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home : opinion : perspectives

10/23/2014 9:01:00 AM
VOCATION STORY
A wild and crazy journey
The Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm in Germantown are among three convents to be featured in the new Lifetime TV series "The Sisterhood," which follows five young women who are considering religious life. Cameras were granted access to the convent where the women live and work alongside the sisters during discernment. "The Sisterhood" premieres Nov. 25, 10 p.m., on the Lifetime channel. Learn more at www.mylifetime.com/shows/
the-sisterhood.

BY SISTER PIA IGNATIUS DE LA CRUZ, O.CARM.


I am a first-generation American from the New York City area. My father was from Germany and my mother is from Cuba.

While I was preparing for First Communion, I began to pay attention to the altar servers. Mass bored me and I never understood the homily.

I was impressed by the robes worn by the altar servers and the attention they seemed to show during Mass. I approached Father Greg, who was great with children. He made learning fun and made us excited to come to Mass.

As I got older, parishioners asked for me by name to serve at funerals and weddings. Classmates would get jealous when I was pulled out of class to serve. What kid does not want to get out of class? You knew you made it as an altar server when you were asked to serve midnight Mass. That's like the Super Bowl of Masses!

The next step was to become a eucharistic minister. But as my high school life became more stressed and filled with activities, I chose sleep over going to Mass. The Holy Spirit never stopped speaking to me; I just stopped making time to listen.

My 20s were filled with youthful interests and frenzied social activities. I knew my life would be one of service, but I was all over the place and tried everything: lifeguarding, bartending, acting, dancing. I rarely went to Mass.

I went to school to become an EMT. After a few years, I went to nursing school and got my LPN license. I jumped around EMS agencies and police departments and lived a life of service and fun. My social calendar was always packed. But I still felt something was missing.

I took care of my father, and having him die in my arms was a turning point. Months later, I quit my police job, went back to medicine and bought a house in the Catskill Mountains. With some money I had saved up, I surprised my mother and two brothers with a family trip to do "El Camino de Santiago" ("The Walk of St. James") in Spain.

Like many who complete this journey, I had a religious awakening. It was just me, my pack, the trail and not a soul for miles. The world melted away and my path became clear.

Upon my return home, I began to notice that my social life was not as much fun as it used to be. My mornings were not just filled with exhaustion and hangovers; there was also an emptiness. Questions began to pop up in my head: "Is this it? This is my life?"

I had friends and colleagues telling me I should be happy. I had the American dream: a home, cars, motorcycles, vacations, designer clothes, invitations to parties and clubs. But I was not happy. This was all meaningless materialism.

I started to spend more time at my mountain home, away from the madness of Manhattan - no TV, computer or iPhone. I began to listen like I did on El Camino! I weaned myself off of social media. One day, I googled "Carmelite nuns." (My family has a long history with Our Lady of Mount Carmel.) The first site to pop up was the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm.

I called the vocations director to ask for a meeting. As I hung up the phone, I thought, "What have I done? I'm crazy! People will think I'm nuts. I can't tell anyone!"

Days turned into weeks and months. The more I spoke and texted with Sister Maria Therese, the more I knew this was my path. She called me a "character." We laughed and I shared my journey, my wild and crazy youth. She showed me the joy of community. The love, compassion and patience she had for me was beautiful. As rough around the edges as I was and still am, she welcomed me.

Every sister I have met has welcomed me. Religious life is culture shock. Had I not prepared myself by slowly pulling away from the world over the course of a year, I'm sure my entrance experience would have been difficult.

Remember hot summer days when all you wanted was an ice cream? That joy you felt as you raced after the ice cream truck - I have that same feeling, the feeling of the Holy Spirit saying, "This is right. This is where you belong."

I do not miss my homes, cars, motorcycles, social life, designer clothes or jewelry. When your basic needs of food, shelter and clothing are met, everything else becomes unimportant. Earthly goods mean nothing when you can spend your days with Christ, helping your fellow men and women at the end of their journey on this earth.

Throughout all my stumbles and missteps, Jesus was there. I might not have been able to see Him or even wanted to listen, but He was there. When I cried, He cried with me. When I laughed, He laughed with me. When I fell flat on my face, He was there to give me the strength to get back up again and say, "Okay, God. I messed up. How do we fix this?"

Luctor et emergo: I struggle and emerge.

Related Stories:
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• Deacon/doctor practices two healing ministries





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