Sr. Brigid Ancilla Marie

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 eighteen 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 something 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 followed 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!”

Originally published at Sisters of Life.

“They Must Be Crazy” – Josh Noem, Husband

When we got married, the priest in his homily noted that in several conversations he had about our wedding, people kept saying to him, “They must be crazy.” We got married the day after we finished our finals at the end of our senior year in college.

Our GPAs might have suffered slightly during that final semester, but it was a nice bookend to our college experience—we met during our first week on campus as freshmen.

We shared a small freshman seminar class together, and I knew when Stacey first walked in the door that I wanted to get to know her more. I remember being struck by her natural beauty and her courtesy. She seemed grounded and certain of who she was.

I finagled a way to talk to her outside of the classroom, and was fascinated by her. Stacey was a beach girl from Florida, I was from a small town in South Dakota—we were from different worlds. It was endlessly interesting to learn more about each other, our families, and our life experiences. We learned that we shared many values on a deep level—our faith, a commitment to family, a love of sports.

Looking back at some of my high school relationships, I remember realizing that within a few months, we had exhausted the growth that we were going to experience. The budding relationship with Stacey was different—it seemed like there was no end to the learning and growth that we were experiencing.

At the same time that I was growing in this relationship with Stacey, I was also wrestling with a call to the priesthood. I felt called to consider becoming a priest since I was in middle school. Friends and family had always told me I would make a good priest, and I knew that the Church needed priests. I felt an obligation to explore the possibility of a religious vocation.

Stacey was aware of my discernment, and displayed heroic patience in walking with me as I tried to figure out God’s will for my life. By the time we were juniors, we knew that our relationship could be leading towards marriage. Before I committed to that, I felt like I needed to resolve this question about the priesthood. I set aside Christmas break to reflect and pray about it, and experienced an important movement during those weeks.

Stacey and I had a phone conversation one night about this decision. She told me that she was willing to let me go if that’s what it took for me to be happy. That selflessness struck me and stayed with me after we had hung up. I was full of anxiety about making the wrong choice. What if I chose the wrong path? I didn’t know how to make a decision.

I remember being at my wit’s end. I was curled in the fetal position on my bed, frustrated, angry, confused—I was stuck. Then I recalled Stacey’s words—that she was willing to let me go if that’s what it took for me to be happy. That selflessness suddenly stood out to me as a way through this. I realized I didn’t have to figure this out for myself—I just needed to be willing to follow where I was being led.

It was a moment of grace that allowed me to place my life in God’s hands. I knew that I would find my deepest happiness when I was doing that for which God created me. I decided to let go of trying to figure it out on my own, and to align my will with whatever God had in store for me.

A tremendous sense of peace and relief filled me. It felt like a ton of pressure had lifted. Instead of struggling to figure out how to construct a happy life for myself, I felt free to simply follow where God was leading. That freedom was a crucial aspect to my discernment—it allowed me to set aside all that I was grasping and clutching so tightly and to see everything with balance and an open hand. In itself, it didn’t give me a clear answer to my questions, but it did give me the freedom to discover it.

I continued to talk with trusted mentors. One conversation with a priest helped me to see that my sense of being called to the priesthood was really a strong sense of obligation and responsibility. I knew the Church needed priests; I thought I would make a good priest; therefore, I should become a priest. That was logical.

On the other hand, though, I was absolutely thriving in this relationship with Stacey. It was enthralling and exciting, and I was growing as a person. Why would God place me in this relationship, which was a clear source of new life and energy, and call me away from it?

Two things became clear to me: First, I understood that what I heard as a call to the priesthood was my own voice projecting itself into a vacuum. Second, I was convinced that I would become a better man sharing life with Stacey. In the end, the choice was easy.

I remain convinced that this is God’s path for me. I am still becoming a better man with Stacey’s help. And after 16 years of marriage, we are still not done learning and growing together—there is always more to discover about our relationship.

Again, I have to thank my wife for her patience—she would have been well within her rights to say, “I told you so!” She knew I had to figure this out for myself, and she stuck with me, which was a brave thing to do. Having invested herself in our relationship, she put herself at great risk to let me explore the possibility of walking away from it. Her patience made us both better.

So we set a date, struggled through our final senior projects, and had a great party with all of our friends and family. Were we crazy? By the standards of the wider culture, we were out of our minds. From our faith perspective, however, it seemed like common sense. We were ready to capitalize on the one certainty we had established during our college years: we had discerned a call towards marriage. We knew that we could figure everything else out together.

Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for 16 years and have three children. They write of their experience of marriage and family life in the Happily Even After blog.

Amanda Mortus (to be Amanda Sloan), Wife

St. Therese is often credited with saying, “My vocation is love!” In reality, we all have a vocation to love, but that love manifests itself differently in different vocations. St. Therese, one of my all-time favorite saints, had a vocation to the religious life. I have a vocation to married life.St. Therese of Lisieux

Marriage, ever since a young age, has been written on my heart, though realizing it and accepting it was a much longer road. In high school I began to feel a pull to religious life. I’d been on a number of retreats and was, in a radical way, ready to say ‘yes’ to whatever Jesus called me to. I longed for Him so deeply that marriage to Him in religious life seemed to be the only logical choice. He was (and is) the one my heart loves. I went to college to study theology with the pull towards religious life on my heart.

College life was different and wonderful, and over my time in college my desire for religious life faded and was replaced by a deep desire for marriage. I spent time with different orders in college and, while they were inspiring and beautiful, I never felt called to join them. I actually became fairly convinced that I’d meet my husband while I was in college. Graduation came and went without a ring on my finger or a serious relationship to show, and I returned home to Colorado. I dated a few guys briefly after graduation, and after one serious relationship ended I felt pretty lost. I went on another retreat and felt God pulling me towards religious life in a big, big way. I started meeting with a spiritual director and researched more orders than I can even list.

A few weeks after I started meeting with a spiritual director, a wonderful and enchanting man came along and wanted to court me. Things started off splendidly but slowly got worse, more dramatic, and trying over time. Despite promises of an engagement, things between us ended. A friend had asked me a few days before the break-up (which I did not see coming) what I would do if we broke up. I clearly remember telling her, “I’d probably go crazy for a few months, drink, party and go nuts, and then I’d join a convent.” I meant it.

A few days later we broke up, but instead of going crazy, I turned to Mass. I started going nearly every day. Soon I took up praying the rosary daily as well. In a sense I did go crazy: crazy for the Eucharist. Heartbreak plunged me deep into the heart of God, seeking Him for healing, consolation and peace. It was in that deep time of prayer and throwing myself at God – the exact place I’d been unconsciously hiding from – that my vocation to marriage was confirmed. Marriage had always been on my heart, and in truth, running to religious life was really me running away from the pains and heartache of dating. It was in adoration one night that I felt God say to me, “I see your desire for religious life and I love that you are willing to give Me everything, but you and I both know that you deeply desire marriage – and that is where I need you. Go.” It was a beautiful moment I’ll never forget when, once and for all, He wrote my vocation on my heart so deeply that there was no more denying it, no more running it, no more fearing that He wouldn’t bring it about when the time was right.Amanda (Mortus) Sloan

In fact, it wasn’t long after that night that I began dating my fiance Anthony. We dated for seven months before he proposed at the National Shrine of St. Therese (who has been a monumental part of our relationship) and we are going to be married on May 31, 2014. God is faithful and once I stopped running away from the potential pain of a break-up, He showed me my vocation, how deeply He desires to bring about the fulfillment of my marital vocation, and the ways that a vocation to married life can and should bring about my sainthood.

Amanda Mortus blogs at worthy of Agape. Photo of St. Therese is in the public domain. Engagement photo by Irving Photography.

“Drawn into a Sacred Work” – Fr. Bill Beauchamp, C.S.C.

My “introduction” to Holy Cross came in the form of a telephone call from Fr. Tom McNally, C.S.C., in 1972 offering me a position as an RA in Grace Hall at the University of Notre Dame. I was 30 years old at the time, and about to enter Notre Dame Law School. I had never lived in a college dormitory. I had never set foot on the Notre Dame campus. And yet I had signed up to begin anew as a student, living with college undergraduates 18 to 20 years old. I figured I could put up with almost anything for three years.Fr. Bill Beauchamp, Holy Cross

Overall, I ended up spending 25 years living in undergraduate residence halls at Notre Dame – 25 years for which I will always be grateful.

It was in Grace Hall working with Holy Cross religious that I first started considering the possibility of life as a Holy Cross priest. After graduating from law school and practicing law for a couple of years, I entered Moreau Seminary at the age of 35. But, the roots of my vocation can be traced back to my parents and family, the nuns who taught me in grade school and high school, and the priests at my parish growing up for whom I had great admiration and respect.

I had been involved as a college professor, college administrator, business professional and a lawyer before I entered the seminary. I was happy and successful in all that I had done, but there was always the unsettled feeling that I was supposed to be doing something else. Continue reading

Sr. John Mary, Sisters of Life

The story of God’s extraordinary work in an ordinary human life is a mystery—words can only tell a fraction of the story. In my case, the voice of the Lord was not heard in any dramatic way, but rather like Elijah, through gentle, persistent breezes—so gentle that it took me years to notice their Divine source. My journey to the convent was primarily an intellectual one. I had a healthy curiosity about the world and a desire to experience all it had to offer: education, adventure, friendships, travel and work. Through all my worldly pursuits, God spoke to me through what I love most—ideas and work.Sr. John Mary, Sisters of Life

My upbringing in a devoutly Catholic family prepared me to hear God’s call and respond to it. My family is from Goa, a Portuguese part of India evangelized by St. Francis Xavier in the 16th century, where a strong Catholic identity remains the hallmark of the culture. My grandparents and parents journeyed from India to Kenya, Uganda, England, and Wales before settling in Canada where I was born. I am the youngest of four and had a prayerful, joyful family life marked by daily Mass and daily rosary. While my parents never explicitly spoke of religious vocations, through their actions, they showed us that the most important thing in life was a relationship with God.

I had a keen interest in politics, religion and culture, and from an early age was deeply disturbed by the unrestricted state-funded abortion license in Canada. I was active in a pro-life youth group in high school and Pope John Paul II’s Gospel of Life convinced me that the defense of human life was the most pressing issue of our time. I studied history and politics, then started a job with the University of Toronto. While I thought my professional future might be in education or politics, I had chosen and settled on a specific career path. After a year in Toronto, through a stunning experience of God’s grace, I was offered the job of my dreams to work for the Holy See (Vatican) at the United Nations in New York. Continue reading