Across the seas, He found me.
I developed a great affection for Our Blessed Mother as a child as I heard the story of her apparitions to the Fatima children. The day after my first communion, during a May Crowning, I consecrated my life to Jesus through Mary. As I look back, I see how faithful she has been to that simple act of faith and trust I made in giving my life to her. Shortly after as my second grade teacher was telling us about the apostles she suggested that some of us should consider the religious life. My eyes widened as she spoke and I knew in a way that the message was for me.
After I graduated from high school, I went to the U.S. Naval Academy. I had many aspirations and goals and wanted to do something truly meaningful with my life. I see now that it was Christ who inspired this and that He was the only one who would or could fill these longings. I was struck by my peers who were really living their faith. In the midst of a very competitive, and performance-based environment God was teaching me that His love was a free gift that I could not earn, I only had to receive.
Throughout my time at the academy we traveled in uniform and people thanked us for serving our country. I was aware that I was representing something, which was greater than myself. During my sophomore year, I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Walking through the Garden of Gethsemane, I saw a Sister from a distance. I was struck very deeply as I recognized that she too was representing something greater than herself– she was representing Someone– God.
I would think about religious life from time to time for the next several years although it remained a possibility far off in the future, because I had a five-year commitment to serve upon graduation. Once I graduated I was sent to San Diego to serve as the gunnery officer onboard a destroyer. Our ship spent hundreds of nights out to sea off the coast of South America chasing drug traffickers. The stress of the day was healed by the beauty and tranquility of the stars each night. When I went to the bridge of the ship at night to stand my watch, I was often overwhelmed by the beauty of the stars that covered the night sky like a blanket.
While I was at sea, I came to know God in the beauty of His creation and through the men and women with whom I served. I was continuously humbled by their generosity and learned the meaning of sacrifice through them. When we were hundreds of miles from land with few distractions, people began to ask questions and to seek meaning in their lives. I saw how my sailors longed to be with their families and I came to realize that each person has a great need for love, and I saw and experienced in my own heart this unquenchable thirst for love. I saw Christ reaching out to the lost and the broken and I came to know Him as I watched the movements of grace in the lives of those with whom I served.
I was assigned to be the Catholic Lay Leader on my ship because we did not have a chaplain. I was asked to bring the Eucharist on board so we could have a service each Sunday. Christ dwelt in a small tabernacle in my 7×5 foot stateroom where I slept and worked. It is astounding to me when I think of how He stayed with me, and went out to sea with me. What tremendous love!
After I finished my tour on the destroyer I was stationed in a little fishing village overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and worked on a base in Naples. Many of my friends in Italy were newlyweds and older couples with beautiful marriages. I had never been around so many happy and holy families and I began to wonder if this was the beauty that God was calling me to. God showed me that I could get married if I wanted to and that He would bless me and I would be happy, yet He let me know that He had made my heart for something else. He showed me that He was calling me to love Him with an undivided heart. Through this spousal union with Christ, I would take on the joys and sorrows of the entire world.
One weekend I traveled to Assisi; I was quite moved by the lives of St. Francis and St. Clare. I stopped in the church where Francis and Clare were baptized and knelt down before the tabernacle. I do not have words for what I experienced nor do I think I will ever be able to describe something so very subtle yet so deeply profound. Yet I walked out of the church a few moments later and I knew in the depths of my being that I would belong completely to God. I kept this experience to myself for many years because I had no way to share it, yet it would mark almost all of my decisions for the rest of my life.
I was limited in my understanding of religious life and saw it as an opportunity to serve God and His Church. I was surprised in a way to learn that the most important aspect of religious life is being in a relationship of love with God. He didn’t want me for anything I could or would do, but for who I was. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of God. While it was what I most desired and prayed for in the depths of my being, I feared that I was not worthy of it and that perhaps I was mistaken. Gradually, God gave me the grace and clarity to see that indeed he was inviting me to this intimate relationship of love and prayer.
When I finally met the Sisters of Life and learned about the charism, I could not believe that it existed! This charism of life, that highlights the dignity of the human person and cares for the most vulnerable amazes me. So many aspects of our community correspond- ed directly to what was written on my heart. As I learned about our different apostolates, and met some of the women we serve, I was humbled at the experience of being so close to God’s grace. What an extraordinary privilege to be an ambassador of God’s mercy; the mercy that continues to transform my own soul. It was as though I knew God in a completely new way after I met our community, yet in a way it is what I had somehow always known and hoped for.
After attending our discernment retreat, I began the total consecration to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort. On the 33rd and final day of the consecration, after Mass I knelt before the same statue of Our Lady that I had knelt before twenty years earlier. I once again offered my life to Jesus through Mary. When I went home, my acceptance letter to the Sisters of Life arrived in the mail. In the past two and a half years, I have come to know and love God more deeply and intimately. I am grateful to be invited into such a privileged life and know it is a complete gift.