By: Sister Gloria Therese, O.C.D.
It was a privilege to grow up on a dairy farm in Minnesota. My grandparents, my dad’s parents, had a house on the same farm as ours. Grandpa and Grandma Laven prayed the Rosary after supper every night. When my sister and I were little, we would run over to their house and we’d kneel down by the couch with them to pray.
During the summers Grandma Laven and I would drive on the country roads to a little town with a tiny church so we could attend daily Mass together. There were probably ten or fifteen people at Mass. When I was around ten years old, my experience of the Mass was an experience of being at home, of being my most authentic self. When I was worshipping God I was in my element. Growing up I was also very active: playing volleyball and softball, participating in student government and choir, as well as enjoying time with my friends.
In the midst of my teenage years I began to find myself saying and doing things that were not true to who God had made me to be. When I was fifteen, my catechism teacher invited our class to go on a weekend retreat. There was something in me that said, “I want to go! I need to go!” Deep within I recognized that I was not being my authentic self. On the second night of the retreat I stood with the other seventy-four students in the darkened lower level of the church. We slowly walked together up the stairs and into the darkened Church. We were astonished to find the aisle lined by more than two hundred teenagers holding candles singing “I Am the Bread of Life.” They had all made this very same retreat before and they had been praying for us all weekend. As I walked up the aisle into the sanctuary, I experienced a profound sense of God’s love for me, and a deep desire to be part of the Church. All these teenagers came just because they wanted us to know that we were being prayed for throughout our weekend Retreat. It was a powerful sign to me of the unity of the Church. This experience awakened in me a desire to place God at the center of my life.
When I went to college, I had my life planned. My dream was to have my own private practice in clinical psychology. I would earn my degrees, get married, have a family, and then once my children were in school, I would continue with my private practice. I had told Him, “God, You are the center of my life.” In the same breath, I was in essence saying, “these are my plans, and You can fulfill them for me.” Not quite what He had in mind when I claimed Him as the center of my life! The beautiful thing is that He accepts our good desires and works with us on the rest.
When I finished college and was working, I became a Secular Order Carmelite. During one of our monthly holy hours, as we began our meditation, everything fell silent. Suddenly it was like I was completely alone with Him. The Lord asked me in the depths of my heart, “What do you want?” So I told Him my plan, “Lord I want to get married and have a family.” He responded, “Will you be My bride? And will you bear the children that I give to you?” My heart was flooded with joy. He had just turned my world upside down, yet there was no fear, I just wanted to respond.
For a couple of days I was overwhelmed with the reality, the reception of His invitation. It was a receiving of the Word, and then a response of “What now?” I knew I wanted to be a Carmelite so I started spending a lot of time with the cloistered Carmelites. Now that I believed He was calling me, I just needed to know where He wanted me to go. At that same time, the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles made their very first trip to Minnesota. Sister Pauline Therese came and seven of us girls who lived together invited her to come over to our house. She came and gave a presentation. We enjoyed dinner together after which we sat and talked. At the end of the evening I knew I needed to come to California.
Before coming to California, I struggled with discerning whether God was calling me here or to the cloister. Usually young women with a vocation to the cloister have a deep certainty that God is calling them to the enclosure. Since I wasn’t fully convinced I had a cloistered vocation, I visited our community for the month of July. Spending time with the sisters helped me realize that although I didn’t feel 100% sure, I needed to step out in faith and apply for entrance. When I entered in the Fall, I was not filled with joy but with a deep peace that God wanted me here.
One day during my postulancy, I was in the refectory (the sisters’ dining room) mopping and buffing the floor. I was simply doing my ordinary duty when I suddenly experienced a moment of worship. In that moment I realized once again that here I was my most authentic self and my soul was flooded with joy. Since that moment, the joy of my vocation has never left me. My deepest center in my vocation is profound gratitude and joy for the gift of what God has given me.
Article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 edition of Spirit of Carmel