I grew up in the 60s and 70s, attending Catholic grade and high schools run by the School Sisters of St. Francis. The Sisters all wore habits down to the floor, and from the time I was little I felt there was some sort of mysterious personal connection between the Sisters and me. A few Sisters weren’t very nice, and I did see some real displays of temper. But so many of the Sisters communicated genuine love. I always felt that I was going to be a Sister.
All the changes came and I watched the Sisters go from habits to street clothes. Soon they were out the door, leaving their vocations behind. Then the Priests begin changing as well. They said things that seemed out of keeping with their dignity as riests, and many of them too left their vocations.
By the time I was finished with high school I was pretty disillusioned. I stopped practicing and living my faith. I never stopped believing in God, but I stopped going to Mass, and stopped praying.
I began searching to find real love. I observed that love is the one thing that changes people. When people are in love it transform them. They become good, kind, happy, less selfish, more willing to bear hardship for the good. I wanted to live that way.
For 8 years, I looked for love at the human level. But the state of relationships around me was frightening. I felt pain at the things some of my girlfriends did that demeaned their dignity.
I noticed that a lot of men had a hard time committing. I would look at a man and wonder if he could be a good father, or if he would be too centered in himself for the sacrifice required to be a good father and husband. I feared being with someone who would be faithful for about 5 years and then that would be it. I didn’t think I would be able to bear infidelity because I was looking for real love, a love that would sacrifice itself completely for the other. That’s how I wanted to give myself."
This was a dark time for me emotionally and psychologically, with a lot of interior pain, depression, desolation, loneliness, and confusion. Now I understand that it was partly due to my leaving a state of grace, because once I came back into grace my interior peace and hopefulness was restored. I fel light again, able to receive healing, able to understand life with a clarity that gave meaning I couldn’t find outside of grace. I needed to be jarred back to the Truth.
After college, I taught for about 4 years until I was knocked out of my dream world and into reality. I had to experience a death in a relationship to understand I was never going to find what I was looking for on a solely human level.
Encounter with Mary
In the midst of deep interior pain, one Saturday afternoon, when I was alone doing dishes at the kitchen sink, I suddenly felt the presence of Our Lady next to me. It was so natural I wasn't alarmed. I couldn’t see her, but I could feel her. I knew she was there, and I wasn’t afraid. It seemed like a normal thing. Nothing went through my head, like: "How could this be? You haven’t even been praying for the last 8 years, let alone going to Church?" No discomfort, no self-consciousness I was completely at ease.
And so I started talking to her, interiorly, because I knew somehow I was supposed to tell her what was in my heart. I said to her: “If I can’t be in love, then I don’t see the meaning to life.” Then, from somewhere deep within my spirit, deeper than just thought, I said: “Make me fall in love with God.” That was it. She was gone, and I continued to wash dishes, forgetting about the encounter.
Encounter with Jesus
Three months later a January blizzard closed down the city. Everything stopped and becme silent and peaceful. The sky had an orange glow. People who would not normally talk to each other, did just that Schools were closed and we were unable to go to work. The next day we had to shovel out. My brother shoveled out a parking spot in front. He asked me to stand in the spot while he got his car from the back, so that no one would park there.. I went down the front steps to cross the street. It was a beautiful day, still and very silent with few people out and no traffic noises. The sky still had the pretty glow.
As I started to cross the snow-packed road, I noticed a man was walking toward me from my left. He was the most beautiful man I had ever seen. He had a light in his face, and his eyes knew me. I knew He knew me, and that He loved me the way that I wanted to be loved. All this went through my mind in seconds. He started coming toward me. I got scared and turned away from him. I saw his face fall as He passed me by. He had a blanket slung across his back with something heavy in it, which looked like it could have been a body. I thought that if I went over and opened the blanket I would see myself in it. But I didn’t do that. I got to the other side of the street, turned around and he was gone. He just vanished.
I stood on the street stunned, trying to understand what had happened. I couldn’t tell anyone (and didn’t for a long time) because I knew they would think I was crazy. But intuitively I knew it was an encounter with Jesus. Also, I knew from that moment that I wanted to know who this was who loved me like this. I started reading the Bible every day, going to Mass every day, etc. I stayed toward the back and tried to get comfortable again. I knew I needed to go to Confession. The Lord, in a miraculous way, helped me run to the springs of His mercy there.
After that, God put lots of things in my path to bring me back. I found all sorts of books “accidentally” that deepened my prayer life and relationship to God. I knew from that time on that I wouldn’t get married but that I would find a way to give myself completely to Christ.
Jesus gave me back the vocation I had as a child and I have been in religious life 30 years. I have a joy in life I know I would not have had any other way because I know I am where God wants me. And, He is here with me!
(© 2014 Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT)
Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT, is a Sister of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity praying and working together with other SOLT Sisters, Priests and Laity in the New Evangelization in the modern world, in areas of deepest apostolic need. She blogs at Musings of a Missionary in the Modern World while serving elderly members in Bosque, NM, and conducting Healing of Family study groups and retreats.