Passionist Nuns in the News
A couple months ago, our friend Kristen Krog of Denmark, a Passionist Oblate, interviewed our Sr. Cecilia Maria for the Katolsk Orientering – a Catholic newspaper in Denmark. In the interview Sr. Cecilia Maria shares with us about her journey to Catholicism, the monastery and what it means to her to be a spiritual mother.
And…just in case you don’t speak Danish – here is the English original!
Can you tell a little bit about your Danish background?
My mother’s parents both immigrated to the United States from Denmark, and they met in the Danish Lutheran Church in Los Angeles, CA, where they were married. My mother was born in America, but she grew up surrounded by the Danish language and culture. Most of her relatives still live in Denmark, and I have visited them three times in the little town of Vorning, Jylland, where our family has owned and operated the store for 100 years, since 1916! My baptismal name, Ane Kirstine, is after my great-grandmother, Ane Kirstine “Købmand” Nielsen, who ran the store for many years after her husband Anton died.
My mother taught us many of the Danish customs she knew and loved. Since entering the monastery, I have taught the nuns some of our traditions, too. Now we all look forward to discovering who wins the almond hidden in the Christmas risalamand, and we all enjoy an occasional meal of frikadeller and brune kartoffler!
You were – like most here in Denmark – born as a Lutheran. How did you find your way to the Catholic Church?
I was baptized in the Danish Lutheran church, but as I was growing up, our family did not attend church much until I was 13 years old. I myself did not believe in God, mostly because He didn’t mean anything to me, but when I was 13, my parents decided to start taking us to the Lutheran church in our town. When I experienced the liturgy that first Sunday, I suddenly knew two things: God is real, and I love Him! It was a surprise, and it changed my life. In retrospect, I think that the grace of my baptism was activated that day – faith, hope, and love had always been there, but they were waiting for an opportunity to blossom.
I fell in love with the liturgy, where I received most of my catechesis. It taught me what God has done for us through His Son’s sacred Passion, it taught me how to pray, and most importantly, it taught me about the Eucharist. I believed the words of Jesus, which the pastor repeated: “This is my Body…this is my Blood,” and I developed a deep devotion to Holy Communion. It is this devotion which led me to the Catholic Church.
When I was in high school, I discovered that not everyone believes that the bread and wine at Holy Communion really become the Body and Blood of Christ; instead, many Protestants claimed that it was just a symbol! I was shocked. Jesus’ words seemed so clear to me. So I began to ask questions about what Lutherans really believed. At the same time, I was learning in history class about the Reformation, and it made me sorrowful to think that Martin Luther and his followers had broken apart the Body of Christ, the Church. Every Sunday at our parish, we would profess the words of the Nicene Creed: “…I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church….” I thought to myself, “No, we don’t believe this. We broke away from the Catholic Church!” But I didn’t know what to do!
I went to college at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, a Lutheran school. For the first time in my life, I found myself among friends who openly discussed faith and religion, and it was an incredible experience to probe and explore the nature of truth with them. Through the “great books” program I enrolled in, I also was exposed to scripture studies and to the writings of the Church Fathers. The more I studied and discussed Catholic and Protestant theologies, the more I found that the Catholics were making sense. My Catholic friends were defending what I had simply assumed was my Christian faith as a Lutheran, particularly with regard to the Eucharist. At the same time, I discovered the Rosary and Eucharistic Adoration, and between those two devotions, I quickly realized that my home must be in the Catholic Church.
The journey included many struggles and much suffering, but I was received into full communion with the Catholic Church on December 13, 2003. In God’s providence, it happened to be on St. Lucia’s Day, which we always celebrated in my family, and I have found that everything I loved as a Lutheran is still a part of my Catholicism, only even more beautiful!
You now live as a Passionist Nun. Why did you choose a Passionist convent?
When I was still a Lutheran, God gave me a yearning to be consecrated completely to Him, like the nuns I saw in movies, but I didn’t know how that could be possible. I have already spoken about my love of Holy Communion and my hunger to be so closely united to Jesus. I also had a deep devotion to His Cross, and I often imagined myself dwelling in adoration at the foot of the Cross. When I became Catholic, these desires continued to grow and develop. I realized that I could really become a nun! And I began to discover the rich teachings of Catholic spirituality, which led me deeper and deeper in love with Christ Crucified, who has poured out His Blood for me. I loved meditating on the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary, and when I discovered Our Lady of Sorrows, standing at the foot of the Cross, it was as if I found my place in the Church. I wanted to be always at her side, loving and adoring and thanking Jesus for His sacrifice, and uniting my own life with His as He poured it out for the salvation of the world.
In 2007 I participated in a “Nun Run,” which is a group of girls who take a road-trip to a bunch of convents, to see what they are like. We visited ten convents, including St. Joseph Monastery here in Whitesville, KY. I had never heard of the Passionists before, but everything I discovered here resonated with my own heart! The Passionist Nuns understand their vocation to be in union with Mary at the foot of the Cross, loving and uniting themselves to Jesus, and being channels of His grace into the world. I was amazed – it was as if God had planted in my soul the same charism that He had planted in the heart of St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists! He still had a lot of work to do after that to prepare me to enter the Passionist Monastery, but I was finally able to come for my aspirancy – the first step of formation in the monastery – in summer of 2009.
Can you describe how you, as a Passionist Nun, understand the vocation to be a spiritual mother in union with Mary, the Sorrowful Mother?
Some may think that nuns give up being mothers, but this is not the case. Many women are called to be physical mothers, bearing children into this world and nurturing them as they grow up, but all women are called to be spiritual mothers. A spiritual mother is a mother of souls, and her fruitfulness comes from her union with God. He entrusts children to her to bear into eternal life. She loves, nurtures, and protects them by her prayers and sacrifices, her witness and her fidelity. As a Passionist Nun, I try to imitate everything that Mary does at the foot of the Cross, because it is all part of her fruitfulness and motherhood. There is so much more I could say than what we have room for in this interview! But perhaps what I can say will encourage everyone who reads it to spend time pondering our beautiful, Sorrowful Mother.
Our Lady of Sorrows is completely receptive to God’s grace and united to His will. She is also perfectly faithful in her love. Thirty-three years before, she gave Jesus Christ His body by her “fiat,” and now she continues to pronounce that loving “yes” to God even in the immense pain of her Son’s sacrifice. I think the power of every mother’s love is most palpable when she is called upon to suffer for her children. It would have been far less painful for Mary to die with Him, than to watch His crucifixion, but she does even more. She faithfully stands beneath the Cross, loving and supporting Jesus in His mission, uniting her will to His. She offers Him back to the Father; she joins in His prayers of petition, forgiveness, and even praise as He accomplishes our redemption. And in this union with the Redeemer, Mary becomes the spiritual mother of us all. She is so receptive to God’s work, that on Calvary she is able to receive us all into her heart, to love and nurture and protect.
For me personally, I love to consider Mary as the Sorrowful Mother of Priests. On Calvary, Mary supported her Son, the Eternal High Priest, as He offered the eternal Sacrifice of His Body and Blood, and she pronounced the Great Amen at that Mass by her own “fiat.” On Calvary, she also received St. John as her son, a symbol of all the priests who would follow her Divine Son in his ministry and sacrifice. God has given me a special call to pray for priests, and so I try to remember that, just like Mary, my fruitfulness will flow from my union with Jesus in His Sacrifice. The more my life is united with His, the more I will be of help and support to my brothers in the priesthood.
Another nun has also been in the news