Every year, it feels like October creeps up on me. I guess it’s because most of my life has been on an academic calendar. Elementary school, high school, college, then becoming a teacher. And now, as the DRE (Director of Religious Education) for Giáo xứ Đức Mẹ Hằng Cứu Giúp in Garland, TX – it continues. October creeps up on me because August and September is about the hustle and bustle of new classes, new teachers, and getting over the summer dawdling. There isn’t much time to breathe when one is scrambling to make sure over 1100 kids have catechists, parents are informed, and the grass on your lawn isn’t turning yellow from the Dallas heat!
October is upon me again this year. And unexpected as usual. In particular, for me as a Sister of Mary Queen (Dòng Trinh Vương), October is about the rosary because it is the month of Rosary. We are a community consecrated to Mary. And it’s also about St. Therese of the Child Jesus, our spiritual guide. We follow her way of holiness – to live extraordinary in the ordinary. To love in the simple. To hope in the midst of dryness.
For many Vietnamese Catholics, St Therese is a well-known saint. However, to put all of us on the same page, please allow me to sketch some details of her life. She was born in the late 19th century to a middle-income French family. She lost her mom when she was about 3 ½ years old. Both of her older sisters joined the Carmelite monastery in Lisieux, her hometown. She eventually joined them at the age of 15 (a special exception had to be made for her because the usual age was 18). Shortly after she joined, her dad suffered a series of strokes that caused him to be confined to a mental institution. Rumors and gossip circulated that he was sad from Therese’s departure to the convent that he had a mental break-down! In hindsight and with both Therese’s parents canonized as saints in October 2015, we know her father asked for suffering as a way to draw closer to God. Therese, herself, died at age 24 of tuberculosis.
I feel blessed to belong to a community that takes St Therese as a model of living life to the full. Hers is an ordinary life filled with the drama of the everyday: not being accepted in school, being too sensitive (nhõng nhẽo), losing a parent. She had to fight to follow her dream (She had to see the pope to get her entrance into Carmel!) And when she died, her sisters said there won’t be anything interesting to say: she did what everyone else did.
On so many days, I feel like I do what everyone else does. I wake up, get my teeth brushed, and grab a cup of coffee (to make sure I don’t fall asleep in prayer!). After Mass, I sit down at my computer, I reply to emails (because I work from home/convent) and get distracted with random Google searches. When evening comes and it’s Tuesday – it’s my turn to cook. Chicken, beef, noodles. Whatever the sisters didn’t have for a while.
When I leave the convent and meet people, they would say: Thank you so much for your calling! Thank you so much for your “Yes”! You are just like Mary! And I think of myself: Really? Are you sure? Do you know how ordinary a life I lead? Wait until you come to a Come and See!
And that’s what happens when young women come to visit us would say. You guys are just like us! You do ordinary stuff too! Like cooking, laundry, watch movies. And I say: Agree. So what is the difference between you and the rest of us? I would borrow the words of St Therese:
Holiness consists simply in doing God’s will, and being just what God wants us to be…If every flower wanted to be a rose, nature would lose her springtime beauty.
May we each do what God asks of us. Wishing you a beautiful month of October! Keep me in prayer as I do you.
Sr. Janine Trần Ngọc Vân, CMR trinhvuong.org congregationofmaryqueen.org