perform acts of service {with the right attitude}. Focusing on others is a great way to take our minds off of ourselves. And the less we think about ourselves, the less we think about the things that we want but don’t have – the thwarted plans and the successes we haven’t yet achieved. Parents are naturally in the position of service most of the time, but the key to spiritually benefitting from this service is to do it with a loving attitude and abandonment to God’s will for us. Getting up at 5:30am with my toddler every morning is an act of service I have no choice but to perform. I can either do it with a bad attitude, and be miserable (which is the case a lot of the time); or I can do it with love and abandonment to God’s will, and be at peace.
  • Go to confession often. The holy priests I know recommend going to confession every 4-6 weeks. It’s important to go even if we don’t have grave sins to confess, because we receive abundant grace from the sacrament. If we are giving into the feelings of impatience, ungratefulness, and envy, we should confess those sins. They might not be mortal, but they are damaging. And when we confess them, we get special graces to combat them.

The truth is that God is not like Amazon; we can’t put in our order for a ready-made, cookie-cutter product and find it on our doorstep in two days. Instead, God is more like an expert artisan who takes His time hand-crafting gifts personally designed for us. They probably won’t arrive as quickly as we want them to; and when they show up, they might not look exactly like they did in the picture we had in our minds. But this Divine artisan knows our hearts better than we do, and he knows what is best for us. We must learn to wait patiently—seeking His Kingdom and His righteousness–while he completes His masterpieces.