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Apr 20, 2021 323 Sister Josephine Garrett,
Encounter

The Untradable Treasure

Begin a new today and change your life forever!

All These Years

After nine years of formation, I recently professed final vows as a Sister of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Following communion during the final vows Mass I was overcome with emotion and deep gratitude. It was as if God gifted me with a greater awareness of all that he had been accomplishing in me over the years. The gifts and graces of each prayer, confession, and reception of the Eucharist became present in that moment. I was amazed by God’s enduring, relentless love. As I knelt in prayer, I thought about how I was one of the unlikeliest candidates to become a spouse of Christ. “But nothing,” I remembered, “is impossible with God.”

I had grown up Baptist in Houston, Texas. When I was eight years old, my father died by suicide after years of struggling with addiction and because my mother was not able to care for us, my brothers and I were adopted by my aunt and uncle. The next ten years provided a consistency and stability I had never known in the first eight years of my life. I went to good schools, read books, played soccer, sang in the Church and school choirs, and got to be a regular kid.

When I was eighteen a pamphlet advertising a Dallas, Texas school for “independent thinkers” brought me to the University of Dallas. The fact it was Catholic totally escaped me.  I spent much of my four college years indulging in sinful behaviors as a way of medicating my old wounds. I had no idea what to do with the pain that come from abandonment. My conscience was being formed at the University of Dallas. I spent a semester in Rome and encountered Pope Saint John Paul II whom I loved. His understanding of God resonated deeply in me. I joined a Latin liturgical choir and became more familiar with the Mass by singing at hundreds of eucharistic liturgies.

Made for Another World

After graduation my life was mostly work during the day and bars or hanging out with friends at night. I eventually sensed something was missing; for “if no worldly experience can satisfy my desires, then probably I was created for more than just this world.” That’s when I started seeking deeper faith. I wanted to be like the godly women who raised me. To my surprise, when it came time to decide where I would go to church, I found myself hungering for the Mass. I hesitated to become Catholic because there were so few Black Americans in the church. But the desire to receive Jesus in the Eucharist pulled me into the church.

Becoming Catholic didn’t fix everything. I still indulged in sinful behaviors, but I found myself constantly at confession. I was struggling emotionally and spiritually. Though I felt like I was killing myself spiritually (and physically–my weight was approaching 400 pounds), in my professional life I was reaching heights I had never imagined. During that struggle, I returned to Rome and went to confession and Mass at Saint Peter’s. My confessor’s advice that day to “just begin” changed everything. Within the year I was discerning a religious vocation, and three years after that confession I became a candidate with the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

A Love Affair

Eleven years after that confession I said yes to Jesus in a way I did not know was possible. My wounds and shame had me making an all-too-common mistake which C.S. Lewis explains well: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” Not only was I too easily pleased, but I made the mistake of seeing my life in light of the struggle instead of in light of the one who loves me.

During my postulancy, a Sister in her seventies who was giving a class on the spiritual life said, “I love my age. I would never want to be younger and I would never want to go back. I have all these years with Jesus. I have all these experiences. I would not want to trade that.” Surely, she had known loss, mistakes, and sin, but mingled in all that was an abiding love of Jesus that made her life a love affair with Jesus and an untradable treasure.

Gift of Tears

On the day of my final vows, my tears mingled a tinge of grief with a great sense of joy and gratitude. Throughout my life, as I experienced loss, pain, struggle and sin, joy remained inevitable because of Christ’s self-sacrificing love made manifest in the Eucharist.  I have come to know that the final word in all our stories is Christ himself. Saint John says, “that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands… we saw it and testify to it.”

My tears on that day of my final vows gave witness to the enduring love of Christ, come what may, through all these years.

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Sister Josephine Garrett

Sister Josephine Garrett is studying to be a Clinical Mental Health Counselor. She served for 10 years as a Vice President in the Home Loans division of Bank of America. In 2005 she entered the Catholic Church, and in 2011 began her formation to be a Religious Sister with the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Today Sister Josephine serves in vocations ministry, and also as a speaker for youth and young adult retreats and conferences.

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