If you were to look up my Facebook profile during fall 2010 and winter 2011, you'd see a young woman living the good life. Every few pictures show a new location, with different friends and colleagues. Christmas lights at Rockefeller Center. Jellyfish at the Baltimore Aquarium. Fresh seafood at a Maryland restaurant. A collection of fun, exciting moments with new and old friends. My clothes were fashionable, my hair freshly styled, my makeup evenly applied. If I was ever young, free, and beautiful, it was during that time.
But what was happening to Mary on the inside?
After I completed Defense Information School in Maryland, I traveled to Arlington, Virginia, just south of D.C., for a three-month rotation at the Pentagon. I chose a high-rise apartment so close to the Pentagon, you could walk there by taking a pedestrian tunnel to the Pentagon’s back entrance.
During our first day of training, one of the public affairs officers (PAOs) gave all of us interns a tour of the iconic government building.
“The secret to traveling the Pentagon,” our tour guide explained, “is to always make your way back to the middle. Otherwise, you could be walking for a very long time.”
She wasn’t exaggerating. During my lunch break, it took me 17 minutes to walk the Pentagon’s outer ring.
"They used to have a great concession stand in the Pentagon courtyard," our guide said, pointing to the five-sided area outside. "It was so popular, the Russians thought we had a secret underground entrance out there." She smiled. "But it was just people waiting in line for hot dogs."
The Pentagon was like a little world of its own. It had a post office, florist, chocolate shop, pharmacy, hair salon, and food court inside. An entire room was dedicated to Red Boxes, with various movie selections. You could work there, day and night, without ever needing to leave the building.
The Pentagon's public affairs department was located in the side of the Pentagon where the hijacked plane crash-landed on 9/11.
“They had just renovated this side of the building,” one of the PAO staff told me, her voice somber. “If the plane had hit a different side, they think it might have gone all the way through.”
A non-denominational chapel was located in that wing, with memorials for those who’d lost their lives on 9/11. I went there for daily Mass a few times a week.
Perhaps it was after Mass that I learned about the weekly Holy Hour at St. Peter’s.
St. Peter’s is a beautiful Roman Catholic church located on Capitol Hill. On Wednesday evenings, I’d take the Metro line from Pentagon City to Capitol South, then walk a few blocks north to the old church for Adoration. Adoration is when the communion host, Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament, is placed inside a special gold pedestal (monstrance) for everyone to see.
I gazed at Jesus, displayed in the monstrance, and He gazed back at me.
I didn’t know what He was saying. He just kept looking and looking, with a gaze so piercing, the memory of it burned in my heart, long after I'd returned to my apartment home.
I kept going back for more. Certainly there were many other forms of entertainment available to me in those days. Movie nights in the mini theater downstairs; Happy Hours with the other interns; or margaritas at the Mexican restaurant across the street. Those things delighted my eyes, my intellect, and my tongue. But Adoration? It was food for my heart.
I experienced Adoration for the first time in the seventh grade. I can still remember the sweet scent of incense, the peaceful quiet, the sunlight pouring through the stained glass windows. I loved it all, as much as I was capable of loving it at 12 years old.
My heart had expanded a great deal since then. It had even expanded in the four months since I last attended Adoration in Texas. In Michigan, Texas, and D.C., Jesus remained the same.
I was the one who changed. My ability to receive His graces during Adoration grew exponentially as I matured in the spiritual life.
When I came before the Lord at St. Peter's Church, I started asking Him questions. Who was this Person, Who kept drawing me to Himself? Why was He bothering with someone like me?
What could I do to get closer to Him?
That January, my best friend sent me a package from her stay in the Philippines. Inside the box was a beautiful statue of the Blessed Mother holding the infant Jesus, all gilded in gold. Beside the statue was a red rosary bracelet with a coconut shell case.
I put the rosary to good use that winter. After working on the first draft of my novel, I’d pace up and down all 14 floors of my apartment complex, my new rosary in hand. It was a good workout, climbing up and down all those stairs. I never saw a single soul on those late-night walks. It was a time wrapped in my motion and His silence.
Five words came out of that walking time. I wrote them down in bold, neat letters on a Post-It note: “The Maximum, not the Minimum.” The most I could do in the spiritual life, not the minimum. The most I could pray, learn, and give up to get closer to Jesus, not what little I needed to do to get by. I wanted to get as close as possible, to be as holy and acceptable to the Lord, as I could possibly be.
I knew the Lord had forgiven me for my past mistakes, and that He would forgive me if I ever fell again. If He could forgive me, and I was willing to change…what was to prevent me from becoming a saint?
My three months at the Pentagon passed by in the blink of an eye. On March 15, 2011, I packed my Ford Fusion one last time for my final employment destination: Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond, KY. It was only a seven hour drive from home. Much closer than the 24 hour drive from Texas.
I left D.C. on a drizzly spring day. Kentucky was not where I wanted to end up permanently, but I was getting closer to my Michigan home. I was no longer just an intern, but a real public affairs specialist. And after living in three different locations during the past 18 months, I had a plan for how to make more friends in Kentucky, too. I left D.C. with a hopeful, grateful heart.
Kentucky, here I come.
Thank you for reading! Tune in next week to hear more about my spiritual journey to the convent!
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-based poems and fantasy quotes on her Instagram account, @faithandfantasy