Sister Paula Modaff: moving closer and closer to God
Throughout her 81 years, Sister of Providence Paula Modaff’s relationship with God has continually deepened.
“I first remember really being in touch with God when I was 6 years old and my father registered me for first grade. Dad pointed, I realize now he was pointing up to the tabernacle, but all I could see was the veils of the sisters. ‘Look Paula, there’s Jesus,’ he said. So, into my little heart that very day was ‘when I get big I’m going to be like Jesus.’ I came home and told my mother I was going to be a nun. She almost fainted.”
That desire to be like Jesus never left Paula, and she entered the Sisters of Providence right after she graduated high school in 1959.
At the time she entered, much of the sisters’ prayer was vocal and most of it was in Latin.
“I was pretty unaware of myself and everything else when I was younger. So much of it was exterior,” Sister Paula says of her spiritual life in those early years.
“Vatican II invited us to go deeper,” Sister Paula said. And go deeper she did.
Spending the time in prayer
Sister Paula taught high school students Spanish and religion for 25 years. “I loved them very, very much,” she said of her students. And Sister Paula was always drawn to prayer. From 1972 until 1977 she lived in the Sisters of Providence House of Prayer. “I was kind of rigid about it,” she said. She figured if she had spent eight hours teaching a day, she should spend eight hours a day praying as well. It was during this time that she first learned contemplative prayer.
After 25 years of teaching, Sister Paula was invited into tribunal ministry, helping divorced couples seek a marriage annulment in the Catholic Church. She studied in Rome and became a tribunal judge.
It was through that ministry, in which she served for nearly 15 years, that she discovered a call to spiritual companioning, her current ministry. Many people would ask her as a judge if they could see her again and talk through their spiritual journey. She saw that as a call.
God in the present
Where is Sister Paula in her own relationship with God these days? “For the longest time now, I experience God as reality. Whatever is happening, that is the holy,” she says.
Sister Paula describes herself as “full of warts.” She said she often forgets and rebels, getting short tempered about the annoyances of life. “But when I’m in my right mind I see God in everything. And I consider it a great, great gift,” she says.
“The spiritual life is not about me. It’s about we. We — that means God, other people, myself and I’ll say cosmos, and by that, I mean everything,” she says.
Ways to pray
“I really have three favorite ways to pray. Centering prayer is my most favorite. Reflection on Scripture is my second favorite and then the third is being with other people in various prayer sharing groups.”
Sister Paula said she spends time every morning and evening in centering prayer. “It’s a time when you simply sit in God’s presence and consent to God’s work of love in you and in the cosmos. I always tell people when I’m explaining it, that we get out of our heads and we even get out of our emotions and we go down to this deep, deep place where God is at work. And we don’t know what is going on so all we do is simply consent to it with love.”
What advice does Sister Paula give to others who are seeking to grow in their own spirituality? To give the time. “Take. The. Time. Even if it’s only five or 10 minutes a day. Take the time. Take the time and then find a community so you are able to
pray with other people.”
Union with God
“We’re not called to imitate but to be in union with the very power of Christ. That’s what Jesus did — all power has been given to me and I’m moving it on to you. And I think some of us, myself included, have been so much into imitating. And it’s not about imitation; it’s about union.”
So, what does living the Gospel today look like to Sister Paula?
“Gospel means good news and especially these days it’s about intentionally being joyful. And that doesn’t mean happy. There is a big difference between joy and happiness. Joy is that deep conviction that God is at work. God knows what She’s up to and I don’t have to be excessively anxious. [And believe me, anxiousness is one of my favorites],” she says.
“I would say that the goal of developing one’s spiritual life and relationship with God is just to return much love for much love. We’re loved unconditionally and we are called to carry that out,” she says.
“Our spiritual side is the essence of the person. If we don’t develop it we just remain only part of who we are. The very essence is the God within us. And so, we’re missing the real meaning of life if we don’t take at least some time to stay in touch, to stay in communion with the God within us and all around us.”