is Sister Edith Olaguer, CGS?
am a Filipina. I was born in a small town, south of Manila.
When I was about 9 years old, I won an essay contest with
this title: Why I Want to Be a Nun. As far as I can remember,
I had 2 reasons. Sisters looked nice (the Benedictine
nuns in their black and white habit must have seemed so
elegant to a little girl whose school uniform was rumpled
in perpetuity from playing under the Philippine sun) and,
they seemed to know everything. No wonder, the nuns gave
me first prize! A psychological assessment taken at that
time, however, would have had to do double takes before
recommending me to any vocation director!
can still see myself during a religion class, one day, in high
school (the Benedictines would continue to educate me till I
graduated from college) quite perplexed about the will of God.
I was supposed to accept it no matter what. Period. My thoughts
went like this: “if it is true that God loves me, then,
he (no awareness of inclusive language at that time!) would
ask me about what I think, what I prefer, what I cannot do and
we can have a discussion. I am not a pawn on a chessboard …
love isn’t like that. Love is courteous.” I do not
know from whence these thoughts and strong feelings arose but
I do know that Sr. Margarita called me for some recitation job
and I must have had one of those glazed looks because she sent
me to stand in a corner of the classroom. (Oh yes, I would through
the years make many a trip to many a corner of many a classroom!)
my sophomore year in college, I was listening to a lecture
on Gratitude when suddenly this question bolted through:
have I thanked you God? When class was over, my feet took
me to a corner of the chapel, hidden from view by a huge
statue of the Bl. Virgin. In her shadow I asked God this
question: How can I really thank you? Images flit through
my mind. Hundreds of them. They left in their wake a clearing
so empty, so still, I was jerked clean of all thoughts.
Then I do not know how to explain it because I heard no
voice, saw nothing, was not thinking but simply understood:
“Be a nun.” My reply was swift: “Not
that.” My heart, already in turmoil because of a
‘chronic’ inability to align itself to the
way some of the truths of the faith were being interpreted,
(for example, the will of God, as I said above) became
disaster area. I did not know if “Be a nun”
was God’s will or a security need from the ego.
Was I being chosen or was I doing the choosing? (cf. Matt.
22:14) I did not know then that the initiative is always
God’s - we cannot even call on God without
the Spirit being around. (cf. 1 Co 12:3) Whew! A couple
of months after, or maybe a year, I was in conversation
with the former Novice Mistress of my sister (who had
joined then left the Benedictines) and I nonchalantly
asked her what she’d do if I became a nun. Mother
Assumpta exclaimed: You? Catching herself, she politely
added, You are only 16. And I said, “But scholars
say that the Bl. Mother became the Bl. Mother when she
was only 13.” With exquisite finality she declared:
My dear, you are NOT the Blessed Virgin.” I felt
like a rag rung by a wringer.
one of our family conversations not long after that, my mother
almost fell off her chair when I announced, “ If I got
married, maybe I’d like 9 husbands.” Horrified she
said, “Then please DON’T marry.” But you see,
this statement was the logical conclusion from long, long thoughts
spun in a heart and mind that were, if you remember, still disaster
areas and did not have discernment skills and/or not adept with
wisdom tools. What had added to the conflict was the continual
news about the divorce and remarriage, remarriage and divorce
of Elizabeth Taylor. The havoc these wrought! Yet I could really
understand why she’d get tired of this or that marriage
and want out - more importantly, I felt I could do the
same! Still “Love is not love that alters when alteration
it finds.” Instinct told me that was profoundly true.
And I wanted the real thing. Guess what would arise from that
clearing within, so still, so empty, when I was in such dilemmas:
“No one will ever satisfy you. Only Jesus can.”
Do not wonder then why I came up with a 9-husband solution!
Still another day, just before college graduation, as I recall,
I was reading The Way of Perfection (or was it The Interior
Castle?) of St. Teresa de Avila. In one of its pages, she shifts
in her conversation with the reader and turns to the one whom
she called El Señor Hesuchristo. She says to him, “I
want to be the kind of spouse to you who would suffer when you
suffer and be happy with what makes you happy.” Or something
to that effect (I cannot find the page now or I’d quote
it directly to you.) But I remember suddenly being brought to
that inner “clearing” once more and I did say, “I’d
like that so much too.” I was not aware of it then but
from hindsight, Jesus had become very real to me, so much a
part of my everyday life, especially of its inner contours.
I was part of a dialogue; I had options to consider and with
a lot of help from him, (by listening to others’ stories
and facing, naming, and befriending my own fears, etc.) I could
actually decide for myself.
My questions were not finished, however. In my saner moments,
I could not say that I loved God because generally, my behavior
was hard evidence that I didn’t! How could I be a nun
or for that matter, even say “I love you” to anyone
in marraige when I knew I couldn’t “suffer when
you suffer and be happy with what makes you happy”? I
would certainly do an Elizabeth Taylor when the going was rough!
It would only be in recent years that this would resolve itself
for me. In 1John 4:10, the author writes: “ This is love;
not that we love God, but that he loved us and sent his Son
as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” I finally began
to understand that I do not have to go by my love which I know
for a fact is puny and easily exhausted. What matters is God’s
love and allowing God’s love to take flesh in me. Feels
better, more believable, doesn’t it.
That is a short cut of how I traveled from there (Why I Want
to Be a Nun) to here (being a contemplative sister.) The story
is long and it feels like I am on fast speed. But I still have
to get to Why Good Shepherd? (And I think I have to stay within
500 words and I could be beyond the limit now!) But let me say
this: In joining a religious community living a contemplative
lifestyle, it did not occur to me that I was giving up a lot.
On the contrary. The one reality that burned in my heart and
continues to flame high is the possibility of being loved, of
knowing what it is to be a child of God and sharing that love
and knowledge with others. Even if I had this knowledge just
for a day, more than 25 years ago I told myself, I would be
content. It has centered and energized me to this hour.
Why a contemplative life style? Because by nature I am a homebody?
Maybe. But also because I need to be with others who are of
a similar mind so that we can support each other within a structure
that fosters prayer, self-knowledge, and genuine love for each
other. Because I need a disciplined discipline that would make
me accountable towards transformation in Christ, the most effective
evangelization, to my mind, we are most gifted for.
Why Contemplative Sister of the Good Shepherd? Well, one day
I was reading St. John of the Cross. (Wait, let me get my book
and I know I marked the page….) Here it is -- the commentary
on Stanza 23 of The Spiritual Canticle. “True and perfect
love knows not how to keep anything hidden from the beloved.
(Jesus) communicates to her, mainly, sweet mysteries of His
Incarnation and of the ways of the Redemption of (hu)mankind,
which is one of the loftiest of His works, and thus more delightful….”
On the margin of my book I wrote, “This is what Mary Euphrasia,
foundress of teh Sisters of teh Good Shepherd, is all about.”
As I see it now, Jesus was once more in conversation with me,
asking me what I wanted to do with my life. I thought about
St. Mary Euphrasia’s insight that all are called to the
most intimate friendship with God, no matter where we have come
from, no matter what others may say. God’s love goes beyond
all human categories. For anybody, the present moment can always
be a turning point. I chose to throw in my lot with her and
others who, like her, consider every human person worth laying
down our lives for. I went for broke.
When I was 10 years old, I wanted to read and read and read.
That’s all right, I dare say so.
When I was 20 something, I dreamt I’d go all over the
world and see those places I studied in our history books. I
did some of that.
In my 30s, I dreamt I’d practice and practice and practice
and so be able to play Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto.
Listening to Martha Algerich gives me virtually more than satisfying
experiences of that!
But even before I was 9 years old, I was given a glimpse of
how good God is. This hollowed in me a cavernous thirst that
has never been quenched. And so I hold fast to the dream that
one day, I will be allowed, even while on this earth, to see
God’s face on every star, on every human face and every
quivering tear. I want to know in my heart that I belong to
everyone and everything, and that everything and everyone is
part of me. When others suffer I suffer, when one is disgraced
it is to my shame. I want to live out in everyday life the fact
that all I want to be, I already am.
I have a suspicion that this has something to do with what we
call ~ God’s will for all of creation.
Edith, second from right, with other Good Shepherd Sisters.