J.M. + J.T.
Sister Faustina of Merciful Love, O.C.D.
Location: Currently teaching junior high in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, USA
Community: Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles
Entered Carmel: September 14, 2003
Entered the Novitiate: July 16, 2004
Professed First Vows: July 23, 2006
Professed Final Vows: July 15, 2012
Favorite Saints: all of them, especially St. Faustina, St. Teresa of Jesus, St. Therese of the Child Jesus and Venerable Mother Luisita (Foundress of our Community)
I grew up in Southern California, in a very loving family as the oldest of three children. Although our religious formation was not explicit, God certainly played a part in our family life. My parents were both very moral people and they taught us by word and example what it means to love and sacrifice. Growing up we frequently attended a Protestant church and enjoyed Sunday School and family church events. It wasn’t until my freshman year of high school when I was enrolled in a “Confirmation Class” that I was able to attend church every Sunday. During that year, I also joined the church’s youth group and which had a great impact on my faith. At the end of that year, I was baptized and I began to take an even more active role in my church community. Throughout high school, my faith grew and grew until it was the driving force of my life.
As a senior in high school, I began to dialogue with a Catholic young man. He shared with me that Catholics believed that the Eucharist is the actual Body and Blood of Jesus and that the Church was the one, true Church founded by Jesus Christ. These wild claims simply blew me away! I had never heard such audacious statements of faith or the depth of theology which was necessary to explain and back up these truths. In short, I spent the next twelve months digging through the Bible and talking to many people of faith. It wasn’t until I went to college the following fall that I found answers that would satisfy my thirst for Truth. And I chose to become Catholic. Alleluia!
Many treasures awaited me that year. Our campus was incredibly blessed to have a wonderful and energetic Carmelite priest as its chaplain. Father brought the joy of the sacraments and the teachings of the Church to those of us who were yearning for Truth in the midst of a very secular university. Several of us, who were in the campus Newman Club, spent many nights each week with him as he travelled between the different contemplative prayer groups that he led. During those evenings, I fell in love with prayer. For the first time I experienced God in the silence of waiting and in the stillness of contemplation. I came to know the great Carmelite saints and the Carmelite spirit became rooted in my heart.
After my first year of college, my heart was burning with the desire to know more about this ultimate Truth I had fallen in love with. So, I decided to study Theology and I transferred to Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. My years there were incredibly blessed. Our Lord gently but insistently deepened my faith and my love for the Church. I continued to be try to be faithful to daily Mass and at least half an hour of “silence and stillness” before the Eucharist each day (even though much of the time I spent dozing off.) Jesus certainly showered many graces and gifts upon me during those anointed days of college.
One of the special things about Franciscan University is that the majority of the student body is actively discerning their vocations. There is a zealous openness toward all vocations and everyone is eager to know that path that God has called them to. In the midst of all this vocational excitement, I was quite content frequenting the dating scene and moving towards marriage. I felt that I was open to being called to Religious Life but I certainly didn’t feel “called” in the slightest. I didn’t have any desire to drop everything and simply discern. I guess I just knew that if God wanted me to change paths He would let me know. And He did.
After I graduated, I committed to a year of volunteer service (with another Steubenville graduate) in a very small and very rural parish in Louisiana. We began an after-school program for the local children and the rest of our time was used as the pastor saw fit. We wore many hats during that joy-filled year: visitor to the sick and shut-ins, house and building renovator, park and playground builder, house painter, children’s choir leader, high school chastity speaker and Confirmation teacher (to name a few.)
When I first arrived in Louisiana, I was busy with a long-distance dating relationship. Things were getting more serious and so I decided to begin novena to St. Therese about whether I was supposed to be open to marrying this young man. As I had heard many stories about Therese’s powerful intercession, I decided to ask big. I wanted to know clearly the vocation God was calling me to. I began the novena asking for a real rose in full bloom if I was to marry the young man I was dating and I asked for a real rosebud if I was to save my heart for someone else. I figured I had it all worked out and that I had God right where I wanted Him: I was bound to be given a rose someday and it had to either be in bloom or still a rosebud and then I would know my vocation. Well, in the middle of the novena, I realized that I hadn’t made room for the outlandish possibility that I was called to Religious Life so I added a little aside for good measure: if I was called to Religious Life, I wanted a white rose. Now I was all set. All I needed to do was simply wait for the first rose given me and my vocation discerning would be finished. Very simple… or so I thought.
The novena ended on the feast of St. Therese and I received no rose. On the other hand that day, several very clear events made me realize that God not only wanted me to end this dating relationship but also that now was time to be still and discern my vocation. Several months passed with no rose. In the meantime, Jesus was incredibly merciful and sent me a spiritual director who could help me listen better to God’s will for me. I spent those months simply asking for His light and His will and the grace to accept His voice. Slowly, in the silence of prayer, I realized that the only thing necessary was to discover how my heart was made to love.
In December, we were making preparations for a parish retreat which we were going to help lead on the 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. During one of our planning meetings, the retreat directress was listing off the many things we still needed to get ready for the retreat, now only three days away, “Bibles, markers, holy water, music, paper…. and there is something I am forgetting…. Roses! We need to give the ladies white roses to celebrate making their first retreat!” My heart almost stopped. I knew immediately. The possibility of receiving a white rose made the world come to a screeching halt. Nothing seemed to matter any longer other than the crisis that was at hand. I can’t say that I spent those next few days very peacefully. Everything in me wrestled with the thought that I might actually be called to be a Religious- to give up marriage, a family, a career of my choice, and worst of all, to disappoint my family.
The graces present in those two days must have been some of the most powerful in my life because by the 8th, my heart had undergone a major change. Somewhere deep inside, I was shocked to find myself hoping to receive one of the white roses that had been placed in a vase at the foot of the church altar. There was no guarantee that I would even be given one because, firstly, we didn’t know how many people were coming and secondly, I didn’t know if the retreat directress would even give me one of the leftovers. But, somewhere, very deep, in a place that I had never known before, there emerged a hope for a white rose and consequently, a vocation to Religious Life. Peace once again flooded my soul and I knew that whether or not I received a white rose that day, I had finished discerning my vocation: my heart was made to love Jesus alone and to love all persons in Him. I was made to be all Jesus’, to be His spouse. The retreat came to an end and to my astonishment, a white rose was placed in my hand and tears flowed down my checks. The door to a new and fuller life was opened to me and with expectant joy and intense gratitude I stepped through.
When I came home to California for Christmas break, I called the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles to ask to come and visit. This was the only convent I knew about in Southern California and several of my friends had been discerning their vocation with these beautiful Sisters. I had very little idea what a convent looked like or what Sisters even did but I knew that I was being called to be one. I had a very peaceful private retreat and watched the sisters from a distance. Yes. This was my vocation.
I returned to Louisiana shortly thereafter to continue volunteer service. The spring months were spent praying about which community I was called to join. I had a long list of wonderful communities to go and visit on my way home in May. Sadly, I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to travel with me on this long road-trip between convents. Then one day during Mass, I was reminded by Our Lord that my heart was already Carmelite – He had formed His “secret garden” (Carmel means secret garden) in my soul as He was bringing me into His Church. I needed to look no further. When I finished my service in Louisiana, I simply drove straight home. First on my list of things to do was to revisit the Carmelites in Alhambra. After the third day of my five-day Come and See, I asked to apply. I was Carmelite and I had found Home.
Only July 15th, 2012, I had the immense and incomprehensible grace of being eternally espoused to Jesus Christ through perpetual vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. This day will forever stand as the most important of my life for it was the day that I freely gave my whole self away to Love.
Escorted down the aisle by my parents, joyfully surrounded by family and friends, spurred on by the faith and example of my religious sisters, I dared to approach the altar of mercy to lay down my life in union with my Spouse. The church resounded with the solemn promise to give all: “For the honor of God…I, Sister Faustina of Merciful Love, vow forever, chastity, poverty and obedience according to the Constitutions of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles…”
Moments later, my Spouse, through the hands of the priest, lovingly placed a ring of betrothal on my finger and a crown of His glorious beauty on my head. Then through the hands of His priests, He united my humble gift of self to His own, as He offered Himself to the Father in a supreme and eternal act of Love. In the Eucharist, our hearts were bound together in the greatest of mysteries. I am forever and entirely His. He is forever and entirely mine. All of heaven and earth, all of time and eternity, rejoices in this great exchange. And joy unimaginable fills the hearts of the Betrothed.
“Strong is His love for us; He is faithful forever!” Psalm 117:2
Advice to those discerning:
“The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5) All the faithful have received this outpouring of God’s Love through their baptism. In God’s providence, however, He has nurtured this baptismal grace in the souls of some so that it may blossom into a desire to respond to God’s Love with an exclusive love. Those who respond to this invitation feel most deeply that they must repay Love with love. This Love – received and freely reciprocated – impels one to make a bold and brash gift of self, a perfect holocaust in which nothing is held back from the consuming fire of this Love.
When I first heard God’s loving invitation to be His spouse, I had very little idea what this vocation entailed. Since then, I have come to know and experience that Religious Life allows one to embrace the way of life which Christ chose for Himself. He was poor and dependent on the Father’s providence; we are poor and dependent on the Father’s providence. With a heart wholly given to the Father, He loved universally; we, too, seek to love God with an undivided heart and to love our neighbors with a universal love. He was obedient unto death; we freely offer our wills to the Father through our obedience to our superiors. In this way, we are able to follow our Spouse more closely and make His very life present in the world for all to witness.
Be not afraid! Duc in altum! If our Lord is calling, step forward to seek His will. He is faithful and desires nothing but your supreme happiness. The deepest joy is found in giving yourself away. If He is calling, hold nothing back.
“The deepest desire of a woman’s heart is to surrender herself lovingly to another, to be wholly his and to possess him wholly… only God can receive this complete surrender of a person and in such a way that she does not lose, but gains her soul.” St. Teresa Benedicta