A spark, a flame from the burning heart of Jesus

by Sister Margaret Mary

“Prayer doesn’t end when we leave the chapel. The essence of life in Carmel is living in the presence of God. We can relate to Carmelite Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection who said: ‘I find Our Lord in my kitchen amid the pots and pans.’” –Sister Margaret Mary

For a couple of months, I have been wondering what to write about since my story is quite ordinary. So, for readers of the New Earth who like ordinary stories, here goes.

I was the youngest of 11 children in a “well-balanced” family, meaning I had five brothers and five sisters. By the time I came along however, my oldest siblings were either married, in the military or away from home with a job. So in my childhood memory lane, there were only five of us at home.

We lived in New England, a small town in southwestern North Dakota and belonged to the faith-filled parish and school of St. Mary’s. For 12 years I was taught by the School Sisters of Notre Dame from Mankato, Minn. and the priests taught religion class every day, for which I am immensely grateful. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was very strong. It instilled in me a lifelong spirituality.

In the 8th grade during a class on the married state, Our Lord “proposed” to me and invited me to become a contemplative. However, I thought, “This idea won’t last two weeks.” But it did, and I knew from then on I would enter a contemplative community. Still, I decided I was not going to live like a nun before I became one, so parties, dances, sports, and good wholesome fun with my friends were the spice of life the next four years.

I need to insert a little story here because of an important connecting link. My sister Pauline was a Maryknoll missionary in China and was imprisoned by the Communists. She and another Maryknoll sister were put in an attic with only a heap of straw and only three walls. On Christmas Eve, they were lying on their bed of straw and singing Christmas carols, when heavy footsteps came tromping up the steps and a soldier pointed his gun at them and asked “What are you doing?” “We are singing. Isn’t it nice?” Silence, then, “Yes, nice.” And he tromped back downstairs.

The two Sisters were then marched a long distance under a broiling sun and enclosed in a small room with four other women and two children and were given only wormy rice to eat. After a couple months, they were expelled from China, came back to the U.S., and made a home visit. My sister asked me what I planned to do after school. I said I wanted to become a Poor Clare. She responded, “I think you would like the Carmelites better.” Since I knew nothing about either the Poor Clares or Carmelites I said, “All right, I will become a Carmelite.”

In November 1954, our pastor announced at Holy Mass that the Carmelites of Allentown, Pa., just opened a new foundation in Wahpeton. While that announcement passed over the heads of most others, it fanned the flame burning in my heart since the 8th grade.

So, my vocation story is quite ordinary, but by today’s standards of prolonged discernment, it may actually seem extraordinary. I wrote to the Carmelite Community the end of May 1955, visited in June, and entered on July 16, feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Entrance procedures were simple back then.

The evening before I entered, I was given a list of six religious names to choose from. There was no hesitation when I said, “Sister Margaret Mary of the Sacred Heart.”

I was the first candidate and the only one in formation for a year. Then Mother Mary Rose, prioress, said to me, “Maybe you will have a little sister sometime.” I said, “Maybe tomorrow?” The next morning the novitiate doubled its quota overnight when Sister Joseph Marie walked in the cloister door. Her entrance brought great joy to our growing Community.

What is a day in Carmel like? In our life of prayer, the Liturgy is of prime importance and dear to our hearts. We spend about four hours in joyful celebration of Holy Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, beginning with the Office of Readings at midnight, after which we retire again till 5:10 a.m. In addition, we spend two hours in personal prayer and with a Holy Hour.

However, prayer doesn’t end when we leave the chapel. The essence of life in Carmel is living in the presence of God. We can relate to Carmelite Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection who said: “I find Our Lord in my kitchen amid the pots and pans.” We find him at our desks, sewing machine, in the laundry, and wherever he calls us to work in his presence.

Life in Carmel is beautiful, simple and joyful. Is Our Lord extending a loving invitation to you?