Despite being a cradle Catholic, I never considered becoming a sister—that is, until the rat race got to me. Frankly, God was not my biggest priority while I climbed the corporate ladder. After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in history and journalism, I was blinded by the allure of a glamorous, fast-paced life in network television in New York City, and I chased after a career in broadcast media. For three years I worked in areas ranging from production to research to multimedia news. I moved from job to job, working overnight and weekend shifts, holidays, doing whatever I needed to do to get ahead. As a result, my health and relationships suffered.
Yet, God was still good to me. He gave me the grace to persevere through the difficult times and, eventually, my work conditions got better. I was able to spend more time with my family and friends and serve at my parish as a catechist. And that is when I identified a yearning in my heart for something more, something better. I was still a long way from sisterhood, however.
Growing up, I had little contact with sisters. My family belonged to a Korean Catholic parish in northern New Jersey, where I attended public schools. Two Korean sisters served in our parish, and they spoke little to no English. Although I saw them around church, I could not relate to them and did not get to know them well. Nevertheless, the sisters from my childhood must have left an impression on me because when I started getting involved with campus ministry in college, I noted the absence of sisters at our Catholic center and on retreats; I wished there were some there.
It was not a religious sister but my biological sister, Rosa, who inadvertently piqued my interest in religious life. While I was still working as a journalist, Rosainvited me to venerate the relic of Saint John Bosco when it was at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City as part of a U.S. tour. This was my first encounter with the saint who was a friend of the young and the poor and who had founded the men’s religious congregation the Salesians of Don Bosco, as well as cofounded the women’s religious congregation the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, also known as the Salesian Sisters of Saint John Bosco. After patiently waiting my turn in line among thousands of pilgrims, I had my first encounter with Saint Don Bosco through his relic. As I touched the glass box that encased a life-size wax replica of his body, I prayed for guidance. Little did I know that a few years from then I would be entering religious life in the congregation he founded.
My vocation discernment did not happen in a nice, orderly, logical fashion. I do not know if anyone discerns that way. God worked in mysterious ways over the course of three years, speaking to me through various people, events, places, and dreams. I was terrified at first that God might be calling me to be a sister! I had no idea what the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience were all about. I did not want to give up the life I was living, despite the misgivings I was starting to have about it. Like most people, I had always dreamed of someday getting married and starting my own family, but the Lord gave me the grace to have courage and remain open. I thought it was my career that was causing this growing unrest within me. I prayerfully considered a career change and decided to leave journalism for a field where I saw greater potential to effect positive social change. With a desire to help communities through the built environment, I got a Master’s degree in urban planning. It still had not dawned on me that the hole in my heart could be filled by a religious vocation.
Halfway through graduate school, I attended a “Life in the Spirit Seminar” hosted by a charismatic young adults group. During the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” program of the retreat, I was touched by the Holy Spirit in a very powerful way. I felt the fire of God’s love burning in my heart and on my tongue. I felt my heart filling with great joy and peace. That seminar cultivated the seed of my vocation. I began to hear God’s call to live exclusively for Him.
The call grew louder while I was on a church service trip to Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world, which had suffered a devastating earthquake in 2010. For one week, we stayed and served at a nursing home facility for the homeless elderly of Croix-des-Bouquets, about a thirty-minute drive from the nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince. The facility was staffed and operated by consecrated religious men and women of the Korean congregation known as the Kkottongnae Brothers and Sisters of Jesus. These missionary brothers and sisters, most of whom were in their thirties and forties, were trained medical professionals who lived at the facility and took great care of the residents. I was fascinated by their life. They were some of the happiest, most authentic people I had ever met. Their life of love and sacrifice for others inspired me and challenged the way I saw the world around me.
One night during a charismatic prayer meeting with the sisters and brothers of Kkottongnae, God said to me through one of the brothers there, “Go where my Light is.” When I heard these words spoken aloud, I began to sob uncontrollably because deep down in my heart I knew what that meant. God was calling me—now more clearly than ever—to follow Him in a radical way. I welcomed His invitation into my heart that night and I finally felt free.
Upon my return from Haiti, with the help of a spiritual director I began to visit communities closer to home. I looked at the spirituality of each congregation more than its core work, and I asked myself if I could honestly see myself living the community’s charism and lifestyle.
As I continued to pray and discern, God led me to the Salesian Sisters a month before my graduation. These sisters were gentle, joyful, and a whole lot of fun. They offered me friendship and cordiality, without pressuring me to visit them or enter the community, allowing me to decide for myself if and when I wanted to enter.
During this time, my parents were very apprehensive about my desire to pursue religious life, with my father concerned that I was trying to escape the world and avoid responsibility for my expensive decision to go to graduate school. Many arguments ensued. He started to warm up to my decision after graduation when he saw how hard I was working—at multiple part-time jobs—to pay off my student loans. Additionally, God sent people to my dad to advocate for my vocation. Once he approved, it did not take long to win over my mom.
God continued to send me little signs to reassure me that I was on the right path even during my application process to be accepted into the Salesian Sisters. When I retrieved my baptismal record from the church where I was baptized as a baby in Seoul, Korea, I learned that the date of my Baptism was January 31, the feast day of Saint John Bosco, one of our founders. I also learned that Saint Francis De Sales, the saint I had chosen for my Confirmation, was the patron saint of the Salesians and the source of its name.
Now I am in my third year of formation with the Salesian Sisters—that is, preparation for full membership. I feel more fully alive now than ever before. Living the virtues of poverty, obedience and chastity enables me to be totally free to love and serve others. Though my vocation journey is not without fear, doubt, or difficulty, I have faith that God’s plan for me is, in the words of the prophet Jeremiah, “a future full of hope.”
Sister Boram Lee is a first-year novice with the Salesian Sisters of Saint John Bosco, in her third year of religious formation. She lives in Newton, New Jersey, where she helps provide sacramental retreats at Sacred Heart Center, serves as a catechist in a local parish, and attends Assumption College for Sisters. Reprinted with permission from VISION Vocation Guide, vocationnetwork.org
A few months ago, during a conversation about a “difficult” colleague, my immediate superior remarked: “If I am not able to be a source of solace to such people in my team, then all my spirituality is in vain.” It was a wake-up-call; I had often been in the habit of judging this colleague, so this left me in shame. I realized how badly I had failed to be a true witness to my faith, at my workplace. All of us are surrounded by difficult people, maybe in the form of a nagging spouse, an envious neighbor, an irritating colleague, or a domineering boss. In fact, Jesus dealt with difficult people on a daily basis, giving us the perfect example of compassion. This Lent, let’s be thankful to God for all these difficult people in our lives. Instead of judging and avoiding them, let’s try to be like Jesus. Let’s do to them what Jesus would have done for them if He was in our place. And let’s not forget that it’s not the good people but the difficult people who purify us.
There is a regrettable interpretation of the Cross that has, unfortunately, infected the minds of many Christians. This is the view that the bloody sacrifice of the Son on the cross was “satisfying” to the Father, an appeasement of a God infinitely angry at sinful humanity. In this reading, the crucified Jesus is like a child hurled into the fiery mouth of a pagan divinity in order to assuage its wrath. But what ultimately refutes this twisted theology is the well-known passage from John’s Gospel: “God so loved the world, that he sent his only Son, that all who believe in him might have eternal life.”(3:16) John reveals that it is not out of anger or vengeance or in a desire for retribution that the Father sends the Son, but precisely out of love. God the Father is not some pathetic divinity whose bruised personal honor needs to be restored; rather, God is a parent who burns with compassion for His children who have wandered into danger. Does the Father hate sinners? No, but he hates sin. Does God harbor indignation at the unjust? No, but God despises injustice. Thus, God sends his Son, not gleefully to see him suffer, but compassionately to set things right. Saint Anselm, the great medieval theologian who is often unfairly blamed for the cruel theology of satisfaction, was eminently clear on this score. We sinners are like diamonds that have fallen into the muck. Made in the image of God, we have soiled ourselves through violence and hatred. God, claimed Anselm, could have simply pronounced a word of forgiveness from heaven, but this would not have solved the problem. It would not have restored the diamonds to their original brilliance. Instead, in his passion to reestablish the beauty of creation, God came down into the muck of sin and death, brought the diamonds up, and then polished them off. In so doing, of course, God had to get dirty. This sinking into the dirt—this divine solidarity with the lost—is the “sacrifice” which the Son makes to the infinite pleasure of the Father. It is the sacrifice expressive, not of anger or vengeance, but of compassion. Jesus said that any disciple of His must be willing to take up his cross and follow the Master. If God is self-forgetting love even to the point of death, then we must be such love. If God is willing to break open his own heart, then we must be willing to break open our hearts for others. The cross, in short, must become the very structure of the Christian life.
Q: My Protestant friends say that Catholics believe we need to earn our salvation. They say that salvation is by faith alone and that we can’t add to anything that Jesus already did for us on the Cross. But don’t we have to do good works to make it to Heaven? A: This is a pretty big misunderstanding for both Protestants and Catholics. It may seem to be theological minutiae, but it actually has a huge consequence in our spiritual life. The truth is this: We are saved by living faith—our belief in Jesus Christ that is lived out in our words and actions. We must be clear—we do not need to earn our salvation, as if salvation was a prize if we reach a certain level of good deeds. Consider this: who was the first one to be saved? According to Jesus, it was the Good Thief. While he was being rightly crucified for his evil deeds, he cried out to Jesus for mercy, and the Lord promised him: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) So, salvation consists in that radical faith, trust, and surrender to what Jesus did on the Cross to purchase mercy. Why is this important? Because many Catholics think that all we have to do to be saved is ‘be a good person’—even if the person doesn’t actually have a living relationship with the Lord. I can’t begin to tell you how many people tell me something like: “Oh, my uncle never went to Mass or prayed, but he was a nice man who did many good things in his life, so I know he’s in Heaven.” While we certainly hope that the uncle is saved by God’s mercy, it isn’t our kindness or good works that save us, but the saving death of Jesus on the Cross. What would happen if a criminal was put on trial for a crime, but he said to the judge, “Your Honor, I did commit the crime, but look at all the other good things I did in my life!” Would the judge let him off? No—he would still have to pay for the crime he committed. Likewise, our sins had a cost—and Jesus Christ had to pay for them. This payment of the debt of sin is applied to our souls through faith. But, faith is not just an intellectual exercise. It must be lived out. As Saint James writes: “Faith without works is dead” (2:24). It’s not enough just to say: “Well, I believe in Jesus, so I can now sin as much as I want.” On the contrary, precisely because we have been forgiven and become heirs to the Kingdom, we must then act like Kingdom-heirs, like sons and daughters of the King. This is very different than trying to earn our salvation. We don’t do good works because we hope to be forgiven—we do good works because we are already forgiven. Our good deeds are a sign that His forgiveness is alive and active in our lives. After all, Jesus tells us: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) If a husband loves his wife, he will seek concrete ways to bless her—giving her flowers, doing the dishes, writing her a love note. He would never say: “Well, we’re married, and she knows I love her, so I can now do whatever I want.” Likewise, a soul that has known the merciful love of Jesus will naturally want to please Him. So, to answer your question, Catholics and Protestants are actually much closer on this issue than they know! We both believe that we are saved by faith—by a living faith, which is expressed in a life of good works as a sign of thanksgiving for the lavish, free gift of salvation that Christ won for us on the Cross.
“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6) Do you remember hearing these words as a child? They seemed simple enough—just go to your room, close the door, and pray. I remember hearing them and being confused. Simple words, yes, but it just didn’t make sense that we could only say prayers, in our room, by ourselves. But my child-like faith told me to believe these words. As I grew, so did my faith and understanding of this Scripture. I came to realize these beautiful, profound words meant I could go into my room, turn my heart to the Lord, anytime, anywhere. My prayer life blossomed. How wonderful to spend quiet time with our Father and receive His love. Every time I hear these words from Matthew’s Gospel, I appreciate the Lenten season even more. It’s a reminder of God’s love and how much He desires our friendship. Love heals. For me, that’s the reward when I go into my room and pray.
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