SR. MARIA TERESA OF JESUS (HAY NGO)
I will trace my vocation journey from the time that I joined the “Youth of Christ” in our parish; I was ten years old. Fervent catechists taught us the Catholic faith and encouraged us to do charitable deeds, to make sacrifices, to attend Mass daily, to receive communion and to pray the rosary. We were told that this was living the spiritual life. All the acts of charity and sacrifices we did, we wrote down and gave our lists to the priest-in-charge of us who in turn would offer them to God during Mass. Furthermore we were trained to wake up early to attend Mass and to regularly do spiritual readings. I loved to read the lives of the Saints and Bible editions for children. These readings so moved and inspired me that I told myself that I would offer myself to God and become a religious sister. However, I kept this desire all to myself.
Years went by and I grew up with the other children in our village. We were all happy to be “children of the heavenly mother Mary”, singing and dancing in our festivals in honour of her. My love and devotion to Mary grew significantly and I am contented and grateful. However as a growing teenager, I gradually experienced dryness in my life of faith – prayer became harder, especially when I had to wake up early. I began to miss receiving Communion and neglect my spiritual readings. God gave me a very good spiritual guide in the person of my father who was a very devout and responsible Catholic. He was always faithful to his prayers and adoration time. He devoured religious books and knew how to explain and live the Bible and the catechism lessons he regularly read. He saw me drifting away and he took my hand and guided me back to the fold of the faith and inspired me not only to feed my mind and heart with the things of God but to provide food and help to the more unfortunate people around us. I will always be grateful to my father for rooting me in the faith and guiding me to be faithful to it. God called him home when he was 58 years old and I was already in the Philippines as a Carmelite contemplative nun.
Back to the story of my call – a cousin of mine approached me one day when I was about to finish high school and said, “If you want to become a religious sister, I will introduce you to the Order that I know”. I was overwhelmed. I told nobody of my desire to be a religious, but here is my cousin paving the road for my long and arduous journey to Carmel. Asked for his permission, my father responded: “I give her the freedom to choose the kind of life she wants to live.” I have chosen the contemplative life because at that time prayer was already a significant part of my life. Our house is adjacent to the parish church and I used to spend a great deal of time of quiet peace and joy before the Blessed Sacrament. I was introduced to the Carmelite brothers (my cousin is now a Carmelite priest) and to Mary Hanh my would-be companion in this journey. We did not know what the plan was. It unfolded gradually – we had to leave Hanoi and go to Saigon to spend some months with the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul to learn English and embroidery. Then we were given a month to stay again with our families after which we were called back to Saigon from where we took the three-hour night trip to the Philippines. Fr. Mario Esposito, O.Carm. accompanied us.
Two Filipino Carmelite nuns were waiting for us at the airport. Tired and confused and not familiar to their long habits, I was truly apprehensive. But their smiles and warm embrace and welcome vanished my fears. We were first brought to Tanay Carmel. The community was waiting for us and welcomed us with the Carmelite hymn, Flos Carmeli. Adjustments after adjustments happened the following days until we felt at home in Tanay Carmel. We did not know that it was just a temporary stop. Our formation would be in Burgos Carmel. It is here in Burgos that at this time I happily and gratefully recount my vocation story. We are now on our 8th year in the Philippines. I consider myself a missionary living in a monastic cloister. The difficulties of the first years – language, culture, food, etc – have been rewarded by innumerable graces from God who is the source of my strength and light. He is my peace and my joy. I am grateful for everything.
Sr Ma Teresa will make her solemn profession in 2018
MARY MADELEINE (PHUC THI NGUYEN)
I remember when I was young, every afternoon, my neighbor would always turn on the music for everybody in the neighborhood to listen to. He always updated new songs, especially those about consecrated life. While playing and listening to the music that way, we had known many new and beautiful songs. The song which impressed me the most and which I considered as the seed of my vocation was entitled “An Entrusting Heart”, composed by Fr. Hoa Nguyen. Its content is an invitation to live trustfully in God’s loving knowledge of me. I did not fully understand the meaning of that song, but I still liked to listen to it and sang it when I was happy as well as when I was sad.
My religious life has sprung from that moment on, even though I did not understand it yet that time. I thought religious life is something holy and that it’s only for those who study well and have many capabilities. I looked at myself and knew that I did not meet those requirements. So I just dreamed about it. I thought that, later on, when I grow up and if I still did not qualify for religious life, I would gather all my friends and we will live together, pray together, adore the Blessed Sacrament together and sing the songs of praise we love to sing for God. I kept in mind that religious life is so precious and I was so weak but I always whisper to God, “O God, I would love to enter the religious life, please enlighten me and purify my intentions.” That has always been my prayer to Him. Time passed by and I grew old enough to choose a way of life for myself. Like any girl, I also enjoyed having male friends but I stopped at friendship level and did not want to deepen any relationship. The call for prayer and solitude still urged me intensely. I decided to tell my desire to my parents. My Mom thought that all states of life were good while my Father disapproved it. He claimed that my extroverted personality is not suitable for religious life, particularly contemplative life. I felt so sad when he said that because I believed I could not pray and live in solitude anymore, much less to be a close friend of God because it was so hard to find time to spend with God with the way life is lived in the world. Even though I was sad, I did not give up. I made the decision to do a search-in without my family’s knowledge. I went to the monastery in Saigon and opened up my desire to the sister-in-charge. She said that it would be very difficult for me if my family does not support me. She told me to go home and wait for her to contact me.
I waited for two years but did not receive any word from her, so I concluded that I did not have vocation for the contemplative life.
I then decided to try an active religious congregation where in the working environment is not too noisy so that the silent ambience can help me grow in prayer while I work. Many times I would ask God, “O God, why do I have such an extroverted personality when deep down inside I only desire silence and solitude. I was not afraid of the apostolate but found myself intensely desiring something more; what do You want me to discover, my God?”
After a period of time with the congregation I found that I no longer want to pursue that road. I went back home and lived in solitude with God. At home, I still maintained my prayer time, even if I did not have the time and space I used to have in the convent. I felt that a part of me is missing if I did not pray. At the beginning, I thought it was just a habit but I later understood that it was God’s love pulling me towards Himself.
Four years ago, I shared my dream of entering the contemplative life with a friend but we lost communication because of our jobs. After I returned home she contacted me again and asked if I still want to be a contemplative religious. I said yes but I was interiorly thinking that she was not serious about it. I felt a mixture of happiness and apprehension. I was happy, hoping that God has finally heard my prayer but, I was also worried wondering whether it was really God’s will for me or I was just insisting my own will. I prayed constantly and asked God for signs to help me see His will and to have the courage to step forward. There were so many times when I wanted to give up because of my family’s opposition but during those times too I interiorly heard a voice telling me “Believe and trust in God!” There is nothing impossible for God as long as I know how to let Him guide my way.
That long time desire of mine has now become a reality. I am now living in our monastery; walking my first steps in the contemplative life of solitude with God. I believe that He has watched me, is watching me still, every step of the way that I took. I only wish now to do what He wants and learn to deny myself. That is what is required of us if we want to be united with God.
“O God, I thank You for everything that You have done for me. I offer this journey to Your love, O Trinity. May I always trust You despite all the difficulties I will encounter on my way. Amen!”
SR. MARY ELIZABETH THERESE (VAN THI NGUYEN)
When I was young, my mom used to tell me many stories about the Saints. The first I really came to know well was St. Therese of the Child Jesus. St. Therese is my patron saint; I was baptized after her name. In a special way, my mom kept telling me how St. Therese loved to offer sacrifices to God to save souls and in a more special way she reminded me to do everything to save souls.
Later on I studied in the school of the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul for six years where I met and befriended “less fortunate” children. They often shared with me their stories and how the nuns of this Congregation had been helping their families. It was then that I began to desire to be a nun. Yes, I wanted to be a nun too because I thought nuns were good and their deeds are good.
In high school, it came to happen that every weekend, some friends and I used to go to the convent of the Salesian sisters to pray with them and join some of their other activities also. In this way, I came to have an experience of the life of a religious sister.
So, when I was 20 years old, I joined an active congregation of sisters. There I met and lived with a former candidate of the Teresian Carmel. She had shared with me some stories about her life in the monastery which did not really interest, much less inspire, me. My personality, so I thought, was not for the contemplative life. After one year, I left this congregation. I did not have enough patience with myself and with others to persevere in the formation program. I concluded that I was not courageous enough to carry my cross.
However, the desire to be a nun was too strong in me that after two years I joined the Congregation of St. Vincent de Paul (Daughters of Charity). It was there that God taught me the value of prayer and, I believe, led me to Carmel. Obviously I needed to leave this congregation too. After one year, I travelled to the Philippines and entered the contemplative monastery of the O. Carm. Nuns in Burgos, Pangasinan.
Carmel is not my first love, yes. However, it is my true love. To my experience of being confirmed in my vocation in these words of the Scriptures: “I have found my David, my servant…” I have lovingly responded: “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.” It has not been a straight way for me in my journey towards Carmel. And I am sure my journey towards union with God will neither be straight nor easy. But through the years I have seen and experienced the fidelity and patience and goodness of the Lord towards me. I am now happy to entrust and abandon myself to Him. “Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.”