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Good things come in threes

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Three women. Three Carmelites. Three lives given to God in the spirit of the great Carmelite saints before them, pledging to live forever in poverty, chastity and obedience. These three women from the Diocese of Arlington who profess their final vows this summer in three different Carmelite orders across the country have much to teach us about the joy and supernatural exuberance that flourish behind the convent walls.

 

“The grace of my religious vocation, the invitation to enter into spousal union with God himself through my vows, is truly the greatest gift I have ever received,” said Sister M. Grace Augustine Heisler, of Carmel of St. Joseph in St. Louis, Mo., who professed her vows July 2. She is from St. John the Baptist Church in Front Royal and is sister of recently ordained Deacon John Paul Heisler.

 

Sister M. Grace Augustine entered the order after her freshman year at Christendom College. She met the order through her Carmelite aunt and had spent the previous summer working in a daycare run by the sisters. Away from family, she spent a lot of time in their chapel.

 

“I learned — maybe experienced is a better word — that prayer is so much more than speaking or even listening. It is being. It is being alone with the Alone,” she said. “The Carmelite life dedicated to prayer gently began to attract my 18-year-old heart. Simultaneously, the desire to mother souls through active works of charity (like changing diapers and teaching ABCs) grew throughout that summer. Through prayer and lived experience, I knew that bringing the fruits of contemplation into the active apostolate as a Carmelite of the Divine Heart of Jesus is the way God created my heart to love.”

 

During the ceremony, she said she was struck, “When my ears heard my mouth utter the words, 'I vow to the Holy Triune God forever Chastity, Poverty and Obedience,' the reality and necessity of grace in my life became ever more real. For some ears, 'forever' may only be a word reserved for fantasies and fairy tales, but for the Christian it is our reality, our destiny: to live forever with God in heaven,” —  consecrated men and women serve to remind us all of that.

 

She said it was a special grace that even in the midst of the pandemic, her dad, mom and eight siblings, including her deacon brother, were able to attend her final vows. “It was so special to hear my younger, taller brother proclaim the Gospel and to have his presence at the altar. Such a grace.”

 

Sister Mara of Jesus from St. Timothy Church in Chantilly entered the Carmelites of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles in 2011. She was struck by the joy and peace of the sisters she’d met while a student at Franciscan University at Steubenville, and found the Carmelite spirituality resonated within her heart. “My confirmation saint is St. Teresa of Avila and her teaching on the indwelling of the Trinity was (and is) piercing. I was drawn to discern a possible religious vocation with them as the desire to give myself to God in a radical way was exponentially growing.”

 

Looking toward her profession, which took place July 18, Sister Mara shared, “Truly, there is no greater joy, I repeat, no greater joy, this side of heaven, than finding and striving with all one’s might to respond to and follow the will of God. The truth of his love is so beautiful.”

 

Carmelite Sister Eunice Teresa of Divine Mercy from All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas expressed similar sentiments: “Life in Carmel is prayers, sacrifices, endless giving, everlasting love, living for the sake of others, and its aim is to offer God a pure heart together with Jesus and Mary.” She will profess her solemn vows at the Carmel of Port Tobacco in Port Tobacco, Md., in a private ceremony postponed from May to later this month.

 

Sister Eunice Teresa grew up in the Dominican Republic. She announced at the age of eight that she was going to be a cloistered nun, though she had not heard of or met one before. A pious and energetic child, with a tremendous example in her mother, she had a tender relationship with Jesus from a young age and was involved in many church activities.

 

In spite of this foundation, Sister Eunice Teresa definitely felt the pull of worldly priorities. She put herself through college and graduate school and was engaged to be married when she realized that her heart was longing for more. At this time St. Thérèse of Lisieux, herself a Carmelite, “pursued” her, and rekindled her childhood desire to love Jesus with her whole heart. After much searching, she reminisces, “One morning I just leaned back on my bed, surrendered myself to Jesus and Mary, and asked that they be my ‘Dynamic Duo’ surrounding me.” She then contacted a priest at her parish and began to meet with him for spiritual direction and confession. She credits his guidance as instrumental in discerning her vocation to religious life and entered the monastery September 30, 2014.

 

Looking toward her final vows, Sister Eunice Teresa reflects, “May God be praised who in his great mercy called me out of the world into the land of Carmel to praise and serve him; praying for priests, the church, and the salvation of souls, living my vocation faithfully, so that many may come to know and love Jesus, and enjoy his bountiful gifts.”

 

We entrust these women to our prayers, and know they are praying for us as members of their home diocese. We take great consolation in knowing how joyful they are, which Sister M. Grace Augustine sums up beautifully, “I am a spoiled Bride of Jesus Christ! To any young woman who feels a tug on her heart to discern the religious life, do not be afraid! Jesus is the most gentle Pursuer, and he only wants to give you himself — forever!"

 

Minnis is the coordinator for events and communications for the diocesan vocations office. 

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020