After college, I applied to be an FBI agent. My background check turned up no skeletons, and I was accepted. Shortly before I was scheduled to go to Quantico, though, I withdrew my application. It may have seemed impulsive and misguided, but it was the right decision for me at the time.
Then, though, I was left with no life plan. Unsure of what to do, I sought guidance through prayer and spiritual direction.
Sr. Catherine Quinn, a wise and patient woman, became my spiritual director and tried to guide me to a deeper relationship with God. I was a headstrong young woman who resisted most of her suggestions.
For example, she suggested I read An Interrupted Life by Etty Hillesum, and I baulked. I had just finished college and the thought of reading non-fiction just did not appeal to me.
She also suggested I set aside time every day, the same time every day, to pray. I already went to daily Mass, which seemed enough “set” time for me. I preferred to pray spontaneously when the spirit moved me.
In some situations, Sr. Catherine found a way around my obstinacy. For instance, about a year after she had suggested I read An Interrupted Life, someone in my book group proposed it. Once I started reading the book, I recalled Sr. Catherine’s suggestion. It turned out Sr. Catherine also saw this woman for spiritual direction. “Sneaky,” I thought.
Of course, she was right about the book. I loved it, and it profoundly affected me. I have re-read it several times and even used it as the basis for a grad school presentation.
Bringing me around to read a book only took a year. It took more than ten years for me to adopt her prayer suggestion.
It happened like this: two friends and I decided to do the 19th annotation retreat, the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises in daily life. We made a commitment to set aside an hour each day to pray and then to get together once a week to share what was happening in our prayer. I set aside an hour each morning, and by the end of the eight months of the 19th annotation, a daily hour of prayer was a habit.
That was twenty years ago, and the habit has persisted.
I was thinking of this today because I am preparing to facilitate a day of reflection for local Jesuit volunteers. Theological reflection on community living will be the focus. I realized that setting aside an hour each day for prayer has helped make theological reflection an integral part of my spiritual life.
I want to publicly thank Sr. Catherine for her wise guidance and to apologize for my stubbornness. She was right in these two matters—and so many more. What a blessing she has been to me.