Confronted by Love | Sr. Mary Bethany, O.P.
Sr. Mary Bethany was born into a devout Catholic family with four brothers and one sister. In high school she found herself confronted by an immeasurable love she felt from God and knew it demanded a response. Having never considered religious life, she attended a profession of vows by the Missionaries of Charity in San Francisco, and at that moment realized that’s how she could respond to God’s love.
Sr. Mary Bethany, O.P.: Both of my parents returned to the Faith when they were young adults. I think they didn’t take it for granted. I think they just loved the Faith, and because they loved the Faith, it flowed over into every aspect of their lives and our life as a family. We prayed the family rosary daily and would try to go to morning Mass. So really, the Faith was something not only that was true, but also very beautiful, just the air we breathed in a way.
My family did a beautiful job with the idea of our vocations. It was always present; my parents would tell my siblings and me that God’s calling you, maybe to be a priest or a Sister or to the married state; whatever your vocation is, we want for you. We want you to be happy, and that is how you’re going to find the happiness God made you for. At the time, I took that for granted. But now, I look back at it as an incredible grace. At the time, I was not at all interested in Religious life.
We actually received our community’s newsletter mailing, and I remember my dad would call my younger sister and me downstairs. He’d say, “Look, girls at these Sisters here. They’re young, they’re happy!” because there were not any Religious communities in our area. My sister would be very docile and look at the mailing. I just remember having no interest whatsoever! I just thought it would be so boring to be a nun, which is such an irony now. It’s so incredibly exciting to do His will.
Prior to that, though, I had been just gradually growing in the Faith in the sense that it became something I loved personally and passionately as my own. I think I was going to Eucharistic adoration starting in eighth grade. My mom started making a weekly holy hour, and I would go at first more from a sense of obligation. I would go with her and remember thinking, “Well, if the Pope were going to be in town, I’d go see the Pope! So, if I really believe that this is God, I’m going to see God for an hour a week. Those holy hours were where I met Christ. I just fell in love, and so I would like to go beyond just out of a sense of duty. I would look forward to those hours every week.
Sr. Joseph Andrew, O.P.: Wow, that’s beautiful.
Sr. Mary Bethany, O.P.: So when I was a sophomore, I went with some friends to a profession of the Missionaries of Charity in San Francisco. The Sisters were professing vows, and I had had no real idea of what Religious life was prior to that point. I remember being at the Mass and realizing this is a wedding! Throughout the Liturgy, the look in the Sisters’ eyes radiated this peace, and it was something I’d never seen before. I knew it was because they belonged to Christ.
In that moment, the deepest desire of my heart was to belong to God. I knew what Religious life was, but at the same time, I was absolutely terrified because I had been resisting. This idea was not part of my plan. There was so much fear and just a lack of trust in what God’s will for me could hold. I didn’t at that time trust Him enough with my own happiness to really be able to follow where I couldn’t see the road.
Sr. Joseph Andrew, O.P.: That’s very well-spoken. So, Sister, at what point did you decide to brave it to a retreat?
Sr. Mary Bethany, O.P.: Well, so there it was; it was a journey getting there, but God was very gentle with me. He let me continue on my own path. I was deeply restless and deeply unhappy, and I think even my prayer life had been sort of on the rocks because whenever I read Scripture or looked at a crucifix, I was confronted by this love. And love demands a response. And I knew what my response should be and what I wanted, and it was in conflict. I knew I wanted to give everything to Him, but I was afraid still, so I was holding back.
But then it was during the Christus Octave, and I just received this grace in the middle of one night. I woke up, and I was wide awake, and I just knew. I could see my whole future laid out before me. Looking back, God gave this to me as a mercy. I knew in that moment that I could do what I had planned, I could go to school, I could raise a family, and that God would bless me and that I would be happy doing those things. But I knew that Christ was saying, “I offer you Myself.” And I just couldn’t say no. I didn’t want to, like who could refuse that? So it was at that moment where I could surrender myself and know that He was the happiness that I longed for.