“My grace is sufficient for you…” -2 Corinthians 12:9
How can you begin to describe the indescribable? God’s mysterious plans are beyond our comprehension, as are the workings of His grace. Yet, even though we do not understand, we believe that He provides us with all of the grace we need to accomplish His Will and give Him the glory. What you read below are the major points of God’s grace moving within my own life and how I came see His hand at work in leading me to the path of the religious life.
From the very beginning of my life, God has truly blessed me. On the Feast of Saint Francis, He brought me into the world to two loving parents who would instill within me, with the aid of the grace of Baptism, the gift of Faith. My family planted within me the seed of Faith and nurtured me as I grew. It is by this gift of Faith that God has guided me and led me to draw closer to Him.
Although I was brought up in the Faith and practiced it, it was not until I was in 8th grade on my Confirmation retreat that I really began to understand God’s deep love for me. I remember during that evening that we were in the church spaced out so we could have some quiet prayer time with Jesus. The leaders stopped by each one of us and said a silent prayer. As I gazed upon the crucifix in the sanctuary, I recounted what all that Jesus had endured for my sake: God became man, His teachings, His patient endurance, and particularly His sufferings in mind and body during His Passion. God moved within my heart, to give me a greater appreciation for and understanding of the depths of His infinite love. At this point, I began to have an increased devotion to Our Crucified Lord.
I remember in high school having an increased desire to learn more about God and truly relished entering more deeply into His mysteries. It is also during this time that my love for Our Crucified Lord led me to a great love for His Eucharistic Presence. Between my sophomore and junior year of high school, I read a book by Dr. Scott Hahn called The Lamb’s Supper. In the early pages of the book, Dr. Hahn relates the story of when he first believed in the Real Presence of Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. As he beheld his Savior with the eyes of faith, God moved within me. Welling up from within my own heart, I suddenly exclaimed (to myself), “I want to be a Sister!” Then I turned back to myself and said, “No, you don’t—you want to be married and have kids!” But, then I turned again to myself and said, “No—you can’t say no to the Lord!” A great peace flooded my heart at this point and, now that the idea of being a Sister (and being ok with that!) had been planted in my life, I was open to doing God’s Will for me in my life.
For the next several years if you asked me if was going to be a Sister, I would respond, “if I don’t get married I will.” This would continue through my first few years of college. During my freshmen year at Franciscan University of Steubenville, I attended their annual Vocations Fair. The Fieldhouse was filled with priests and religious from everywhere—it was a little overwhelming. One of the booths that I stopped at was for our Sisters. She handed me a flyer and invited me to come to their convent in town for prayers and pizza one evening. My friend who was with me and I decided that this would be a great event to go to and did.
At the end of the evening, the Sisters invited us over each week for prayers and hang out time if we were interested in getting to know the Sisters better. I had enjoyed my time with them—what joy flowed from them—and without realizing why at the time, I made it a commitment for myself to go to visit them each week. Not that I was interested in this order, of course…
At Thanksgiving time, I carpooled with the Sisters on my way home for break, and had to talk to the Vocations Director while I was stopping at the convent. I was not particularly interested in discussing my vocation at this time, and said to myself, “Nope! This doesn’t feel like this is it!” and shrugged it off. During my meeting, she asked me why I hadn’t come on the discernment retreat if I had thought about religious life before. I didn’t really want to answer the question, so I told her that I would go on the next retreat.
Unfortunately I did not make it there because of a schedule conflict, but God, ever-faithful, continued to work in my life.
During the beginning of my sophomore year of college, I knew that I would not know my vocation until I either met the man I was to marry or the order I was to join. I began to be restless and impatient with God in my discernment. The constant theme of my prayer life became my vocation: “Lord, just tell me what you want me to do already!” I was very impatient with our dear Lord—I am grateful for His patience with me! I began to pray the prayer to a certain Venerable (now Blessed) Maria Theresia Bonzel to know what God’s will was for me—not that I was going to join her order, of course…
Of course, God knew what He was doing. On a certain Saturday shortly after I began praying this prayer, I had a holy hour at the Portiuncula perpetual adoration chapel on campus. As I was early, I stopped by the grotto to ask Our Lady to watch over this time that I was going to spend with her Son. I was particularly distraught at this time about my vocation and I said to Mary, “Mary, I don’t know what your Son wants of me!” In my heart, I heard her say, “Go ask Him.” I protested, “But I don’t know what He wants!” “Just go ask Him,” she consoled me. So, I took a deep breath and turned around to go to my holy hour when…
All of a sudden, before me appeared all of our Sisters that were in town that weekend. The Lord filled me with such an indescribable peace and joy that could only come from Him as I saw them that I knew that this was what He was asking of me: to join the Sisters of Saint Francis of Perpetual Adoration. During my adoration hour, He continued to flood me with His graces and confirm me in this calling.
Now that I was certain of the “where”, I needed to discern the “when”. During my next visit to the Motherhouse, I spoke with the Vocations Director about how the Lord was working in my life. I had a desire to finish college before I made the next step in my life, and we discerned that this was indeed what the Lord wanted for me. At times, it was difficult to persevere in waiting and even in the pursuit of my vocation, but God always provided me with the strength and courage I needed to follow His lead.
I entered the Sisters of Saint Francis of Perpetual Adoration in September 2013 and received the habit and my religious name in August 2014. I professed the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience on August 10, 2016. Each moment has been grace-filled and drawn me closer to the Sacred Heart of our Eucharistic Lord, even at times when I did not realize it until later. How blessed I am and grateful for all that He has done for me, for calling me to be set apart for Him, to be at the service of the Church and His Gospel. What a grace He has bestowed on His lowly handmaid! It is His faithful and merciful love that will continue to provide for me as I embark on this grand pilgrim journey towards Heaven.
“…it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God.” –Ephesians 2:8Sister Mary John, Temporary Vows