Today is a special day in my religious congregation, the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM). It is our patronal feast, a day where we celebrate our lives as IHMs, renew our vows, and honor Mary, who walks closely with us. Although today's readings tell us of Jesus' conception via the Holy Spirit, today's feast celebrates Mary's sinless conception through her parents, Anne and Joachim.
I remember the first time I celebrated the feast with my congregation. I was new to the discernment process and still in those very early stages of wondering how on earth I found myself discerning religious life. Becoming a nun was not in my life plan, and I was equally surprised and terrified at the possibility of actually becoming an IHM. At the time, I was making a conscious effort to join the community for special occasions, so I could meet more sisters and get a sense of community life.
As I walked into our Motherhouse chapel for liturgy that day, late afternoon sunlight streamed through the stained-glass windows, sisters were greeting each other with enthusiasm and joy, and I found my way to a seat next to some sisters I knew. As I sat there surrounded by IHMs, I was filled with a sense of wonder and curiosity. The liturgy began, and I thought to myself, how can this be? How can I be called to religious life?
And then we heard the Annunciation from the Gospel of Luke proclaimed. Mary is told she has found favor with God and will conceive a child who will be called Son of the Most High, to which Mary asks, “How can this be?” Mary’s response to the angel’s message washed over me, and I felt a human connection to Mary that I hadn’t before.
Like Mary, I wanted to say yes to God, but I needed time to pause and reflect on what was being asked of me. Mary taught me that taking time to ask God questions is part of the discernment process, and she showed me that speaking from your heart is one of the most powerful things you can do. Her trust in God inspired me to stay with the questions and allow the answers to unfold.
When I reflect on my religious vocation, I think about the time it took for me to embrace it fully. It's not easy to feel like you're being asked to do something that, at first glance, seems impossible (for example, I was not even Catholic when I started discerning religious life). But God's invitation is always open-ended; we always have a choice as to how we respond.
In the years following that first feast day celebration with my community, I have gone through candidacy, novitiate, and professed first vows. Every step of the way, I have felt Mary's spirit guiding me, giving me the courage to stay open and curious. Today, as a temporarily professed sister, I will join my community in renewing my vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience. And I know Mary will be by my side.