Rachel was born when I was seven, fulfilling the dream of every girl to have a little sister to play with and love.
Rachel brought special blessings and joys, and also a summons to faith in God and His designs in human life. She was born with a deletion in Chromosome 8, a genetic defect unique to her which is manifested through spina bifida, severe mental retardation, blindness and a number of other small disorders. She was not expected to live a day, but now she is a happy twenty eight year old. While we went to Mass every Sunday and my three brothers and I knew that faith was important to my parents, my sister’s birth revealed to us the depth of trust my parents had in the Lord. They had nothing to cling to but faith, hope and love. I have been told many times that children like Rachel do not live except through the love given them by their families. God has truly rewarded the faith of my parents, for He has revealed Himself through the pure, perfect love that Rachel returns to us everyday. She is the image of Trinitarian love in my life.
When I was in high school I realized that I could no longer ride on the wings of my parent’s faith. Jesus Christ was a mystery that I was not sure that I believed, but some- thing in my heart really wanted to. And thus, sitting in the back of the church one day after Mass I prayed my first real prayer, “I do believe, help my unbelief.” These words must have pierced through this world into the heart of God, because from that point forward my life has been marked by God revealing the mystery of who He is.
For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a doctor. As I was getting ready to begin my premedical studies, I was plagued by a question in my heart. Here I am putting so much emphasis on my accomplishments and what I want to do in life; and there is my sister Rachel, who will probably always live at home, who at the age of ten cannot really speak, read, write, or do anything the world would consider of worth. And yet, she is alive, she is here. What then is the point of life? And in one moment, like those that happen only once or twice in one’s lifetime, the Lord pierced my heart with understanding. Rachel is alive because God wants her to be alive; God wants her to BE.
I would never have to prove my worth by what I accomplished, because I am defined, in the same way as my sister Rachel; my life is given purpose because God wants me to BE. And so I went to college with a heart beginning to open to the will of the Lord, and with my plan to become a missionary doctor, marry, have ten children and live happily ever after.
During my senior year of college I applied to medical school, but was not accepted. I spent the next eight months working as a full-time “home health aide” for my sister. I would take care of her from the time she got home from school until she went to bed. I came to know her deeply, to learn to communicate with her in her silence and to love her from the depths of my being. I experienced a purity of love that came out of her emptiness, her utter vulnerability. I knew that she loved me and I loved her; and I knew that I would never have to do anything to earn her love and that she would never have to do anything to earn my love. We were participating in the pure, complete, love of the Trinity. This must be like the Love of the Father for the Son, and all His sons and daughters.
During my time at home I met a wonderful religious Sister. She asked me at one point whether I had ever considered religious life. I told her yes, but that I was going to go to medical school, marry and have ten children. She laughed and told me that I was welcome to come to the discernment group that she was starting. Two months later I did go to that group, wondering what God wanted from my life as I was making my plans to work on a Master’s Degree in Public Health. The January after I graduated from college I moved to Washington D.C. to start grad school and get myself into medical school. I was working full time in an emergency room, going to school, and taking an MCAT preparation class. I loved it all, and yet, there was something missing. I wanted to be with the Lord.
A priest suggested to me that I should echo Our Lady’s fiat everyday, hundreds of times a day, “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord, be done unto me according to Your Word.” And so I did. I would say that all the time, asking that my heart be open to wherever the Lord was calling me. He also told me that if I was faithful to this prayer, that the Lord would reveal His will to my heart in two months. I didn’t really believe that part of it, but I decided to try it. It was actually less than two months later that the Lord called me to Himself. It was at the Mass of ordination to the priesthood for the Arlington Diocese that all my fears about religious life melted away. As these four men laid down their lives my heart swelled! No words can do justice to what happened in my heart at that Mass, and to be honest I am not totally sure myself. But I know that when I left that day, my heart was spoken for; it belonged to Christ.
Now God is a very generous Father and doesn’t force anything upon us. The same week that He revealed the deepest desire of my heart to be totally His, my MCAT scores came back. With these new scores I knew that I would be accepted if I applied to medical school. I had a choice to make, apply to medical school and enter religious life later or respond to the Bridegroom’s call immediately? The Lord spoke to my heart and told me I could go to medical school, do great work for Him and be happy. But what He wanted, all that He wanted was my heart, and “together we would do enough.” I fol- lowed the grace to let go of medical school.
The Lord is so faithful to a heart seeking Love. He is still answering my first prayer, “I do believe, help my unbelief.” He is still answering my second prayer, “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy Word.” He has shown His love and fidelity to me. All is grace. All is gift. And I cannot help but sing, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord… the Almighty has done great things for me and Holy is His Name!”