Too Beautiful: A Carmelite Finds her Vocation

North Texas Catholic
(Nov 18, 2019) Local

Sister Teresa Agnes hands a candle to Sister Maria Sagrario prior to the Mass of Thanksgiving Nov. 9 at Arlington Carmel. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

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ARLINGTON — Rebeca Garcia wept as she prayed in a Houston adoration chapel, surrounded by 50 other sweaty young adults. A retreat server brought her one tissue, then another, and then gave her the whole box. That, according to Garcia, is when she felt the Lord calling her into relationship with Him.

Growing up, Garcia hadn’t paid attention to her faith. But after that retreat, she prayed more and joined a young adult group. The first time she met a religious sister, Garcia felt drawn to her. “I want what she has,” Garcia thought.

“I guess you receive a grace to start noticing things,” she told the North Texas Catholic.  “I started noticing women wearing weird things [such as habits and veils]. I said… wait, they’re the spouse of Christ!”  Fascinated by religious life, she attended diocesan discernment events and searched online for religious order communities.

Garcia hoped to join a “growing, vivacious” community with a full habit. “At first, I completely put aside [Carmel]; I was like… oh no, that’s for good, holy women… cloistered, very hidden. That’s just too beautiful. Surely I’m not called to that...Then St. Teresa said otherwise.”

During her discernment, Garcia read the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, who experienced her conversion later in life. Garcia realized, “You don’t have to be born super good to have that kind of calling.” Inspired by the Spanish mystic and the foundress of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns, she began writing to contemplative orders.

First, she visited a Carmelite community near Houston. “I didn’t feel I was called there,” she recalled. Then she visited another Carmelite community in Indiana “and it was not there either,” she said. Finally, in 2017, she found the Discalced Carmelites of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington. She wrote, they sent her information, and a visit was arranged.

Garcia visited the Arlington monastery in June and again in October 2017.  Not yet allowed behind the grille, she stayed in a guest room and joined the sisters for prayer in the chapel. She also met each sister in the parlor, still separated by the grille. “After my second visit… I knew, this is it, I’m coming in,” Garcia recalled. In January 2018, she was first allowed to enter behind the grille during her live-in visit — a taste of life in Carmel.

How does someone know they have found their vocation? “You just get that feeling… this is my home. It’s scary to feel that way,” said Garcia. But she emphasized finding peace. “The Lord will let you know…. If you feel that peace there, then it’s probably it. Where there’s peace, there’s the will of God.” 

Sister Maria Sagrario receives congratulations by phone as friend Zeira Becerra looks on. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

There was one problem: Garcia had loans to pay. “Rebecca worked so hard to pay off her student loans,” novice mistress Sister Teresa Agnes said, smiling proudly. Garcia worked for the family business. She also made and sold posole (hominy stew) as a fundraiser. Her mother offered to help, but Garcia insisted, “This is my work.”

Finally, she entered Carmel as a postulant on the Feast of All Saints 2018. “It’s funny because I did my novena to All Saints because I didn’t know who to choose to get help,” Garcia said. 

Almost a year later, Garcia was well-accustomed to the Carmelite daily routine of prayer and work. Several times a day, the sisters congregate in the chapel. They stand, bow, and pray in rhythmic spoken chant. Like dancers, the sisters circle each other, take turns standing in the center to read, rise, and kneel as one. After midday prayer, Garcia kneels to pray. A red candle flickers in the chapel. The silence is punctuated by occasional bells, the bark of a dog, and a bird squawking. Garcia remains kneeling, her gaze peaceful, smiling gently.

In preparation for her investiture, Garcia gave Mother Anne Teresa a list of three spiritual names. “I pray about it and I may choose one or I may not,” explained Reverend Mother. “This time I did. It was a beautiful name.” On November 9, 2019, Garcia received her white veil and the new name: Sister Maria Sagrario of the Pierced Heart of Jesus. Surrounded by the Carmelite sisters, her family, and her friends, Sister Maria Sagrario became a Carmelite novice. Two friends from her young adult group, now priests, concelebrated the celebratory Mass of thanksgiving.

After Mass, a friend said to Sister Maria Sagrario, “You used to always say Jesus was your boyfriend. Now there’s no doubt.” Laughing, Sister Maria responded, “Ahora es mi esposo!”

Sister Maria Sagrario’s daily routine has not changed, according to Reverend Mother.  But as a novice, she has received her habit, her new name, and “the mission that comes with the name,” explained Sister Maria Sagrario. What is her mission?  “Contemplation in front of the Blessed Sacrament,” said Reverend Mother. Her beautiful name will always direct her toward the Eucharist. Her first name, Maria, is Spanish for “Mary” — the theotokos or God-bearer; the the second word in her name, Sagrario, is Spanish for tabernacle.

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