This is probably by far the simplest part of the story. But as Georges Bernanos once wrote, “The simplest things are by no means the easiest.” I could simply say, “I decided God was calling me to become a Lay Dominican, and so I did. The end.” What kind of story would that be?
I guess I will start by saying this:
It is true that the Lord knows when we’ve reached our limits–we only have to trust Him. Just when I was reaching mine, He gave me a deep and much-needed respite. It coincided with the beginning of Lent, 2007. Unlike the grueling Lent of 2006, this Lent was serene and restful.
I felt closer to the Lord than ever before, and for once there was no friction. I thought back to my relationship with my late fiancé, Patrick: I remembered that when the relationship was in its infancy, we each had our rough edges and sharp corners that needed smoothing; after a while they were smoothed and we were able to grow closer together, more comfortably. I think something similar happened between God and me.
That Lent, I learned what true happiness and fulfillment are: not emotions, but rather a Person. In that happiness and fulfillment I found rest and peace. And even when I was having troubles with work or grief, that ageless, eternal, unchanging Happiness was there for me. On 25 March I wrote:
Lately (and, generally, as usual) my passion is more of the Garden of Gethsemane variety. And still I am learning about happiness! Because when you’re in the Garden, you are with Him. More than that, you are with Him when none of His other disciples are. You are alone with Him. You are with Him in one of His most vulnerable, most human times–blood, tears, fear, anxiety, dependence on the Father. In the first, He was any and every one of us… in the latter, we must strive to be like Him. Oh, to be in the Garden, alone with Him… the Garden is an even better training ground than the Desert. You can’t do aught but suffer with Him, and also suffer your own helplessness to console Him. But you also can’t help feeling the joy and the great privilege of such an intimate encounter with God at His most human, and of the ignition within yourself of a love so spectacular in its selflessness and desperation.
Love is love, no matter how pained. The same is true of happiness.
What does this have to do with my becoming a Lay Dominican? At the end of Part 2 of this story, I said, “In searching for my vocation, I was finding my relationship with God.” The opposite was true as well. I didn’t understand at the time how intricately intertwined vocation and relationship with God are. Of course, it makes sense: vocation is a calling from God. And how are you going to hear it, much less obey it, if you aren’t close to God?
Becoming close to God is what made finding my vocation simple at that point. But that still isn’t the whole story.
Lent ended and Easter began. And then 28 April came–the 2nd anniversary of Patrick’s death. And it wasn’t a horrible day. Not only did I have a closer relationship with God, but I had also formed a nice little circle of Catholic friends by that time, and could feel myself being borne up and surrounded by their prayers. And it inspired me to pray too. The Rosary had been my life-line many times. And I’d always felt closest to Mary, the Lady of Sorrows, in times of grief.
And then, there were the Saints. I knew that 28 April was the feast day of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, one of my very favorite of Saints. But on 28 April 2007, I happened to learn that it was also the feast day of St. Louis-Marie de Montfort–one of the more famous devotees of the Rosary, and, as it happens, a Third Order Dominican. The next day, I learned that 29 April is the feast day of St. Catherine of Siena–Patron Saint of Lay Dominicans. And the next day, 30 April is the feast day of Pope St. Pius V–another Dominican! Even at that time, I thought to myself, “This is no coincidence.” The Dominicans were definitely being kept at the front of my mind.
The Liturgy of the Hours came onto the scene around that time too. I happened to come by a free trial subscription to eBreviary. I knew that if I did become a Dominican, the Liturgy of the Hours would be part of my life every day. So I tried it out and fell in love! But I decided fairly soon that I really needed a print breviary, so I ordered a copy of Christian Prayer.
Finally, 11 May came–the 2nd anniversary of my re-joining the Church. And the next day, a Saturday, is when it happened. It wasn’t a Road to Damascus experience. It just came to me, gently yet unmistakably, in the quietness after receiving Communion. I simply knew that I had arrived at a threshold, and that it was time to step over it. So I did. When I got home, I found the Web site for the Southern Province Dominican Laity. I shot an email to the provincial vocations director and to the moderator of the local chapter.
I shortly received some very nice and informative emails from both of them. But just as if that weren’t quite enough to convince me that I was on the right path, I learned about the patronage of my local group: Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii, and her devoted servant, Bl. Bartolo Longo. Here’s what I wrote in my journal on 13 May:
The most significant thing about this story is how much Bl. Bartolo’s early life reminds me of my own high school and college years. I was, like him, caught up in every variety of error–all of Modernism’s irrational trappings as well as theosophy and various flavors of occultism and paganism. It all caused significant physical, mental, and spiritual damage and brought much suffering and grief upon me and my whole family. But there was hope for Bl. Bartolo, and there was hope for me… a hope revealed when much of our lives were seemingly reduced to rubble. He rejected and denounced his past errors, and I have rejected and denounced mine. He went on to do great things… and I pray I might also!
All of this provides me great consolations! For one thing, I’ve been introduced to a new, sympathetic, understanding, and inspiring ally in Heaven! And my local Lay Dominican chapter happens to be connected to him! Coincidence? You know I don’t believe that for a minute! Rather, I think it’s a providential sign that I am definitely going in the right direction and toward the right place!
This is so exciting! I feel like a child with a whole future ahead of me! I feel like a traveller on the brink of a expansive new horizon of adventure! I feel like I really will set the world on fire as St. Catherine of Siena said!
I was invited to the monthly meeting of the local group, and I was determined to go. It was pretty much a repeat of what had happened when I went to the vocations retreat. I was terribly beset by temptation and spiritual oppression. The devil and his demons were hell-bent on my not going. But I had my memories of that retreat to inspire me and keep me focused. And so I went. On the long walk up the path to the priory entrance, my insides were in knots and I was trembling. And then I stepped inside… and all the anxiety just melted away!
I had never been there in my life. But I felt like I was home. Just as if I had grown up there. I felt at home. Such peace and happiness. Home.
After that, I never looked back and never doubted, even though I occasionally met with some disapproval: “Oh, you’re just compromising–if you were really devoted to God and the Church, you’d become a sister or a nun.” And I’d just smile and shake my head. I’d think about all the months I had thought and prayed and discovered and doubted and discerned and retreated and surrendered. I’d think about the times the Holy Spirit had put me through wringer, testing and trying and training. I’d think about being with Christ in Gethsemane. About Mary and the Saints. I’d think of the Dominican tertiaries who had gone before me: St. Catherine of Siena, St. Louis-Marie de Montfort, Bl. Bartolo Longo, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati–did any of them compromise?
After an initial training phase, I was admitted to the Order of Preachers on 9 March 2008. And people still tell me that my face lights up whenever I talk about being a Dominican. The happiness and fulfillment I found in my Lord have never left me.