Sister Mary of the Rosary
I was born and raised in the Philippines, in the remote country side of Manila at Fort William MacKinley, where my father was stationed as the army’s dependant are housed closed to the base. It was an area of elegant beauty with vast rolling grassland, trees, shrub and multicolored flowering plants.
It was here at the age of two that I had a gleam of the mystery of life. It was a life-death experience when I got seriously ill and my parents almost gave up in trying to retrieve me from the grasp of death. I was unable to move or eat. On one early morning, my father silently brought me to a Pilgrim Shrine of our Lady of Antipolo at the remote country side. As soon as my father stepped out of the church after praying, I was instantly cured. I also told him I was very hungry so he brought me to a sidewalk restaurant and I ate with gusto.
The first time I saw a nun was in a dream… I was with a group of small children about my age, waiting for something by the roadside. A prairie schooner stopped by and a soldier picked us up for Sunday school. Then the wagon disappeared and we found ourselves on the road again. At a distance, I saw a gothic structured church on top of the mountain, shimmered with soft glow. As we proceeded in solemn procession to reach the top, I was awe-struck at the sight of a nun in white habit with veil and scapular blowing gently in the wind. I was drawn by the sublime scenario and said that when I grow up, I would be just like her.
These subconscious childhood experiences were the seed-ground of my faith, which was nourished and sustained by the Word of God and the writings of the Saints. Whenever I contemplate the event of my life-death experience, I remember the words of St. Ireneus: “the glory of God gives life, and those who see God receives life.” And as I meditate on my dream, I think of Revelation 21: ” I saw the New City and the New Jerusalem coming down from God, out of heaven as beautiful as a bride” and Matthew 3:3-4 “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of God.”
When I was 25 years old, I felt a strong calling, coming from the love of God and my yearning to serve Him. I entered the apostolic congregation of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cahterine of Siena in Manila. Even with the love the sisters had for me, I was not at peace and felt sick for a time. I left after a brief time of postulancy, but the strong attraction to the religious life never left me. Eventually I came to America in 1966 to be reunited with my family and worked in an office until I found my true love and the vocation of my life.
During my early thirties, the yearning came back but I thought I was too old for religious life, so I considered becoming a lay missionary. I joined the Cursillo movement and this deepened my love for God and my desire to serve Him even more. I attended a three days intensive retreat and this was the first time I truly felt I had really fallen in love with God. In gratitude for His deep love, I promised I would do whatever His will for me would be. After the retreat, they gave us a Bible with the instruction to “go out and preach the Word of God.” Since I had limited English, with an accent and without much knowledge of the American culture, I panicked at the thought of becoming a Preacher. However, I begged God for the grace and gift of speech as we gathered around the Blessed Sacrament with lighted candle in the dark Chapel to say our last prayer.
The spiritual experience from the retreat was rich and set me flying high, and I really thought I would be a missionary. But what really rekindled in me was the strong vocation feeling which gave me the courage to enter religious life. I brought home as a memento a crudely colored written poster without even reading it. Upon arriving home, a friend handed me a book entitled: The Death of God. This thought threw me back into sadness and confusion. Emotionally shocked, I opened my luggage and the poster popped up which read: “God is alive and well and living in you”. Shortly later I came upon the following statement in a book by John Powell “Why am I afraid to love?”
“The real problem is not that God is dead, but that we who are supposed to reflect God and who stand as symbols of God especially for the young, is dead in us — because we have never understood Him.” At that moment I knew I had to follow my heart desire and find my true vocation in religious life.
Soon after my friend gave me a list of religious communities which included Corpus Christi Monastery. I came for a visit, but I did not really understand the mysteries behind the curtains. But at the very first step of its threshold, I felt peace and so much at home, unlike the brief time spent at the convent of St. Catalina; and despite the fact that when I was about to enter the door of the monastery, an unknown lady stood outside told me that the life is very hard and that ‘many have left!’ I soon came back to make my aspirancy and just loved the solitude and the time spent with the One whom my heart loved. When I left, Mother Prioress gave me a book Story of a soul by St. Therese, and another sister gave me a bouquet of roses. I always have strong devotion to St. Therese and felt very sure that this was her answer to my prayer, since the day I left St. Catalina, I blamed the poor Saint that she didn’t help me to persevere in my vocation! Within a month, I quickly resigned from my office job and entered the Monastery. With a heart full of joy I sigh…I have found my goal in life…a lifetime of total commitment to the Church.
I am so filled with gratitude to God. My father was initially opposed to the idea of my entering a cloistered community, but his objections were overcome when I reminded him of the miracle at age two. Eventually, when he saw that I was very happy, he revealed to me that he wished my sisters would come and join me too! He also told me the reason he took me to the Shrine was because a Lady told him in a dream to take me there.
To be a preacher or not doesn’t bother me any more. The authenticity of service motivated by love makes a lot of difference. Interpersonal relationship, openness and sharing our gifts promote peace and harmony in any community life. However, life in the monastery is not easy. It is a school of love. We are trained like a marine ready for combat with the evil forces in the world, but in a spiritual realm. I’ve learned that dying to self makes life easier but it is hard. In time of trials, I take refuge in our Blessed Mother through the means of the Rosary. She always calms the stormy sea and my boat again sails smoothly, in hope of reaching the eternal shore of glory in safety someday. Another lesson is that “ego” trip is a great obstacle to religious life and could throw us out of balance and ruin our vocation. But if we totally strip and empty ourselves of everything, God will come in and take over our life. Then He will fill us with His tremendous grace. This makes life less burdensome. In short, waves of desolation and consolation always strengthen us to continue on our spiritual journey.
My favorite aspect is the measure of solitude to be alone and talk to God heart to heart. Before entering the monastery, I did not know I had artistic talent, but I have found that painting is very contemplative. I’m in ecstasy when I contemplate on the beauty of God in His creation, especially the beauty of flowers. It gives me such joy to know I become a co-creator with God in sharing His Love and Beauty through the means of painting. My prayer life expands as I feel His presence immensely and deeply in my heart. My experience of Dominican monastic life is summed up in a short sentence “I have fallen in love with God.”