Sr. Bethany Madonna

sbmad and jazmin“Do I need to find a new group of friends?” Everything was in slow motion…I had just said the unthinkable for a 17-year old, and there was no going back. With all of the new freedoms that drivers’ licenses and extended curfews bring, we were at a crossroads. When I realized the destination of our trip that night was a keg party, the knot in my stomach bid me turn back, and I asked to be dropped off at home, where my trusting parents awaited me. Their silence was my answer.

“Okay,” I said softly and closed the car door. If it were a movie scene, a bolt of lighting would crash over the house. It was one of those lonely, earth shattering moments in time where you’re pretty sure the happiness you once knew has come to an end and you are destined to die an “old maid”! Beneath the waves that rocked my boat that night, there was an undeniable peace that the world cannot give.

Not long after, a girl from class invited me to her LifeTeen Youth Group on a Sunday night. Within no time, I had a new group of friends from school. We went to Mass together every week and spent our time going to the movies, the mall, having overnights and attending Bible studies and retreats.

I’ll never forget the retreat held in the fall of my senior year of high school. I was in Adoration one night, and for the briefest of moments an interior quiet came upon me. Without being able to articulate it, I knew I was being heard without speaking. I was known deeply, and loved infinitely. It made me cry, to feel God so close. My heart was moved to ask the Lord what He wanted for my life.

……….“What do you want Lord? I’ll do it, whatever it is…
……….I mean, do you want me to be a nun or something? Fine! That’s just fine.
……….You know that I’ve had my wedding planned since kindergarten…
……….but I can take a hint if you want me to be Yours.”

The only “nuns” I had encountered were older and Irish, or in children’s picture books, the Sound of Music, and Sister Act.  It was never something I considered. I was going to marry a good man (just like my Dad), who was madly in love with me, and we’d have a 15-passenger van filled with our own Litany of Saints (Peter, James, John, Paul, Thomas, little Linus…etc.) Looking back on this first conversation with the Lord about vocation, I have to laugh. How disheartened I was in the face of seemingly dashed dreams, how dramatic it all seemed!

The Lord was so generous and patient with me. I would later realize that this exchange would not be the relinquishing of my deepest desires, but Christ was actually inviting me to their truest fulfillment, and guarding my heart in the meantime. My attraction to marriage and family life remained, and I soon began dating. After my freshman year in college, it became clear that the Lord had another course for my life, and wanted me to “come aside and rest awhile” if you will! I knew He was asking me to be alone, with the intention of receiving my undivided attention, and I welcomed the new chapter in my life.

Through college, I became involved in the Catholic Campus Ministry and the Students for Life Club. These young men and women were more like family than friends, and we spent every waking moment outside of class together! I would go to daily Mass often and was at the CatholicCenter almost every night of the week for a different event. We discovered the Theology of the Body, and I decided I had to see Pope John Paul II, who was inspiring me to make a total gift of myself. He was calling me, personally it would seem, to greatness, telling me to “be not afraid” as I was seeking the Lord’s will for my life. I began planning a trip to study abroad in Italy, with a lone pilgrimage to Rome. I wanted romance, adventure and gelato! Mostly, I wanted to be far away from the familiar with its distractions so that I could hear the voice of Jesus, whose mysterious knocking at the door of my heart was becoming strangely irresistible.

Around the same time, a friend asked me to pray the rosary with her outside of an abortion clinic. My life was never the same after that day. I had debated about abortion, talked about abortion, written about abortion…it had been distant from me, a political term, an immoral medical procedure, a sin. As the dawn broke that morning, tears streamed down my face to see the women waiting outside. I saw for the first time that abortion had a human face, and it was the face of my abandoned classmates and their children. Every Saturday through college, I went to the abortion clinic to pray, to counsel, to cry, to plead. It was an experience of powerlessness and grief, with rare, triumphant occasions of joy, and it brought me to my knees. I knew I would live and die for them; God had laid it plainly on my heart. It was also a point of real conversion for me, as the anger and judgment I was feeling in my helplessness had to be transformed into love. The Lord began to heal me through Reconciliation, the Eucharist, and by introducing me to women and men who had suffered from abortion. They even invited me to join their retreat planning team for those wounded by abortion. I was humbled by the beauty of their witness, filled with compassion, and pierced with gratitude for the mercy of God.

I went to Italy that summer, and upon our arrival to the study abroad program with my secular, public university we were informed that they had accidentally overbooked the women’s dorms. The only space available to us was a little “pensione” run by three religious sisters in white habits. The other girls were devastated with a 9 pm curfew and separation from the guys, but my heart skipped a beat, secretly feeling it was all for me!

Once I returned home, I knew I needed the question answered, “Is God calling me to religious life?” A “nun run” was planned with some of my closest friends, and I waited in anticipation.

While staying with another community, they insisted on taking me to see the Sisters of Life. Talk about rejection! They dropped me off simply to have lunch, and with permission, I stayed until after Night Prayer! As I walked into the convent, I felt like I’d been there before. The Vocation’s Director shared with me the charism of the Sisters of Life, and their fourth vow to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life. Contemplative active, they spent half of their day in silence and prayer, and the other in the apostolate. Conceiving Christ beneath their consecrated hearts in Holy Communion, the Sisters imitate the Blessed Mother at the Visitation. Bearing Him to women who are pregnant and vulnerable, the infant in their wombs can leap for joy, and so can they. She told me about the Visitation Mission for women experiencing crisis pregnancies, and the Holy Respite, where some of these courageous women come to live in the convent with the Sisters. She described Villa Maria, where the Sisters hosted a variety of retreats for men and women to be able to encounter the love and mercy of Jesus, and then she shared about the Hope and Healing Mission, accompanying those suffering the affects of abortion. To be as vulnerable as the infant in the womb, as poor as Jesus on the Cross and in the Eucharist;  to vow chastity as an expression of total, spousal love for Jesus; to be obedient in union with the obedience of Christ to the Father… it was my heart set to words. The unborn child, his frightened mother, the many searching for authentic love, men and women suffering in abortion’s wake and seeking mercy… each one is embraced by the spiritual maternity of the Sisters of Life, and this was beyond my imagination’s reach.

God was proposing this invitation, one that I did not deserve and would never have dreamed of asking for, “Will you love Me with the love of your heart? Will you let me love you perfectly? Would you love every child as if it were your own of flesh and blood?” It was offering the promised 100 fold.