Sister Cecilia Maria of the Holy Face’s Testimony to her Vocation

This testimony was published in the magazine “De Posta!” of the Christian Encounter Movement of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Argentina, in the year 2009

 

“Lord, I am happy

In the shadow of your wings”

 

Maybe some people are asking themselves how anybody, how a woman could become a nun, a Discalced Carmelite (to top it off, cloistered), those kind that lock themselves up for life!

What must have gone through her head and through her heart for her to make such a decision?  I tried to explain it to my parents, my brothers and sisters, my grandmother, my relatives and friends, with all the knowledge that I had and all the knowledge that I didn’t have.  After spending 10 years as a Carmelite, I’m inspired to tell it to all of you…

Every story of how God calls a soul is marvelous.  It’s like when we climb a mountain and discover unique landscapes that remain engraved in us.  And no matter how many beautiful photographs we take, it’s not the same when showing them to someone who has been there.  The more that one wishes to tell about it, there still remain a thousand nuances between the soul and God.

Since I was a child, I dreamed of getting married.  As I was growing up, I used to think, “either a nun, or married, but never a spinster!”  When I was 15 years old, I was even in love with a young man, but the Lord was blocking my path, always making me desire something more, some kind of  “I- don’t – know -what.”  Just so you can have a laugh, in my Fifth year, I had the chapel picked out, but I was lacking the “specific raw material.”  God used a Theology professor, whose classes completely spoke to me of God.  Everything was making me desire heaven.  I started to go to daily Mass.  I went especially with one girlfriend.  We always found a lot of friends when we set out.  I was really happy that there were so many of us.

I started to have my prayer times.  I began to say the Rosary (which I found extremely boring), but I really wanted to love the Virgin!

This same professor introduced us to Saint Teresa of Jesus, the one from Avila, and helped us get to know and love her.  I was fascinated by her intimacy with Christ, because in the book of her Life, she was making me pray with her, even though I didn’t know how to pray.  She was making me gaze upon Christ.  She was teaching me how to pray, which as she said was “an intimate sharing between friends, to take time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.”  And here’s a phrase that’s very characteristic of her, that I really liked, that in order to be with the Good Jesus, it’s not necessary to split our heads, because he’s not partial to us breaking our heads, He simply delights in our affection and company.

I dreamt about going to Europe with another girlfriend of mine.  One time we even played the Lottery or Quini 6.

Maybe my grandmother guessed my desires, because that year she invited me to travel over to the “old country” and she paid for me to join a tour.  Nothing in the world would have kept me from going to Avila (even though it wasn’t on the tour destinations).  I wanted to go where Saint Teresa lived – the Mother of Discalced Carmel – but as for the nuns, nothing had occurred to me about them.

It was December 31st.  Some friends offered to drive me.  First we were going to go to Segovia.  I didn’t know that that was where Saint John of the Cross (the father of Carmel) was buried.  When “just by chance” I saw the sign, I asked them to please let me out so I could take some pictures.  And there, besides his tomb, I begged with all the fervor and yearning of my soul, that he would give me light about my vocation.  Well, to tell the truth, I didn’t feel that he responded to me at all.  When we arrived at Avila it was six in the evening, in the middle of winter, practically night time.  We went to the Monastery of the Incarnation.  I bumped into the girls in charge of the museum, who were going to return the keys to the nuns.  The doorkeeper, seeing my affliction at having arrived so late, made signs to me that I could go after them.

They entered into a room made totally of stones (because it was built very long ago, in 1500-and-something) and it was cold enough to freeze yourself in!  They were speaking through something wooden – later I learned that it was called a Turn – with a very approachable nun.  But you couldn’t see her, you could only hear her voice.  I said to the girls would they please ask her if she could stay, because I wanted to talk with her.  For me, it was like I was talking to Saint Teresa herself.  All I could do was cry and cry.  The two girls who came in with me, left me there alone.

The nun who was named “Teresa of Jesus” told me that she saw in me “a vocation as clear as day, and not to wait for an angel to come and tell me in my ear…”

As I was crying, I felt interiorly that the infinite love of God was being offered completely to me.  It’s as if when you become aware suddenly of all the love that a person has for you, who you have loved very much – but you never could have imagined HOW MUCH love that was.  I felt very small, and as if ashamed to feel myself loved in this manner, but at the same time I felt a tremendous, sweet happiness, the kind that you can’t describe.

Now with the passage of time, as I become more and more aware of my defects and limitations, which I didn’t know about then, I’m even more moved by the love of God.  That He could love me so much, even just as I am!

I confess that even with all these signs and graces, it wasn’t enough for me to feel secure.  I enrolled in courses for Phonoaudiology praying that they wouldn’t accept me; later I changed over to Literature.  Despite my doubts and uncertainties, I never questioned whether I was meant for the active apostolate, or  contemplative.  I wanted to belong completely to the Virgin Mary (and they had told me that “Carmel was all Mary’s” and all Saint Teresa’s).  Finally I entered in the Carmel of Buenos Aires.  I was there 5 months.  I really liked the life, but I didn’t feel like I was in my right place.  When I left, my soul was in complete darkness and full of pain, thinking that Carmel had just been an illusion and not a true call from God.  Despite all my efforts, I couldn’t get Carmel out of my thoughts.  In the meantime, the night began to get clearer, and even with so much suffering, peace started to come to my soul.  The Lord granted me strength,  He gave me the firm and peaceful certainty of His call.  This dark night only lasted for 3 months, but I had to wait for 3 years to arrive safely at port.  With this certainty in my soul, I knocked at the doors of the Carmel of Santa Fe, where I had always felt attracted.  By what I knew from word of mouth, I was attracted to its poverty, its radical style, and the joy; but above all, the Lord had made me desire it.

My parents asked me to enroll in the courses for a professional career, and to graduate, before I tried to enter Carmel again.  The Sisters also thought it seemed more prudent for me to wait, as did my spiritual director, who followed the wishes of my parents.

Studying Nursing was another gift from the Lord, as well as being at the bedside of so many sick and dying patients.  But just in case, I went every year to Carmel to ask again to enter, to see if the Sisters were relenting.  My obedience wasn’t very perfect!

During this whole waiting period, the poem that Cardinal Newman wrote before his conversion was my song, here abridged:

“Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, 

Lead thou me on! 

The night is dark, and I am far from home – Lead thou me on!

Keep thou my feet, I do not ask to see

The distant scene – one step enough for me.

…And with the morn those angel faces smile

Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.”

 

At last, I got my diploma, and on the 8th of December, the Virgin Mary received me into her house.  Our most sweet Jesus has granted me perseverance for all these years, and the deep happiness of belonging to Him, of being His spouse, despite my poverty.  Of being able to help, in my littleness, to save souls won by His passion, of helping His ministers, the priests, and the Holy Father and the Church, the local Church in Santa Fe, and to help our poor, suffering country.  Now Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, another great Carmelite saint, would say to me:

 

“You are not a doctor, or a nurse.

You cannot tend the wounded.  You are shut up in your cell

and cannot go to them.  You hear the anguished cry of the dying

and wish you were a priest, to be at their side.

Look at the Crucified.  United with Him, you become

omnipresent like Him…Owing to the power of the Cross,

you can be present on all fronts, in all the places of suffering.”

 

I hope you will forgive me for not having known how to say all this in fewer words.  May they count as a thanksgiving for the prayers of so many people to whom I owe my vocation.  Starting with my “great-grandmother” Josefina, and my dearest Mothers at the Incarnation, so many priests and friends, especially my parents, my brothers and sisters, and my Mothers and Sisters of this community which is God’s gift to me. 

A poor, happy Carmelite,

Who desires to be able to sing each day

With a stronger, more ardent voice,

The mercies of the Lord!

 

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