Sister Joseph Marie of the Child Jesus, O.P.
Late have I loved you
O Beauty ever ancient ever new
Late have I loved you
(St. Augustine, Confessions, 10, 27)
As I reflect upon the seeds of my vocation, I can only say that it was “His hands that made me and shaped me” by entrusting me to the loving embraces of my family, friends, and people I’ve met and by guiding me through the events of daily life.
I was born into a communist society but grew up drinking from the fountain of my mother’s deep Catholic faith and wisdom. She, the saints, and especially the Holy Family were my role models. The Holy Souls became my dear friends through our nightly family prayers and rosary. My mother’s persevering prayers, courage, and total abandonment to Divine Providence brought us out of Viet Nam to the Midwest, for the sole purpose of maintaining our faith. We were among the thousands of “boat people.” Mom would often chant: “The devil sifts you like rice,” and, “To gain the whole world and lose your soul, what benefit would that be?” These rich experiences and teachings made a deep impression on me and kept me thinking of eternity.
But really…how on earth did I decide to become a nun? Well, the fact that I am now a nun is beyond my comprehension for it’s still a mystery and completely the grace and will of God … His plan since the moment I was being “knitted together in my mother’s womb.” While I was growing up, I never saw a religious Sister nor had any revelation or concept of religious life. I was mesmerized by the wonderful world of science, but also always loved children and worked with them every summer during high school. I wanted to be a teacher, missionary, and mother…my aspirations were endless.
Then came the reality and challenges of college life. It was then that the Spirit of God gently touched my heart. I was very inspired by the joyful presence of many young Vietnamese sisters and seminarians and the holy witness of Mother Teresa and our Holy Father John Paul II, who put so much trust, responsibility and hope in us young people to build the future. All these ignited in me the flame of service to mankind. Thinking that this insane thought of religious life was an escape, I pursued science. However, the Spirit kept increasing the flame’s intensity as the attraction grew stronger each year. Immediately after graduation, I visited a Vietnamese community in California, and the sisters advised that I pay off my huge student loan first…the debt that seemed to take a lifetime to pay. Upon returning home, I declined employment offers, with opportunities for graduate studies, research/teaching, then headed West to reunite with my sisters.
It was here in California that I truly discovered the many passions and loves of my life…the beautiful beaches, the mountains, lasting friendships, love, and The One. I got a good job and within a few years, jumped almost to the top of the ladder of success. God continually and patiently whispered in my ears, but the noise of daily life took over, and I was lost in the busy and restless world. I soon found every minute of my days filled with meetings, problem solving, socializing, more “challenges” and of course, more meetings…activities that seemed to crowd out the persistent and small calling of the Lord.
In the words of St. Paul, I boast only in the Lord for all my success and the achievement of the “American Dream” in a relatively short time. He graciously gave me every good thing in life “overflowing and without measure,” but I constantly felt the void that seemed like a great abyss. Nothing and no one was able to fill the emptiness. Daily Mass sustained me temporarily and knew I had to do something with my life…but what?…and how?
I spotted a listing of the diocese’s vocation office in the church’s bulletin. I talked to the vocation directress, attended retreats and meetings given by different groups of sisters, and was quite shocked at the sight of sisters who were not wearing habits. Their ministries were meaningful, but somehow I was not satisfied and soon fell back into the trap of worldly allurements.
Like St. Augustine, God not only called, but then He “shouted, and broke through my deafness”, and He “flashed, shone and dispelled my blindness.”‘ (Confessions of St. Augustine 10,27) I often found myself in tears upon hearing any Gospel passages related to the calling, especially the story of the rich young man who refused to follow Jesus because he had much to give up. I began to have a deep spiritual thirst and yearning to know more about God and deepen my faith. I enjoyed reading spiritual books and praying and meditating during my quiet time in the early mornings. I started collecting and reading vocation stories, took the vocation quizzes and knew beyond a doubt the calling was very real. The Holy Spirit definitely melted the wax in my heart. Still confused I asked…but where?
Again God quickly sent lightning with a toll-free hot-line of the national vocation office in the church’s bulletin. I called and obtained a list of various monasteries in California. It is true that as God closes one door, He opens another. I felt very attracted to the Dominicans. I was also thrilled that they had Internet and that I could communicate with them through email. A month of aspirancy within the enclosure with its merit and charm confirmed my desire, and I felt very content.
Throughout my confused and rather lengthy discernment journey, I always felt (and still do at times) discouraged at my own unworthiness, sinfulness, fear, and weaknesses at not being able to let go of my loved ones and worldly attractions and the thought that some people felt called since childhood or never had any doubts about their calling. I often ran to our Lady for help, and she gave me her Son as my personal spiritual director. He always reassured me through His Living Word that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friend; that I am His and He will allure me into the wilderness and speak tenderly to my heart; that I have not chosen Him, but it was He who has chosen me; that He will create a clean heart and put a steadfast spirit within me; that all things are vanity; that I need not be afraid but rely on His strength; that all He asks of me is to do good, to love justice, and to walk humbly with Him; and that He will give me a hundred-fold in return for leaving everything to follow Him and to risk my life with Him for the conversions of lost souls and of the world. Providentially, almost every time I came to visit the monastery, one of the sister’s families would be here and I would be invited for ice cream. Seeing how close-knitted, and how warm and genuinely human the nuns are, gave me much hope and courage.
On one Sunday, October 13, the anniversary of the miracle of the Sun at Fatima, I decided to disappear into the sunset and imitate Jesus and His saints by leaving everything and entering Corpus Christi Monastery. I was accompanied by my family who has been so loving and has been a strong support for me on my journey of faith. I’ve been joyfully singing theMagnificat with the Virgin Mary each evening, and truly ‘From this day all generations will called me blessed.’ (Lk 1:48)
The Dominican’s charism in following St. Dominic’s quest for learning the truth and for ministering to souls attracted me greatly. I received the habit on May 1st during the beautiful Easter season, also the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, and recently made my Solemn Profession of Vows, also on May 1st, amidst the loving support of our Dominican family, my own family, friends, benefactors, the Church and the whole heavenly court!
Our whole life is harmoniously ordered to the continual remembrance of God, and the eternal happiness of every soul is our maternal concern. Our Holy Father, St. Dominic so designed the Order that “free for God alone, the nuns accompany the friars in their holy preaching for the salvation of souls.” Before entering, I did not know much about St. Dominic but now in having acquired a deeper knowledge of him, I have become very grateful for his legacy, the heritage he left us of fraternal charity, the unique principle of dispensation which is a built-in pressure releaser for any healthy community life, the democratic government that is broad and joyous – with leaders having complete trust and confidence in each as individuals in allowing us space to grow and reach our full potential; and liberating us to do everything (yes, even penances!) with moderation, and in the most effective and humane way. Naturally, with every big family, community life always brings joys and challenges. Each sister brings her gifts, talents, and unique personality that make life interesting, challenging and also demanding at times. But like St. Paul, the Lord keeps assuring me “My grace is sufficient for you,” and truly, this is our most precious possession.
Overall, my heart is overwhelmed with joy, along with immense and endless gratitude to God, and like our Blessed Mother, I constantly ponder over the marvels He has done for me. And finally! the emptiness of my life is filled with His Living Word and tender love. The full daily liturgical celebration with chanting of the psalms and the Scriptural study quench my thirst. The silent time spent before the Blessed Sacrament allows me to rest in God as He in me. I’m totally content with my ambitions and desires to comfort Jesus because of the neglects and abuses shown him by his own creatures; to embrace the needs of the Church and each afflicted person in the world. All these are possible with just simple glances at our omnipotent Eucharistic King, my Spouse and Savior. One of the many great aspects of the enclosed life is that I can have personal, face-to-face encounters with our Creator throughout the day, and the amount of solitude spent with Him.
My friends ask what brings about all this happiness and I can only describe my joy through the famous words of St. Augustine:
“You have created us for Yourself, O God, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.”
And those of the psalmist:
“What can bring us happiness? many say. Let the light of Your face shine on us, O Lord.”
For those who are discerning their vocation and felt drawn to give their life to God, I sincerely invite you to come and spend some time in solitude…to better hear God’s voice speaking to your heart and to discover His will. Only then can you “Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord.”