From the Blog Ascending Mount Carmel
Sister Mary Joseph is someone I am proud to call a friend. Having just come into the Church through the Anglican Ordinariate, I really feel that she is one of those hidden pillars holding up the Church.
Years ago, as an anti-Christian, I hated religion and Catholicism in particular so much that I remember seeing her one day and sneering at her audibly. I don’t know if she even noticed, but for years I carried it in my heart. Not only am I now truly humbled to be able to know her, but now, I am proud to present the following interview with this remarkable woman. The following is truly an opening of the windows and letting in a little fresh air of hope – enjoy.
1. Tell me a little about yourself, your conversion to Catholicism, and the Anglican Ordinariate.
My background is Anglican. Both my grandfathers were deeply religious men, one was an Anglican priest, he died when I was 9 yrs, and the other wanted to be an Anglican priest but was unable because he was profoundly deaf, he died before I was 2 yrs. I do believe their prayers have helped me in my own Christian pilgrimage. My father lost his faith during the war and was for many years very opposed to my vocation as a nun. It was only during his last years he became at first reconciled and then supportive of my vocation. Through my mother we went to church every week (and Sunday School for my siblings and me) as a family but that was the extent of our Christian education, no prayers of any kind at home. And yet, my earliest memory is when I was 2 1/2 years praying on my own. And when I was nine talking to my father and realising he didn’t believe in God and feeling very upset that I would not see him in Heaven.
When I was 11 yrs we moved to New Zealand and family church going stopped. I found the nearest Anglican church and started attending on my own. When I was 13 years I found the Catholic church in our small town and began to go there after school to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Soon after I felt a call to the Religious Life. Somehow I acquired a manual on the Catholic faith put out by the Catholic Truth Society. I read and reread it gradually realising this was for me the whole truth. Over the years there was a continual pull to the Catholic Church but also a longing for unity between the Catholic and Anglican church. So I prayed for that unity and stayed in the Anglican church, though very much the Anglo-Catholic end of the Anglican Church. When I was 21 years I moved to England and still the pull to the Catholic Church., and still the prayer for unity. I entered the Religious Life and in time took my vows, at the same time feeling discouraged at what was happening in the Anglican church and the widening gulf between the Catholic and Anglican Church.
When I came to Canada at the end of 2000 I was dismayed to find an even more liberal atmosphere within the Anglican Church. Eventually I found it no longer possible to stay in the Anglican Communion. I was introduced to the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada (ACCC) and was very attracted to its mandate for unity with the Catholic Church. I was required to assent to the Catechism of the Catholic Church which I was happy to do. I was very excited about the possibility of union with Rome and knew that some of the Bishops of the ACCC had traveled to Rome to present the request of the ACCC for this unity. The answer came in November 2009 with the ” Apostolic Constitution of Pope Benedict VI that establishes Personal Ordinariates for those of Anglican heritage entering into full communion with the Catholic Church while maintaining distinctive elements of their theological, spiritual and liturgical patrimony”.( taken from the web page of the Fellowship of Blessed John Henry Newman, http://www.blessedjohnhenrynewmanfellowship.ca) On January 1st the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter was established for North America. Sadly some in our ACCC parish decided they did not want to take this step. If was hard to leave the church building, it was much much harder to leave many of our fellow parishioners behind, but we did and our small group kept the faith, formed into the Fellowship of Blessed John Henry Newman and was received into the Catholic Church on April 15th after the appropriate preparation. Our liturgy is Anglican Use which while being fully Catholic maintains elements of our Anglican patrimony.
2. What is your prayer life like?
As a Religious I pray the Divine Office. The Divine Office consists of one Office or service during the night and seven spread through out the day from early morning until before bed, “seven times a day shall I praise thee O Lord” Psalm 119 v. 164. Because I have a secular job I’m not able to pray the Night Office and rarely manage all seven of the day Offices but it does sometimes happen. I remember when I was a novice a fellow novice saying to me that if she didn’t have the discipline of the Divine Office with the bells calling her to Chapel every few hours she would forget God. The saying of the Divine Office is a discipline in that I can’t just say it when it’s convenient or I’m in the mood and because I’m on my own I don’t have the reminder and the discipline of the Chapel bells telling me to stop what I’m doing and go to Chapel. I use the Divine Office as set out by St Benedict in the 6th century, composed of psalms and hymns and prayers changing with the days and seasons and feasts of the Church. I love the Rosary and find considerable spiritual benefit in mediating on the mysteries; I also use it for intercession. The cloistered order I was a member of in England had as it’s work perpetual intercession before the Blessed Sacrament and it was there that I began to use the Rosary very intentionally for intercession. I also use the Jesus prayer and certain Chaplets (the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the Chaplet of the Sacred Heart, and the Chaplet of the Five Wounds) and these form part of my daily private prayer. I read the Scriptures and try to mediate on them; I spend time in silence before the Blessed Sacrament. I am privileged to have a small chapel in my flat where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. When I was a new novice we were given an address on the very great privilege we had (and I still have) of living under the same roof as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. That truth still overwhelms me.
There is a prayer at the end of the Holy Communion service in the traditional prayer book of the Anglican Church part of which reads:
“And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee”. I’ve know that prayer for as long as I can remember, but it was the day after I entered the Religious life that I heard it as if for the first time and was pole axed by the term “living sacrifice”. It was as if time stood still while Our Lord waited for me to make my yes. I had no idea at the time of what the cost would be, and I still don’t know the whole of it, but I realized in that moment I was being asked to make a choice and that my answer would be for the whole of my life. I said yes and I have never regretted it.
3. Who is Jesus to you?
My Saviour, my bridegroom. I work every day at making Him the center of my life. My first word in the morning is for Him; my last word at night is for him. I am very aware of how often during the day I become busy, distracted, forgetful, but every time I turn back he is there waiting, loving and forgiving and embracing me.
4. Why do you wear the habit when some have abandoned it? Are you treated differently?
I wear the habit for myself as a constant reminder of my vocation and the great privilege of that vocation. The dressing prayers – that is, the prayers that are said when putting on each article of the habit are very powerful, both as a reminder of what God has called me to be and as a means of grace. With the tunic – May the Lord clothe me with the new nature, created after His likeness in holiness and righteousness of life. The cincture – (a leather or cloth belt) May the Lord bind me with the cords of His love that I may always be obedient to His word, the scapular – ( this was originally an apron for work but became longer and more symbolic both of the work of the cross and also the yoke of servanthood) I take upon myself the sweet yoke of Our Lord Jesus Christ that I may learn to be meek and lowly of heart, the crucifix -God forbid that Ishould glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world, the white head linen or head band that covers the head and comes down over the forehead – May the Lord close my eyes to the things of this world that I may behold Him alone, the veil – I take this veil as a sign that I chose Jesus, may I love nothing more than Him. I wear the habit as a witness much as some Christians wear a crucifix or cross. I am stopped on a regular basis. For some it is a happy reminder of being taught by nuns, others are thankful for the visible witness. Still others are surprised to see a nun in a habit and want to know when “all the others” will start wearing it again. Some bring their child and ask me to explain to the child what a nun is. Many ask for prayers. Once I was followed by a group of school boys attempting to sing the Hallelujah chorus! When I turned around laughing they laughed as well and just asked lots of questions. And on only two occasions has there been a negative reaction.
5. Why did you choose the life of a hermit rather than of a religious order of Sisters?
Originally I was in a cloistered order of nuns in the Church of England. I never expected to be a hermit. I’m very grateful for those years in Community where I received a solid foundation in prayer and discipline. Special thanks here go to my former Novice Mistress! As a hermit I am required to earn my own living and without the discipline I learned in community I could not do my job and live the demands of the hermit life.
6. Who are the biggest influences in your spirituality (saints, theologians, etc.)?
The main influence is Our Lady. I constantly reflect on her Fiat, given without reservation, no hedging her bets. Such staggering faith, generosity and simplicity of heart.
Next there is St Joseph. When I was a novice I was given a holy card with the quote “there is no recorded word of St Joseph, but if there was it would be yes”. That says it all.
And then there are the nuns who became saints;
St Therese and her little way – it seems so simple, so childlike, almost childish, until you live it, and then you discover how tough it is and the steel there was in that little Norman nun.
St Margaret Mary who through much suffering and petty persecution within her Community (never under estimate petty persecutions!) handed on the devotion to the Sacred Heart.
St Faustinia who also suffered much within her Community but persevered to share and hand on Our Lord’s revealing to her of his Divine Mercy.
In my former Community when we made our profession we added a dedication to our name in religion. My dedication is The Tears of Jesus. Jesus said to
St Faustina, “I want to repose in your heart because many souls have thrown Me out of their heart today”. Oh the pain of that statement.
And finally, but by no means least, good and faithful priests. Pray for them, for they rely on our prayers.
7. What was it like to be received into the Catholic Church from the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada?
The desire for unity with Rome was what drew me into the ACCC. Of course I also loved the traditional liturgy and the Anglo- Catholic style of worship but the possibility of unity with Rome was the draw, this I had been praying for so many years. And then to be offered that unity while at the same time being given the opportunity of maintaining elements of our Anglican patrimony, that is such a generous and gracious gift of the Holy Father. So in answer to your question – it was pure joy, the fulfillment of so many years prayer going right back to when I was a teenager, I have come home and that is the best thing in the world!
8. What would be your advice to anyone discerning a vocation to the Religious Life?
1) Pray, be open to the Holy Spirit. Don’t lay down rules or boundaries or explain to God what your gifts are and therefore what sort of Religious vocation would be most useful to Him. Trust me, He knows!
2) Find a good and wise spiritual director. In my experience this should be a priest.
3) Spend time before the Blessed Sacrament. Lots of time.
4) Don’t be in a rush, God is not a god of hurry. True discernment takes time and prayer and more prayer and then some more again.
9. What would be your advice to someone struggling in their spiritual life?
1) Don’t be surprised! It is through our struggles that we grow in our faith and our love of our Lord Jesus. No struggles, no growth.
2) The same as I have written in (2) above.
3) Find a confessor you feel comfortable with and make a commitment to go at regular and frequent intervals.
4) Go to Our Lady, as a child runs to their mother with their woes and hurts and sorrows, run to our sweet Mother of Mercy. She will comfort you and embrace you and lift you up in prayer to her son, Our Lord and Saviour – dwell on that last word, Saviour, meditate on it, hold it in your heart, repeat it again and again as you kneel before the Blessed sacrament, say it in your heart as you receive Him in Communion. Saviour. Say it not in a morass of emotionalism but as a precious truth received.
5) Do not trust your emotions. That should be written in neon lights a hundred miles high. Do NOT trust your emotions. In any relationship once the honeymoon is over and the sweetness and light gives way to Monday morning blahs that is when the depth of the commitment is tested. The spiritual life is no different.
6) Pray, spend time before the Blessed Sacrament, go to Mass, make your Communion, say your rosary.
7) And remember, Our Lord struggled, was tempted, grieved, wept, knew horror, tasted abandonment. But still He went onward. Our struggles and temptations are part of our journey; it is what we do with them that are important. “Temptation gives you a chance to show me your fidelity”. Jesus to St Faustina.