Sr Ann Marie's Story - Dominican Nuns Ireland

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You Are Out Too Far
I will betroth you to myself forever.
Betroth you with integrity and faithfulness,
With tenderness and love.     Hosea 2:21

One of my earliest memories is of the joy of sliding down the banisters and expecting my big brother to be waiting at the bottom to catch me and hold me safe! Sometimes he would stand too far away and invariably my cry was “you are out too far.”  Unknowingly this cry was casting long shadows into future years when my beloved Jesus would hide Himself from me. How often I have prayed Psalm 41:
Like the deer that yearns for running streams
So my soul is yearning for you my God…..
I will say to God my rock – why have you forgotten me?  YOU are out too far.

I come from a lovely old farm in North East Galway called Tycooley. Surrounded by woods and bogs, squirrels and foxes, sheep and lambs, I was the youngest of seven children, loved and cherished by our parents. It was only in later years I realized how hard they worked to give us all a good education and especially an example of Christian principles and a sense of integrity. My vocation story had its roots in my home in Tycooley so how did I come to know about those Dominican Nuns in Drogheda?

Though attracted at first to a Missionary Order, by chance I came across an article on Contemplative Life which explained how an enclosed nun could nevertheless reach out to people all over the world from her monastery chapel and carry them to Jesus in her prayer.  Beginning to search I providentially met a Dominican priest who spoke so eloquently about this branch of his Order that I was completely won over. A visit was arranged to Siena and Fr. O’Neill also gave me a little book about the founder St. Dominic. There I read of Dominic’s compassion and how his prayerful studies of the Gospels revealed to him the needs of the people of his day. He lived in intimacy with the Word of God as Fra Angelico’s beautiful fresco of Dominic seated at the foot of the Cross with the Gospels on his knee depicts. Dominic was also noted for his joyfulness as St. Catherine tells us in her Dialogue: “Dominic made his ship very spacious and gladsome and fragrant… a most delightful garden.”

During my visit to Siena I learned more about this life and that in the words of Fr. Anicetus Fernandez OP, former Master of the Order; “their specific mission is to undertake, cherish and promote what is most deep in the Church by means which are hidden but yet possess a wonderful efficacy.”  I went home very happy with my visit and I applied to enter the novitiate hardly daring to hope that I would be accepted. I was!!! But let me now recall some of the early days in Tycooley where many of my roots were laid.

There are precious memories of the walks with my father through the fields. He would stop to tell me the names of trees, plants and birds among other things. Dad helped me to open my eyes to see the beauty and wonder of sunsets, the formation of the clouds, the fields ripe for the harvest and so much more. There was the memorable day he said to me; “Ann, I see you have an eye for beauty!” In later years as I came to love and pray the psalms, it was good to know that King David also loved nature in all its moods and he gave me words to lift up my thoughts and prayers to the our Creator God. “We could say much more and still fall short; He is all….”  (Ecclesiastes 43:27)

Bless the Lord my soul, how great you are,
You make springs gush forth in the valleys,
They give drink to all the beasts of the field,
On their banks dwell the birds of Heaven
From the branches they sing their song         (cf.Psalm 23)

Another memory that stands out for me echoes future moments. I was about 4 or 5 years old and our cousins were staying with us for a few days. One very wet afternoon we children were gathered together playing games. We had an old gramophone and were playing children’s records but my cousin wouldn’t let me play the song I wanted. I grabbed the plastic record and banged it down on her head as hard as I could and fled! Now as I read the first lines of our Rule which says: “The first reason for which we are gathered together in community is to live in harmony, having one mind and heart in God,” I can see I was indeed a long way from this ideal and my childish intolerance had much to learn.

My vow of obedience too had its moments of distant preparation and one occasion especially comes to mind. I was dressing for a party and my mother told me to wear a dress that I didn’t think favoured me so I slipped on another one and ran off through the hall door feeling vaguely guilty. The pain came later when I saw the sadness and disappointment of my mother at her wayward child!  Yet having said all that we were a happy family. We had our squabbles but the good times are the ones that stand out and so one learns slowly that life is a happy mixture of light and shadow. All of those times and little ways helped me to prepare years later for a monastic way of life and sensing the beauty of the Lord’s ways in nature but also especially being aware of the beauty and goodness of my sisters.

Without realizing it at the time, six years in boarding school can also prepare one for living closely in community, learning to interact with a certain graciousness and ‘give and take.’ School years weren’t just about exams and being a good student but also about teamwork and our Camogie and netball games were a great preparation in that regard. Leading one’s team to capture the coveted netball cup of the year, and the teamwork involved in getting that ball through the posts for yet another goal was a great foundation for leading the ‘kitchen team’ to have the dinner ready on time for our hungry sisters!

If I had eyes to see, our vows of poverty, chastity and obedience all have their roots in our early days. While I never knew what it was to be in need, as children we were taught not to be wasteful and to learn that while Mary Jo next door had a fur coat, I didn’t have to have one. The lesson later was “not to want what another has been given for a good reason.” But perhaps one of the best lessons of all came from my brother being “Out too far” from the banisters as I waited to be caught and hugged.  Dear God, “You are out too far,” are words that come spontaneously to everyone in Religious Life at times. But if Jesus is my bridegroom and love, He sometimes hides Himself so that I will seek Him for Himself and not His gifts and so the closer He comes the more I must let go of legitimate and precious dreams. “Truly you are a hidden God” (Isaiah 45:15). Poverty is not simply about material things but much more about an inner holding on and letting go in things like my self-will or cherished dreams. At the end of His life everything Jesus had was taken from him. Can we hear that terrible cry “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” While one is never asked to undergo the depth of pain Jesus’ bore for me He does ask that during my life that I share a little in His pain and the pain of his Blessed Mother. We can only begin to glimpse what Jesus and Mary have done for us and their longing love for us.

My story would be incomplete without a word about our Blessed Mother who has always been there to help me during those times when I fail to love her Son as I should, while I fail to love and understand other points of view. This love for Mary had it’s beginnings at home where Mary had her own special rockery in the garden and when we knelt as a family every night to offer her our Rosary – with all of Dad’s trimmings! And while I still find it difficult to say the Rosary on my own, I thank God it is part of our daily community prayer as is the Divine Office and daily Eucharistic Adoration. I still remember the night when my father and I were the only two at home. I was slumped over a chair mumbling the responses to the prayers when I heard a voice saying gently but firmly, “Ann, is that the way to say the Rosary?”  Pope Benedict XVI, pope emeritus, put it so movingly: “We have a Mother in Heaven – the Mother of God is our Mother too. Jesus himself said so as He lay dying on the Cross; “Woman behold your Son, son behold your Mother.” (John 19:26-27).

We know that motherhood means a bonding with us that is irrevocable and precious. I am called to share in Mary’s maternity of souls. This is my special apostolate: “With Mary to bring Jesus to souls and to care and nurture them by my total way of life.” I love this line from Gerard Manley Hopkins:
Mary this one work has to do
Let all God’s glory through,
God’s glory which would go
Through her, and from her flow
Off and no way but so-
Be thou my atmosphere.

The Prioress, Sr.M.Rose, said it in a different way at my profession. “Make of each day a chalice which you lift up to the heart of Jesus for Him to pour His life into our parched world. This is your vocation, and your sharing in the Redemption – Socia Christi Redemptoris in Mariae.”  God is not calling you to a lonely and isolated life. Less than in any vocation can you afford to become selfish. Lift up your eyes and see the fields ripe for the harvest – waiting for the reaping sickle of your love and sacrifice.”
With Mary this one work I have to do
Let all God’s glory through.

And now as I find myself in the upper age bracket, you may ask how I feel? Scripture reassures me, “In your old age I shall be the same. When your hair is grey I shall still be your support.” (Isaiah 46:4).  Now I feel just a great need for an outpouring of God’s mercy and forgiveness for the many ways I have failed to live up to the high ideal of my vocation and to return love for love. More especially my heart is filled with gratitude and thanksgiving for all He has done for me – given me a voice to share in the beauty of our daily liturgy and not least to hear the sudden burst of birdsong as I walk in the garden and eyes to see the grass on the lawn dazzling with dewdrops in the morning sunshine. Little things you may say but what joy they give for as someone wrote, “nothing is ordinary when you really look at it.”

“And for all this nature is never spent. There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” G.M. Hopkins

I must thank Him too for the painful and difficult times when He draws me more closely to Himself and shares a quiet joy within, knowing that he is holding me very close.  Now no longer is it “Jesus you are out too far,” but with heartfelt gratitude I sing with Mary every evening at Vespers;
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
My Spirit rejoices in God my Saviour
For He that is mighty has done great things for me
And holy is His Name             (Luke 1:46-49)

Monastery of St Catherine of Siena
The Twenties,
Co. Louth,
A92 KR84

Charities Registration No: 20010300
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