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Anni Ink Slingers Marriage Matrimony Sacraments Vocations

Working Toward Sainthood: 5 Steps to Enhancing Your Catholic Christian Marriage

 

Like many military couples, my husband and I were first married by the local Justice of the Peace. We already had our “church wedding” date set, so we chose the same month and day, only a year early, in order to make everything legal. In the year leading up to our Convalidation, we took part in the local diocese’s mandatory pre-marriage classes, meeting as a couple with another couple, a few times each month.

Looking back on it now, almost a decade later, I realize our learning and growth, both as individuals and as a couple, did not stop at either wedding. And, there is immense value, wisdom, and love in the teachings of the Catholic Church, as it pertains to Sacramental unions. From my years of study and lived experience, allow me to impart some wisdom to those just starting out, and perhaps remind those of us solidly entrenched in this sacrament.

1.) Pray for your spouse. Many couples, and the Church itself, advocates family prayer – the family is known as the Domestic Church, after all! But, just as important as praying together, is the act of praying individually for our spouses. A wiser Catholic wife shared once she has an alarm set, and I took her recommendation to do the same. My phone reminds me every day, usually set for a time my husband would be headed home (if he had a typical 9-5 job) to pray for him. Sometimes, the prayer is lengthy; other times, it is a brief, “Jesus, watch over my husband on his way home.”

2.) Familiarize yourself with the concept and beauty of the teaching of Theology of the Body. St. John Paul II wrote extensively on the beauty and dignity of women… and the Sacrament of Matrimony. He reassured Catholics that sex is a pleasurable act, to be saved until marriage so that we are able to join with God as co-creators of life – because at the moment we are giving ourself wholly to our spouse, God is with us. Realizing God is truly in that moment is a beautiful and powerful realization… which is also a difficult one to remember when we internalize our secular culture’s view on sex as being solely an act of pleasure. It is so much more than pleasure-based, which is part of the added beauty of the procreative act.

3.) Learn about love – from Catholic writers and speakers… and, the Catholic saints! Christopher West, renowned for his work on Theology of the Body explains how our marital love is but a foreshadow of the love we experience from God. So, what we give to, and receive from our spouse is just a taste of what we aim to receive in our life after death. St. Teresa of Calcutta, a woman who lived in the world, giving herself entirely and devotedly to the world, reminds us that, while “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love…” She also directs us to, “Wash the plate not because it is dirty, nor because you are told to wash it, but because you love the person who will use it next.” St. Frances of Rome also shares wisdom with wives, reminding us, “It is most laudable in a married woman that she be devout, but she must never forget that she is a housewife. And sometimes she must leave God at the altar to find Him in her housekeeping.” The saints wrote about love extensively – both God’s love for us, and ways in which we can better love our own spouses.

4.) Model God’s love and mercy for us, to our spouse. God doesn’t always like the choices we make. Sometimes, He wonders what we are thinking, and He shakes His head disapprovingly. But, He also recognizes our free will and has infinite love, and more importantly, mercy – if we are willing to seek it. Because we are called to sanctification through our vocation of marriage, we are challenged to be God’s tangible love and mercy to our spouse. This is not to say there aren’t consequences for our behavior or actions, but we are called to be loving and merciful to our spouse, even if we may not like their choices or actions. This advice also presupposes the Sacrament of Matrimony is healthy, and there is no physical, sexual, or emotional abuse – because abuse is never justifiable. The Church even acknowledges there is no room for abuse in a sacramental marriage.

5.) Manage your roles and expectations. Keep in mind, the roles and expectations you have at the outset of the marriage may shift. Every change during a marriage, i.e. change in employment, adding a family member, moving, etc., brings the necessity to manage the roles and expectations each person has in their marriage. Your roles and expectations may change over time. And, that is okay! Keeping an open dialogue, and being honest with yourself and your spouse, is a guaranteed way to meet the ebb and flow of marriage. Because you are a team, united with God, it is important to keep the avenues of communication open, and have the discussions of each others’ roles and expectations (for both yourself, and your spouse) together.

In our culture, it is easy to lose focus on the beauty of the Sacrament of Matrimony. It is easy to get stuck in noticing the imperfections of our spouse, while overlooking our own contribution to the state of our marriage. But, as Catholic Christians, we are striving to achieve sainthood.

As married couples, we are called to the path of sainthood through our vocation as wives or husbands. Furthermore, we are challenged, sometimes more than others, to help our spouse achieve sainthood with us. Yet, putting these five steps in the forefront of your mind may just help ease some of the work toward sainthood, and may in fact help enhance the journey!

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Current Events Evangelization Faith Formation Ink Slingers Interviews Michelle Same Sex Attraction Spiritual Growth

Understanding the Gift of Human Sexuality: An Interview with Jason Evert

understanding the gift of human sexuality

Today I have the pleasure of sharing with you my interview with Jason Evert who will be a speaker at the Theology of the Body Congress being held in Ontario, California next week. He will speak on homosexuality and the Theology of the Body.

jason-evertJason Evert is a renowned speaker and author known for his talks on chastity. Together with his wife Crystalina, Mr. Evert connects with both the young and the old; the faithful and those of little or no faith, as well as those who are seeking answers to the questions that have been set upon their hearts. Through the Chastity Project, various social media outlets, through seminars and talks, and through a new program entitled YOU, Mr. Evert seeks to empower, educate, and prepare the next generation to share the vision, the knowledge, and the love that comes from understanding God’s gift of human sexuality.

We began our interview talking about the new videos on Theology of the Body for teens entitled YOU: Life, Love, and Theology of the Body (which I will have a review of on Wednesday) and continued to tackle a few hot button topics.  

Once again, I feel that Mr. Evert’s words need to be heard in their entirety and so I present our interview in a question and answer format. I pray that you will be inspired, encouraged, and empowered by the wisdom that he shares today.

Q. You are well known for talking about chastity to teens, how do you think the new videos will reach out to a new generation of teens and young adults as opposed to other ways you have brought chastity talks to them?

The previous generation of Theology of the Body for Teens that we came out with was great at the time 10 years ago. Today teens are struggling with brand new issues that weren’t even on the radar 10 years ago. For example, I was talking to a young woman who wanted to go to college at Stanford and as a part of the application process she had to pick a gender… there were 18 genders to pick from and the two genders that were missing were male and female. They weren’t even an option. This wasn’t on the radar 5 years ago let alone 10.

There are questions like “what is marriage?” What does it mean to be male and female? These are fundamental issues that teens really need to have to have a solid understanding of in order to understand God’s plan for their lives. So this new version is really cutting edge in terms in being able to offer solid guidance, not just to teens but to educators to answer these tough questions.

Q. Is it just for use in schools or catechism programs or would families benefit from it as well?

Whether it is a homeschool family or a child who goes to a public school and the parents want to make sure they are getting a truly authentic education in human sexuality rather than “that’s it”… for home use or you can do it with group study, Ascension Press has a really neat offering that if you only had 4 people who wanted to do the study as a group you can just do the digital videos so you pay for the workbooks and don’t have to buy the dvds- you can get free streaming online of all the digital content.

There are 10 chapters, each chapter is about a half hour long and covers all kinds of content- homosexuality, pornography, modesty, vocations, starting over… it’s not just a chastity program. It goes much deeper into identity and John Paul’s full understanding of what the Theology of the Body is.

Q. At the Congress you will be talking about those who experience same sex attraction. How does TOB give clarity and hope to those who experience same sex attraction?

We need to take a good look at our language when we are talking about this topic. A lot of times people speak, “Oh that’s a gay person” “That’s a lesbian person”, “That’s a straight person.” But this isn’t really a Catholic way to talk about what it means to be a human being. What I mean by that is that there really aren’t like 9 different kinds of people. There are really only three kinds of people according to the Catholic understanding of that word.

A person is a rational being, so how many different types of rational beings are there? Well there are three- the Divine Persons- the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are angelic persons, which are the holy angels and the fallen angels. And then there is the human person made male and female in the image and likeness of God. And that’s it.

Our personhood, our identity, the deepest truth of that is that you are either a son of God or a daughter of God. Our sexual attractions are not the defining factor of our human identity and if we make our sexual attractions the core of who we are, then we will think that our life and our identity is being stifled and we can’t act out on those attractions.

An attraction is something I experience; your personhood is that you are a son of God or a daughter of God. And typically our behavior will flow from our identity. And so if we can first understand foremost who we are as beloved children of God, then our behavior will flow from that. John Paul provides an adequate anthropology, a sufficient understanding of what it means to be a human person. The only adequate response to another person is love. Not only to give that love but also to receive that love.

Q. In trailer I found a quote that was perfect for this conversation, “Being you is not all about you; you are a gift to the world when you love as God loves you.” How does this tie into the Congress and how will you bring this ideology to the Congress?

One challenge with this generation of young people is there is so much centered on myself- I’ve got my Instagram, I’ve got my Facebook, I’ve got my Twitter and I need to tell everyone what I am doing and share the picture of me when I look the best. There is a bit of an overemphasis on me and what I feel. Even with the gender issue of today, what I feel is who I am… regardless of what my body parts are, what I truly am is who I think I am. What the TOB does is call us to step outside of that and say “you are more than just your feeling; you have been created to make a gift of yourself. Stamped into your body is not just parts that you can do away with; stamped into your body is the sign of complementarity that you’ve been created to make a gift of yourself.” That might come within marriage, it might come with priesthood or religious life, or it might come within serving in your community, by making a gift of yourself and by giving of yourself that’s how you truly find yourself.

Q. Our kids are bombarded by society telling them that they should do what makes them feel good and to do what they want and that the Church’s teachings on the sacredness of sex and love are not important. How do we combat this ideology when the world’s voice is so much louder than our own?

There is a lot that we can do. And what we have in our favor is that their minds are made for the truth, their hearts are made for love, and the Church’s teaching on human sexuality truly offer them both.

John Paul II was asked, “If you could only keep one passage from scripture and all the rest had to be gotten rid of, what would it be?” He said, “The truth can set you free.” The truth is that the Church’s teaching on human sexuality is not just a litany of rules, regulations, and prohibitions. The Church’s teaching on human sexuality is really what the human heart longs for. Do we really want a love that is forced or conditional or temporary or lifeless? No, we want a love that is free, total, faithful, and fruitful.

It’s not that the Vatican is imposing these things on us; this is what the human heart truly wants. Unfortunately our world has sold young people this false notion of freedom- that in order to be free you just got to do whatever you want. Sometimes true freedom isn’t doing whatever you want; sometimes freedom is having the ability to do what you do not want in order to do what’s best for another person. The Church teaches that your freedom is best measured by your capacity to love. Anything that inhibits your ability to love- lust, selfishness, pride, ego- those things limit my ability to love to that extent I’m not free.

This language of John Paul II doesn’t argue from the outside in- these are all the rules that you have to follow; instead it argues from the inside out- what is it that you really long for? As a result, even though the world may be louder, the Church’s teachings really resound within the hearts of the young people when they are proclaimed in their fullness.

Q. How can parents incorporate TOB into their family lives so that when they talk to their children their kids won’t just tune them out but will want to listen and want to be responsive?

One thing you could do is study it within your own family. If you’ve got middle school students Ascension Press has a program called Theology of the Body for Teens, Middle School Addition-for 6, 7, 8th graders. For the High school addition not only do they have the dvds that you can watch a home, but they also have the parent guide that you can follow.

The nice thing with TOB is that you can start really young with some of these teachings about what it means to make a gift of yourself. Affirming them when they are young- “Dear Jesus thank you for making little Mike a boy and for making little Sarah a girl and for making Mommy a girl and daddy a boy.” These understandings of what it means to be male and female that we may have taken for granted 10 years ago, need to be affirmed in the young people.

And just starting them with this idea of the gift of self and that you really find yourself by giving of yourself- what are ways that Mommy can give herself to Daddy and ways that Sally can give herself to Joe in our family to love one another. Whether it’s by surprising someone by doing the laundry or doing the dishes without being asked, now, what do you feel after making that gift of yourself?

It’s starting them when they are really young with the principles of the gift of self, of modesty, of the goodness of being male and female in the image and likeness of God.

Parents need to get over any insecurity they have when it comes to talking about human sexuality. Some parents are scared to death, “What if they ask me if I was a virgin?” “What about this?” You need to get over it. If you don’t talk to your kids about the meaning of human sexuality, the world is very happy to fill that void of your silence with a very contradictory message. I don’t care if your parents never talked to you about it or if you feel awkward; sometimes awkwardness is part of the authenticity of it.

Q. What is the most important concept you hope that the Congress goers will come away with from the Congress in general or from your talk?

I hope they will be empowered to take this message to the masses- whether it be in a religion class, their young adult bible study, CCD classes… whatever it is… we need an army of people proclaiming this message of TOB. It’s really a treasure that the Church has been entrusted with. My open prayer is that people will leave this conference feeling empowered and educated and equipped to go forth with these new tools that the Church has been given… that people will feel ready and excited to take this message to others.

Please keep Mr. Evert and all those who are sharing the gift of Theology of the Body in your prayers. He asks that we particularly pray for the fruitfulness of the program.

If you are interested in learning more about the Theology of the Body Congress, please visit their website. The Congress runs from September 23-25th in Ontario, CA. You can read more about it here as well.

If you are interested in learning more about Ascension Press’s new Theology of the Body program entitled YOU: Life, Love, and Theology of the Body, please visit their website (and come back on Wednesday when I review the complete program!)

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Consecrated Life Domestic Church Faith Formation Ink Slingers Kerri Series Vocations Year of Consecrated Life

World Day for Consecrated Life: A Fitting End to the Year of Consecrated Life

Since 1997, the Church has celebrated the vocations of men and women religious with a special day of prayer. This World Day for Consecrated Life also coincides with the Presentation of the Lord on February 2 each year. This year it also marks the conclusion to the Year of Consecrated Life. If you’re a regular follower of Catholic Sistas you may have noticed our special series over the past year to recognize and honor men and women religious. As we conclude this year, I thought today was an appropriate time to recap these eleven interviews.

Presentation of the Lord, Hans Holbein the Elder
Presentation of the Lord, Hans Holbein the Elder

Before we get into that that, I urge you to please take a moment today to pray for all those who are living the vocation of consecrated life, for all those discerning a call to consecrated life, and for those who are being called to consecrated life to have the courage to hear and answer that call. The USCCB has provided a prayer for the faithful to use on this special day. Find it HERE.

Between February 2015 and December 2015, I had the privilege of communicating with eleven different people who are living the consecrated life. I enjoyed this project and really enjoyed learning more about these lovely people. If you haven’t seen the interviews, I encourage you to check out the links below and read their stories. It was inspiring to learn how these women, and one man, heard their calling, what they enjoy most about their vocations, and to learn about their everyday life. There are take-aways here even for those of us who are married and raising children, for example, structuring your days with prayer, finding joy in your work, looking for God in all those you encounter, serving others. There is a lot to glean from the ten sisters and one monk/priest that I interviewed.

I also want to mention the importance of the family to religious vocations. Religious vocations start in the family, in our very own domestic churches. If you are raising a family, don’t forget how important it is to be an example of the Church for your children. Make sure they know about religious vocations and how special they are to God. And, encourage your children to pray for vocations to both the priesthood and to religious life. There is plenty of inspiration in these interviews.

Interview graphicIn February 2015, I spoke with Sr. Anne Joan, FSP. I loved her story of how she heard her calling to join her order, proof that the Holy Spirit knows us well and will use others to get to us.

Sr. Georgette Andrade, SSC, was next up in March. I know Sr. Georgette personally and I knew her story would be a good one. For those who may wonder about a vocation late in life, definitely check out what Sr. Georgette has to say and then look up her order.

In April we took a slightly different turn and interviewed a woman living as a consecrated virgin. Bernadette Snyder is a member of the Order of Consecrated Virgins. It’s a very unique calling and very interesting. Click through to learn more about Bernadette and her decision to take on this vocation.

Sr. Constance of the Little Sisters of the Poor agreed to an interview which we shared here in May 2015. Her answer to my question regarding what it meant to her that Pope Francis called this special Year of Consecrated Life was one of my favorites. It really spoke to me (because I’m always that “busy” person). I need to go back and read her words about once a month, or possibly more often!

Next up was Sr. Marie-Aimee, OCD. She is a member of an active Carmelite order (most Carmelites are contemplatives) and she is one of the younger voices in our list of interviews. Her story of repeatedly saying she wasn’t discerning a vocation to eventually being led to accepting it is a great one. I also loved how she described God’s call as more of an experience than “just knowing” you have a call. Follow that link to read more, it’s worth it.

Putting in some manual labor for the community.
Putting in some manual labor for the community (Sr. Patricia Cushing, SJW).

In July we had a lovely interview with Sr. Patricia Cushing, SJW. She has a great story about finding the order she is now a part of (definitely an act of God) and the story she shares about the founding of her order (in 1974, so pretty young in the eyes of the Church) is an interesting one.

Up until this point all my interviews were with women in religious orders that had active apostolates (meaning, out in the world teaching or nursing or working in communications, etc.). In August I was able to secure an interview with Sr. Joseph Marie, OP, who is part of a cloistered Dominican order. Personally, I enjoyed reading her description of their day-to-day life in the convent. It’s actually quite full, just in case you were wondering.

My first and only interview with a man in religious life was with Fr. Meinrad Brune, OSB. Fr. Meinrad is a Benedictine monk and a priest for his order. He’s also my oblate director, so I was already acquainted with him and pleased he agreed to this interview.

This past October I posted my interview with Sr. Mary Beth, SDSH. Sr. Mary Beth currently lives and works in Taiwan. Her story reflects how important the support of family and friends are for those who might have a call to a religious vocation. I hope you enjoy her story.

Sr. Mary Rose looking out at the monastery
Sr. Mary Rose looking out at the monastery

The November interview was with Sr. Mary Rose, TOR, with a little help from the community’s vocations coordinator, Sr. Elizabeth, TOR. Sr. Mary Rose and Sr. Elizabeth probably represent one of the youngest communities on my list, having been founded in 1988. She describes the charism of the community as being a blending of the the contemplative and the active life. Sounds fascinating and the pictures she supplied are beautiful.

Finally, the last interview got published in December with Sr. Maria Gemma, OP. I loved reading through her responses to the questions and learning more about her background and how she came to find a home in religious life. Another must read!

I think many people, especially those of us who grew up with limited contact with religious (or none at all–that would be me), have a pretty narrow view of what life must be like as a nun, sister, or brother/monk. But as these eleven interviews show, there is a lot of variety in the religious life and a great diversity of people enter it. If you know someone who is contemplating a religious vocation or if you know someone who you think might have a calling to a religious vocation, tell them. And then pray for them. And maybe also show them this list so they can see the great variety that is out there.

I hope our readers here at Catholic Sistas enjoyed these interviews. I certainly enjoyed doing them (even when I was worried month after month that I wouldn’t get an interview back in time, it always worked out!!). Please continue to pray for vocations. Our beautiful Mother Church needs faithful, committed young men and women to not only answer the call to the priesthood (for those young men), but also to religious life. And if you know someone in religious life, be sure to thank them at the next opportunity you have for devoting their life in service to the Church and God.

ycl-logo-270x200-montage

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Consecrated Life Faith Formation Ink Slingers Kerri Series Vocations Year of Consecrated Life

The Year of Consecrated Life: What Does it Mean to You?

In 2013, Pope Francis called for a Year of Consecrated Life to recognize the selfless work and inspiring lives of all men and women religious around the world. The Year of Consecrated Life began on the first Sunday of Advent in 2014 and ends on February 2, 2016, the World Day for Consecrated Life. Here at Catholic Sistas we have highlighted eleven men and women living the consecrated life through a series of interviews. I’ve been privileged to communicate with these fine men and women and learn more about their lives. I hope you, our dear readers, have also enjoyed reading their stories.

ycl-logo-270x200-montageThis month, instead of a new interview I thought we would revisit a few of our previous interviews. There was one question that each person answered that I found particularly interesting. In many ways, I didn’t expect to find a lot of common ground between my life as a working mom with three small kiddos and the lives of these celibate men and women religious. But in their answers to one particular question, I found a lot that I could take away and apply to my own life.

The question: What does it mean to you that Pope Francis has dedicated this year (November 30, 2014-February 2, 2016) as a Year of Consecrated Life?

There was universal excitement about this time set aside to remind the world of the importance of the consecrated life in spreading the Gospel message, as well as being a time of unity in praying for vocations to religious life. But what particularly struck me were the comments about focusing their lives on praying more or how they took time to remember for themselves why they do what they do. Some mentioned how important families are to the future of vocations. I read this and thought: I need to pray more, too; I need to be reminded of the importance of what I do every day, too; I am in a family. In all these ways, I realized that I too, have an important role in religious vocations, AND my life has many similarities (or it should, i.e., prayer!). Obviously I have no plans for entering into that life myself, that’s not God’s plan for me. But I can pray, I can support vocations, and I can encourage vocations.

Of the eleven interviews I’ve done, I pulled out the answers to the above question from a handful of them to give you a flavor of what I’m talking about. The words these incredible women use are much better than mine anyway.

(N.b. Some of these have been edited down, to get their full text check out the full interviews linked below. Also, there’s more from me at the end, so read to the end, please.)

Interview graphic

 

Sr. Georgette, SSC: “Consecrated Life is a special gift from God and although there are many expressions, I am particularly grateful for all the nuns in cloister around the world who dedicate their lives in perpetual prayer for the rest of us. To me they embody true feminine beauty and strength.”

Sr. Constance, Little Sisters of the Poor: “I have tried to embrace this Year as a call to live the present with more passion and greater love for Christ, by being more conscious of the profound meaning of my spousal relationship with him. Sometimes in the busyness of everyday, we are working hard for God and the good of others, but we can almost forget why we are doing it. So for me, first and foremost, I am trying to just be with and for Christ, as opposed to doing for Him. I’m finding new joy in knowing that God wants me for Himself before I do anything for Him, and to thank Him for all the many little blessings He sends my way each day that I otherwise tend not to pay attention to because I’m so busy. The most beautiful thing about consecrated life is just belonging to Christ as His bride, and living in the heart of that profound relationship with Him. We say to Jesus, ‘Set me as a seal on your heart; take me wherever you go, to bring your love to others!’”

Sr. Joseph Marie, OP: “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 [are] 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.”

Sr. Mary Rose, TOR: “We are grateful for Pope Francis’ effort to highlight the beauty and importance of the gift of Consecrated Life in the Church during this year and the special role of the family in aiding growth in holiness. The Pope’s initiative has helped Catholic families and individuals to become more aware of praying for and fostering religious vocation within their families, as well as to understand more deeply the family’s vital role in nurturing holiness, and seeking God’s will for our lives, which is to discover our truest self by God’s design.”

Sr. Maria Gemma, OP: “It has been a beautiful gift to reflect on the beauty of the gift of consecrated life and the special and vital role it fulfills in the heart of Holy Mother Church, to meditate on the immensity of the gift and nourish the mind, heart, and soul by taking time to reread and study the beautiful Church documents that have been given to us regarding religious life. Religious consecration is a tremendous privilege – to live a life lived completely for the Lord, witnessing to the world the life we will each live in the eternal bliss of heaven – and what an incredible gift it is to be able to live it here and now.”

Help Your Parish and Family celebrate the World Day for Consecrated Life

If you’re still reading then you’re probably wanting to know how you can help support and encourage vocations in your own families or parishes. If not, you should be!! Here’s how: Go to this USCCB page where you will find suggestions for Prayers of the Faithful to be included at Mass the weekend of February 6-7. In addition, this page also contains a short bulletin blurb that parishes can use to let people know about the World Day for Consecrated Life. Make sure your parish knows to include this in their bulletin as well as the Prayers of the Faithful.

In your own families, use the Prayers of the Faithful in your family prayers on February 2 (the actual World Day for Consecrated Life) and the weekend of February 6-7, when we’ll actually recognize it in our parishes. Or, use the Prayer for the Year of Consecrated Life with your family to help conclude this year on February 2, 2016.

Thank you for supporting vocations and thank you for praying for vocations!

Question for our Readers: Do any of these women’s words speak to you in a profound way? Can you relate to one or more of these sisters in your own life?

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7 Quick Takes Consecrated Life Faith Formation Ink Slingers Kerri Series Vocations Year of Consecrated Life

Interview with Sr. Maria Gemma, OP: Year of Consecrated Life

Interview graphic

Welcome to the 11th installment of our series for the Year of Consecrated Life. While I know everyone’s focus is starting to turn to the Jubilee Year of Mercy, I hope we don’t forget that it is overlapping with the Year of Consecrated Life. This time around I’m happy to introduce Sr. Maria Gemma Martek, OP, from the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. I’m not going to say much more, because she has shared a lot about her life in this short interview. So keep reading to learn more about Sr. Maria Gemma and her amazing community. Enjoy!

Sr-Maria-GemmaWhat is your name?

Sister Maria Gemma, OP

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

The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist

Our community embraces the traditional Dominican charism of preaching and teaching the truths of our Faith and lives this charism in the spirit of the New Evangelization. Our apostolic outreach flows from a contemplative core, embodied in our vowed consecration with Mary as our model and nourished daily by the Holy Eucharist in Mass and a Eucharistic Holy Hour. We each make the Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary {de Montfort formula}. Our primary apostolate is Catholic education. We operate the Spiritus Sanctus Academies in Ann Arbor, Michigan {private Catholic PK-8 schools committed to fostering excellence in human, spiritual and intellectual formation in a truly Catholic environment} and have Sisters serving as administrators and teachers in elementary and secondary schools in nine additional US dioceses and a house in Rome.  

We have also broadened our apostolic efforts in the spirit of the New Evangelization by developing and appearing on programs for EWTN ~ a catechetical children’s series called Truth in the Heart and Catechesis: Communion with Jesus Christ to provide groundwork and inspiration for those teaching the Faith. We yearly host three large vocation discernment retreats for young women and one non-discernment retreat for moms and other women in Ann Arbor. The Sisters also participate in giving retreats in other dioceses, conduct VBS-type summer catechesis programs in parishes and travel to give spiritual and vocation talks. We have Sisters helping with campus ministry during graduate studies at the Catholic University of America and have recorded two CDs over the past two years:  Mater Eucharistiae  {sacred music} and  The Rosary:  Meditations and Music. We also have developed Disciple of Christ- Education in Virtue™  ~ a Christian curriculum focusing on the virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit structured around the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas to encourage students to embrace a life of happiness by striving for holiness.      

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

I took an interesting route into the convent via college, graduate school, and studies in Moscow, working in International Business for a company conducting business in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, and resettling Russian refugees to Denver. I enjoyed lay life and packed it comfortably full with “good works,” striving to give Him glory with my daily witness. I had great friends, believed I was helping others with my work, and was very involved in my parish and other volunteer organizations. I began attending daily Mass and when our parish instituted perpetual Eucharistic adoration, I committed to a weekly holy hour ~ my “date night” with Jesus. I soon found myself frequently dropping into the adoration chapel on lunch hours or after work. I had always loved my faith, and looked forward to marriage and mothering a strong Catholic family. I prayed that the Lord would bless me with all the graces I would need to be a good wife and mother; He certainly answered my prayer, but not in the way I anticipated! I began to sense that maybe what I was comfortable giving the Lord was perhaps not everything He desired. I came to realize through much prayer and wise counsel from a holy priest that the Lord had created me to be His bride as a consecrated Religious Sister and a spiritual mother to many.

I learned about our community on the Internet and when I came to visit I sensed this was “home” ~ not in any ostensible dramatic sign, but with a quiet surety in my heart and soul. I entered our community in the Jubilee Year of 2000 and professed my first vows in 2003 and perpetual vows in 2008. I am eternally grateful for my religious vocation and for my beloved community of Sisters who edify, encourage and challenge me on my path to holiness as a member of the Dominican family.

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

Jam-packed with graces, prayer and activity!  People are surprised to hear that convent life is not boring or monotonous at all ~ in fact, I’m never sure when I get out of bed in the morning what surprises the Lord has in store. We do have a basic structure to our day (called an horarium), which is the daily framework of prayer and monastic traditions; however, there is always something happening that keeps us on our toes. Let me see if I can narrate a bit of the ordinary, as the extraordinary changes constantly.  

Dominican Sisters--Ann Arbor
Sisters at the University of Michigan Arboretum Peony Garden

On school days we rise at 5:00 am and are in the chapel at 5:30 am for our Eucharistic Holy Hour, meditation, and Morning Prayer chanted choir to choir, Dominican-style. We assist at Holy Mass, eat a quick breakfast, and the principals, teaching Sisters, and college student Sisters head off in carpools to their various schools by 7:20 am. The novitiate Sisters spend their days in formation classes and helping care for the convent, cooking, doing laundry, and spending additional periods devoted to prayer and study. They also have a period of active recreation in the afternoon during which they take walks and play active games like soccer, Frisbee, softball, basketball or floor hockey, depending on the weather. While we are all trained as teachers, it is necessary to have a few professed Sisters assigned to take care of administrative responsibilities.

I presently serve as the local superior for the Motherhouse and fulfill other administrative duties for the community, so I spend a good portion of my workday in my office. At noon all those home gather in the chapel to chant Midday Prayer and then have lunch. After school the Sisters all reconvene to chant Vespers and the Holy Rosary, then process to dinner in our monastic refectory. We typically eat our meals in silence, listening to a Sister read from Scripture and a spiritual book. On solemnities and on Sisters’ feast days we talk at the table ~ conversations are lively! We spend time each evening in community recreation, chatting and sharing the stories of the day, playing board games or cards, knitting or embroidering; essentially relaxing and enjoying family time with one another. We also periodically engage in community study periods. We end our day in the chapel to pray Compline, followed by a Dominican-style procession to Our Lady’s altar while chanting the ancient version of the Salve Regina, giving her everything from the day, beseeching her to watch over the Dominican order and to entrust the souls of all who will die that night into her hands. Following Compline the Sisters are free to study, prepare for their classes, or spend time in personal prayer. Lights are out at 10:00 pm.  

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

Listen to the Lord, ask Him what His will is for your life, open your heart wide and make sure you are ready for the answer, because it might just surprise you! Ask our Blessed Mother to wrap you in her mantle and guide you ~ she will only ever lead us to Jesus and His Holy Will. God works mysteriously and differently with each soul to make His amazing invitation known. His voice is often soft, though, so spending time in quiet prayer and meditating on sacred scripture will help you to hear Him. This is good advice for everyone, though!    

If you feel like He might be calling you to consecrated life, just pondering it isn’t enough ~ eventually you have to act on the inspiration by either making contact with communities, attending vocation discernment retreats {ours are well-attended by women from all over the country and beyond}, visiting a community you’re attracted to, and perhaps taking the leap of faith and entering the community to give religious life a try.  

When a woman truly wants to know what the Lord’s will is for her life and gives it her all, the Lord is never outdone in generosity and will let her know. The Church as a wise mother gives young women considering religious consecration who enter a religious community a precious gift: the time of novitiate. In this time she gradually deepens her response to Him, learns about the life and the community, and, only after an extended time of formation, study, and prayer, makes vows. The young woman is free to leave if she discerns that religious consecrated life is not her vocation before vows, or at the expiration of temporary vows. The young men and women I’ve known who have entered seminary or religious life and departed after discerning it was not the vocation God had created them for have been immensely grateful for the opportunity to live the life, receive the formation and have the graces to know that God’s amazing plan for their life was elsewhere.  

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?

It has been a beautiful gift to reflect on the beauty of the gift of consecrated life and the special and vital role it fulfills in the heart of Holy Mother Church, to meditate on the immensity of the gift and nourish the mind, heart, and soul by taking time to reread and study the beautiful Church documents that have been given to us regarding religious life. Religious consecration is a tremendous privilege – to live a life lived completely for the Lord, witnessing to the world the life we will each live in the eternal bliss of heaven – and what an incredible gift it is to be able to live it here and now.  

Domicans chapel in Ann Arbor
The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist at prayer in our beautiful chapel.

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

When you enter religious life, you gain a whole big family, and families love to spend time together. We enjoy playing games (favorites are Scrabble, Ticket to Ride, Scattergories, Taboo, Chronology & Pictionary), taking walks, bike riding, cooking, baking, watching movies, laughing, sharing stories, and enjoying one another’s company chatting. I enjoy watching football occasionally when we have a chance. On quiet retreat days I relax by spending extra time in the chapel in front of the Blessed Sacrament, being outside, knitting, reading and solving word or logic puzzles. I love to read, write letters to family and friends, and study for fun – especially history, political science, geography and word study. I was given a Russian version of the Catechism and the Bible, and I love reading it to keep my Russian language sharp. My special area of interest is the persecuted Church under Soviet Communism in Russia. I helped a woman translate a book into English about a group of Dominican Sisters in Moscow who ended up in the GULag system between 1923 and the mid 1950s.

Thanks for asking me to tell you a little more about myself and my wonderful community.  Please pray for us and for religious men and women, and for more workers for the Lord’s vineyard.  God bless you and keep you this Advent and always!

Ways to contact the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist:

Our Website:  www.sistersofmary.org

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/dsmme

Disciple of Christ- Education in Virtue™    https://educationinvirtue.com/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/EDUinVIRTUE