Fully Alive in Christ!

Sr. Mary Kate with her father

One of my favorite lines from Fr. John Hardon, the late, great Jesuit theologian whose cause for sainthood is working its way through the Church, is: “even a corpse can float downstream.”

Yet, as Saint Irenaeus famously said, “The glory of God is man fully alive!” If we are fully alive in Christ, then we have the vitality to swim against the current, to work against the pull of the flesh that wants to drag us downstream. And there is no neutrality here: if we do nothing but “go with the flow,” then we will be dragged along with those who have made a conscious decision in favor of the “flesh” as opposed to the lifegiving “spirit.”

Those who are faithfully answering the radical call to the consecrated life are the most “alive” people I’ve ever encountered. A few months ago my wife Maureen and I had the privilege of visiting with our daughter at the motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. What struck me even more than the calls to chastity and obedience was the way they live the call to poverty.

Like the woman in the Gospel who was healed of her infirmity and was able to stand upright for the first time in many years, these beautiful young ladies are not “bent over” and worried about things here below. Rather, with Our Lord as their strength and constant companion, they see things from a more God-centered perspective. They are free. They appreciate and enjoy everything. They are not bored or thinking about what they’ve “given up” or don’t have. What an amazing paradox: By becoming poor, they have truly become rich!

I’m particularly drawn to Eucharistic Prayer III. One phrase from that prayer that has had rich meaning for me through the years is, “Father, hear the prayers of the family you have gathered here . . .” as I’ve written frequently on the image of the Church as the “family of God” as well as on the “parish family.”

But at Mass the week Sr. Mary Kate entered the Dominicans, it was the next line that really struck me: “In mercy and love unite all your children wherever they may be.”

Even though Sr. Mary Kate is now a thousand miles away, we are still united in God’s mercy and love, particularly through our participation in the Eucharist and in the life of the Church in general (a “communion of saints” thing). This is another one of those teachings to which we give notional assent, but every now and then we have moments in which a truth of the faith penetrates us in a more real, experiential way.

It’s all right here in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 2232-33):

“Family ties are important but not absolute. Just as the child grows to maturity and human and spiritual autonomy, so his unique vocation which comes from God asserts itself more clearly and forcefully. Parents should respect this call and encourage their children to follow it. They must be convinced that the first vocation of the Christian is to follow Jesus: ‘He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me’ (Mt 10:37). . . .

“Parents should welcome and respect with joy and thanksgiving the Lord’s call to one of their children to follow Him in virginity for the sake of the Kingdom in the consecrated life or in priestly ministry.”

This brings me back to the call to poverty. Young religious need to incorporate a healthy spirit of detachment from worldly things, including even one’s family, if they are to be “worthy” disciples of Christ. This assuredly means swimming upstream, and I was so impressed with how well the young sisters seemed to be making this transition, despite the inherent difficulty.

It’s also a challenge for parents to have their son or daughter enter religious life, especially when they enter right out of high school. We had about as much advance warning as possible (Sr. Mary Kate told me when she was 5 that she wanted to be a nun), and it was still a shock to the system.

I think that letting go of a child who is entering religious life is an act of poverty on our part. We not only are creating “space” for our children to seek evangelical perfection, but also growing in our own feeble spirit of sacrifice and detachment. Not surprisingly, Maureen and I have become fast friends with a whole fraternity of families who are also going through the same process.

Please remember in your prayers for religious vocations those who have already responded and, like Sr. Mary Kate, are going through the initial stages of their formation. And while you’re at it, please pray for their families, too!

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2011 issue of Religious Life, the bimonthly magazine of the Institute on Religious Life.

15 thoughts on “Fully Alive in Christ!”

  1. Great article. Each of the sisters has a story to tell. My daughter is a prefessed Sister with the DSMME’s as well and is so joyful. We miss her terribly of course, but it is an honor having a vocation like this in the family. It is helpful to speak with other parents.

  2. Wendy, congratulations on Sr. Marie Bernadette’s entrance into novitiate, where she is joined by my daughter Sr. Evangeline (Mary Kate) and 16 other beautiful young Christian women. It is hard letting go, but at the same time, what an amazing gift we have received in having a child generously follow Christ as a Dominican sister. I hope to meet you at the First Profession, if not one of the weekend visits!

  3. Lovely article! My daughter, Sr. Marie Bernadette, just received the habit of the Domincan Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist last week. It’s been helpful to connect with others who “understand” how such a wonderful Grace can also be so hard. Even though I have prayed for the grace of a child being called to religious life from the moment we learned we were expecting our babies, I have found it surprisingly hard to truly let go. We are all growing through this process!

    I hope I’ll be able to meet you at one of the visiting days! God bless you!

  4. Mr. Suprenant, I guess I didn’t read far enough to see that your daughter was already there. Even more surprised was I when I saw the article in the Catholic Free Press posted further down here about my daughter Meaghan and sons Jim & Mike. I’m sure we’ll meet up sooner or later

  5. Mr. Suprenant, small world, as I was just going throughthe Sister’s website, and one thing lead to another, I’ll probably see you next month as you take your daughter to Michigan. My daughter Meaghan, who graduated Franciscan University last month, who must already know your daughter, as Meaghan will also be joining the Sisters next month, and has already made 2 trips out there in the last couple of months. She is just working on commitments to pay off her student loans now, so she can enter. Her older brother Jim is starting his 4th year of study for the Priesthood, in St. John’s Seminary in Boston, and her younger brother Michael is following in her footsteps to Franciscan University next month studying theology and philosophy. It’s nice to find another proud father. Hope to see you next month if all goes well

  6. What a beautiful article. My daughter, Nicole, is with your daughter! I am proud of her and so happy for her, but do miss her very much. I’m hopeful I will meet you at one of the visit days in the future.

  7. What a joy to see young women such as your daughter eager to live the most radical of lives for the benefits of others. God bless her and your family.

  8. Kathleen, yes I meant primarily the visiting days and also the pre-aspirancy drop off and pick up last summer. And of course it’s such a small Catholic world that we tend to find one another anyway!

    So happy to hear that your niece is part of the group entering novitiate next month. God bless you–and her!

  9. Such a beautiful, thoughtful article. Thank you, Leon. My niece, along with your daughter, joined these sisters last August. I am so proud of her and happy for her.
    You mention that you and your wife have become fast friends with some of the other families of these sisters. How did you connect with them? Just by meeting them at the occasional visiting days?
    Thank you.

  10. God bless you Leon, we are praying for you and your wife and family. Thank you for sharing your feelings and wonderful insights.

  11. Thanks Leon,

    I will be forwarding this to the parents of a friend who has just entered religious life and are really struggling with their felt loss. I think this will be very helpful!

    God bless you!

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