A Vocation Story by Sister Monika Bies, OCD
Carmelite Monastery of Baltimore
A personal relationship with the God whom I love, and who loves me, in the service of God’s people always played an important role in my life.
My work as an economist with the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social affairs in Germany, time with the United Nations in Switzerland, and volunteering with the Franciscan Youth Center in East Baltimore were all fulfilling experiences. And yet, something didn’t feel complete within me.
As I reflect upon these life experiences, several graces resurface. Growing up in Luxemburg, Germany, I had the opportunity to visit many monasteries in Europe. I vividly recall that I often felt a deep longing to stay, so that it wouldn’t be ‘just’ a visit but a lifetime. I believe it was the opportunity of discerning the experiences and the graces of my life with a spiritual director that led me to where I am right now. Yet, I am only starting to grasp what my vocation really entails.
We are living in the time of the coronavirus pandemic. While the lives of the readers of this article have probably changed much more than ours, as Carmelite nuns we do live and work in our monastery. We, too, had to let go of a crucial part of our lives. In March our community decided that it would be prudent to suspend all public liturgies and gatherings for the time being.
We miss seeing “our” congregation (as we admittedly and somewhat possessively call them) in person. They are an important part of our life as we accompany them with our prayers and our friendship. This March decision has challenged us to find other ways to connect with those who ordinarily come to our chapel and beyond. We are now livestreaming our Tuesday Vesper service and Saturday afternoon Lectio. From these new experiences—the depth of sharing from the Gospel text and the implications it has for our lives, the heartfelt petitions voiced by participants at the end of Lectio—have deepened my calling to a life of prayer.
COVID is not the only pandemic we all face. Just as powerful is the pandemic of racism. A couple of months ago our sister, Sr. Barbara Jean LaRochester, who is one of the founders of the National Black Sisters Conference (NBSC) invited our community for two virtual prayer services, organized by the NBSC. At one of those services, an African American sister prayed the final words of George Floyd, an experience that touched me to my core.
After the service, I sent her an email to thank her and to express my hope that our prayer will have a transformative effect on our society. Referring to the power of our unceasing prayer she replied: “Thank you for being the bridge over which we are able to walk towards justice.” To be the bridge over which we are able to walk towards justice… what an incredible call and beautiful responsibility at the same time.
In life’s experiences, we find God’s calling and God’s grace. It never disappoints and I remain open to the power of this grace in my life as I live the unfolding of my own vocational calling.