Over the next year we had many talks and discussions about vocations, and she began to seriously discern a call to the religious life. In the spring of her senior year of high school Sr. Mary Theotokos would first meet the Sisters of Life on a mission trip to New York. From that first meeting, she knew these Sisters would one day be her sisters.
Fast forward five years to September 2007 and Sr. Mary Theotokos would enter postulancy with the Sisters of Life after graduating Magna Cum Laude from the University of Dallas with a degree in Theology (did I mention how proud of her I am?). The picture to the left is of her (front left) and her fellow postulants during the first weeks after they entered the community.
Then on Thursday, June 5th, 2008 she received her new name and habit. In case you're wondering, she did not choose her name, or even offer it as an option - Mother Agnes chose it for her - and what a beautiful name it is! Below are the names of the newly habited Sisters of Life: Back row: Sr. Mariae Veritas (Therese Dorobek), Sr. Mariae Agnus Dei (Rachel Yates), Sr. Bethany Madonna (Beth Burwell), Sr. Bernadette Therese (Jennifer Swan) Middle Row: Sr. Catherine Peter (Sandra McIver), Sr. Maria Ann Michaela (Jen Takach), Sr. Mary Angelica (Mary Germann) Front row: Sr. Amata Filia (Laura Dierschke), Sr. Mary Theotokos (Stephanie Ray), Sr. Talitha Guadalupe (Leslee Simms), Sr. Hosanna Christi (Maria Pereyra)
This past Friday, as providence would have it, we were able to visit with four of the Sisters of Life (from left to right in the picture to the left) Sr. Mary Theotokos, Sr. Mary Angelica, Sr. Mariae Agnus Dei, Sister Mary Gabriel (Vocations Director for the Sisters of Life) when they came to Belmont Abbey College to work with, and be present to, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) Missionaries who are in the midst of their summer training at the college.
We were overjoyed to have an opportunity to visit with Sr. Mary Theotokos and the other Sisters on Friday. Seeing her in a habit for the first time seemed like the most natural thing in the world - and indeed it is! I could go on at length, but I will refrain. Please keep Sr. Mary Theotokos, and her fellow novices in your prayers - especially as they head off with 37 of their sisters to World Youth Day in Sydney where the will host the LOVE LIFE SITE with the Knights of Columbus Collegians and the John Paul II Institutes. The website (previous link) has a beautiful video which you can watch here.
Finally I wanted to post a beautiful story she wrote as a postulant for the recent quarterly publication from the Sisters of Life "Stories from the Streets" (Issue 28, Spring 2008):
She was the first girl I saw as we walked in to the Youth 2000 weekend retreat. While all the other teens were inside adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, she was outside, smoking a cigarette and talking on her cell phone. I smiled to myself because I recognized her rebellion as something I would’ve done when I was her age.
Two minutes earlier I had been complaining to Sr. Therese about having to lead a small group at the Youth 2000. I told her, “I’m not ready.” Sr. Therese laughed and said, “Well God thinks you’re ready. It’s all about poverty…being vulnerable. He’ll give you the words to say. But more than anything, these kids just need to see you – your joy, your light, you faith.” As we passed the girl who was smoking and talking on her cell phone, Sr. Therese said, “See, like that girl. She’s yearning for Christ but she doesn’t even know it yet.”
An hour later we met – her name is “Jasmine” and she was placed in my small group. I learned that her parents were alcoholics, and that she herself began to drink heavily and do drugs at a very early age. Although she was only in high school, she had already experienced a great deal of suffering and yet, she was determined to do whatever she could to create a better life for her younger siblings. That’s why she was on the retreat – for them. Then she told me that she didn’t believe in God.
I thought to myself, “If only she knew the love of Christ.” Immediately I knew in my heart that Jesus was thirsting for her, yearning for her love, but at the same time I was feeling totally empty and helpless in the situation; I didn’t know where to begin. I sensed her hurt and her need of healing. I recognized her passion to love but also her fear and lack of trust in others. I understood that her cynicism and anger were simply a cover to protect her gentle and kind heart. I knew that the evil one had been filling her with lies – so much so that she felt totally alone and isolated.
So I ended our first small group meeting with, “Whether you believe in God or not, He is real. He created you, unique and special. He loves you with an infinite merciful love. And He is present with us today in the Eucharist. So I’m asking you to just be open – open to Him and His love. He is dying to love you and for you to love Him. Go before Him in adoration and tell Him all your hurts, your disappointments, your frustrations, your desires. Just be open…and listen for His response because He wants you to know Him.”
After lunch our small group met again and we talked about God’s mercy. I told them that no sin is too big for God to forgive. God is always faithful, no matter what. Even when the rest of the world lets us down, God keeps His promises. Then I invited all the girls in my group to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation sometime during the weekend. I felt that deep down Jasmine desired to believe in God, and I believed that Reconciliation would be the best way for her to receive His grace. Jasmine laughed at the invitation and said “No way.” After the small group broke up, I suggested that she talk to a priest and tell him her frustrations and why she didn’t want to go to confession. She asked me why and I asked her, “Can you admit that you need healing?” She started tearing up, and I said, “Then a priest can only help. Christ heals us of all our sins, our hurt, and our anger.”
Suddenly she made the decision to go to confession; she hadn’t been since her First Holy Communion. She made promise that it would help her. I promised that Christ would give new life to her soul in confession and healing grace. She held my arm and asked me to find her a priest.
She looked at me with longing eyes-full of fear, and sadness and hurt. I knelt down to pray as she followed the priest to the confessional. When she was finished and the priest gave her absolution, she hugged him and then started to cry. She cried for a long time, but the fear, the sorrow, the pain, and the anger were gone. I knew that the road ahead for her would not be easy-because there were many things that needed to change-but she would be okay because she would not walk alone; Christ would lead her.
God also gave me the grace to realize that He would guide me, too, if I would just open myself up to His love, and let Him lead me. In the vulnerability of not knowing how I could help Jasmine, I had to rely on Jesus completely. By the end of the day, I was amazed at how He taught me to live by faith, to trust in His mercy, and to open myself up to His love.
Sister Mary Theotokos Ray, S.V. with her Godson Samuel.