Almost a Sister
I reached the antique couch in three quick strides, then perched on its silky edge. Sister Anna, the postulant mistress, sat across from me in a green-cushioned rocking chair. She looked so graceful and elegant in her white habit and black veil, especially in comparison to my rolled-up capris and sweaty t-shirt.
Sister gave me a serene smile. "Do you have any questions for me?"
I nodded. "In the convent, Sister, can you still keep your old friends?"
“Yes.” Sr. Anna said quietly. “I still have my best friend from before the convent. We cannot talk or see each other very often, but we are still best friends.”
My thoughts jumped immediately to my best friend in Seattle. She won't be very happy if I choose to enter here.
“How long have you been discerning, Mary?”
“Not very long, Sister. Just a few months.” I rested my elbows on my knees, pressed my fingers into my temples. “I—I feel so certain God is calling me to be a sister in here,” I pointed at my heart. “But...what if I’m wrong?”
Sr. Anna shrugged, folded her hands beneath the folds of her scapular.
“God will not deceive you,” she said.
Her simple words startled me.
Of course, I thought. Why would God make it impossible for me to understand what He wants me to do?
The Saint Cecilia Song
Later on retreat, we gathered in the hall to spend an hour with the novices.
“Oh, the novices!” One of the “black veil” sisters said. “They are so close to Jesus during their cloistered year!”
The second-year sisters looked heavenly indeed, dressed all in white. We retreatants were invited to ask them questions.
“How did you know?” The first retreatant asked.
Sister Rose, a smaller sister with dark hair, freckles, and glasses, spoke first.
“It was because I had a certain sense of wanting to love everybody,” she said. “That it wouldn’t be enough for me to love just one man, and one family. That God had made my heart to love the whole world.”
As I gazed at Sister Rose and the other twenty plus novices, seated together on the steps to the stage, their lives seemed more than ever a beautiful mystery. What was it about this simple, austere life that filled these women with so much joy?
Sister Rose pulled out a guitar, and another sister held up a violin.
"We wrote a song about St. Cecilia," said Sr. Rose. "We'd like to share it with you."
The instrumentalists played a short introduction, and then the novices began to sing. No one voice stood out in particular; rather, each sister's voice blended into a soaring unity:
While the music played, Cecilia sang
In her heart to her God
Though the darkness raged, Cecilia prayed
Make my heart immaculate...
It was a song about Saint Cecilia, patroness of the Sisters, ancient virgin and martyr. It told of her courage in the face of danger, and her love and fidelity to the Lord. The words seemed to spring from the depths of the novice's hearts, proclaiming their longing for the Lord:
Christ, Lord of Life, perfect Lamb sacrificed,
All I am, is thine, receive me now...
These women left everything in their old lives behind, to come to the Motherhouse.
They left everything behind, for Him.
Wow, I stared at the novices in awe. That's it.
Afterwards, I fled to the chapel, blessed myself with the Holy Water, knelt in the back of that glorious house of prayer. The window showing Saint Cecilia's martyrdom glowed in the sun's evening radiance. I observed the stern, tranquil face of the Saint, the reluctance of her executioner, the steely edge of his sword.
Oh Lord, I know You and love You, I prayed, my heart filling with wonder and tenderness and awe, but I don't know You like these Sisters do. I haven't gone so far to show You my devotion, to worship You with the gift of my life.
An irresistible longing rushed over and through me, and suddenly I was Saint Cecilia, facing her executioner, handing over her whole life to God. Now I was the one asked to make the ultimate sacrifice for the Lord. And suddenly, I not only wanted to make the sacrifice, but it felt like the most natural, the most "right" thing to do in the world.
All the things of this world have failed to satisfied me. Would it be too much to give up those things for God, the only One that truly matters?
"Saint Cecilia," I whispered, my fingers locked in fresh devotion, "pray for us!"
When I Know
After five days in Nashville, my vocation retreat with the Sisters was over. The twenty other retreatants and I packed up our cars and drove (or flew) to our homes across the country.
Will I see any of them again, I wonder?
I stole a final glance at the Motherhouse outside my car window. Again, I felt this dissonance inside, a clash between the deep knowing in my heart of what God wanted me to do, and the false humility that made me shrink away from that choice.
I wanted to go. But there were so many obstacles, so many things I'd have to leave behind. Twenty-six years of relationships and accomplishments, talents and possessions, all given up to God. As if I was dying early, like Cecilia.
"Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” - Matthew 16:25
The Apostles of the Interior Life called me when I returned to Kentucky. I spoke to them, still loved them and their mission. But my heart was already made up. I knew where, God willing, I was going in the fall.
A few weeks later, I called Sr. Emma and asked for an application to the postulancy at Saint Cecilia's.
Thank you so much for reading! Join me next week to learn the Sisters' reply...and how the Lord kept sending me different tests that summer, as if to ask, "Do you really mean it, Mary?"
Also, you can listen to the Sisters sing the Saint Cecilia Song here.
About the Author: Mary Rose Kreger lives in the metro Detroit area with her family, where she writes fantasy tales for teens, and blogs about her spiritual journey: before, during, and after the convent. Mary also shares faith and fantasy quotes on her Instagram account, @faithandfantasy1.