She lay still, with lips pressed against the cold, hard sanctuary floor of Our Lady of the Rosary church. The priest intoned solemn prayers as she silently remained in cruciform. I could only see the bottoms of her feet, and her arms out at either side. I imagined what was going through her mind as the beautiful voices of the Sisters floated through the cloister opening on the other side of the altar. There was such a sense of overwhelming peace in the stillness that I wondered why so many found the consecrated vocation strange and uninviting. The lure of the mystery on the other side of the cloister wall intrigued us all, as it had Veronica only a few years earlier.
As my own children poked and prodded at me, I found myself longing for that repose. I recalled many years prior, when I had met Veronica, as a student in the American University Catholic Student Association. At the time I was just beginning as a campus minister, and I was sure God had called me to the wrong position. Veronica was one of the very first students I had met, and she was a stronghold, a Peter, a … Veronica! Simple in charity and faithfulness, just as the Veronica in Church tradition, who offered her veil to Jesus, that he might wipe his face on his way to the cross.
As I struggled to forge the path the Lord had required of me at school, Veronica offered a constant dry humor and wit. At first, she was the only one who showed up for any of the events I planned, and then together, we watched groups grow and grow. Her encouraging support is one of the most memorable facets of my time on the campus. And now, not so very many years later, here we were, I a married woman, and a mother; she a nun.
In today’s society it is hard to imagine that a woman with the education and opportunities that Veronica enjoyed before entering the monastery could find fulfillment in a cloister, but I knew that for her, this part of her journey had not been a backup plan. Despite earning degrees in political science and German and working abroad, her “plan A” had always been directed toward this precise moment of mystery and promise.
Knowing this, I listened to the second reading, from Philippians 3:1-14, and seemed to hear her very voice behind it: “I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.”
After the Gospel reading, Sr. Veronica again prostrated herself, and then the prioress began querying her as to her intentions of consecration.
I was reminded of my own marital vows, realizing that Veronica was also espousing herself, for better or for worse. In fact, the Prioress asked her if she wished to “enlarge the people of God with her hidden fecundity.” A word often used in referring to fruitfulness by way of fertility, it lingered among the congregation, expanding our understanding of fruitfulness to the spiritual call of motherhood through religious consecration.
The celebrant extended his hands over the young nun and delivered one of the most beautiful lines of prayer. “Direct the mind of your servant with your heavenly grace so that the fire of the Holy Spirit may purify from every stain of sin the heart that is to be consecrated to you and set it ablaze with burning love.” My heart swelled as I joined in the “amen.”
Sr. Veronica kneeled before the prioress, with the book of constitutions placed over the hands of both of them. According to ancient tradition, Sr. Mary Veronica of the Cross promised obedience to God, Blessed Mary, Blessed Dominic, the Master of the Order of Friars Preachers and to the prioress and her successors, until death. With that, the prioress alone received Sr. Veronica into the bond of obedience and communion with the kiss of peace.
As the celebrant spoke words of blessing over Sister Veronica’s new veil, my mind returned once again to my own nuptials — of my father lifting my veil and presenting me to my husband at the altar. This veil Veronica would guard always “with an unsullied body and soul,” until at last she may deserve to “enter upon the nuptials of perpetual bliss.” The words, the symbolism and the ancient tradition of the ceremony were sewn together like a rich tapestry.
Finally, the ring was blessed and given, symbolizing her seal of faith and perseverance of love and fidelity. Her first act as one consecrated to Christ was to receive him; body, blood, soul and divinity, in the most holy Eucharist. To this there is no greater seal. Therefore, on the day of her twenty-ninth birthday, Sr. Mary Veronica of the Cross proclaimed to all of us her most solemn profession, and directed our eyes to him whom she loved.
Amid the screeches of my own children, I knew this was an equally important call. The monastic life is like any vocation; it can seem terribly dreadful if clouded by misunderstanding and equally glorious if observed in its serenity. The truth is that the blessed veil and the symbolic spousal ring of the profession ceremony are meant to draw all of us into the heart of Christ, pointing us always toward our own path to heaven.
Kimberly Cook is the author of the children’s book, Mommy, Mommy, When You Pray, a monthly contributor to CatholicMom.com and blogs on faith, art and motherhood at TheLionofDesign.com. Kimberly lives with her husband and three children in Virginia.