Searching for the Essential
Sister Anna Marie McGuan, RSM
I am a “cradle Catholic” and attended Catholic grade school and high school. Despite that, I stopped believing in God at a young age, probably about 10, and become very anti-Church and anti-God in middle school and high school. My parents were adamant that all of us kids would attend Church on Sunday. There were five of us, and none us really wanted to go, so it was always a battle (sorry about that, Mom and Dad).
I don’t remember a time growing up when I didn’t wonder what I was supposed to “be” or what I was supposed to do with my life. I decided at about age 7 that I would go to the United States Military Academy at West Point and be an officer in the United States Army. So, when I finished high school, that’s what I did. I packed up my bags and went to West Point. Since I had long desired this, it was a fulfilling moment; at the same time, I felt apprehensive. I spent over a year at the Academy, and during that time, I found myself doing well academically, but unfulfilled.
During my second summer, I decided that I needed to leave. I was unhappy, and surprised and unsettled at my own unhappiness. I thought this was what I had wanted, but something was wrong. This move was critical for me. I went home, uncertain of my future and—what was more disheartening—very uncertain of myself. I experienced a profound depression, but it was during this time that I began to look outside of myself for an answer to the questions that riddled my life.
So it was that I found myself driving around on a Friday night, and I pulled into a church parking lot. I had never been to this church before. I tried the door—it was open. I sat in the very last pew, and there was the red lamp next to the tabernacle. Since no one else was there, I said out loud, “I don’t know if you’re in there. But if you are, I need to know what to do with my life. Please, I need someone to talk to.” Nothing happened, so I left. But as I was leaving, I noticed a light on, so I knocked on the door.
A priest answered, and I recognized him. I was shocked, because I didn’t know many priests. But this one I knew, though not by name. It came rushing to mind that my parents had taken my sister and me to Mass at a church once—not our parish church—and this priest had stood up and said: “I want to say this to all the young people in church today: God loves you. I love you. We want you to be happy. We want you to come to Mass and be fulfilled.” At the time I had laughed it off and ignored his words, but they came spilling out of my mouth in that moment. I didn’t even know his name, but I said, “Father, seven years ago you gave a homily and you told us that you loved us and God loved us and you wanted us to come to Mass and you wanted us to be happy and I need to talk to you right now.” I don’t know which of the two of us was more surprised.
He just said, “Okay. Come on in.” After I gave him my name, he asked me why I had come. Good question. I didn’t know, but I did know that I wanted answers to three questions. I don’t know where these questions came from, but I believe that the Holy Spirit had awakened something in me. I said, “I have three questions. Does God exist? Is the Eucharist real? And how do you pray? That’s all I want to know.” Somehow I knew that if I could answer those three questions, I would understand why I was here, here in this office, here in this world.
He sat back and thought for a minute, and then we started to talk. After about two hours, he said, “I think you might have a religious vocation.” Impossible, I said. I am not a religious person—I’m not even a decent person. That’s impossible. “Okay,” he answered, “then come back in a week.” I agreed. Why did I agree to that? Why did I go there in the first place? I suppose because I wanted answers to the most important questions, and I had not found them, not satisfactorily anyway, anywhere else.
This priest brought me back to the Sacraments, Mass, Confession, and introduced me to prayer. Eventually, he told me to visit a convent. He gave me three; I agreed to one, the first one, whatever it was. I would only go one place. When I arrived in Alma, Michigan on a Friday afternoon, I was convinced that I would not become a sister; by Sunday I was quite sure that I would. By God’s grace, I had received a taste of that peace that the world cannot give. By his kindness, I have never turned back.