(Warning: VERY long post, but I needed to recount my story for the records! Also, here is the place I visited if you'd like to learn more about this beautiful Religious Order)
Up until a few hours before departure, I was still unsure if we would make the trip to Nashville, Tennessee. The girls had been sick the week before, we went on vacation to San Antonio, and then Stevie and I had gotten sick. Stevie was almost back to normal, but I was still feeling lots of sinus issues. We were both on antibiotics and he on breathing treatments. I was concerned about the plane ride as well as his fussiness at night with my 2 girlfriends in the hotel room.
The night before the trip he was up screaming again, and I had pretty much decided that was it. Steven woke me up around 4am and I said "I can't do it." We both went back to sleep and woke up an hour later. I decided it was time to call the airline and cancel my flight, but the ONLY number I could find on the website was telling me I'd be on hold at least 30 minutes. In a split-second decision, I said "I'm going." And the race began.
Steven Joseph in Mommy's Moby wrap at the airport
Steven and the girls dropped me off at the airport about an hour and a half before my flight but after getting through security with the baby, bags, stroller, and carseat (not a small feat, mind you) I discovered I was in the wrong terminal! Thankfully it was an easy ride in the tram to the next terminal and once I arrived there I realized my plane was delayed anyway due to the rainy weather. I walked around, bought some snacks, and listened to various residents of Brownsville, TX where the hurricane had hit. They were just trying to get home but their flights were all canceled so they were trying to find flights to neighboring towns or rental cars or buses. Made me thankful I was not in their situation!
Finally our plane was ready to board but I thought I'd wait till close to the end to keep baby from getting to upset on the small, crowded plane. Finally I got my stuff together and made it up to board just as they were calling my name on the loudspeaker! Thankfully they had an extra seat so I could bring the carseat on for baby and quickly we made our way onto the plane. That's where the chaos ensued as we were in a plane traffic jam waiting to take off for about an hour because of the rain. Stevie did NOT like that and was crying and screaming most of that hour. Praise God he fell asleep once we took off and slept the entire flight! I had some ear pressure issues on the descent, but overall a fine trip.
My friend A met me at the gate and after a slice of pizza we located our other friends, M and Fr. B, and we got our rental car and were off! Father drove straight to the convent; A and I were wondering why we were going there first, but we were so glad we did! You get good treatment when you're with a man in a collar! They said we could visit with Sister that afternoon! Hooray!
Arriving at the convent
We spent almost half an hour trying to find Sr. MR, walking almost completely around the large convent. Finally we saw her coming in a back door...what a glorious reunion! I thought I might be surprising her, but the news from my blog post about the possible visit apparently made it to her quicker than I! Oh well, we were happy to all be together and have a couple hours to visit. Here we are checking out the convent chapel; the schola choir was practicing and I really felt like we were in heaven listening to the music of angels!
Sister MR with Steven Joseph
We hung out and visited for a long while. Stevie loved Fr. B and especially loved pulling out his plastic priest collar for a good chew!
Fr. B was able to say mass for my 2 friends and I at the small chapel at the priest's residence. It was so cool to have our friend say a mass for us! I was reminded of our days in college where us young women had our "Catacomb Club", where we would go in the early morning hours for prayer and praise in the church. It felt like our own secret little mass; so beautiful. Stevie spent that time with Sr. MR touring the convent, even some of the cloistered places I couldn't go! No fair!
I don't have many pictures, mostly video from that first night. We went to evening and night prayer which was everything I remember it to be from my visit there when I was in college. It's beautiful to hear the chanting of the psalms and watch the bowing and standing and voices...it really is heavenly! I think everyone's favorite part is when they process to the statue of Our Lady singing the "Salve Regina".
Here's a picture from Evening Prayer
We made it back to the hotel around 9pm and I was more than ready to call it a night! Stevie fell asleep rather quickly, but like he's been doing the past few months at home, likes to wake up and scream in the middle of the night for someone to walk him around. So I was walking the halls around midnight, 1am, 3am...I even saw a priest arrive to his room at the midnight hour! I hope I didn't keep my friends up too much; one of them was having her own first trip away from her little kids, so I was hoping not to make it too difficult for her.
We woke up nice and early to get ready for the mass. I went down to the hotel breakfast and ran into a friend I had met at the Regnum Christi silent retreat I made in January. Her sister was making final vows too! What a small Catholic world!
We pulled into the parking lot right in front of our other priest friend who I hadn't seen in several years, since before his ordination, Fr. J. What a gift he is to the Church! He just finished studying in Rome, receiving a license in Liturgy...I think that's what it's called. Everyone was talking about how he is buddies with Pope Benedict :)
Here I am with my great priest friends, Fr. B and Fr. J...how I've missed them! Gone are the days of country dancing and summer camp fun...now are the days of hearing confessions and changing diapers!
Fr. J gave Sr. MR a blessing in the parking lot before her final vows (aka "Perpetual Profession")
Sister before the mass began. She was just glowing! This is like a wedding day for them...the day they vow their lives to God forever!
The solemn mass begins! Oh how beautiful it was...11 Sisters making their perpetual profession...about 200 Sisters at the mass...close to 50 priests...the Sisters' schola choir...I can't really put it into words...
The Sisters to be professed standing at the altar. The archbishop said several prayers over them and asked them some questions. Then one by one they knelt before their Mother Superior, saying their vows aloud. Then they walked to the altar and signed the vows. Very moving.
We went back to the convent for the reception...those Sisters know how to throw a good party! Delicious food, beautiful surroundings, and amazing people. What a gift! We met up with our other good friend from college, Sr. G. I was so glad we got to see her too!
Sister M.R. and Sister G. joking around with Fr. B
We sat in a big circle, recounting our days in college and the summer camp where a few of us worked. Sister opened her gifts and we also got to talk with her family. Stevie was very spoiled the Religious!
4 Aggie friends. 4 Aggie vocations. What a gift they are to the Church!
Aggie friends forever
Priestly blessing from Fr. J before we depart
It was time to say our goodbyes, so I wouldn't miss my 6pm flight! A quick but amazing trip...Bye, bye St. Cecilia Convent! Hopefully next time I'll bring my little girls to visit!
Bye, bye Sisters!
Bye, bye Nashville!
I've spent a lot of time the past couple days thinking about how blessed I am in my little family life here, living out the vocation I was called to. And how blessed my friend is in her beautiful life as a Religious Sister. Of course I knew that's where she was...I'd been there before...but to see her and my other friend "in their element" just brought that realization closer to home. And talking with my priest friends about their joys and challenges will stick with me, give me something to pray for, and remember that goal we strive for.
We're all working for the good of the Church, the salvation of our own soul and others. We're all striving towards Heaven. A Sister's life seems a little closer to Heaven because of the nature of their prayer life, the beauty of their intimate relationship with God. And yet, my life is just as close...my little children can draw my soul to him, can purge me of so many iniquities, can make me such a better person as I lay down my life for them. My prayer too can be intimate, if I would just take that time...make that time...maybe I need an alarm like those chapel bells of the convent!
My friend A said it best as we sat praying before the tabernacle after the Profession Mass. Stevie was sitting on the floor in front of Christ and she whispered something like .."This is our life (pointing to Steven and to the tabernacle), they are getting us to Him". And that truly is what my life is about...my husband and children helping me to Heaven. How blessed I am! And how blessed Sisters and priests are in their own special paths to Heaven. May we all be strengthened on our journey and remember to pray for others on their journeys. Thy Kingdom Come!
(And by the way, the trip home went fine, Stevie slept the whole way, no runway traffic jams! I had some severe sinus pressure on the descent that put me into tears, but was just so glad we were almost home!)