“I was raised by the nuns,” you will often hear me say when speaking to a group of Catholic women. It is what is in my heart and somehow it just pops out of my mouth. The words in Proverbs, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” become a reality at that point. This time was no different. I was sharing my testimony at St. Mary’s Help of Christian Church, where I am a parishioner. I always mention the nuns because they are an important part of my journey to Jesus. The difference this time was that my mom was in the audience, along with many of her life long, now grey haired friends. What did my mom say as I left the podium and sat down next to her? She said, “I thought I raised you?” It wasn’t what she said but the way she looked when she said it. At that moment, as I looked into her eyes, God gave me a glimpse of the little girl inside her. She looked innocence and perplexed at almost ninety years young. Miraculously, I held my tongue only briefly explaining my comment. “Mom you raised me in the natural, but it was the nuns who passed the Catholic faith down to me.” The answer sufficed. Mom came from the generation where they did not even read the Bible. They were not encouraged to seek God, nor to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Mom did not go to Catholic school. She did what the Church told her to and never asked questions. Today I think we would call that blind faith.
It is hard to put into words what the nuns grew in my soul. I am very thankful that they fed me the spiritual food that I would need to continue to blossom in my Catholic faith. They taught me to know God. They taught me to love God. They taught me to serve God. They taught me to always keep my eyes on Jesus and look heavenward. The nuns were like a daily RCIA class for the Catholic school children. I was a Catholic school girl at St. Jerome Catholic School, where each day the faith was taught and lived no matter what subject you were studying. The nuns knew the faith and passionately passed it on. What was the fruit of their efforts? The nuns grew vocations. Almost every Catholic school girl wanted to be a nun. Almost every Catholic school boy desired to be a priest. The nuns fed us the spiritual food that some of our parents did not have to feed. The nuns shed the light on the path which guided us towards our one, holy, apostolic, Catholic faith. I will always be grateful for the nuns that taught me; without their instruction I too would possess only blind faith.
My husband, a convert, and I often have a healthy word war about the subject: Cradles vs. Converts. It is usually sparked by someone commenting, “Deacon Pat, are you a convert?” My guy, Pat, always grins with the pride he has of loving his Catholic faith, as he speaks out an affirmative, “Yes, I am!” This comment often follows, not by Pat or me, but by someone in the crowd who says, “I think converts know their faith more than us cradles do.” I, the adorable helpmate, cannot help myself; I have to respond. I don’t even wait for a pause; I speak out in my cheerleader voice, of course loud and bold, “The nuns taught us cradles things that converts will never know! Things that we do not even realize are in our hearts until thy just pop out of our mouths.” Then a dead silence falls on the crowd. Just when I begin to think that I killed the conversation, a healthy debate begins. Let me clarify why I dare to be so bold and so strong on my unasked-for opinion on this subject. First off, a competition of Cradles vs Converts is never my reason for speaking up no matter how healthy the conversation. No, I am a lady and that is not my style. Neither is my goal to shout out with admiration a cheerleader cry, “Go- Nuns-Go!” No, the truth is that the nuns did teach us things that are in our heart that the converts may never know. Does that make me gloat? It saddens my soul that unless we pass these truths down to the next generation, they may be buried with us when Jesus calls us home. Hidden in our hearts is the One, True, Apostolic Catholic Faith. I call it Old Catholic. It is the faith taught by the Saints who have gone before us. Those children, who were formed by the nuns like me, do not want those truths hidden. They want the truths of our Catholic faith to be known, to be lived and to be loved; for our faith is a treasure worth uncovering.
One day I was seeking the Lord Jesus on a very important subject. “What is the true Catholic faith Lord?” I begged Him to tell me as I kneeled, down to pray. I had just received Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, and I knew He was ever near. I complained, in the form of a prayer:
What is the true faith? I have followed you in all kinds of seasons in my life. I was a Catholic schoolgirl, who walked two miles in the snow to receive the Eucharist. I was a charismatic Catholic. I was a hermit in Utah seeking your face day and night. I was a member of Alleluia Christian community. Now I am a contemplative, fervent in prayer. What is the true Catholic faith, Lord? I repeated.
We all know that sometimes God is silent, beckoning us to seek His face or asking us to wait for the answer, but not this time. The answer was almost instantaneous. It was so clear and concise. I did not have to question, “Is this God or not,” because it resonated truth to my soul. “Follow the Saints,” He said. “They knew the true faith.” This spiritual barometer has helped me to discern as I navigate my way heavenward. It is a truth of our Catholic faith that I pass down to the next generation. What makes the Saints, Saints? Many people know all about their Catholic Faith; whereas the Saints not only knew their faith but also lived their faith in season and out of season. The Saints knew Jesus and loved Him with all their heart. They served Him fervently, and wholeheartedly. They left the wide road and took a turn onto the narrow path heading heavenward. They never looked back.
As a Catholic school girl I was taught to read about the Saints, to choose a patron Saint, and to imitate the Saints. I grew to love the Saints because the Saints loved Jesus. The Saints hearts were set on God alone. The Saints put their trust in God alone. Inside my cradle Catholic heart are stories of the Saints and lessons the Saints have taught me through the years. The Saints taught us how to live for Jesus and how to die for Jesus.
One day I was speaking to one of my adult children on the phone. It was a typical conversation about our Catholic faith. I was all excited about our faith which is the normal land I live in. I opened my mouth and out popped, “The nuns taught us about being martyrs for Christ. It was a great desire the Saints had. The nuns encouraged us to pray for the grace to be a martyr for Christ. It is a holy death.” My daughter politely listened as I proceeded on with my point, “The reason I am excited,” I continued, “is that I always thought my children would be the martyrs for Christ, but the way the world is going, I think that I may get to be a martyr for Christ too. Just look around at all the persecution in this world. Isn’t that great, we will all get to be martyrs for Christ.” I was so overcome with enthusiasm that I did not even notice that she was not joining in my excitement.
When I finally took a well-needed breath, she said, “Mom, I have got to go!”
“Sure, honey!” I automatically replied. I did not think a thing of it because I am so used to my married daughters having to hang up. They all have small children, a full life and a lot to do. I know full well what is in their job description having had walked in those high heels before. It was later that I found out that I had upset her. Her not calling for three days let the “cat out of the bag,” since I try for daily conversations with all my daughters. Days later I heard through the family grapevine, from her very concerned sister that she did not share in “The Joy of Being a Modern Day Martyr.” Seeing her children die prematurely or herself and husband was not something she wanted to focus on. To tell you the truth, being a martyr did not appeal to her in the least, in fact not at all. Apparently I had failed to pass down that truth that the nuns taught me. As Catholic school children our reaction was totally different. We were all in and filled with joy. We were told it was a holy death and we all wanted to be Saints.
Times have changed. This incident reminded me that God’s ways are not our ways. We have to hunger for the things of God not just the fruit of joy and peace which are desired by all, but one not often chosen, the fruit of long suffering. I have come to understand that acquiring an appetite for being persecuted, being mocked or being rejected for Christ’s sake and the desire to be a martyr for our faith is a grace, not a fruit. It is a grace the nuns taught us that is wrought in prayer. We have so much to learn through the Saint’s examples by reading about their lives. Some of the Saints were given this grace to be a martyr. God filled them with His love and gave them the gift of faith and a heart to follow Jesus no matter what.
We as Catholics have been blessed in our life time to be given the example of two modern-day Saints, Saint Pope John Paul II and soon to be Saint Teresa of Calcutta. This is a grace to have seen their life lived out before us, often publicly on the television. They are two very holy Saints, yet two very different Saints. Mother Teresa lived her humble life in the slums of Calcutta. Pope John Paul II lived his life in Poland and Vatican City, surrounded by the rich history of our faith. He walked humbly in the shoes of the popes who had gone before him and visited the world. Even though he lived among riches, grandeur and beauty, he remained poor in spirit. What a witness of the one true faith they present to this generation. Each Saint is different and therefore each Saint has a lesson to teach this world. We can learn our faith by reading about what they did and listening to what they said. Their actions lived out Saint Paul’s words: “To live is Christ and to die is gain!” Their words are eternal. If we put their words and their deeds into action, we will grow a spiritual harvest.
I was raised by the nuns, but many of the children in this generation have never even seen or met a nun. Moms, if you want the truths of our Catholic faith to pop of your child’s mouth, you must plant the seeds of our faith within them. Teach them to know, love and serve God. Teach them to look heavenward and walk in virtue. Teach them to read about the Saints, to imitate the Saints, to pick a patron Saint and love the sacraments. Teach them to know that the Saints are interceding for them and cheering them on as we journey toward Jesus. Teach your children to follow the Saints as they follow Jesus. Give them the spiritual food they need to blossom in their faith as they fly their wings towards independence. Teach them to be bold, to be strong! Teach them that the Lord thy God is with them, in life and in death. Teach them to pray for the grace to be martyred for Christ. Teach them to run the race to win knowing that the Saints are cheering them on to the finish line, our heavenly home where they will be happy with Jesus forevermore!
Copyright 2016 Ellen Mongan
Photo copyright 2016 Ellen Mongan. All rights reserved.