God writes straight with crooked lines
By the grace of God, I made my First Profession of Vows as a religious sister of the Congregation of the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master (PDDM) on August 30, 2022. It had been quite a journey leading up to that moment, a vocation discernment journey full of twists and turns but also of many graces.
I was born and raised a Catholic in a loving home with parents who worked hard to provide their children a good Catholic education and instilled in us a drive to follow the ideal. The youngest of three, I was adventurous, free-spirited, and fun-loving.
We were somewhat a nominal Catholic family until, at varying times, my mom, siblings, and I went through a renewal of our faith through Catholic Charismatic seminars. I was at a retreat in college where I felt for the first time that God existed, He was real, He was alive, and He was interested in me!
Soon after graduating from college, I migrated with my parents to California. From my teen years in the Philippines to young adulthood in the United States, I underwent a series of conversion experiences as dramatic and revealing as that of the Samaritan woman at the well and as quiet and gentle as that of those listening to Jesus preaching. Because conversion is an on-going process that takes us deeper into his love, union with God became a goal, almost a feverish pursuit.
I became active at my parish in San Jose, Calif. And highly involved in youth and young adult groups. Prayer, particularly contemplative prayer, and Lectio Divina became central to my life. I was falling in love with Christ and His Church, so much so that I couldn't shake off the feeling that I was set apart for something other than what the world offered and that my heart was already spoken for.
The feeling of restlessness finally led me to look into religious life. Knowing that I loved going to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, a friend introduced me to the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master (PDDM). My visits became frequent and soon I was staying for Evening Prayer and joining them for dinner.
Upon the urging of one of the sisters, I went on a discernment retreat at the PDDM community in Fresno. In the middle of receiving spiritual direction, I received a strong impression of God's plan for me: He already had me in mind even before the foundations of the world and had set me apart for His purpose: to love and serve Him as a consecrated religious sister. While a part of me was elated, the other part of me was screaming for fear. In His goodness, God pursued me and showered me with affirmations and revelations of His call through Scripture verses, dreams, a song, a quote, an image during prayer. Eventually, I ran out of excuses and joined the PDDM Congregation on June 12, 2010 as an aspirant.
My aspirancy and part of my postulancy were spent in the PDDM community in Fresno, Calif. With some minor adjustments, I flowed with the daily rhythm and structure of convent life. Each day was an offering of praise and a seeking of God's mercy -- the Magnificat and Miserere. After two years in Fresno, I and another postulant were sent to Mexico to complete our postulancy and begin our novitiate.
Novitiate is a stage in the formation process before the First Profession of Vows. It is the time of deepening in the community life and specific mission according to the Rule of Life of the Congregation. It was during this period when I became aware of areas in my life that were not congruent to the life I was preparing to live. I balked at the thought of making the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
I started doubting if God was truly calling me to be a religious. Confused and full of doubts, I confessed to my novice mistress my hesitation to make the First Profession.
"You have to make a decision -- yes or no!" My novice mistress never minced words. "If you don't make a decision, you will forever live a life of mediocrity!" Her Spanish cut through my heart, her words reverberated deep into my soul.
It was 2015, the end of my novitiate in Mexico. I remember that moment with my novice mistress vividly. I remember the anguish I felt, how torn I was whether to push through with my First Profession or not. Eventually, I left the convent, not clearly saying 'no' but not giving my 'yes' either. Leaving the convent was easily the most difficult decision I ever made, far more difficult than deciding to enter.
After a year with my family in The Philippines , I came back to the United States determined to move on from my convent past without much success. My mind kept returning to my beautiful experiences of God and of community life. I kept thinking, "I left the convent, but the convent never left me." In the outside world, I felt like a fish out of water.
In his wisdom, God directed me to people who ministered to me. I received a lot of healing in different areas of my life and recognized the inner brokenness that had held me back from making big life-changing decisions. Through an instrumental spiritual director, the Lord freed me from self-limiting beliefs and fundamental lies. Here I recall the words of St. Paul, "It is for freedom that I set you free." (Galatians 5:1).
Once freed, I also understood that while God was clear with what he wanted for me, I still had to choose it. Armed with such clarity and with his grace, I made the decision to choose what God was calling me to be: a religious sister with the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master (PDDM). Thus, I began the process of returning to the Congregation. The process was not easy as I was lovingly challenged by the superiors to discern more deeply.
But God is faithful (cf. I Corinthians 1:9). With the much-needed tough love of my spiritual director, I fought for my "Yes" to God's will, earnestly digging deep into my soul. I faltered at times but rose up again to declare it even stronger than before. Finally, I was reaccepted back into the Congregation and on Aug. 1, 2021, began a year of novitiate. Even though I had been gone for six years, coming back to the convent felt as though I just picked up where I left off. I knew the sisters and they knew me. I got back into the rhythm and structure of the daily life and knew that it was where I belonged. I looked forward to the day I could make my profession.
Finally, Aug. 30, 2022, arrived and was the happiest day of my life -- sounds cliché, I know, but it was indeed the most joyful experience of my life so far. The Bishop of the Diocese of Fresno, the Most Reverend Joseph V. Brennan, received my First Profession of Vows at St. Mary Queen of Apostles Church. My mom, my steadfast prayer warrior, excitedly flew in from the Philippines where she had gone back with my dad to retire. Her prayers were finally answered. I was also surrounded by my PDDM sisters, relatives, and friends who all shared my joy. The date also marked the 62nd anniversary of the definitive pontifical approval of the Congregation.
The vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience remind me each day of my total dependence and belongingness to God alone. While community life has its joys and challenges, it is also the school of love in which I'm called to be creative in loving the other. Jesus, the Divine Master, remained faithful to His calling for me. Indeed, Romans 11:29 sums it up for me, "The gifts and call of God are irrevocable." I ask the Lord for his continued grace to remain faithful to him.
The Sister Disciples of the Divine Master (PDDM)
The Congregation of the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master (PDDM) is part of the Pauline Family founded by Blessed James Alberione with the charism, "To live and give Jesus Master Way, Truth, and Life to the world through the means of the media of social communication." The PDDM live out this charism in a more specific way through the Eucharistic -- Priestly -- Liturgical apostolate or mission.
Our founder described our mission as the root that delivers the sap that gives life to the tree. At the heart of our mission and life is prayer and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We recollect ourselves at the feet of Jesus the Divine Master truly present in the Eucharist who nourishes us with His Word. Before Him we supplicate for the needs of priests and of the Church. Our founder once said that just as the priest is called to be the "alter Christus" or the "other Christ," the Sister Disciples are called to be "another Mary." Just as Mother Mary took care of our Lord and His disciples, we also are called to care for the spiritual and material needs of priests and to help people draw closer to Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Thus, at First Profession, the Sister Disciple is given a new name, "Mary."
In Boston, we have sisters who minister to the senior and sick priests at Regina Cleri, the home of senior priests of the Archdiocese of Boston. Some of our sisters carry out the PDDM mission at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Braintree. We also promote the dignity and beauty of the Liturgy through our Liturgical Apostolate Centers that carry religious and liturgical items. We assist in liturgical celebrations whenever called to do so, employing all our gifts, talents, and skills. Indeed, we are at the heart of the Church, delivering essential sap with our prayers, actions, joys and sufferings to give vital life to the Body of Christ.
We are excited to share the great news that the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master (PDDM) will be celebrating its 100th anniversary of foundation (1924-2024). The Centennial theme is "In the footsteps of Jesus, like the Women of the Gospel." We are filled with gratitude to Jesus Master for his faithfulness and for the joy of these 100 years.
SISTER MARY RIO BELLA J. CRUZ, PDDM IS A MEMBER OF THE BOSTON COMMUNITY OF THE SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER.