Rosalind Moss' Unexpected Journey
Jewish convert longs to 'bring hemlines to the floor and habits to the world.'
When a young Jewish woman in the 1960s read of Catholic nuns receiving permission to shorten their habits, she was shocked. How could these women who were supposed to be influencing the world for God succumb to the influence of the world?
“I lost what wasn’t mine,” explained Rosalind Moss years later. Little did she know that she would eventually gain what was not previously hers by becoming a religious sister in full habit.
On Sept. 8 of this year, Moss became Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God, O.S.B. She is the prioress of a new religious community, Daughters of Mary, Mother of Israel’s Hope, which is based in Tulsa, Okla.
Mother Miriam spoke with Register correspondent Trent Beattie about her conversion, religious calling, and desire to meet the greatest need of humanity.
So, how did a Jewish girl from Brooklyn end up in a convent in Tulsa?
In short, I grew up in a conservative Jewish home in Brooklyn, where we waited for the Messiah. Every year at Passover, we would announce that the Messiah had not yet come. If he had come, there would have been peace in the world, his kingdom would have been established, we would be living in Jerusalem, and life would have made sense.
None of these things had happened, I thought, so it would be insanity to think that the Messiah actually had come. I wasn’t aware of any Jew who thought as much. I was 32 years old the first time I heard that there were actually Jews who believed the Messiah had come.
I met a group of Messianic Jews who taught me that all the sacrificial lambs in the Old Testament, while not able to remove sin, were types of the one Lamb of God to come, who indeed was able to remove sin. After going through the Old Testament, I was shown only one verse from the New Testament — and that one verse shattered my world. It was John 1:29, in which John the Baptist announces Jesus Christ in these words: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” I knew then that Jesus was the Messiah I had been looking for.
I entered the only form of Christianity I knew at the time, which was evangelical and anti-Catholic. For the next 18 years, I tried to “save” Catholics from what I thought was a false religious, even satanic, system. It was through a series of events in the summer of 1990 that I began a search into the claims of the Catholic Church, which culminated in my entering the Church at the Easter vigil in 1995.
As a Protestant, I had come to believe the fact that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — the God whom no one could look on and live — entered time and history and became man.
Upon my entrance into the Catholic Church I was able to appreciate a second incredible condescension of almighty God — that of the Blessed Sacrament, or the Passover fulfilled. God become man remains with us to this day under the appearance of bread.
Once you had entered the Church, when did you first think of becoming a religious sister?
Actually, my calling, unknown to me at the time, started many years before becoming Catholic. I was 20 years old when I read a story in the newspaper about nuns receiving permission to shorten their habits. It was at the beginning of the mini-skirt era of the 1960s. I believed that these religious women were in the world to affect the world for God, but, alas, I thought at the time, the world had affected them.
Something physical ripped through me. What I assumed had nothing to do with me became my deep and immediate loss. I had lost something that wasn’t mine. Or so I thought. I did not imagine that years later I would find myself fully given to restoring those hemlines and longing to fill the world with religious in habits as the glorious sign to God that they are.
This dedication of yours officially began this year on the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, when your community was established as a public association of the faithful and you received the habit. Can you describe that day?
If there were a more glorious day in my life, I can’t think of when it was.
I have always felt that I was made for another world and that I was a pilgrim in this one. Giving my life to God through Christ from my Jewish background changed my life forever. Coming further into the fullness of Christianity 18 years later in the Catholic Church deepened my relationship with God more than I knew was possible.
Still, even after these life-changing events, there remained a longing in my heart for something yet beyond this world.
On Sept. 8, in the small Monastery of the Cenacle of Our Lady in Tulsa, heaven seemed to flood my heart as Bishop [Edward] Slattery received my vows and as, through that beautiful and holy shepherd of Tulsa, I gave myself to the Bridegroom of my soul.
Bishop Slattery led the ceremony, with the assistance of Father Mark Daniel Kirby, O.S.B. About 15 people were in attendance, including priests, religious brothers and sisters. The Nativity of Our Lord was brought to mind, which, like our setting in the small oratory, was a private event, with even less than 15 people in attendance. Yet the seemingly humble, private and hidden birth of our Lord resulted in the world’s savation. Our prayer is that that same Lord in the manger would be pleased to grow the seed of our humble, private beginning into a means of salvation and hope for many souls.
What influence did St. Francis de Sales have on your entrance into religious life?
My brother David, who converted to Catholicism 16 years before I did, had a small library of Catholic books. When I became Catholic, I “stole” some of his books. One of them was Introduction to the Devout Life, written by the great bishop of Geneva. At the time, I thought to myself, What need do I have for a book like this? I’ve been a Christian for 19 years. Why read a book for beginners?
Well, I did read it — and could not put it down. I went on to read nine more books by St. Francis de Sales, who helped to bring 72,000 Calvinists back into the Catholic Church through his writings, which reveal a deep understanding of humanity and the answers to all of society’s ills.
I asked Our Lady to give me this great saint as my spiritual director from heaven. Five days later I was given The Spiritual Combat by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli. I read on the back cover that this was the book St. Francis de Sales gave to all of his spiritual directees. Our Lady had answered my prayer. I was ecstatic.
This spiritual master led me to another spiritual master, whose rule we’ve adopted. St. Francis de Sales led me to St. Benedict, the “Father of Western Monasticism,” and it is the Benedictine Rule which the Daughters of Mary, Mother of Israel’s Hope will follow.
In addition to these two saints as co-patrons of the community, you also have a patroness in Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Yes, Our Lady of Guadalupe seemed to move in with us, and we are most grateful. I didn’t choose Our Lady of Guadalupe specifically as our patroness, but it seems that she chose us. We are grateful for her presence, especially in our parish in Tulsa, which has a large Hispanic population.
I delight in telling people that Our Lady of Guadalupe is Jewish. There is only one Mother of the Messiah, who appears all over the world “in different outfits.” She is indeed a mother to us and to all who will call upon her.
What is the specific charism of your community?
We’re a contemplative-active teaching and evangelistic community. A religious community must be rooted in prayer, and we are as well. Our active apostolate, however, has two main goals: The first is to walk the streets in habits, reaching out to all we meet with the love of God and the truths of his glorious Church. The second goal is to help restore the stewardship of the home by helping parents to know and live their faith and impart it to their children.
We could write an entire book about the adventures we’ve had carrying out the first part of our charism in the short time we’ve been in Tulsa. A favorite incident occurred in conversation with a 6-year-old girl about God and Jesus. The little girl paused a minute and then asked me if I were Jesus’ mommy and if I lived “up there” (in heaven) with Jesus. So precious. There are so many wonderful stories. Many people — Catholics and non-Catholics alike — ask us for prayer. Several have tears in their eyes, telling us how happy they are to see nuns in habits again.
What thrills me most, apart from being signs to God in the world and the freedom people have in approaching us, is the sense they have that they “own” us, so to speak. That is, they believe that they have free access to us, that we exist for them, that they have a right to expect us to pray for them, to help them, to be God’s arms to them in their need. It is a beautiful expectation on their part, and, to my mind, that is as it should be.
We also wish to help restore the stewardship of the home by teaching parents and helping them to teach the faith to their children. The family is the primary vehicle God has designed to build his Kingdom. If we have any doubt about that, the enemy does not. All one has to do is look around at the destruction of the family to know that marriage and the family are the enemy’s targets.
You’ve mentioned wanting to learn Gregorian chant because of its connection to “Old Covenant” worship. Could you explain that?
I’ve said many times that the most Jewish thing a Jew can do is to become Catholic. This is true not just in a general sense, but in a most detailed sense as well. There is nothing Catholic that is not rooted in the Old Testament. Our Catholic faith did not spring up out of nowhere, but out of the faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
This is true liturgically speaking, as we have a tabernacle, altar and priesthood in the New Covenant, similar to the Old Covenant. We also have Gregorian chant, which is rooted in Old Covenant worship. The Psalms were not merely read, but chanted in public worship of God, which Jesus himself participated in as a child.
This chant was more fully developed in the Catholic Church and became what we now refer to as Gregorian chant. I’ve listened to many types of chant, but none quite as beautiful as Gregorian.
Pope Benedict XVI has encouraged the faithful to reacquaint themselves with this chant and use it liturgically; we want to follow our Supreme Pontiff’s lead.
You also value the Mass being offered ad orientem. Why is this?
The No. 1 thing that attracted me to the Diocese of Tulsa was Bishop Edward Slattery’s decision to offer the Novus Ordo Mass ad orientem, that is, facing east, liturgically speaking. It is the posture of the shepherd leading the people to Christ and has been the case for centuries.
You, in turn, aspire to bring Christ to the world, right?
I’ve been blessed with the glorious gift of the Catholic faith, and I have no other reason to exist but to tell the world of Christ and his Church. The world is hungry for God, and we desire more than anything else to bring God to the world through the joyful presence of habited sisters who love God and who live to reach out to every soul — rich and poor, young and old — with “the faith once delivered to the saints.”
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.