Sister Catherine of Jesus Abandoned: A Unique Engagement with the Divine

I always wondered what it’s like to have Jesus as a Spouse. And while I am still searching for my calling, I had the one wonderful privilege to see someone embrace hers as a contemplative Carmelite nun. I saw a woman evolve from being my search-in best friend here in the outside world into a certified cloistered Carmelite novice sister in Lipa. This post is lengthy, but I invite you to journey and see how beautiful this unique engagement with the divine is…

Watching a person, at age 29, officially wear the veil and become a novice contemplative or cloistered nun is something that might happen just once in my lifetime. Just typing this up is enough to move me to tears. I struggled harder to put off writing my farewell letter to her before I headed off to her special day. I managed to do it in the morning before boarding the bus bound for Lipa City. It was very short—two pages only—since I am too choked with emotion to keep my writing pen steady, much less construct coherent thoughts befitting the occasion.

I thought of declining the invitation so that I will not steal any more time from her family, constrained as the circumstances are now. But it was impossible. How can I say no to an offline YM message from somebody who is going to marry God? How can I refuse the single request of a woman who has chosen to leave the world to serve God with her 100% and be part of the Mystical Body of the Church? This invitation was sent straight from the sacred grounds last November–through Yahoo Messenger, of all means. Yes, they have WiFi there, in case you are wondering. But that would have been probably her last YM message to the outside world. I should have taken a screenshot before I hit the exit button that day.

She is super duper important to me, her being my convent bestfriend and one of my best spiritual buddies. I dare say she prays for me more than I can ever pray for myself! I took a day-long leave from my new job and decided to buy a thick roll of tissue the night before her unique wedding with the Divine. Tears were inevitable. She loved me a lot, and treated me only in a way a doting spiritual sister can. She even warned me against the guy who loved to send flowers, but I was just too hard-headed to listen to her and caused destruction on myself last year, anyways. If you have a religious friend who has a higher spiritual antenna than you, it will help if you LISTEN well to them when they warn you about stuff.

I was thinking of buying her something, anything just to make her remember me by. Perhaps a stylish pen? A notebook? Some stationery for writing? But I painfully remember that this person is not allowed to possess anything fancy as a contemplative nun, so it will not really be to her best vocational interests to give her anything excessive. Eventually, I settled on buying 2 notebooks and 2 boxes of donuts. The donuts were for her very loving and hospitable family, while the notebooks were for Cathy.

This was the route I traveled to get to her unique divine wedding:

I rode the bus from Gil Puyat/Buendia, silently hoping that my seatmate is not some over-friendly person who likes to ask so many questions. I don’t usually have anything against chatty strangers. I am quite talkative myself. However, at that time, I needed as much solitude as silence as I can get, even if it meant not having a new friend on the long bus trip on the way to Lipa City. I learned this from Cathy a long time ago when we were texting like crazy as the search-in best friends that we were, then.

I told her then that I wanted to escape my present living conditions to find my peace of mind. I used to associate my inner peace by geographic location or through going to a peaceful place. That time, she told me that peace is not a place to find but it’s something that’s WITHIN. You cannot expect the noise to die down when you go to another place, because the noise is inside. Since then, I have not forgotten. And though I tend to falter like a clumsy kid in my quest for peace, I consciously try to maintain that inner silence. I have prepared to set myself to silence since I got that invitation.

I continue to carry a spark of that interior silence now as I have gone back to Manila. I’m not as silently good as a cloistered nun, but I learned to minimize the inner noise that robs me of my peace through silent daily mental prayer. Dysmenorrhea aside, I still have it in me, that awe from that divine day she became engaged to God.

From the JAM liner in Gil Puyat/Buendia, I asked the driver to drop me off at Big Ben Complex. But according to the driver, the CALABARZON bound bus will only take me to Tambo Exit where it’s already possible to ride a tricycle directly to Carmel monastery. (The bus ride from Buendia to Tambo costs 127 pesos and the tricycle ride to Carmel from there costs 60 pesos. I am just writing down the fare amounts so that people who are researching how to get to Carmel Lipa will be able to get a good commuting estimate. J)

Some tricycle camwhoring moments here of an office desk-strapped young editor who found freedom for a day in form of an unpaid vacation leave:

Big Ben is that tall tower, which signals that I am near my destination:

And finally, after camwhoring to death,  j’ai arrive (il n’y a pas d’accent dans mon clavier, desolee)…

And voila, here is Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Lipa—made famous by Mary Mediatrix of Grace’s apparitions to then Carmelite aspirant Teresita Castillo in 1948. Rose petals fall on the apparition site from time to time and it was really one of those places on earth that has been touched by the glory of Mary herself.

Kuya Roy, Mommy and Daddy welcomed me. I was not really hungry, because I was anxious to see our dear Cathy. There is more to life than literal bread, really. An hour and a half of talking to spend with her that day is more than enough for me; I’d be so willing to skip two major meals to be able to do that again—even more, perhaps.

Catching Up with Cathy Turned Sister Catherine of Jesus Abandoned

I entered the parlor (that place with a gray metal grill with the visitors on one side and the nuns on the other) and saw Cathy’s younger sister crying with her. I felt a little bad in diminishing younger sister Iyo’s time with Cathy, but this too was my only chance to talk to her again. I was very much disoriented when I saw her. She was already wearing her white veil, signifying her change of status from aspirant to novice nun. The veiling ceremony was confidential and done in the morning, with her immediate family as witnesses. For us on the outside world, her veiling ceremony meant the formal engagement. Her “wedding” to Jesus will take place around 2 years later, in her first profession of vows. But even so, she is already encouraged to live her vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience.

The weird person that I am, I just fawned over her like crazy. It was just like when I saw my soul brother Jehzeel for the first time after so many years of not talking. I gave her my gift, but I think she mentioned five times in that hour that she liked the two boxes of donuts too, so I gave those to her as well. (Babawi na lang ako kina mommy next time.) In some moments, it was just like the old times when she did not have that veil on. I still saw Cathy. But I know eventually Cathy will be consumed by the full imitation of Christ, an example of the Mystical Body of Christ. At least, that’s the goal of being there.

I also had to adjust to her changes. She is so detached; I am so amazed by her. Wasn’t it just a year ago when she was practically ramming at my inbox to stay away from flower guy? Now, she’s transformed. I see the touch of divine wrapping her up from all sides and that holy aura of hers was so thickly embracing me too, in that moment. I basked in it. She would ask me how I am, and even when I can fool a thousand eyes that I am fine, I can never lie to my dear friend. I broke down, creating liquefied pools of sorrow water that I thought was forever benumbed by a badly beaten heart.

She still maintains that she is fully convinced in the call for me to live that kind of blessed life. She asked God once and she said God is not like man to change his mind. (I leave the trail of this conversation topic in my private thoughts– not meant for public sharing, this part.)Suffice it to say that as I wallow here in the outside world, a free soul consumed by divine Love is praying for me to find my own sweet vocational spot in this universe, hoping that I will also let myself be consumed by finding my true vocation and giving my 100%, as she has gone ahead to do.

With a simple question of “Kamusta rosaryo mo?” and her mere presence in that room, I was already jolted back to what matters in this life. It reminded me of the desire to enter the convent, and why I had wanted to live that life so badly. Not because I was qualified, spotless, deserving or extraordinarily good (in which case, I will never be able to dare to want it, even), but more because there was an unexplainable magnetic pull that draws me to the monastic life. And I have proven this time and time again: I get sidetracked, but the desire has never diminished. I just super unfortunately lack the will and solidity to carry it out and manfully resist the forces that opposed the motions. It’s like finding a needle through the haystack, like a camel entering through a needle. Once you aspire to be a nun, the next step is for you to become a postulant. After the postulancy, you become a novice (like my friend here) and eventually you get married to Jesus in your profession of vows.

Tears flowed like streams, I thought it won’t dry up. I manfully controlled my tears and caused myself migraine in that effort. I would have filled buckets if I had them there the whole time. The flowing of tears and ripples of laughter there were the priceless stuff that only an authentic friend can truly elicit. It was a mix of emotions: missing her, being super happy for her, keenly feeling my own spiritual struggles, hoping for the best for me and for her, feeling overwhelmed at God’s love and grace in our lives, swimming in gratitude for this opportunity to know the female monk before she embraced her call, and foreboding a divine experience that transported me out of planet Earth, or at least, planet editing and breadwinning earth. At that place, it was just okay to be the broken and vulnerable me. It was okay to break down. It was okay, perfectly okay, to ask God to help me with the broken pieces. It was okay to admit that even when I am so happy for her, because she has the best Spouse in the world, I am still going to miss her and I am a weak human being who wanted having her around for my future birthday celebrations, future Christmases and future New Years…

The Relic of St. Therese de Lisieux

This nun is not to be outdone in gift giving, as if her prayers and sacrifices were not enough!  I cannot believe she actually “shopped” (private joke namin ito, walang mall sa kumbento hahaha.) within the sacred grounds just to get me a gift. It was her wedding, yet I was the one with the mind blowing gift. She gave me three things.

It reminded me of my friend Sherla’s tale of the cheeseburger and the fly. I had this habit of having the best cheeseburger in front of me, but I was so focused on the tiny and insignificant fly flying around it. She meant my spiritual life, and used it as a metaphor of sorts. It was the same with the gift Cathy gave me, initially. The poor nun actually lost her patience because I was so busy looking at the pink rosary and the rosary guide that I failed to see the actual main GIFT: the relic of St. Therese of the Little Flower, straight from her convent in France. I was so shocked after that “cheeseburger-fly moment.”

A relic is a piece of article of the saint’s clothing. It is just like a piece of a divine scrapbook from the Communion of Saints. Their spirit lives on in their few possessions. This one I have in my possession now is a piece of her brown Carmelite habit. Months ago, my friend Machele and I even had to organize a sleepover here just so we could see a relic of that lovely saint brought in San Roque Cathedral. Can you actually believe that I have one in here in my hand, for me to keep? Throngs of people swarm to get close to St. Therese of the Little Flower. I had been a fan of her since I read her little way of Spiritual Childhood. She struck me to be a simple person who was so consumed by Love, and it enabled her to do the saintliest things.

Cathy did not know, but I cried while kissing it when I went home that night. I continued to cry until this evening. Until now, that I am finishing this post. How it hurts not to have coffee with her again, nor to hang out with her and experience her fast driving to different divinely inspired places in Manila. I avoided visiting her the past months because I did not want to deal with the pain of missing her. And I felt it all so keenly, like an avalanche of hollow ache, when I went there yesterday. The very thing I tried to avoid, I started to face. And I broke down, because all the other hurts I have tried to bury the past months just came out, too, like torrents.

The Holy Eucharist– Thanksgiving Mass

I did not want to let go of Cathy. We were already talking for almost two hours. The conversation turned into a lull. I knew it was time. Something was pushing me to explore the place and leave Cathy to do some more prayers before her Thanksgiving Mass. I walked around the beautiful monastery and went to the church.

Kuya Roy told one of the sisters that I was going to read the Responsorial Psalm. And I did. This is the last Mass where I can be very close to Cathy, and this Mass is offered in thanksgiving for the beginning of her self-giving. I was seated in front. It was such an honor to be there in between the religious and the golden elements. I wanted to look composed since I was in front, but I could not help it. I was weeping midway in the second reading, and I was completely all red and sobbing during the homily. The priest had said things that hit me hard, although they were really addressed to Cathy. I remembered Cathy telling me to LISTEN to the homily. Somehow, she gave me an idea that there will be things that God will tell me through that message, too.

“Everything is grace… All negative experiences, expected or unexpected…. Jesus does not bribe people to follow Him. He gives a challenge. You are here not to gratify but to sanctify. But do not worry. God is not outdone in generosity… Your oneness with Him does not end in the sorrow, but also in resurrection.” Toscanini and Beethoven. Obliterating one’s self will to let Jesus shine. And making her become the true spouse of Christ with her increasing resemblance to Him.

I broke down when the priest started telling the story of the artisan. It was so embarrassing. I wish I did not cry that much near the altar but I did. There was a window in a beautiful cathedral in Italy that got hit by a severe windstorm. The window was broken. The artisan asked to get the broken pieces from the caretaker. A few months later, the artisan invited the caretaker and then the caretaker saw that the artisan created a magnificent new window out of the broken pieces.

“And it was more magnificent and beautiful than the original.”

Was it not just a few weeks ago when I was lethargically writing about broken pieces? It was a sharp jolting call out for me to rise to the occasion.

God’s message for me then was loud and clear: Stop spinning. Start trusting. I am in charge. I am your Artisan. Give me your broken pieces. And as I broke down in tears, all my self-erected walls fell and I gave all the broken pieces to Him, as the priest broke the Bread and drank from the cup of Life. Finally, I have started surrendering that part which refused to forgive, that part which refused to accept some things that happened last year.

I could not even describe the things I saw fully. The luminosity in the priest’s face, an upclose view of the ciborium and the chalice and my transfixed gaze on the Holy Communion elements were just some of the things I can recall for my readers. The earth just stopped spinning at that one moment in time for me, where I realized that this is the be all and end all of my life, no matter how crazy it is when I am back in the outside world. Words eluded me in this entire occasion. No matter what happens, I need to carry THESE experiences back to Manila.

The Pictorials and The Parlor Program

They have Wifi, so I must not be surprised that the sisters also have this really upgraded DSLR camera for the photo opps. The pictorial lasted for an hour. I took my chance. After this was the program prepared by Cath’s family in the sisters’ parlor. One of the Carmelite sisters’ best singers sang Around the World with Cath’s dad, and as I listened to her sing it from her heart, I was most certain that those humble, uniformly clothed saints in the making at the other side of the gray metal grills were actually the world’s freest, happiest and richest people.

We in the outside world are truly the more caged ones, with our material attachments and inability to commune with the Divine things, with the things of God.

The Prayer Deck and Moments with the Mediatrix of Grace

I had to miss some of the Vicente family program’s highlights because I was being “called” to go upstairs in the newly constructed prayer deck. My guardian angel, somehow, made it known that I had to make a visit in the middle of the program so that I can spend some time alone in the terrace, viewing the miraculous apparition site. I had been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love book this month, and she went to India for her spiritual devotion. Here is the Catholic counterpart.

I was just staring at the stairway for seconds, with bated breath and excitement, because this is going to be my first time to see it. I have only heard it from Cathy.

As I parked my elbows against the metal terrace railing surface, a gentle and cool breeze soothed me. The Mediatrix is really there. I instantly recognized that this sacred, quiet and lovely garden is now my friend’s new home. Cathy is in good hands. A heaven on earth, unlike any other spiritual pilgrimage I have ever gone to locally. There was an unexplained stillness… I climbed up there a heavy hearted woman. I went back down carrying part of that mystical silence that is abandoned, joyful, assured and enduring in the midst of all my personal brokenness.

I have given up the broken pieces. It’s time to work and wait for the new masterpiece as I try to follow my call.

See you more up there, later in heaven someday, Sister Mary Catherine of Jesus Abandoned… As we store our heavenly treasures here on earth, I pray that your prayers and mine will forever be in sync for love of Him. I love you most dearly. But I know you love me more. Yet, we both know that God loves us even more than we can love Him back or love each other as the spiritual bestfriends that we are. As you become one in the Abandoned Christ, may we feel comforted in the feeling of abandonment of having to detach from you… I will always be grateful to you and to your blessed family for not treating me like a stranger.

This blog post may be pushed down over time and forgotten, but the memories represented by the words are etched in my mind, engraved in my heart and stamped permanently in my soul.

(Peace and love to the readers. I hope I have brought you a part of my experience in Carmel Lipa and in meeting Sister Catherine through this story.)

Sister Mary Catherine of Jesus Abandoned