I’ve Never Seen Mary, But 13 Years Ago, I Felt Her Powerful Presence

Yes, Our Lady visited my Benedictine cell on Oct. 4, 2010. She was escorting me to my earthly mother, who was waiting for me outside the cloister doors.

Antonello da Messina, “Virgin Annunciate,” 1470s
Antonello da Messina, “Virgin Annunciate,” 1470s (photo: Public Domain)

I spent close to three years discerning my vocation in a Benedictine monastery. This time brought some of the most beautiful moments of my life and some of the most painful moments of my life. To have Jesus under one’s roof is by far the greatest blessing any priest or religious will experience in his lifetime. And I had that privilege during my time as a monk. Yes, priests, monks and nuns may not have an earthly spouse to grow old with, to cuddle with, to pour out their joys and sorrows, but they have something far greater: the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Only Jesus can grant us true peace, happiness and fulfillment in this life.

I will never forget looking out my monastic cell window as the snow blanketed our courtyard. It reminded me of some scene from St. Thérèse’s Story of a Soul. Or the nights in the novitiate when I could walk 50 feet and say goodnight to Jesus in our private chapel. Beyond the chapel windows, I could see rows of houses and skyscrapers in the distance. I felt privileged to be praying for so many souls. I felt humbled to be called to such a spoiled life where Jesus was all mine and I was all his. While in the chapel, I would put my monastic cowl (hood) over my head and become lost in my private audience before the King of Kings.

And then there was the chant. I loved singing hymns to Our Lady, especially the Salve Regina in Latin. 

And the moments of silence. For the first time in my life, I could hear the leaves rustle, the trees howl and the heating unit bellow. In fact, on the first night of my postulancy, the heater broke and my room temperature soared to over 100 degrees. As I woke up in the night, I thought I was in purgatory. Little did I realize that my purgatory was about to begin. 

And so the painful moments. As St. Augustine said, “The Church is a hospital for sinners,” and the same could be applied to religious life. There are so many characters in a monastery. Some are more wounded than others. I carried my own wounds, but others sadly inflicted their wounds and their distorted desires on others. The quest for lust and power can easily pass through cloister walls.

Indeed, the devil prowls even more within monastic walls than throughout the secular world. The secular world has already been convinced that the devil does not exist, while the monastic walls he is looking to take out God’s chosen ones — to create scandal. For when a consecrated soul betrays the Lord, the lance pierces his heart more so than a pagan. It is tantamount to being kissed again by Judas. Our Lord has called some laborers to the most glorious vocation to be his spouse, sparing them from the temptations and rat race of the world, and yet some sadly repay him with only indifference and betrayal. The habit and the monastic walls can never hide the human heart from God. 

When I was a high school senior in 2002, the clergy sex abuse scandal was making headlines. Six years later, when I joined a Benedictine Abbey, I thought this scandal was over. I was wrong. Sadly, many men had entered religious life not to seek the Lord, but to seek other men. Within a year of my entrance, I came face-to-face with the unwanted advances of a superior on two occasions.

Thanks be to God and Our Lady, I was protected “physically,” but emotionally I was broken. When I told a few monks in the monastery about this superior’s errant behavior, I was advised to “let it go.” I believe this superior was also dealing with possession. I saw it in his eyes, and it scared me to death. He tried to manipulate me for more than two years.

But this is not the point of the article. After confronting this superior to leave me alone, I realized that I had to leave my monastery right away. I would have left sooner but I did not want to disappoint God since I was in simple vows. For almost three years since I entered the Abbey, I was riddled with anxiety, mostly due to this superior’s machinations. 

Finally having enough, I made a phone call to my brother about my situation. He immediately called my mom and told her to get me. I notified my immediate superior and the prior that I was leaving. And as the monks were praying their evening prayers, I gathered my few belongings. I looked around my now empty cell and for the first time in almost three years, I experienced the most peace I have ever experienced in my life — even to this day! You see, as a child I had always wanted to see Our Lady, but through the years, I realized it was more blessed to believe without seeing (see John 20:29).

I did not see Our Lady or hear her sweet voice in my ears, but she was present. And in my heart, I heard these words, “My son, it is time to go.” Yes, Mary was in my monastic cell on Oct. 4, 2010. She was escorting me to my earthly mother, who was now waiting for me outside the cloister doors. 

That night, I slept in heavenly peace in my own bed. It was the best sleep I’d had in almost three years. I slept knowing that I would no longer need to defend my vows from the predatory superior. Our Lady, the twelve-star general, the Mother who wears combat boots, was protecting me and guiding me out of the only world I had known for three years to the world of the unknown. It was a scary feeling. And yet, God and Our Lady had far greater plans for my life. They would eventually lead me to my true calling in marriage.

I never intended to leave religious life, but sometimes God pulls you from that which you desire for an even more important mission. I take great consolation that St. Thérèse’s parents, St. Louis and Zélie Martin, also wanted to join religious life, but God drew them to the sacrament of Matrimony. 

Although more than 13 years have passed since I experienced Mary’s indescribable peace that October day, the Blessed Mother continues to watch over me and every Catholic who welcomes her into the cloister of their heart. She echoes to each one of us the same words she spoke to St. Juan Diego: “Am I not here, who is your Mother? Are you not under my protection? Am I not your health? Are you not happily within my fold? What else do you wish? Do not grieve nor be disturbed by anything.”