When I came to Maggie’s Place in the summer of 2007, I came with many questions waiting for answers in my heart. I had chosen to come to Maggie’s Place because I loved to be involved in pro-life work and was discerning with a number of religious communities, including the Sisters of Life. The Sisters of Life have a house for unwed mothers and so I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to spend a year of discernment while helping those in need and living in the same house as the Lord. The fact that each home had a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament was a very big factor in my decision to come to Maggie’s Place, for if I was to be a religious, I would then also be living in the house of the Lord.
Our daily community prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours was a comfort to me and working with the moms was a joyful challenge, yet after a few months, I began to feel uneasy and my soul seemed in turmoil. I didn’t understand and reached out to those in leadership within the Maggie’s Place community. What could I do? Was I doing something wrong? Was this the Lord calling me elsewhere? If so, how could I leave when I had already committed to a full year of service?
It was suggested that perhaps I simply needed a little time off. I was asked to look into making a personal retreat and the Little Sisters of the Poor came to mind. I called the nearest home and they, providentially, had a discernment retreat in a few weeks. I signed up and the other staff members in my house generously covered my shifts and charges as I drove to Los Angeles for retreat. It was at that retreat that the Lord clarified a few factors for me. The primary one being that some girls do come away from vocation retreats knowing that they do not wish to be a religious. This was very eye-opening for me. I had been on more vocation retreats than I could count and every one of them left me with a desire to be a religious. I assumed this desire was not a genuine call but a result of the fervor of the atmosphere. Yet for a number of the girls that weekend, they did spend time with a group of religious women and felt the call not to become one!
The other big gift was an introduction to Lectio Divina. When I returned to Maggie’s Place, I continued this prayer practice under the guidance of Sr. Maria de la Luz, Isp. Each Saturday I would sit quietly in the little chapel with the Sunday readings. After my prayer, I sent the inspirations to sister via email and waited for her interpretation or what to do with it. When I shared certain directives with the leaders at Maggie’s Place as well as Sr. Maria, we knew I could not hold back from the Lord any longer. Maggie’s Place very generously accepted Sister’s proposal that I join a discernment community at the Little Sisters’ home in Palatine, IL. I stayed at Maggie’s Place through the Christmas busyness and then in January left for Palatine.
While my stay at Maggie’s Place was only a short seven months, my first real experience of living under the same roof as my Lord was one which drew me ever more strongly to His Heart. To pray in community that prayer of the Church which is now my primary work was also an aid in confirming where the Lord desired me to go. The Lord works in mysterious ways and when He used Maggie’s Place to confirm this love of prayer and love of the Blessed Sacrament, He also used this beautiful time of service to draw my heart beyond active service and into the service of prayer. My prayer for the unborn, for women in need and for many difficult situations which are presented to my religious community can be deeper understood since I have lived and worked with women in those or similar situations.
The memory which comes to me at prayer most often is when three of the moms decided to come to Midnight Mass with me on Christmas. First of all these women stayed up late, adjusting even the sleeping routine of their little ones and they dressed so beautifully. They were all very excited to go to Midnight Mass after having not been for quite some time. Part of their decision to join me was to support me as I was singing in the choir. When we arrived at St. Helen’s and proceeded into the church, one mom stopped in the doorway and looked hesitant. She almost looked afraid. I was unsure what to do, but as she crossed the threshold, a huge smile burst across her face. “It didn’t fall!” My look of surprise prompted her quick explanation, “I thought the roof would collapse or at least a brick would come down upon my head as soon as I entered a church because of all the bad things I have done.” I recall this as I pray for those who are away from the Church that their fear of God’s anger may melt away in the face of His Mercy. In that moment, I also saw just how selfless this love was from our moms as she was willing to risk being mortally wounded to come to Church as I sang in the choir. I also must ask myself if I would be willing to risk my life for another? For God? This mom risked her fears and the “wrath” of God to come to Mass and hear me sing in the choir. I try to remember this when I am having trouble letting go of my own fears.
Of course God’s ways are not our ways and while I left Maggie’s Place quickly to enter the house of religion, it would be many months of live-in experiences, entrance and exit from one community and a number of rejections before the Lord could bring me home to the Visitation where I am now in my 2nd year of temporary vows.
God be praised!
By Sister Margaret Joseph Armstrong, an alum MissionCorps member (2007)
Sister of the Visitation of Holy Mary