Entrance Day: Channing Dale Ascends Mount Carmel

"I have been caught in the loving nets of the Divine Fisherman. I see that my vocation is very great: to save souls and to provide workers for the vineyard of Christ. I, as His bride, must be thirsty for souls. I must offer my Bridegroom the blood that He shed for each soul." - St. Teresa of the Andes

“I have been caught in the loving nets of the Divine Fisherman. I see that my vocation is very great: to save souls and to provide workers for the vineyard of Christ. I, as His bride, must be thirsty for souls. I must offer my Bridegroom the blood that He shed for each soul.” – St. Teresa of the Andes

The morning of July 13, the Feast of St. Teresa of the Andes, found the mountains of central Pennsylvania wreathed in thick clouds of mist, as if Nature herself had some inkling of the wondrous thing that was about to happen and had adorned herself with a veil of white of her own in honor of the occasion. The rain, which had fallen unabated since I had left my home in Virginia several hours previously, finally ceased as I wound my way through the curving roads that led to the tucked-away little monastery in Elysburg, PA. I had come to bid a fond farewell to one of my dearest friends and sisters in Christ, Channing Dale, who in a couple hours would pass through the enclosure door of the Carmel of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to begin her new life of prayer and penance as a Discalced Carmelite nun.

The sign to Carmel as you enter the front drive

The sign to Carmel as you enter the front drive

The front drive to one of the most wonderful places ever to be caught halfway between Heaven and Earth.

The front drive to one of the most wonderful places ever to be caught halfway between Heaven and Earth.

I arrived about twenty minutes before Channing got there, and already a number of other family and friends were milling about outside and in the small public corridor at the front of the monastery. After praying for a spell before the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle, I joined those who had already arrived and began to (slowly) introduce myself and socialize. I also took the opportunity to go to Confession, so that I could say goodbye to Channing with a clean soul!

And then…

Channing arrived!!

Your debonair chronicler in one of his preferred poses: with a holy and beautiful woman by his side.

Your debonair chronicler in one of his preferred poses: with a holy and beautiful woman by his side.

There was hugging, warm words, introductions to her parents, etc. Actually, her dad and step-mother were already familiar with me from my Twitter interactions with Channing, which I realize some people might find a little creepy, but since I have always kind of wanted to have a reputation that precedes me, I did not mind in the least. ;-)

The assembled well-wishers enjoyed about forty-five minutes of socializing and photo opportunities with our soon-to-be nun, and then we all filed into the chapel for the Entrance Mass. It was celebrated, as are all Masses at the Carmel of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, in the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite. Two seminarians from the Diocese of Harrisburg, one of whom, Ivan, shares a deep friendship and spiritual bond with Channing, served at the altar.

The Carmel Chapel

The Carmel Chapel

The Sanctuary. To the right (Virgin Mary side of the altar), is the enclosure grille, on the other side of which the nuns sit and chant during Mass, and through which they receive Our Lord in Holy Communion.

The Sanctuary. To the right (Virgin Mary side of the altar) is the enclosure grille, on the other side of which the nuns sit and chant during Mass, and through which they receive Our Lord in Holy Communion.

Waiting for Mass to begin.

Waiting for Mass to begin.

Mass was beautiful and incredibly moving (about the time of the Prayer of Consecration, I had my moment of emotional catharsis and sobbed until my sides ached and I had nothing more to give). As per the norm, the curtains were shut over the enclosure grille, so we could not see the sisters, but the voices of their chanting wafted through clear as a bell and could easily have been mistaken for that of the angelic choirs. Father preached a wonderful homily tying together several themes. He drew a connection between the routine of Jesus’s life in Nazareth and the routine of life in Carmel, and how routine, in our modern lexicon, is almost a dirty word, synonymous with boredom. This could not be father from the truth. Boredom, Father said, is a selfish, childish emotion that demands that life continually entertain us, and that the constant pursuit of stimulation is an enslaving gremlin. Routine, on the other hand, is the mature embrace of the duties and responsibilities which God has bestowed upon us, serves to free us from the human tendency to constantly pursue novelty and external stimuli, and allows us to instead pursue the quiet voice and hidden face of God. Though austere and, in the world’s eyes, incredibly dull, the routine of Carmel opens the lives of the nuns to the workings of God’s grace, and allows them to spend their lives being continually surprised by His joy. After all, what could be more externally boring and dull than Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, with nothing to excite the senses? And yet here are contained infinite treasures with which to set the soul on fire! Father closed his homily by noting that it is through the Blessed Sacrament that we can continue to be connected to Channing in a real and profoundly mystical way, citing Catholics like J.R.R. Tolkien and St. Teresa of the Andes who arranged for common Holy Hours with family members who desperately missed them, as a way of being spiritually united over great distances through the common adoration and worship of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I asked Mother later that day, and found out that if one desires to be thus united with Channing, the nuns make a Holy Hour each day at 6 AM and at 5 PM.

"I wish this little note could have arrived beforehand to tell you of my complete union with you, but that was not possible; yet for souls, there is no need for some set form of words; they penetrate the Infinity of God to meet again, to immerse themselves in one and the same adoration." - Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity

“I wish this little note could have arrived beforehand to tell you of my complete union with you, but that was not possible; yet for souls, there is no need for some set form of words; they penetrate the Infinity of God to meet again, to immerse themselves in one and the same adoration.” – Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity

After Mass was over, everyone filed outside and Channing went over what would happen next, regarding where and how she would pass through the enclosure door and what would follow after that. We all exchanged final words and hugs with Channing, and then we filed into the narrow hallway at the end of which was the enclosure door through which our friend was about to pass.

With her parents at the enclosure door.

With her parents at the enclosure door.

After receiving a blessing from her father, and then from the priest, Channing knocked three times on the door. It opened, and she knelt before Mother Stella, who presented her with a crucifix to kiss. Then, Channing rose and went through the door, which was then shut behind her.

Receiving a blessing

Receiving a blessing.

Kneeling to give Jesus a kiss.

Kneeling to give Jesus a kiss.

We all then returned to the Chapel, and watched (as much as one could) and listened as the sisters processed back inside their portion in a candle procession, with Channing entering last of all. She knelt at the enclosure window and prayed silently before a small crucifix while the sisters sang in Latin, and then she prayed a prayer of consecration in English, dedicating herself to the Immaculate Virgin Mary and the new life she is to lead inside of Carmel. Then she processed out with the sisters to change into her postulant’s garb, while the rest of us remained and were led by Father in praying the Memorare for Channing and her vocation.

The Enclosure Grille. The grating at the center can be opened, and it is there that the sisters kneel to receive Holy Communion.

The Enclosure Grille. The grating at the center can be opened, and it is there that the sisters kneel to receive Holy Communion.

According to the plan, Channing was then to have been joined in the speak room (a room with a large window covered with two grilles that allow for face-to-face visits to occur) by just her immediate family members and the other nuns, while everyone else went on their way. However, perhaps impressed by the number of people who showed up (they said it was the largest group ever for an entrance), Mother Stella-Marie showed the rest of us an enormous kindness, and invited EVERYONE into the speak room to see now Sister Channing in her new garb and visit with the whole community! It was so wonderful! Sister Channing looked utterly radiant and almost floating off the floor with joy. She now wears a simple brown dress with a brown mozzetta over the shoulders, and a simple long white veil on her head. The visit lasted a half hour and was delightful. I do not have any pictures from that visit, because the rules of the enclosure expressly forbid photographs of the faces of the sisters. I will say, one is definitely struck both by how young and how happy the sisters are. What a lovely, holy, joyous group of women the sisters of Carmel are!

Finally, the time came for the rest of the nuns to depart and for Sister Channing to have a final private conversation with her family. The rest of us filtered out, continued to converse, laugh, and share in fellowship until at last, I departed, filled with joy for Sister Channing, tinged with some measure of sorrow for myself, consoled by the knowledge that this is a friendship that has not ended, but rather has become materially poorer yet mystically richer in ways I cannot yet understand, and above all, clinging to the hope of an eternal reunification with my dearest sister in Christ and the loving Jesus who has captured the hearts of us both.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever, amen!

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever, amen!

Please remember Sister Channing, her family, and all the sisters of the Carmel of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in your prayers. If you feel called by the Holy Spirit to assist with the material needs of the nuns, so that they can continue to pray and sacrifice unceasingly for our priests and the priesthood, you can do so through the Friends of Carmel JMJ. And if you ever find yourself passing through central Pennsylvania, consider making a side trip to spend some time on what truly seems to me to be Heaven’s front porch.

Sign leaving

True North of My Soul

It is marvelous to contemplate how subtly and elegantly Jesus works within my soul in order to draw me closer to Him and prevent me from being diverted from the course He has laid for me.

I have noticed in the past a certain tension, or perhaps incongruity is a better word, within my thoughts and inclinations when I turn my mind towards the possible states in life to which I hope and trust that my Lord will call me.

Intellectually, I recognize that married life is the vocation to which it would be easiest for me to attain, and yet it remains the most difficult in which to imagine myself. I can conceive of the idea of being married, and with a few more semesters and the marketable skills I hope to acquire out of them, I might actually possess the means to do so. Yet actually picturing myself as a husband and father is nigh impossible. I take this with a healthy pinch of salt, as I know from experience that in the right relationship with the right person, I have found picturing myself married to her specifically to be the easiest thing in the world! Still, in the absence of such an exterior locus, it becomes difficult to lend credence to the idea that such a vocation, however desirable and theoretically obtainable, is any more likely in a practical sense than owning a house on the Moon!

At the other end of the spectrum, it is no trouble at all for me to imagine myself in the priesthood, and to formulate ideas and images of what such a vocation and such a life would entail. However, such musings always come to a grinding halt when I consider rationally what an enormous challenge it would be for me to complete six to eight years of rigorous seminary studies in philosophy, theology, Greek, and Latin. To be perfectly blunt, despite being blessed with relatively high intelligence and a creative, agile mind, my ADHD means that I am a person who has to strive and push beyond his limitations in order to pass 100 and 200 level undergraduate courses. Contemplating years of tough academic work at the graduate level is like standing at the base of a sheer-faced and inhospitable mountain, with my only climbing gear being a good pair of tennis shoes.

Then, of course, there is the third option of being called as a religious brother, but while intellectually this seems less steep of a climb than that of the priesthood, and it is easier to imagine myself in this state in life than as a married man, there is almost no tug in my heart towards this vocation. While the ideas of being a husband or a priest stir a certain fire of excitement within my breast, there is none of the same attraction towards being a brother, either active or contemplative.

As you might imagine, this previously has been the cause of some degree of frustration. Yet behold what a perfect balance exists in the midst of this apparent turmoil! What for so long has seemed to me like a needle spinning, incapable of finding a solid bearing, in truth has been pointing my soul along a loftier and purer course. Unable to fix itself firmly upon any one of these three general vocations, my soul is left at last with only setting, to orient itself towards Him who is the Author and the Purpose of all vocations.

My heart longs for Jesus, and my Lord, merciful and understanding of how easily I am distracted, how quickly I can get caught up and sidetracked by novelty, has preserved me from such temptations by setting my own thoughts and inclinations against one other in a perfect balance, so that in the end, I can do nothing save rely on Him alone. I need not trouble myself with deciphering the details of my future. Jesus has already shown me, in this and in so many other ways, that He is the One who is directing my life and safeguarding me from that which would draw me into myself and away from Him. All I need do is continue to seek His face and His love, and when the time comes to travel a specific course, my Jesus will be one to set me upon it.

His is the hand that rests gently on my rudder, His breath is the wind that fills my sails, and His Most Sacred Heart is the true north upon which the compass of my soul is fixed. By the grace and mercy of the Holy Spirit, may it be so now and forever. Amen!

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 26) – A Trust That Springs From Love

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Having known about this for a while, I am thrilled beyond belief to be able to announce in these pages some absolutely fantastic news: my wonderful friend and fellow Catholic blogger/podcaster Channing Dale, of This Catholic Life, is going to be entering the Discalced Carmelites this coming July.

YOU GUYS I’M SO HAPPY AND EXCITED FOR CHANNING I DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW TO PUT IT INTO WORDS WITHOUT RESORTING TO BOLDING AND ALL-CAPS!!!!!!!

*ahem*

Sorry about that. Maybe I should just let Channing tell you in her own words instead.

Praised be Jesus Christ! For those of you who haven’t listened to the last four episodes of my podcast, and for those who do not know yet, I have made the decision and have been accepted to enter the Carmel of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph on July 13th of this year as a postulant in their community.  Yes, you heard it right.  I am working my way to becoming a Discalced Carmelite nun and dedicating my whole life to Jesus!

This decision was almost four years in the making, and since the spring of 2009, I discerned this choice while finishing my degree at Millersville and afterward, working in the “real world.”  I tested several potential career paths in the Church outside of my job (I didn’t quit my job, only investigated), but nothing seemed to fit and the thought of becoming a religious never went away.  I finally said “yes” to God at the end of July last year, applied for Carmel in the middle of September, and was accepted by the community at the end of September.

If you want the full story, dear reader, you can listen to “A Call to Love” in episodes 24-27 of This Catholic Life for how I got to this point.

Go read the whole post; she goes on to talk about the Discalced Carmelites, the monastery in Elysburg, The Carmel of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph (where she hopes to spend the rest of her life here on earth), and about the formation process of going from entering as a postulant to becoming a fully-professed sister.

In all seriousness, I could not be happier for my friend. To listen to Channing talk about her vocation and how deeply she has fallen in love with Jesus, to the point where no one except Him completely and Him alone will satisfy the longings of her heart, is to come face-to-face with the undeniable reality of Christ’s infinite and personal Love, not just for Channing, but for each and every one of us. It is an awe-inspiring truth upon which to meditate. You know those couples you meet, be they 25 years old or 90, who make you believe in true love? That is what I see in Channing and her relationship with Our Lord.

I feel so blessed that God gave me the opportunity to meet Channing via Twitter, and that He saw fit to forge out of that meeting a deep and genuine friendship I have with my sister in Christ. I am overwhelmed with gratitude that He is going to be making her all His own, answering all of her prayers and all of her desire for His love, and that He is shaping her into a holy, beautiful, and extraordinary Bride of Christ. Her life, I have no doubt, will be a hidden fountain of grace that will nourish and strengthen His Church, His priests, and all His people.

— 2 —

650,000! That’s how many people are estimated to have taken part in the March for Life last Friday! Extraordinary! I was one of that number, and my March for Life experience can be summed up thusly.

After meeting up and riding the Metro into DC with the aforementioned Channing, she and I met up with Billy Newton of Blog of the Courtier, who was hosting a pre-March get-together and informal recording session for SQPN’s Catholic Weekend podcast in the Cascade Cafe of the National Gallery of Art. I’ve followed Billy on Twitter for over a year and have an immense amount of respect for the man, so it was a huge pleasure to finally be able to meet him in person.

Tweet-up

Left to right: me, Channing Dale, Fr. Kyle, and Billy Newton

After about an hour, Channing and I made our way down the Mall and took part in the March in the company of a few of the seminarians from Mount Saint Mary’s, because that’s how we roll! During the March, we were quite randomly introduced to the Papal Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò,  who was wearing a straw cowboy hat with a “Nashville” patch on the front. Apparently that’s how he rolls!

There was cold! There was snow! There was foot-stamping and teeth-numbness and dining on bison meat! There was talking with Irish pro-life activists across the street from the Supreme Court and videotaping a message of solidarity for them to take back to Ireland. It was an crazy, inspiring, and amazing time!

march for life 2013

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7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 24) – Vocations Week


Happy National Vocations Awareness Week! As you know, vocations discernment and promotion is a particular passion of the Distracted Catholic, so I am devoting this week’s 7 Quick Takes to all things concerning vocations to the priesthood and religious life! First, let’s open with this prayer from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

O God, Father of all Mercies, Provider of a bountiful Harvest, send Your Graces upon those You have called to gather the fruits of Your labor; preserve and strengthen them in their lifelong service of you. Open the hearts of Your children that they may discern Your Holy Will; inspire in them a love and desire to surrender themselves to serving others in the name of Your son, Jesus Christ. Teach all Your faithful to follow their respective paths in life guided by Your Divine Word and Truth. Through the intercession of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, all the Angels, and Saints, humbly hear our prayers and grant Your Church’s needs, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

On with the Quick Takes!

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Leading off, we have the incredible Fr. Mike Schmitz (chaplain at the University of Minnesota – Duluth) explaining the simple, easy guidelines one should follow while you are discerning your vocation (and everyone has a vocation, so we should all be discerning for it if God hasn’t led us to it already). Even of you’ve read a ton about vocations already, this short talk is a great reality check and brings home some points that you may have missed, forgotten, or have been ignoring.


.

— 2 —

My favorite new media vocations promotion group by far is Imagine Sisters. They have a website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account, and they do excellent work in spotlighting various women’s religious orders and providing young women with the resources and encouragement to begin their own discernment processes and thinking seriously about whether God might be calling them to a life as a religious sister or nun. Even though none of their material applies to me personally, I can’t describe how uplifting it is to see my Facebook feed peppered every day with photos of veiled and habited Brides of Christ who are radiating the joy and peace of the Lord. It is a wonderful reminder of God’s infinite compassion and of the need to pray daily for those who have dedicated their lives to Christ and who are praying for us and our needs.

Right now Imagine Sisters is raising money to produce a short film titled Light of Love, aimed at young women and modeled after Fishers of Men, which will show and talk about the call and the lives of sisters and nuns. This is an incredibly worthy cause, and one deserving of whatever prayers and financial support you can provide.

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You might be asking yourself, “Hold on, what is this Fishers of Men that Mike mentioned in #2?” Well, Fishers of Men is an 18-minute short film on the Catholic priesthood, aimed specifically at young men who are maybe feeling a prompting in their hearts towards that state in life. It is an electrifying piece of work, and you really have to see it for yourself to appreciate it.

Fishers of Men: Catholic Priesthood from Oblates of St. Joseph on Vimeo.

Please take the time to show this to the young men in your life! When I first viewed this four years ago, it just about set my heart on fire and got me thinking “Wow! What a magnificently heroic thing it would be to be a priest!” Share this widely; you never know whose vocation you might bring to germination.

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7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 20) – Pessimism and Love

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Two prayer requests:

First, please pray for Ireland. The longstanding legal protection for the unborn in that famously Catholic nation is in grave danger of collapsing, as the governing Fine Gael party is planning to pass legislation to legalize abortion in cases in which a woman threatens suicide if not permitted to abort her unborn child. As we know all too well from our experience in America, this kind of law is a gateway to de facto legal abortion for any reason whatsoever, and it is a direct violation of Fine Gael’s pro-life pledge to its voters. The Irish pro-life community is rallying, but they are in desperate need of our prayers and spiritual support.

Secondly, please pray for Fr. Luke Suarez, who is a priest at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown, CT. His sister posted this letter online pleading for prayer support for her brother, who has been ordained less than two years and now faces the monumental task of helping to shepherd his parish and comfort grieving families in the aftermath of the horrific massacre at Sandy Hooks Elementary School. Imagine an entire week in which one has to preside over two wakes and two funerals every day, most or all of them for small children. That is what Fr. Luke has been doing this week. Please read the letter and offer your prayers for him and the entire community of Newtown.

— 2 —

This past week, I was reading something that mentioned the different Love Languages (if you’re not familiar with the concept, this website will bring you up to speed). Immediately the thought popped into my head, “Well, it’s fairly ironic that my predominant Love Language is Physical Touch, because I feel pretty certain that’s something God is going to call me to give up. In fact, it makes sense that He would; it would be quite the denial of self!” It was a joyless, resentful thought, but I struggled to put it aside nonetheless.

I have a tendency towards this sort of spiritual pessimism, and it’s a dirty rotten liar. This morning at Mass I realized (during the Consecration, in fact) that no matter what future God calls me to, he will satisfy this part of me to overflowing. If to the married life, it will come through the affection of my wife and children. If to the priesthood, then it will come from having the privilege of holding Our Lord’s Body in my hands, and bearing Him to others. If to a life of consecrated singlehood, it could come in any number of forms yet to be revealed: in caring for the infirm, comforting the grieving, holding the hand of the dying, or simply being more available to give a hug to someone who needs one. No matter what the case ends up being, I know that God will not leave me starved for love.

Lord, increase my trust! Lord, increase my faith!

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When a Carmelite nun, born Edith Stein, was led into the gas chamber at Auschwitz, she was naked, abused, degraded, and humiliated. Yet she was not alone. Because almost 2,000 years before, Jesus Christ, Lord God and King of the Universe, had looked down and fallen so in love with Edith that he took on human flesh and allowed himself to be stripped, beaten, mocked, dragged through the streets, and put to a cruel, agonizing death on the Cross, because he wanted to be as close to her as possible at her darkest hour, to share in every last ounce of her suffering, and to die with her as she was murdered by evil men.

It was with his own pierced hands that he soothed her fear. It was with his own lacerated arms that he held her as she died. It was with his own parched mouth that he whispered words of comfort as she breathed forth her soul. And it was to his own Father’s Kingdom that he bore her up with him in order that they might share in eternal happiness together. She was His Bride, and He was her Beloved, and what true husband would do less?

That is how much Jesus loves her. That is how much Jesus loves you.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, pray for us! Read more of this post

Some Days, My Vocation Seems Obvious

As of this writing, it is nearly 1:30 PM. I’ve already been to Mass this morning, and I have tonight off from work. So unless I decide to go to the Advent Penance service this evening, I really don’t see myself doing much for the rest of the day other than sleeping, playing video games, and catching up on my backlog of comic books.

[pause]…

Yeah folks, a vocation to a life of consecrated singlehood is looking increasingly likely!

Comic books

At least they’re good comic books!

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 19) – Love That Hurts and Other Marvels

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This is the most beautiful photo that I have seen this entire year.

Image Credits: Noel Marcantel Photography

“The Mystery of Vocations”

Sister Marie Protectrice de la Foi (formerly Angelique Marcantel) embraces our father at the conclusion of the Mass where she and her fellow sisters received their habits for the first time.

She is now a Novice Sister of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara. I am indescribably proud of my sister.

- Caption by Noel Marcantel

I came across this photo on Sunday evening as it was being shared over Facebook, and it has stuck with me the entire week. As stated in the caption, the sister of the photographer, Sr. Marie, recently entered the novitiate of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara, receiving her habit, veil, and new name as a religious. The Investiture Mass was held in the Crypt Chapel of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Mother Teresa said, “Love to be real, it must cost—it must hurt—it must empty us of self,” and those were the words that immediately sprang to mind when I found this picture and read the expression on the elder Mr. Marcantel’s face. In that moment, he was living his vocation as surely as his daughter was living hers. Sr. Marie stands at the Annunciation of her vocational journey, giving her “Fiat,” to the Lord and entering into her new life as a Bride of Christ. Mr. Marcantel is at the Good Friday of his vocation, bearing prayerful witness before God as he stands by his child while she lays down her future, her name – her very life – for the love of Christ and her fellow man.

Click through and look at the entire album. There is so much to see and contemplate in the eleven photos that one could probably write on small treatise on vocations based on this collection alone. The joy and peace on the sisters’ faces is utterly radiant. Seeing it fills me with such a fire of hope for the future of the Catholic Church in America, and with a burning thirst to continue to improve in holiness and allow Christ to lead me to my own vocation. I want to have that joy, that peace, that grace, that selfless love.

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