Mornings are God’s masterpieces. A new day awakens, filled with potential. The night sky disappears into the heavens, while the sun slowly creeps up out of the distant horizon.
Most of the time, I don’t see the sun rise. Dawn comes quite early according to any clock and Carmelite Sisters rise even before the sun does.
One day is etched in my memory because God opened my eyes to see what a masterful coordinator He is, and how very much He is into the smallest details of my life. It began like any other day.
The convent rising bell awakened me from a very sound sleep. Opening one eye and then the other, I realized slowly that, indeed, it was time to get up. We Sisters begin each day with a short hymn that we sing while rising, followed by a short prayer. Thirty minutes later we are all in the chapel chanting Morning Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, followed by community prayers, a half hour of meditation, and Mass. This particular morning, the sun rose during our breakfast, approximately two hours after rising. During the winter season, it begins to peek out during our Mass.
This eye-opening true story happened to me. Through it, I learned that the saints in heaven are our friends – I mean real friends – and that the communion of saints, which is defined as the “the union which exists between the members of the Church on earth with one another, and with the blessed in heaven and with the suffering souls in purgatory” is not just a theological concept. We are all connected spiritually. I need to eat humble pie in retelling this story, because part of it revolves around my lack of faith and my doubts – yes, even as a Carmelite Sister.
About ten in the morning, Sister Gloria Therese and I began a drive in our convent car from Alhambra to a destination we had never been to before, to meet a person we had never seen before . . . . Well, I’m getting ahead of my story. How about if I just start at the beginning?
The Sacred Heart Retreat House is located in Alhambra, California and this year is its seventieth anniversary. Our retreats were growing in number and in attendance and so we were overjoyed when, not too long ago, the property across the street went up for sale. It was a beautiful piece of land, with a church/hall, kitchen, meeting rooms, gardens, all a brief one minute’s walk from Sacred Heart. We were able to work out the terms for acquiring the property and decided unanimously to name if after St. Joseph. Today, people all around know it as the St. Joseph Campus of Sacred Heart Retreat House.
Over the next few years, our Sisters worked hard to discern its specific niche in the San Gabriel Valley and greater Los Angeles area. It became the perfect location for day and evening retreats, conferences, workshops, youth groups, young adult groups, organizations like the Knights of Columbus and Right to Life and Catholic elementary, and secondary schools, as well as parish religious education programs. We held picnics, and concerts, garden fairs and “spirituali-teas.” We also offered bible studies and a spirituality speaker series. Although we were still in “start-up” mode, things were going well.
Just a few years after opening St. Joseph’s, Sister Gloria Therese, the director, mentioned at our Friday staff meeting that she thought it was the right time to start a newsletter which would publicize our events and be a means of sharing who we are and what we do. Still in initial start-up, we had very little money. Sister Gloria Therese has great faith in St. Joseph and asked us to pray daily to St. Joseph to ask him to help us find a printing company that would print a newsletter for us free of charge.
Five Sisters were assigned to St. Joseph Campus that year. Now, even though Catholic religious sisters may look alike to the casual observer – we have the same tunic, the same veil, almost the same shoes – each one of us has her own distinct and often interesting personality. Each one of us, in our personal prayer, prays in her own personal prayer style. Some are more devotional, some are more private, and some are more intense. As Sister Josephine would say, “There are many flowers in God’s garden.”
I was one of the sisters assigned to St. Joseph Campus that year. When Sister Gloria Therese suggested we pray to St. Joseph for a printing company willing to print our first newsletter for free, all of us agreed to pray. She suggested that we could all come together and sing a hymn to St. Joseph, place fresh cut flowers at the base of his statue in the main hall, and pray together asking him to help us find the right printer for our first newsletter. Then the bomb fell. “Today is January 5th,” she said, “and we would like to send out the newsletter so it will reach the homes by the feast of St. Joseph, March 19th. So, when we pray, let’s give St. Joseph the deadline of 12:00 noon on January 31st to lead us to the printing company he wants us to use.”
What nerve to give St. Joseph a deadline! How could I ever give a saint a deadline to “come through” for us? Unheard of! Was that not presumptuous and proud, even arrogant? What on earth was she thinking of? It didn’t seem in character for her, usually so sensible. I looked around the table. No one else seemed to mind. They were all nodding their heads in agreement. I kept my thoughts to myself, and for the next three weeks at the conclusion of our Friday staff meetings – sure enough – with freshly-cut flowers arranged in a beautiful vase, we processed up the main aisle of St. Joseph Hall to his statue at the front. Five Carmelite Sisters gathered around St. Joseph’s statue in a large hall meant for hundreds of people. Next, we placed the flowers at the base of the statue, said our prayer to St. Joseph asking his help by noon on January 31st, and concluded by singing our hymn. Sister Josephine especially loved it. After all, she had taken St. Joseph’s name as a novice. The others prayed and sang loudly and with faith. I was amazed and enthralled at the simple, fervent, expectant prayer of my Carmelite Sisters.
Sadly though, I harbored misgivings about giving St. Joseph a deadline, a little embarrassment at giving him flowers and singing, and a few doubts that he would come through for us. Like I mentioned, even though we Sisters look alike, inside we are our own personality, and our particular understanding of things, just like anyone else.
Then one day, much to my chagrin, I discovered that I had misplaced a photo that was needed for advertising. It was the best, the perfect photo to illustrate the beauty and functionality of our Sacred Heart Room. I had taken it when the early morning sunlight was streaming through the large bay east windows. It depicted young, engaged couples listening to a speaker, very much at ease and with interested looks on their faces. Like I said, it was the perfect photo, and now it was lost. I remember that I looked for that photo for two weeks and couldn’t find it. Sister Gloria Therese phoned my office, finally one day, and said we needed the photo that day by noon. Could I please look for it a little harder? That’s when I began a systematic, methodical search through every cabinet, drawer and whatever else was in my office. After two hours of searching, I finally came to the last possible place where a photo could be hiding. The bottom left drawer of my desk. It was the only placed I hadn’t yet searched.
After removing all the items from the drawer, I thought I saw something. What was that little paper stuck in the back left corner? I tried pulling it out, but it was stuck pretty securely. Avoiding the temptation to just leave it there, I prayed for patience and meticulously and gently pulled at the paper. It finally came out. It was a business card. Turning it over, it was the name of a printing company. It was definitely NOT the longed-for photo of the Sacred Heart Room. I sighed, replaced the items and looked at the clock 11:51 a.m. Time for our midday examination of conscience and the Angelus. I’d better hurry.
On my way to the chapel, I stopped into Sister Gloria Therese’s office. “Sister, we will have to go with the other photo of the Sacred Heart Room – our second choice. Sorry, but I just couldn’t find the one we liked so much. By the way, do you recognize this old business card? I found it lodged in the back corner of one of the drawers in my desk.”
She looked at the card, turned it over and examined the other side. “No,” she replied, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before. At least, I don’t remember it.” Then she stopped a moment, looked at it again, and then gave her very unique “Sr. Gloria Therese quick step”, the running-in-place-dance-step, which automatically occurs when she is absolutely thrilled about something. I remember thinking, what in the world is she so thrilled about? We’d better head over to the chapel; we were late already.
“Sister Timothy, THIS IS A BUSINESS CARD,” she proclaimed, her eyes wide with excitement.
“I know it’s a business card,” I replied. “Remember, I just handed it to you.”
“Sister Timothy, THIS IS A BUSINESS CARD FOR A PRINTING COMPANY.”
“I noticed that, too,” I answered, “but, you can hardly read it anymore.”
Again her little quick-step and, “SISTER TIMOTHY, IT IS 11:55 A.M. ON JANUARY 31ST. ST. JOSEPH WANTS US TO USE THIS PRINTER. PLEASE CALL HIM.”
Her words hit me like a ton of bricks. Sure enough, it was 11:55 a.m. on January 31st, only five minutes prior to the 12:00 noon deadline we had given St. Joseph. Amazing! Still, how could I ever call a printing company I had never heard of and ask outright if they would donate their printing services for a newsletter for a group of Catholic Sisters.
After our noon prayers, as we were all walking to lunch, I told myself, “I’d better just summon up my courage and my humility and make this call. If I wait, or if I think about it too much, I will lose heart and courage. This will not be an easy call for me to make. So, out came the business card from my pocket and I called. No one answered and the voice mail activated. Taking a deep breath, I began. “Hello, good afternoon, my name is Sister Timothy Marie, a Catholic nun from Alhambra. I came across your business card stuck in a back corner of my desk.” Then I simply told the story. Yes, I included the hymn, the flowers, the prayer, and the faith of my sisters that St. Joseph would answer us by noon of January 31st. Let me tell you, it was one interesting phone call. I ended by saying, “I totally understand if you don’t call us back. Please know that I just had to call because we found this card nine minutes before our deadline to St. Joseph. God bless you and thank you for listening.”
After lunch was over, I checked my voice mail. A deep, resonant voice spoke, “Hello, Sr. Timothy, this is John Hunter from Hunter Printing.* Yes, I remember you. I met Sr. Gloria Therese one day in the office of a graphic artist who does some of our graphic design for our business. I remember they were designing a CD album cover for your music CD. I remember the cover of the album had a Sister’s photo and a bouquet of red roses. I gave Sister Gloria Therese my business card and said that if she ever needed a printer to give us a call. That was several years ago. Call me back and we’ll see what we can do.” I took a deep breath, replayed the message and then forwarded it along to Sister Gloria Therese. A few days later, Sister Gloria Therese and I drove to Hunter Printing.
As we walked into the office, John Hunter came out to meet us. He had tears in his eyes. “Good afternoon, Sisters, your phone call meant so much to me. So, you asked St. Joseph to help you find a printer. Well, my wife and I are in the process of reconciliation with the Catholic Church. My wife was away from the Catholic Church and spent ten years in the New Age movement. I’m currently in R.C.I.A. We both listened to your phone message. Your message is a blessing and a confirmation to us. We thank God for bringing us together with the Carmelite Sisters and we want to help you with the printing of your first Saint Joseph Campus Newsletter. We are happy and honored to print the first newsletter for St. Joseph Campus free of charge.” Sister Gloria Therese and I were speechless. All of us had tears of joy streaming down our faces.
A few days later, John called and told us that he had called a paper company which agreed to donate the paper, and a mailing company to donate the mailing of the newsletter. Subsequently, his wife gave her testimony as one of our featured speakers at St. Joseph’s Campus.
I wish we could see the graces of each day like we see the sunbeams dancing in the sunlight. But we can’t. I wish we could see them as they stream forth from God to us. But we can’t. We can see them, though, in the goodness of people and in the beauty of solidarity, in the blessing of giving and in the blessing of receiving. That evening as the sun was setting, we marveled at what had happened – the lost photo, the total cleaning of an office, the little business card stuck in a corner of a drawer, a couple reconciling with the Church, a paper company willing to do a good deed, a mailing company going the extra mile and a Catholic Sister who contemplated within her heart a new idea – for St. Joseph actually met the deadline. Friends understand and enjoy each other. I learned that saints can really be our friends and that St. Joseph enjoyed meeting Sr. Gloria Therese’s deadline.
After all, they are good friends.
This post is by Sister Timothy Marie, O.C.D. is co-editor of Spirit of Carmel magazine.
* The names of the company and owner are not real.
This story is dedicated to Sister Maria Josefa, OCD, who entered eternal life on September 19, 2011 just as this story was being written. Because of the current construction at Santa Teresita in Duarte, California, Sister Maria Josefa had wondered about and worried about the statue of St. Joseph situated in an area marked for demolition. As the statue of St. Joseph was moved to a beautiful new location right in front of St. Joseph Chapel, our Sister Maria Josefa breathed her last and entered into eternal life. This story is dedicated to you, Sister Maria Josefa, for you, too, are a good friend of St. Joseph.