Sister Gretchen Johnston made her Perpetual Monastic Profession on Sunday, September 7, in a ceremony during the Eucharistic Mass. This blog is a second excerpt from the four meditations Sister Therese Carson wrote during the closing weeks of her novitiate before she made her First Profession with the same promises of stability, fidelity to monastic life, and obedience.
Part Two. The First Promise: Stability to this Community
“Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge;
our people shall be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16)
In the Old Testament story, a Moabite woman Ruth married a Jewish man who died, leaving her childless. She threw in her lot with her mother-in-law, and journeyed with her from the place of her birth to Israel to find a new life, new people, a new God. Ruth is a good model for beginning monastics. To succeed you must embrace this new life. A monastery is no place for the half-hearted who hold onto an old way of thinking. Seek God with all your heart, go all the way, or you will be forever a stranger in your new city. It begins with commitment to a community.
When I arrived in Duluth that first February, I wanted to explore this area so I could place myself in the landscape, to know what lay north-south-east-west of here. Winter and the lack of a car stopped me. Instead I turned to explore the convoluted landscape of the inner spirit, and found it was vaster than Minnesota, deeper than Superior. I studied Liturgy and the basics of being a monastic, and learned I would change profoundly. On the outside, eighty acres of steep woodland must satisfy my need for rawer nature, and an occasional dog met in the woods is all that remains of living with animals. No more planning meals; the monastery kitchen would determine my diet.
My time is no longer my own; it belongs to the monastery, and to God. The community’s work is my work, and its future is mine. I own my clothes, a few books, a camera, and the computer on which I type this meditation, but in a larger sense all I own and am, even my body, belongs to God. I thought this part would be hard; instead I feel unburdened, lighter than air.
So many Sisters whose names I struggled to learn! They were welcoming, but assessing. Will she fit in with us? Is she too old to change? I asked myself the same. By the time I made my request to continue, these women had become a second family, imperfect but loved. What must it be like, then, to live in Community for 60 years? To argue with and forgive another, over and over, each time drawing closer rather than drifting apart? How important it becomes to love even the ones who are difficult, to never give up on anyone. Each one is a gift that enriches our lives.
If it were too easy I probably would not stay. I want to work till I die, which my career would not allow or even make desirable. At the age when my friends are planning their retirement, I look for another beginning where I can try new wings. I know it won’t always be easy to live with others after being alone for forty years, but I will persevere with the help of God’s grace, along with common sense and humor. Because there are days when I must leave by the back door and take a long fast walk in the back woods, to let off steam and simmer down, so I can regain my sense of perspective and rejoin the community.
Sister Therese Marie Carson
Therese Marie was born in Detroit, Michigan and spent many years as a microbiologist in Harbor Springs, Michigan before coming to Duluth. She had heard a call to vocation since she was young, and found the courage to surrender to it when her faith in God caught fire and became deep love. She made her First Profession on Sunday, August 31, 2014, at St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, Minnesota, and looks forward with joy to becoming a perpetually professed Benedictine. She believes with Albert Einstein that, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.“