Meet Sister Mary of the Holy Family Wohlfert who is native of the parish of Most Holy Trinity in Fowler and is now a Religious Sister in the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará based in the Netherlands. How did that happen? To mark National Vocations Awareness Week, November 5-11, Sister Mary now charts her journey towards religious life guided, as she was, by the Holy Eucharist. She writes:
I suppose the beginning of the story of me with the Eucharist begins in Fowler, Michigan at Most Holy Trinity Parish. I was baptized at about a month old by Father Phil. Attending Mass every week with my family from infancy meant that I soaked up the truth about God and the faith simply by being surrounded with sacred art and a faithful congregation. I learned the beautiful prayers and hymns of the Catholic liturgy, Sunday by Sunday, listening to the chorus of voices around me.
One morning as we entered our church, I saw a little table set up in the back. On it was the silver bowl that I had often seen the priest using during Mass. Inside it were hundreds of little cream medallions. I asked my mom what they were. She whispered to me that they were the little pieces of bread that father would bless to become Jesus’ Body.
From that moment on, never did it once occur to me to doubt the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. It never seemed to me beyond God’s power to do such a thing, to become man nor to become bread.
When I was explained Eucharistic miracles, I understood the following. “Whenever someone doubted that the bread and wine Father consecrated at Mass were really Jesus’ Body and Blood, God would take away the miracle that made it taste like bread and wine so that everyone could see it was really flesh and blood.”
Because of this understanding, I kept special vigilance over my faith in this Sacrament. When I would go up to receive Communion, I would repeat in my head “Jesus, I really believe it is You in Communion!” I did this not because I was having trouble believing it to be so, but because I was afraid if I accidentally doubted then I would end up with a Eucharistic miracle in my mouth.
Even with the simplicity of my faith, I wouldn’t say that I understood the consequences of Jesus really being present in the Eucharist. When I would come back from Communion I would just kneel down and watch all the other people go up.
One day while I was kneeling, for my customary people watching, a girl leaned over to me to tell me she liked my ponytail holder. I responded with a smile but then her sister caught her and told her to let me be because I was praying. Was I? What exactly does it mean to pray?
During a rebellious adolescence, I kept a spiritual distance from Our Blessed Lord. I say spiritual distance because externally I was always very close. I attended Mass every Sunday and even some days during the week. I was a regular at any youth group activity I could get to, and I even went to Holy Hours with my friends. Unfortunately, though, I often received Him in the impenetrable way a rock receives a scoop of Quality Dairy ice cream. The goodness is there, but the rock cannot profit from it.
During our preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation it came to my attention how extremely ignorant I actually was of my faith and our Catholic tradition. I had thought I was an expert, until I was asked the order of Mass. Does Mass always go in the same order?
After Confirmation, I finally got up the courage to ask someone how to receive Communion. I emailed the holiest person I knew, and he explained to me that I should ask Mary to help me prepare my heart, then after Communion to spend time speaking with Him. This seemed incredible to me. Again, not because I doubted that Jesus was really present in the consecrated Host, but more because I doubted that He would be listening to me. What interest would God have in talking to me?
To be honest, I think my hesitation to really pray stemmed from not being sure if I wanted to let Jesus into my heart. I thought of Him as a distant and stern judge who was waiting for me to mess up so He could punish me. It seemed wiser to me to keep our relationship as a legal arrangement: if I wanted to have fun sometimes and disobeyed His law, I would go to confession so that I would be forgiven and still permitted to enter heaven.
This plan, however, had a giant rock thrown at it when our senior year religion teacher told us what heaven actually was. He said that heaven is not rainbows and butterflies and everything we like. Heaven is being face to face with God for all eternity. The question struck me: Do I really want to go to heaven then?
This obviously presented a very big problem for me. I knew there is actually a place created for those who do not want to be with God. And I knew for sure that I didn’t want to go there! However, I couldn’t reconcile “happy worldlings” and bitter Christians. Are we meant to be miserable in this life just so that we aren’t totally miserable for all eternity?
It occurred to me that I was missing something and that I had to search for the Truth myself. I thought it was only fair to start with trying out the Catholic faith “for real.” If I honestly tried and it worked, i.e. it provided me with peace and happiness, then great. If not, then I would check out Buddhism and Yoga next.
Some people travel far away from home to “soul search” which typically means testing the open waters and not going to church. My soul searching didn’t have more than a few weeks of “independence” which was more than enough to uncover the empty promises of Satan and “the world.”
God often speaks through circumstances. Even though I didn’t have what people call a “spiritual life,” I saw clearly through Providential incidents that I had to go to Europe to find the answers I was looking for. Before I knew it, I was in Ireland without anyone I ever knew before living in a convent with three religious sisters. How did I get here?
In accordance with my proposal to really give Catholicism a try, I went along with anything the sisters did. I began a prayer regimen that put the distance I was trying to keep from Christ at great danger. Daily Mass, Adoration, and Rosary, weekly opportunity for confession, study of the Bible and Catechism, not to mention living day-to-day life with three of Christs young and joyful brides.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church was setting my heart on fire, I didn’t know that everything the Church teaches is so complete and noble!
The devotion and respect the sisters showed for the Blessed Sacrament literally brought me to my knees. For the first time it was actually dawning on me, “Jesus is here. He is RIGHT HERE!”
The growing awareness I had of Christ’s real presence in the Blessed Sacrament led to a strong yearning to make that final step of abandonment to His love. I desired so much to receive Him worthily and to actually have a relationship with Him, but I couldn’t find the strength to break away from the sin still in my life.
I heard that the sisters were going to hold a silent retreat that had for its purpose direct contact with God. I immediately knew that this was “why” God had brought me all the way to Ireland: for a real encounter. I signed up for the weekend retreat which were the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.
During the retreat St. Ignatius presents in a uniform way the truths of the faith and gives the person on the exercises the opportunity to open up himself entirely to God’s will for his life. One of the most powerful elements of the exercises for me was the opportunity for a general confession.
The decision to confess all the sins of one’s entire life implies a deeper and truer repentance, (it’s not about thinking you weren’t really forgiven the first time). This confession was the key that I needed to finally choose to reject Satan and all his empty promises and confirm my decision to be a Christian. Although I was shaking like a leaf in the line for confession, when I finished, I experienced a great power and joy that would overflow (almost uncontrollably) for the next several months.
Going into Eucharistic Adoration after confession I had no words to describe the rejoicing in my soul. I had finally let Christ win! Caught up in the ecstasy of His perfect love that I was for the first time able to open myself up to, it occurred to me that I had found my purpose on this earth. In all my searching in my youth I had discovered that I must spread beauty into the world. But the question had always been: how?
Now, in front of the Blessed Sacrament it was like I could feel beauty radiating into the depths of my soul and I reached into my mind to look for a way to spread this beauty, this real beauty, to others.
My first thought was: “it’s a shame I didn’t bring my camera with me! Then I would be able to take a picture of this moment and post it on Facebook.” That idea fell quickly to the ground when I realized that no photo (no matter how artistic) would be able to transmit what I was experiencing.
Secondly, I thought: “ah, if I need to communicate more than what the eyes can see, then I need to learn how to paint. Good paintings are always able to transmit more symbolism or emotion.” Again, however, this idea fell flat because I knew that a painting wasn’t able to transmit the life that I was receiving.
Then, without any words I saw in my mind’s eye a sister kneeling in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. Then I knew that the only way to share the beauty of what I was experiencing would be to help bring people to where I was. Just like the sisters I was living with had helped me by their silent witness.
I suppose you could say that was the moment that I discovered my vocation—to belong totally to Our Eucharistic Lord in order that others may discover the attraction of Divine Beauty.
God continued opening all the doors and I was able to enter with the sisters and I have now been living religious life for more than 10 years. I can honestly say that I haven’t regretted a single moment of it. And so, my story with the Eucharist continues as I continue this journey together with the One who promised, “I am with you always until the end of time.” (Matthew 28:20)
Sister Mary of the Holy Family Wohlfert, SSVM