A Rose Transplanted

 

            Praise God from whom all blessings flow! “Bless the Lord, my soul; all my being, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, my soul; do not forget all the gifts of God, who pardons all your sins, heals all your ills, delivers your life from the pit, surrounds you with love and compassion, fills your days with good things…” (Psalm 103:1-5)

            This selection from Psalm 103 summarizes quite eloquently God’s wonderful and numerous graces which have been blessing my life from the very beginning. Indeed, I have much to be thankful for! “Because the love of God has been poured out into my heart through the Holy Spirit!” (Rom 5:5)

           

Naturally, my story begins at the beginning—at home, in Houston, Texas, with my parents and 3 younger brothers. I come from a very ordinary family. My dad, Mark, is an engineer. My mom, Karen, is a “professional mother.” My brothers, Matthew, Wesley, Brian and I went to public schools. We valued spending quality time together as a family, enjoying the simple and good things in life such as time with extended family and friends, good food shared with good people, vacations, etc. Like I said, an ordinary family— with something “different” and extraordinary just below the surface. It was my parents’ faith and commitment to God as Catholics that shaped our family in an extraordinary way.
 




















  

    Girl Scout Shannon - 2nd Grade

My first conscious awareness of this faith came sometime between the age of 5 and 7. Of course, I didn’t know it was extraordinary. It was just part of my family life. My mom was growing very much in her faith at this time. I remember being aware of her enthusiasm for Jesus, the Catholic Church, Our Lady of Fatima, the saints, and prayer. Statues and sacred art and candles began appearing in our home. It all seemed very beautiful and mysterious and special to me, and I felt that I wanted to follow her example.
 

There was a scriptural rosary that used to be aired on EWTN every morning at 9:30. We children were home for the summer, and Mom often had EWTN on in the living room. I remember coming into the living room one day and hearing beautiful, solemn, and mysterious voices singing in a way I had never quite heard anyone sing before.  They were Gregorian chants, which were softly playing in the background of the scriptural rosary.
 

I stopped for a little bit to watch. The next thing that struck me was the art. There were so many old paintings—each one different, but all seeming to tell the same story. I was intrigued by the “ancientness,” the beauty, the stories in the paintings (which were all true!), and the mystique. I was profoundly impressed and drawn to this. Mom often had this program on and would pray the rosary along with it. I found myself wanting to do the same and enjoying it.
 


    (mom) Karen, (dad) Mark, Shannon & Matthew-Easter 1993!

Mom taught me a lot about Mary as our Spiritual Mother and mediatrix of grace. She taught me about Our Lady of Fatima and prayer and the value of offering little sacrifices for souls. She gave me little biographies of the saints for children. I was especially interested in the saints who had seen Mary. I was inspired by the saints and remember wanting very much to be like they were. Most of the saints that interested me happened to be religious women.
 

When I was 12 I began thinking of what kind of person I was and what kind of person I would like to be. I decided that I wanted to be a famous singer. A ridiculous goal, considering my shy and quiet temperament and my dislike of being the center of attention!  However, I became somewhat obsessed with this plan of mine. I wanted to be somebody special. I was very self-centered and out of touch with reality at this time, and my interest in God slowly went through the cracks.
 

When I was 13, I received a great grace. After reflecting on the “plans” I was making and also reflecting on what I knew about God and holiness, I experienced a deep conviction of the pointlessness of living a life for one’s self. I realized that the honors and pleasures that a worldly life can offer are ultimately empty and unsatisfying. So I made a commitment to live my life primarily for God, seeking to know, love and serve Him with all my heart.  Openness best describes my disposition at this time.
 

When I was 14 I began to read scripture more, go to Eucharistic Adoration and occasionally daily Mass. I began to have a great desire to find friends with whom I could share my faith.  I was very “lonely” in my faith life (outside of my family’s home) because I didn’t have any friends who were serious about the Catholic faith. During middle school and high school, I had very good friends who are like sisters to me.  We all had grown up together since practically kindergarten.  However, they were all from different faith traditions from myself, so I wasn’t able to share a lot of the things that were such a huge part of who I am.
 


        High School Orchestra - 2002

Throughout these years there were many things that distracted my attention from my faith life.  I was not allowing my Catholic faith to completely penetrate all aspects of my life, including the things I watched & read, the way I dressed, the way I spoke, the way I “had fun”, the amount of time I devoted to serving others, etc.  I devoted a lot of time to secular movies, secular music… not necessarily bad, but not helping me to grow in my relationship with God.  I still had some of my own changing ideas about who I wanted to be, and sometimes I fell away from caring so much about becoming who God made me to be.   I was still paying attention to God, but my attention was very “selective.” 
 

A Grand turning point in my life came when I left my family home in Houston to begin my freshman year at Texas A&M University.  During the summer before I left I was really very afraid of leaving home.  I worried about whether or not I would be able to make friends.  I was also worried about keeping my faith.  I wanted to have a good support in that respect.  I wanted to be challenged to GROW in my faith rather than be challenged to merely RETAIN my faith.   I prayed for this, not being able to imagine how it would happen.
 

At St. Mary’s Catholic Church in College Station, Texas, God answered my prayers above and beyond all of my expectations!   During my first couple of weeks of attending St. Mary’s I discovered the faith community and “potential” friends who were also passionate about the Catholic faith.  I cannot say enough how thankful I am for how much God has blessed me through those people who became my friends in Christ.
 

The young people that I met there inspired me, and I soon became involved.  I began to attend daily Mass, regular Eucharistic Adoration, bible study, a praise and worship group, and I began to staff the Aggie Awakening Retreats after making the retreat myself.  Many of my friends were open to religious vocations and I began to think about it more seriously myself.  I began to seek God’s will for my life as I began to trust in His plan of love for me and in His Fatherly goodness and providence.
 


                                College Bible Study

On December 8th of 2003, I consecrated myself to Mary through St. Maximillian Kolbe.  I began to love Mary and know her more intimately, and I wanted to imitate her love and her virtues.  I was drawn to meditate on her sorrows and the depth of her share in the Passion of Jesus.  I understood that Mary’s love and fiat to God that she gave in the beginning came to an apex in her being with Jesus during His Passion and her offering of Jesus in union with Him.
 

When I saw the movie, The Passion of the Christ, in 2004, I experienced a strong desire to comfort Jesus in His Passion.  I found myself wishing that I could have been there with Jesus in the Garden and on Calvary to comfort Him.  I was attracted to saints who were especially devoted to the Passion and to Mary as Mother of Sorrows.  Religious life began to make sense for me on a logical level.   I began to have a sense that I was possibly being “called” to love and follow Jesus in this radical, exclusive, and whole-hearted way. Even so, I couldn’t quite bring myself to take the initiative to look into it in a practical way by learning about different communities.
 

It wasn’t too long after I had begun to seriously discern for a religious vocation that an opportunity arose for me to begin dating a young man I had liked for quite a while, a very good and holy Catholic young man.  I rushed in, full of excitement and joy, thinking that my vocational discernment was over.  I assumed that since God had provided this relationship for me it must be His will for me to marry.
 

            I am very grateful for my time in that relationship.  I learned so much about what it means to love, and the beauty of a relationship between a woman and a man, and also I learned more about myself. However, I began experiencing a deeper thirst for God, and a need to be giving myself more completely to Him.  I didn’t quite feel like I was answering God’s call to live a life of holiness in the fullest response that I could give. This gave me a restless conscience and a frustrated heart as I continued to look for solutions in the context of the relationship I was in.  For 2 years, I could not quite open myself to begin asking if God was asking me to look for solutions outside this relationship.  But a time came as we moved into the 3rd year when I reached the point at which, for the sake of honesty and whole-heartedness in my relationship with God, I opened myself to God.
 

            That time came when I went on a vacation with my family to Colorado in 2006.  It was like a solitude retreat for me, as we were in an isolated cabin, in the mountains.  I had time alone to reflect on where I was going in my relationship with God, and where I wanted to be.  I had time to pray more deeply, and to ask myself questions.  I didn’t start with the expectation of being ‘called’ elsewhere.


   
Colorado Vacation-Siblings: (l-r) Wesley, Brian, Shannon, Matthew  

  I simply wanted a deeper conversion of heart.  I wanted to know that whatever path in life I was on, it was the one that God had in mind for me.  I wanted to be able to love with all of my heart, all of my soul, all of my mind, and all of my strength.  I simply acknowledged that God was calling me closer to Himself.  I knew that my desire to be purified in order to love Him more confirmed this call.
 

I asked Mary’s intercession. I prayed a novena to the Holy Spirit.  And I opened up a crack in the door of my heart to the possibility of change in my life.  This was also when I again began to experience an attraction to religious life—to solitude, simplicity, deeper prayer, and great purity of heart.
 

            During the months that followed this vacation when I so powerfully encountered God in my heart, I began to notice growing inspirations that seemed to point in one direction: the cross as the fullest expression of the true love of Christ in a broken and false-hearted world.  Certain scriptures began to speak to my heart very powerfully:

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me…” (Luke 9:23-25)

“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the 
      power of God….”
(1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:19,20)
 

Six months later, as the year 2007 began, God began doing something “new” in my life.  2007 was to begin a year of darkness, questioning, discernment, experiencing the failure of certain hopes and plans I had concerning my future after college, and great trials of faith, hope, courage and suffering.  I did not understand what God was doing.
 

In fact, there seemed to be a heavy silence from God at this time.
 

          First of all, in February of 2007, I discerned, after great anguish, difficulty and unhappiness in my field-based studies, that I was not called to be a schoolteacher.  What was I going to do after college?  It was very frightening to be in the second semester of my senior year of college with hardly a CLUE about what I wanted to do after graduation.  All I knew was that I did not want to teach.
 

As I began this time of uncertainty, the messages of Pope John Paul II began to speak very deeply to my heart… particularly in his emphasis on Jesus’ invitation to His disciples: “Put out onto deep waters and lower your nets for a catch.” “Do not be afraid,” and “All will be well.”  This message gave me courage not to draw back in fear, but to continue my search for God’s authentic plan of love for me.  I felt rather like I was diving into the unknown and learning through necessity what it really means to have courage, faith and trust in God.
 


   Family: (l-r) Shannon, Brian, Matthew, (dad) Mark, (mom) Karen, Wesley

            The next point of discernment came immediately after I finished that semester of school and prepared to return to my family’s home for the summer before my final semester in college.  This time, I began questioning the relationship I was in (at this point we had been dating for 2 years.)  My boyfriend had graduated and moved away a semester before, and this gave me time and space to consider things objectively.   I realized that something was wrong in my heart as I continued to go down this path toward marriage. 
 

              In the context of both of these situations, my comfort zones had eroded, and my future happiness seemed to be uncertain at best.  On one hand, I started to be more honest with myself about the facts.  I began reasoning and discerning, looking truthfully at the mess I was in.  I asked myself a lot of questions. On the other hand I had many difficult feelings, which conflicted with what reason was telling me (ultimately, that I was not called to marriage.)   I just could not bring myself to let it go.
 

In addition to my hurting emotions, I felt like I had no inspirations or “guiding light” from God.  I felt like He had turned the light off and had left me to find my way in the dark.  I felt incredibly alone and desperate and ashamed for not having a better grip on my life.  I had no peace.  I felt like I was always in the grip of fear of the future now—fear of being a failure, fear of losing what I loved, fear of suffering.   I generally had a heavy heart, deep anguish and great confusion. 
 

These scripture passages gave me courage and strengthened my faith and trust: “All things work together for the good of those who love God” (Rom 8:28) and “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. On your own intelligence rely not. Be mindful of Him in all your ways, and He will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
 

I remained in the relationship for another year, peppered with “discernment breaks” due to my feeling a need to discern for a religious vocation.
 

I attended a nun-run at this time in August of 2007.  I went with complete openness.  I was willing to hear whatever God had to say.  God did speak, and EVERYTHING I heard (through scripture, vocation stories, self-knowledge, and more) confirmed that God was, indeed, calling me out of the relationship I was in and TO religious life.  On the return home desolation took over once again and I began to doubt what I had been so certain of while on the nun-run.  I could not bring myself to let go.  In the months that followed, my conscience was not at rest because of this.  The deeper part of my being recognized the probability of the conclusion I had reached before I began to doubt and fear.
 

             After several months of confusion and turmoil, I graduated from Texas A&M with a BA in English in December of 2007.  At this point, I hit a wall and had to make a decision.  I finally decided after much anguish that I had to completely let go of the relationship I was in and begin to actively pursue a religious vocation.
 

            I remember being very humbled thinking that if God had truly been calling me, my response had been very poor.  I felt deep sorrow thinking of how little I had loved Him and trusted Him if He had truly been offering me His Heart in the intimacy of a religious vocation.  It occurred to me how many blessings he had filled my life with to that point, and I realized how stingy I had been in returning grateful love to God.  I was nothing like some of the saints I had read about who seemed to just abandon everything with great courage when God called them to follow Him in a priestly or religious vocation.  They seemed to have no other desire than to give themselves to God in religious life.  That was not my experience.
 

            As I was walking through a parking lot one day, I was watching a yellow butterfly fluttering around. I remember being struck by how out of place it seemed.  It seemed like a lush, green field full of flowers would be a more fitting environment for a simple, pretty, and joyful little butterfly.  Then I made a connection between myself and the butterfly that I saw.  I knew that I was being called to be joyful in the Lord in places where I would be free to have a rejoicing heart.  I knew that where I was at that time was not where I was called to be, but I needed the courage to give that place up and move on.  I needed to have faith that there was indeed a “field full of flowers” waiting for me around the corner, even though I couldn’t see or even imagine it at the time.
 

            I learned that having a religious vocation would not necessarily mean that I would have no desire to be married or have children of my own.  I did desire those things, and because I did, it was very difficult for me to give those up in my heart.  However, I discovered that having a religious vocation is a call to sacrifice something very good for something even better.  It IS a sacrifice.  But for someone who DOES have a religious vocation, making that sacrifice opens the door to a freedom to better love Jesus as that person desires in the depths of her heart.
 

            My confused feelings at the time were telling me that religious life, for me, would be a life of suffering, crosses, loneliness, and self-denial in a way that would make me sad and desolate rather than courageous and joyful.  The evil one was working overtime to dissuade me from following Jesus whole-heartedly.  Just the opposite has turned out to be true!  There are crosses in religious life, but because of the grace of vocation, those crosses have actually brought me alive to a greater capacity to love.  They have brought greater freedom and joy in the love this way of life enables me to live.
 

            So I prayed a novena to the Divine Mercy asking for strength and courage to tell my family and my boyfriend.  I also prayed for the grace to accept the consequences of the decision.  By the mercy of God, in February of 2008, I told my family and my boyfriend of my decision and began the search for “the field of flowers” to which God had called me.  The website for the Passionist Nuns of Whitesville, KY was one of the first websites I happened to come across.  I had never heard of the Passionists before, but their charism of devotion to the Passion and Cross of Jesus and to Mary as Mother of Sorrows struck my heart with amazement.  It was a eureka moment, and I immediately began to wonder if this would be “it.”
 


      
   Aspirant Shannon - Returns!

            I think it was the next morning that I asked Mary to pray for me.  I told her that if she did want me at the foot of the cross with her and Jesus, I needed her to come and help me to get there.  That evening I decided to go to a weekday Mass.  Upon arriving at the church, I was surprised to find that a mission was being preached by a Passionist priest, Fr. Cedric Pisegna C.P. (I had never seen a Passionist before!)  It struck me as being more than a coincidence that he showed up practically on my doorstep within 48 hours of my discovering and feeling drawn to the Passionist charism.  In fact, when I asked the man at the door of the church what was going on, he invited me to come in and attend the mission, “perhaps the Holy Spirit sent you!” Needless to say, I attended the mission.
 

            I was able to speak with Fr. Cedric about my interest in the Passionist Nuns, and he put me in contact with the Passionist Nuns of Whitesville, KY—the very nuns whose website I had ‘happened’ across the day before the mission.  I began corresponding with Sr. John Mary C.P., already feeling ready to come for a visit and further discern for Passionist life.  I witnessed how God seemed to be moving me along and providing the guidance I needed to find my way to His will.  After having been lost and confused for so long, I had a growing sense that I would find “my way” with the Passionist Nuns.
 

            In between the beginning of this correspondence and my first visit, there was a painful time of waiting which lasted for about a month and a half.  During this time, my fidelity to the decision I had made to let go of the relationship I was in was tested, along with my perseverance when many people thought I was making a mistake. (Funny, it was actually the first time in a long time that I was thinking incredibly clearly!)
 

            My visit with the Passionists proved to be exactly what I had expected—a confirmation of God’s call to consecrated, contemplative, Passionist life.  My eyes were opened to the amazing beauty and love contained in this vocation.  I felt rather like Simeon who took Jesus into his arms after waiting for the revelation of the messiah: “Now Lord, you can let your servant go in peace. Your word has been fulfilled. My eyes have seen your salvation…”   Only, in my case, this was the revelation in all clarity of God’s invitation to me to love Him with an undivided heart, sharing in the intimate concerns of His Heart for souls.
 

            In place of the fears I had of what it would mean to leave my life behind in order to follow Him, I experienced a deep desire to make of my life a total offering of love to God… to become “an everlasting gift to God”, a “living sacrifice of praise” for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, “through, with, and in” the sacrificial offering Jesus made of Himself on the Cross.  I found myself in awe of the profound depth of Passionist life—that we, as Passionists, are called to a deeper transformation unto the likeness of the self-giving love of Christ.  We are called to live what we celebrate, remember, and partake of everyday at Mass! Wow! What deep gratitude I experienced upon the realization of these mysteries! I needed no further confirmation.
 

Passionist life, I knew, was the only appropriate way my heart could respond to the love of Jesus I had come to know over the years.  He had loved me so graciously, mercifully and generously.  I felt in the depths of my heart that I could not be satisfied unless I finally responded to this love with the gift of my whole self.  When a person offers him or herself to another (and the invitation is heard, understood and acknowledged) there are only two possible answers: “I accept you and give myself to you.” or “I’m flattered that you love me that much, but I have other plans.” I am ashamed and humbled to admit that for a time, I was answering Him with a subtle kind of rejection. (I had not been willing to acknowledge His invitation to me in faith. Therefore, I had not fully respond.)  However, as I opened my heart more to the truth of His invitation for me to share His Heart, I felt that the greatness of His merciful love to me throughout my life gave me a great responsibility to respond in the giving of myself.
 


             
Postulant Shannon

My two-week live-in visit with the nuns turned into a two-month aspirancy, which is the first step of a committed discernment of Passionist life.  I didn’t need to think twice when, during my aspirancy, I was asked if I wanted to request to enter the community as a postulant.  However, there was one problem.  I still had a significant amount of college debt to pay off and I would not be able to enter the monastery unless this was taken care of.  This turned out to be another example of how God generously provided for me.  We applied for aid from Mater Ecclesiae, an organization that helps young men and women who are ready to enter religious life to pay off college debt.  My application was accepted and approved, and I was free to continue my journey with the Lord.  I am so thankful that the Lord has inspired people to provide such a generous service to those seeking to follow Him in religious life (see:www.fundforvocations.org).

         After my time of aspirancy was over, I returned home for a month and a half in order to spend time with my family and organize my affairs before officially entering St. Joseph Monastery as a postulant.  It was a time of grace.  God’s grace carried me through everything that was so difficult for me.  I found that I was living through the things I had feared would happen, but it was nothing like I thought it would be because my heart had been transformed by God’s mercy and grace and love.  In the midst of the sorrow of saying goodbye to the young man who had been my boyfriend and some of my dear friends, I was sustained by a great peace.  I was greatly comforted in knowing that this strength and courage came from Christ living in me.
 


    
  Novice Sister Rose Marie

  

        My time as a postulant was a deepening of my desire to respond to the love of Jesus with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind and all my strength. It was a time of grace, light, and healing for me. There is a Jars of Clay song called “The Valley Song” that says exactly what my heart desires to do: “I will sing of His mercy that leads me through valleys of sorrow to rivers of joy!”

         Now as I begin my time as a novice, with gratitude and love, and awareness of my total dependence on His merciful love and care for me.  I continue on with great contentment, peace, and joy that goes deeper than the “highs and lows” of day-to-day experience.  I’m still seeking to open my heart to be more deeply converted and transformed into the heart of a true lover of Christ.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow! He has been good to me, and that without my having deserved it!

          Because He mercifully loved me and generously chose me, I have been enriched to the point of needing to continue to make a complete and loving gift of myself to Him in religious life. And I passionately desire that EVERYONE seek and find the love I have found in God.
 


                                
                           
     Sister Rose Marie, C. P.      
                           of the Merciful Heart of Jesus

 

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