day of the most amazing grace finally arrived! On July 20, 2019, in the
presence of pastor, family, friends, and my faith community, I professed my
permanent vow of celibacy with a commitment to serve God wherever and however he
sends me, to find and serve him in his people. During the time I was preparing for
this day and for this step, I didn’t write at all, although I took many notes during
times of prayer and meditation that I’m sure will find their way here in the
and now, my intent is to write about my time of preparation and about some very
interesting – and incredibly beautiful – moments along the way. My Father God
has an amazing way of using the present moment to get my attention and, if I’ll
listen, lead me where he wants me to go.
couple of weeks ago, with 12 days remaining until the day of my vow of celibacy
to my Jesus, and in the midst of a fast-paced life (even in retirement!), I
received the grace of spending time a long weekend in a sort of modified
retreat, with Consoling the Heart of Jesus by Fr. Michael Gaitley as my
retreat guide. I am taking some time now to write down what this retreat has
I began to hear the call to a vow of celibacy late last winter, I have
reflected often on the way such a vow will free me into greater service to God.
With these reflections has come deeper grace and love than I could have
imagined, in the form of new and expanded opportunities for service both within
and outside my family. I can still remember thinking, when I first retired, that
I didn’t want to be one of those grandparents/great-grandparents whose time was
all taken up with caring for the children – I had other plans, and I wasn’t
going to be taken advantage of!
a narrow and blighted view that was. By grace, I find the greatest joy in
having the little ones around. I find myself led to offer, rather than waiting
to be asked, to take care of them. And I am constantly amazed at the
relationships that are growing.
other calls to service that I am hearing involve volunteering at Mother Teresa
House, a Catholic hospice facility, and joining with the Companions of Pauline,
a lay apostolate of the Sisters of Christian Charity. Both of these are “works
in progress,” and I eagerly await the Holy Spirit’s lead in seeing how they
will come to fruition. I feel these calls strongly. I have not been as sure
about teaching catechism this coming year; after praying for guidance and light
in that regard, I’ve discerned that teaching is definitely a part of how I will
I had discerned that God was calling me to a personal vow of celibacy, I began
to take steps toward making it a reality. Father Gordon, my pastor, heard my
story and agreed that my discernment was proper and complete. He then suggested
that there were three areas where I would benefit from focusing as I moved
forward: prayer, as a defense against doubt and temptation; community, as a way
of maintaining the strength and focus of my commitment; and ministry, as a way
of spreading the love that Jesus pours into my life. And to these ends, I have
returned to the very simple prayer that I repeated so often in the first days
and weeks and months after I returned to the church in 2012: Jesus, by your
Holy Spirit, lead me and teach me to do what you want me to do. Somehow,
over time, I had mistakenly come to think that my prayer must become more
complex and somehow sophisticated. Much comfort and consolation has come from
returning to a simple conversation with my Lord and King.
the month of June began to wind down, and I received Father Gordon’s approval
to proceed with my vow, I began to think about preparations. It quickly became
apparent that the idea of getting away for a silent retreat was not feasible at
this time; still, I felt that a retreat was one of the best and most important
ways I could prepare for this important step. That’s when the idea came to me
to take the long holiday weekend as an opportunity to use Fr. Gaitley’s book,
which I’ve had for four years but barely opened, as my retreat guide. The more
I thought about it, the more drawn I was to making this kind of retreat. After
all, the purpose of my vow is to make me a “consecrated person” who is pledged
to God’s service, forsaking marriage and all that leads to it in favor of the
love of Jesus, while living still in the world as a lay person. Making my
retreat in my own home, according to the schedule that my life in the world
would allow, seemed like a good thing – and it has been. I did not manage to
finish the entire book over the long weekend, so I am going to continue
spending a couple of hours of each day reading and following and praying with
this book as I continue to prepare for my vow.
I began to think about the retreat itself and how I will live out this vow, I
became more and more aware of the work of the Holy Spirit in me – sometimes, in
fact, with a layer of humor that vividly caught my attention.
example, on the Saturday before the long holiday weekend, I had the opportunity
to get out for a long walk, and I took along my iPhone with earbuds so I could
listen to music. I selected the shuffle function to play from all the music I
have collected over the years. And after a couple of classical pieces, which I
enjoyed greatly, I started hearing some of the popular vocal selections – and a
pattern began to emerge. The random selections I heard were these:
Seger, Turn the Page
Seger, Someday, Lady, You’ll Accompany Me
Mayer, Am I Livin’ It Right
You Shed a Little Light on My Life (and let me see)
Mayer, I’m Tired of Being Alone (So hurry up and get here)
music, to be sure – but the Holy Spirit was using it, as He loves to use
everyday things, to highlight the call that Jesus was giving me. And the most
profound sense of joy and peace came with the realization that he had chosen
this way to communicate with me. He uses the things of everyday life to lead me
to consecrate my everyday life to him.
one morning during the week as I was heading out for Mass, a hymn popped into
my head. The tune was almost all there, but I couldn’t remember all of the
words. As I awaited the beginning of Mass, I picked up the hymnal, initially
thinking to be ready when the gathering hymn was announced. (Any other day, I
wouldn’t reach for it until I heard the lector’s “Good morning!” from the back
of the church.) That day, I picked up the hymnal and (randomly, I thought)
opened it. And there in front of me was the hymn that had been running through
my head earlier. I know a sign when I see one (I think!), so I quickly scanned
the refrain: Lead me, guide me, along the way; for if you lead me, I cannot
Jesus, I think I’m beginning to see where you are going with this.
Sunday, June 30, I had the opportunity to spend time with the Lectio Divina
provided in the Magnificat publication for that day’s readings, and once
more I found beautiful guidance. In reflecting on the words of Luke’s gospel
(9:57-62) regarding those who professed a desire to follow Jesus but put
obstacles in their own paths, these points stood out for me:
will Jesus lead us? The first man in this story sees Jesus as a means to recognition,
fame, sainthood – whatever he thinks his destination might be; but Jesus is
telling us that he himself is our destination, our place.
tells us to stop living in the past – dwelling on our history of sin, failure, and
problems and continually trying to “bury” them as the second man wanted to bury
his father. Jesus wants us to see that we have no need to bury our past, that “he
is the one who raises our dead past to life” (Magnificat, June 2019, p.
third man sought to take leave of his connections to family and friends in
order to follow Jesus. Jesus assures us that our life in this world and our
human experiences and joys are not to be set aside by our relationship with
him, but rather made better and stronger by his love. When we are united to
others by only our own strength, the bond is tenuous at best; when we are
united to others through Jesus, the bond is stronger than we can ever imagine.
from all of this, I learned (again, in a new way) that Jesus wants to be the
center of everything for me. And then, on page 454 of the same issue of Magnificat,
I found great consolation in the words of St. Claude La Colombière: “…God has
loved me too well for me to spare myself henceforth in his service….I am
ashamed at the mere thought of depriving him of anything.” St. Claude goes on
to say that “in order to do much for God one must be completely his….in this state
one maintains a lively faith and a firm hope, one asks God confidently and one
tall order? Absolutely. Why did it give me such consolation? Because I am sure
this is what God calls me to, and with his call he includes the grace to hear
and answer. “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me”
the beginning of my retreat, it occurred to me that it feels like everything in
faith is about change. I saw great irony in this insight: The eternal God
constantly calls on his people to change – to go against what they are used to,
to leave behind what is comforting and comfortable, and to change. And because
change is all about risk and growth, that call really should not surprise us. It
started with creation itself – God changed the universe from the emptiness that
he alone filled, to the fullness of his creations, and he declared it good.
I talk to people about faith, I like to say that the questions we bring are so
very complex, but faith itself is very, very simple. And that’s a mystery in
itself. But as Fr. Gaitley says, in Consoling the Heart of Jesus, the
meaning of mystery is not that nobody can understand it, but rather that we can
never exhaust the meaning of it. And so I find myself daily contemplating the
idea of faith, both as the gift of the Holy Spirit and as a response to God’s
call, and I never get to the end. I never get to the end, and I never run out
of beauty and grace in the contemplation of it.
if faith is a crutch, as many people believe, then please Lord, let me be a
as my retreat and preparation time continued, I was struck by these words of
St. Anthony Zachariah: “Let us run like fools not only to God, but also to our
neighbor, who is the intermediary to whom we give what we cannot give to God.
And this, from my own rambling thoughts: when we deal in forgiveness, we must
ask ourselves how the forgiven must participate. That seems to me to be the
missing link when we compare God’s forgiveness to our own forgiveness. When God
forgives us, he offers us the grace to participate in it – to accept it and
build it into our lives. It’s up to us how we accept that gift. When we forgive
others, extending that same offer is necessary; and sometimes, the person we
forgive will choose not to participate in the grace that comes with forgiveness.
That’s when we turn to prayer. Another insight on forgiveness, from a homily
based on the readings for July 7: Jesus, in sending out the 72 disciples, told
them (and us), that there will be situations and people we cannot resolve or
fix, and when that happens we have to walk away. He doesn’t tell us we are to
keep hammering away at people until we change them. We must forgive, yes; but
that does not necessarily change the other side of the equation.
after these insights, I read a section in Consoling the Heart of Jesus
that opened my soul and my heart like nothing else has done. Fr. Gaitley writes
Go to Jesus as
you are. Open your heart to him as it is (not as you wish it to be) And know
that Jesus loves sincerity, that he loves it when we’re completely open with
him. Why does he love this? Because the more open we are with him, the more
deeply he can heal us—and this especially applies to his being able to heal us
of our attachments.
then Fr. Gaitley says: “What hurts Jesus most is the sin of lack of trust in him.
The greatest consolation we can offer him is to trust him completely.” Living
this kind of trust daily means accepting everything that happens with praise
and thanksgiving – living in a state of joyful, trustful acceptance. Fr.
Gaitley goes on to suggest that instead of trying to choose our own crosses, we
will benefit from accepting well the crosses that God chooses for us, which in
his wisdom and compassion he will assure are not too heavy…and not too light.
reading these sections and reflecting on them, I realized that my trust in
Jesus had a big gap. I have, for a long time, found my trust in him to be
tempered by a fear that he would test me beyond what I thought was my
endurance, perhaps by taking Mary or Claire from me in this world. This gap in
my trust would have me praying for God’s will to be done in my life – but don’t
do this, or that, or some other thing to me that I think would be too hard.
I read and reflected, I found that I needed to return to praying the Litany of
Trust regularly, and I needed to pray for an increase in my trust, so that I
would live in a state of complete trust. I saw that this kind of trust is
rooted in God’s mercy, love, compassion, and forgiveness – that instead of
expecting God to treat me as my sins surely deserve, I was being called to expect
him to treat me like one of his beloved and redeemed children. This journey to
trust will be a lifelong journey, one with daily renewals, and I am filled with
gratitude for these insights.
the time of my retreat, and often throughout the preceding weeks, I found
myself in a state of a kind of discontent. I wasn’t getting a lot of
consolation through prayer and meditation, and even my attendance at daily Mass
was feeling fraught with effort rather than feelings of peace and serenity and
joy. It occurred to me that I was having difficulty making Jesus seem real to
me, and I came to understand that perhaps I needed to slow down a bit and
simply put myself in his presence without all the busy-ness I seemed to want to
put in the process. And, as he often does, the Holy Spirit handed me an answer:
another homily, this time on the feast day of St. Thomas the Apostle. Fr. Jerry
said that he thinks St. Thomas gets a bad rap when we refer to him as “Doubting
Thomas.” He pointed out that Thomas was not really doubting, but questioning,
in the way that we all do with the rational minds that God gave us, and that
his questioning (not doubting) gave Jesus opportunities to make himself real to
the day of my vow approached, I sat in prayer one day before Mass, and I felt
like I was being distracted by thoughts of exactly how the ceremony might go. I
sort of shook myself, mentally, and prayed for grace to come closer to Jesus
and hear him. That’s when he asked me a crucial question: Once you take this
vow, how are you going to live our life together?
seems to me to have been the most important moment of all my preparations.
After all the plans to pray regularly, to seek community, and to find ministry
in my daily life, after writing my vow and planning its profession as a witness
to others, wasn’t that really the heart of it all?
are you going to live our life together?” When I wrote my vow, I included the
statement that I desire to be changed – profoundly, at the core of my being –
and then poured out in love. If I truly mean that statement, and if my vow is
truly intended as a seal binding my soul most intimately to Jesus, then how I
live my life must change, now and every day hereafter. And as if to underscore
this fact, God led me to witness a sight so unusual that this truth is written
on my heart forever.
evening, the night before my vow, my sweet granddaughter Claire and I were
watching the rain from the back door. Claire told me she wanted to go out on
the deck and stand in the rain, and get some rain in her mouth. So we opened
the door, and stepped out. I looked back at my Mary Garden, and saw that the
huge magnolia tree there was in bloom – for the second time this season! This
is a tree that blooms in late April or early May, before the leaves come out –
and here it was in a second bloom just when I was pledging my life to a new way
of living for Jesus!
Saturday, July 20, I went with a happy heart and a joyful soul to make this
offering of myself at the 9:00 Mass in our parish’s Cana chapel. Fr. Gordon
conducted the small ceremony and blessed for me the ring I will wear forever as
an outward sign of my vow, and I’d like to think my voice was strong and true
as I recited my vow. Family and friends were there with their love and support,
and Mary put together the most wonderful brunch as we celebrated afterward. I
was surprised to receive gifts – a lovely little plaque and a gift card from
one friend, and a beautiful shooting star hydrangea for my Mary Garden from another;
I treasure the cards and the sentiments they carried; and I loved getting both
a card and an email from Sr. Mary Ann, SCC, to congratulate me and assure me of
going back to the question Jesus asked, “How are you going to live our life
together?” One of the first things I did was to recreate the hourly prayer reminders
on my phone, which had been lost when I had to reset the phone a few weeks ago.
These already have helped me with a renewed focus on my life’s true purpose.
want to continue by focusing on regular formal prayer as well as “ad lib”
prayer and meditation and also to focus on spiritual reading. Beginning studies
with the Catholic Biblical School of Michigan will give me the frequent
immersion in spiritual study that is essential. I hope soon to be installed in
the Companions of Pauline, the lay apostolate of the Sisters of Christian
Charity, and to begin working at Mother Teresa House; and I have plans for a ministry
of knitting that is meant to put warmth and love in the way of those in need,
by making hats, scarves, and mittens to donate to shelters and charities. And
above all, I am focused on listening for God, for the voice of Jesus in my
heart, not just on busying myself with all kinds of formalities.
beautiful part of all this is that I sensed, very clearly and very joyfully, a
profound shift in my soul upon pronouncing and professing my vow. There is no
way to describe it other than to say I feel the difference, and it is a good
I can live with that.