Monday, July 22, 2013

Heading Out West: The Next Step in Her Discernment

The Next Leg of the Journey

     As promised, I'm posting more about my dear friend Michele's discernment and the doors the Lord opened and obstacles He removed, so that she would be free to enter the cloistered Carmelite monastery He's led her to in California.  Honestly, right now it's easier for me to focus on what the Lord's done in Michele's life over the past year, and the past several years, than it is for me to spend too much time thinking about how this close friend, dear sister in Christ, trusted confidante, source of joy and consolation won't be in my life in all of the ways she has been over the past couple years.  
     After August 6, we won't be talking over the phone, e-mailing each other, and she can't write or receive letters except at Christmas and Easter.  She isn't allowed visitors (other than her mom and sister) for six years, until she takes her final vows.  I know that the Holy Spirit will keep us connected through prayer, and that this adjustment will be a far greater one for Michele to make, but I'm already missing her dearly.  

Similarities Between Two Sisters in Christ

     Those who are familiar with the life of St. Teresa of Avila tend to be quite impressed by how true to form the play, Teresita is in presenting the facts of this woman’s life, particularly her childhood and the time leading up to her discerning God was calling her from a life of privilege and popularity to enter a cloistered convent.  Others who don’t know as much about this Doctor of the Church are often inspired to research her after seeing the entertaining and educational performance. 
     Michele Morris portrays the young, vivacious St. Teresa of Avila beautifully.  Her interest in things of the world and contentment having close relationships with family and friends pose a number of challenges with which the playwright is all too familiar.  In Michele’s own spiritual journey, she has felt God’s Presence from very early on in her life, but it’s taken longer than she hoped or expected for her to discern what God wants of her. 

Now is the Time

     There’s a great deal to be said about the timing of this play.  A year ago on July 16 was the opening night of Teresita.  That the Lord opened doors so that the début could occur on July 16, which is the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, seemed a clear blessing of the Holy Spirit in this endeavor.  Michele had been working on the play for months.  She was inspired to write and perform Teresita as a fundraiser to pay off her student loan from getting her Masters in Divinity.  She needed to be debt-free to enter the religious community and become a postulant of the Carmelite Sisters by the Sea of California.

Carmel Goal Set

     Friends eagerly supported her effort by offering their own talents to assist in the production.  What seemed like a far-off dream became a reality in the days and weeks leading up to the first scheduled performance.  A friend came forward to make her costume, another to help her with direction and rehearsal stepped up.  Soon portraits, fliers, business cards, a website, and a location for Opening night were all provided. 
     I got chills watching Teresita both at the by-invitation-only dress rehearsal and the Opening night performance.  As someone who has read and thoroughly enjoyed learning about St. Teresa of Avila over the years, I really appreciated the attention to detail, inclusion of factual events, and the spirit with which this exuberant woman’s life was portrayed.  Knowing a great deal about many of Michele’s own struggles throughout her discernment only served to make the play that much more amazing and believable.  In the end of the play as in Michele's own life, the time comes when the only thing left to do to figure out if the cloistered Carmelite life is for her is to enter the community to which the Lord has led her and go from there.

Realization of Her Goal & Confirmation of God’s Will

     Over eleven months, Michele performed Teresita at venues up and down the East Coast.  Her first

scheduled performance was held on July 16, 2012, in honor of the Feast of Our Lady of Carmel.  Twenty some performances later, she did her last scheduled public performance in the sanctuary of her home parish on Sunday, June 23, 2013.  During this time, Michele raised $16,500 towards paying off her seminary debt. 
      Michele had applied for a grant from the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations.  She found out that she was not a recipient of the grant, but not all hope was gone; for the first time ever, they’d chosen a first runner-up in the event one of the applicants declined the grant.  Michele was very excited to be named first runner-up, but she knew she’d have to buckle down and work even harder to pay off her student debt.  In a matter of days, she was optimistic after having found someone to take care of the promotion, bookings, and such, a replacement at her day job, which would allow her to travel whenever necessary, but within a week, that plan completely fell through.
     As has always been the case when things have fallen apart, Michele turned to the Lord and made it abundantly clear that He would need to figure out the logistics of how she would pay off her debt if it was, indeed, His Will that she enter the Carmelite Sisters by the Sea sometime sooner than later. 

     She was both shocked and ecstatic when she received a phone call the next day from a woman from the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations.  When asked if she would except the grant from them, she gave them a resounding: “YES!” 

A Leap of Faith  

     Tomorrow Michele is flying out West with her mom.  They've professionally recorded her performing Teresita in Deland, Florida, so now she is drawing closer in mind, body, and spirit to her new family.  She has said her goodbyes to her friends and family in Richmond, Maryland, and Florida, and after time with a dear family friend, she will be entering Carmel, where she will continue discerning her vocation to the cloistered religious life within the community.    
     What an amazing addition she will be to their community!  I can only hope and pray that they will receive her with as much love, joy, and laughter as she has brought to so many of us who have gotten to know her.
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