‘Making of Your Life a Gift’: Women Religious Share How They Have Found Joy in Following the Lord’s Call
The Register received insights from women in four religious orders, all of whom are connected to the leadership board of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious.
In light of National Vocation Awareness Week, four women living out the vocation of religious life in four religious orders, all of whom are connected to the leadership board of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR) — Dominican Mother Anna Grace Neenan, prioress general of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia and chairwoman of the board for CMSWR; Mother Maria de la Revelación Castañeda, provincial vicar of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara and CMSWR board member; Carmelite Mother Gloria Therese Laven, superior general of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles and CMSWR board member; and Religious Sister of Mercy Mary Christa Nutt (the Religious Sisters of Mercy were instrumental in the founding of the CMSWR and Mother Mary McGreevy is a former chairwoman) — generously shared their thoughts via email and phone interviews about vocation with the Register.
What is one thing you’ve learned about God through your vocation as a religious sister? What has been your greatest joy in this way of life?
Mother Anna Grace: In my 25 years as a religious, I have come to trust that God is always at work for the good of those who love him. He will never leave us, and through all circumstances, he will make a way. There have been many unexpected joys for me in living my religious life. Most profoundly, though, I would have to say I have found a deep peace in receiving my vocation. I think this is my greatest joy.
Mother Maria de la Revelación: Only Jesus matters. He is the center and focus of my entire life. He is the end and goal of all my desires. Everything else (my apostolate, my community, my vows, the souls he entrusts to my care) are only means by which I attain my true end: union with God himself. My greatest joy is found in my conversations with Jesus in prayer and through sacrifice. It may not be the most consoling at times, but it is what brings me the greatest peace. To be able to share the love and mercy of God towards the souls he places in my way is only an overflow of what I have first received from him.
Mother Gloria Therese: Throughout my life, he continues to reveal how, as Trinity, he is my loving Father, my Spouse and my Advocate. From this relationship with God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I am free to live as a beloved daughter of the Father, a sister among my sisters, a chosen spouse of Jesus Christ and a spiritual mother to more children than I could ever imagine. The greatest joy of my life is living the fullness of my Carmelite vocation in our particular charism of “Standing in the presence of the Living God and with Mary, making known to the world the love of his Sacred Heart.”
Sister Mary Christa: In religious life, I’ve come to simply deepen in faith in everything that the Church teaches. Most of all, I’ve come to see peace and joy increasingly throughout my life as a religious woman; really, that the fullness of life is found in no other place than in loving God and being loved by God. The deepening of loving God has been the peace and joy of my life.
What insight/advice would you give to those discerning their vocations?
Mother Anna Grace: Discerning a religious vocation takes honesty and courage: I would advise spending some time before the Blessed Sacrament and, with great simplicity, ask Jesus to guide you according to his Father’s will. If the Lord is inviting us to follow him, he will light our path, and he will always respect our freedom.
Mother Maria de la Revelación: Foster a serious life of daily prayer and a regular sacramental life — this is the only way to truly tune your soul to the inspirations and movements of the Holy Spirit and know with certainty what God desires of you. Sin is not only an obstacle to grace, but it blurs our interpretations of reality and distorts how we view God and ourselves in him.
Mother Gloria Therese: Spend time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, whether at daily Mass or Eucharistic adoration or simply before the tabernacle. He promises to be with us always; and growing in relationship with the living God, he will show you the gift of who he created you to be. In relationship with him, you engage your story, where you find light and darkness. Let him come into those places that need his light. He will give you the grace to live in greater freedom to be secure, mature and pure, making of your life a gift. We are not to “figure out” our vocation, but receive his loving call for our lives. It is not always easy, but it surely is simple.
Sister Mary Christa: Pray, because without asking God and praying to God and immersing yourself in the sacramental life of the Church, it will be hard to hear him or where he wants you to go. Participation in the sacraments — especially the Eucharist and reconciliation — was instrumental in giving me the strength and courage to enter religious life. Time before the Blessed Sacrament was like a compass. Being in adoration and participating in the sacraments helped me get beyond the fears and uncertainties and transcended the emotion-based doubts.
Do you have a favorite saint who has accompanied you through your life/life as a sister?
Mother Anna Grace: I have come to appreciate more and more how the angels and saints want to be our heavenly helpers. After Our Lady, my guardian angel has been particularly present to me throughout my life, and soon after entering the convent, St. Catherine of Siena became a fast friend. Most recently, St. Faustina has become a daily companion.
Mother Maria de la Revelación: The Carmelite saints, especially, St. Teresa of Jesus, St. John of the Cross and St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. They have all played a significant role in my spirituality and life of prayer from the beginning of my discernment.
Mother Gloria Therese: St. Thérèse has been with me since college. She, along with so many Carmelite saints, such as St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity and St. Teresa Benedicta have inspired me and taught me so much about what it means to be a good friend of Christ and to follow him in totality. Pope St. John Paul the II and our heroic foundress, Mother Luisita, are also deep inspirations.
Sister Mary Christa: First and foremost, the Blessed Mother. Especially as a religious woman, she is a type or a model in a special way. Two other saints I have a special love for are St. Joseph — a priest told me he helps in the ordering of the emotional life, and I’ve found him to be a powerful intercessor — and our foundress, Venerable Mother Catherine Elizabeth McAuley. The saint who has brought a lot of light to understanding God more is St. Thomas Aquinas. He’s our patron and a special friend for me.
Do you have a recommendation for books that have been formative for you?
Mother Anna Grace: When discerning my own vocation, I found An Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales to be invaluable.
Mother Maria de la Revelación: “And You Are Christ’s” by Father Thomas Dubay, Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales, The Story of a Soul by St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, and St. John Paul II’s Vita Consecrata.
Mother Gloria Therese: Learning to surrender is a lifelong process, no matter what vocation we have been called to live. A must-read: Into Your Hands, Father by Father Wilfrid Stinissen. Our Carmelite saints have masterfully written to help all of us understand deep friendship with Christ and to learn how to cooperate with grace; I especially love St. Teresa’s The Interior Castle and St. John of the Cross’ Spiritual Canticle. Sister Mary Christa: The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas has been the most formative book for me outside the Bible. The Sources of Christian Ethics by Dominican Servais-Théodore Pinckaers, on the meaning of human freedom, has been another. The Church’s intellectual patrimony is a world of riches I am drawn to.
What is one thing about the Church and/or your particular religious community that gives you hope?
Mother Anna Grace: I truly believe that God is calling many men and women to religious life. I have great hope in the generosity of today’s young people who are looking for a way to make a gift of themselves by following Jesus in poverty, chastity and obedience. My prayer is that they have the courage to respond and to cling to Christ!
Mother Maria de la Revelación: Jesus’ promise to remain with us until the end. His presence in the Eucharist and in the confessional are great signs of hope and confidence to those who want to be faithful.
Mother Gloria Therese: There is so much healing needed in our country and in our world. We know that Christ is our hope. His love and healing unleash hope. He is the answer, and we have the privilege of being his body, his hands, his feet and his heart at this crucial moment. What a gift to be a Carmelite, a consecrated religious in our world today!
Sister Mary Christa: We are living in a time where the meaning of religion itself is lost on many people. I think that religious life is a witness. It’s still attracting young women and young men to live authentically. This is a tremendous hope for the Church. It’s a testimony to the fact that the dedication of service to God is so fulfilling to human beings.
Beautifully, I am writing on the feast of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome, a timely reminder of the Bride, the Church! Each of these religious women reminds us of the delightful diversity that exists in this Body of Christ and our call to connectedness with this Body. National Vocation Awareness Week is an invitation to rediscover our need for one another. As Pope Francis puts it [in his “Message for the 2022 World Day of Prayer for Vocations”]:
“As Christians, we do not only receive a vocation individually; we are also called together. We are like the tiles of a mosaic. Each is lovely in itself, but only when they are put together do they form a picture. Each of us shines like a star in the heart of God and in the firmament of the universe. At the same time, though, we are called to form constellations that can guide and light up the path of humanity, beginning with the places in which we live. This is the mystery of the Church …”
In living out our vocations, we become, as Elizabeth of the Trinity (whose memorial was Tuesday) would say “praises of His glory.” May this call to prayer for those who have and will dedicate their life to God in consecrated and ordained life resound in our lives. May we remember how much we need each other.
Lindsey Weishar writes from Kansas City, Kansas.
- women religious
- council of major superiors of women religious
- vocational discernment
- religious vocations