The power of witness: Interview with Sister Miriam James Heidland

Sister Miriam James Heidland Sister Miriam James Heidland is a former Division I athlete who had a radical conversion and joined the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT) in 1998. Her story has been featured on EWTN’s “The Journey Home” and she has spoken at SEEK conferences, a convocation for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Steubenville conferences and other outlets. She holds a master’s in theology from the Augustine Institute and speaks extensively on the topics of conversion, authentic love, forgiveness, healing — and sports! During our conversation with Sister Miriam, she shared how she responded when God called her to the religious life and how we also can respond to his call.

Radiant: How did the SOLT priest you met in college play a part in your vocation and help you to understand your life as a gift?

Sister Miriam James Heidland: I was raised Catholic and we went to Mass every Sunday, but I had never fallen in love with Jesus, and I had never met the person of Christ. I had a lot of deep secrets in my life and suffering from deep trauma and an addiction. The Lord brought this priest into my life who was a very wonderful spiritual father and spiritual mentor. What captivated me first and foremost was how deeply in love he was with Christ. He loved Jesus Christ in such a deep way that it radiated from him. That to me was captivating. I was willing to hear the truth from him. He challenged me to look at my life from a different perspective. Areas of my life where I only saw darkness, shame, brokenness and self hatred, he saw potential and beauty. He would always remind me of how much Christ loved me.

It is one of the reasons why to this day I will always speak of the power of personal witness. That is how I came to know Christ, through the witness of another person. I really believe that the most powerful Gospel we will ever preach is how we live our day to day life.

Radiant: Could you share with us the story behind the religious name given to you at your profession of vows?

Sister Miriam: All of us in our religious community take the name of Mary. Miriam is the Hebrew form of Mary, and I always loved that. You can choose to retain your baptismal name or be called something else. When I made my vows, our founder was still alive, and we would submit three names to him and why we thought God was desiring to call us by this name. During your profession you find out what your name is, which is everybody’s favorite part of the ceremony. The founder would write out the aspect of Mary’s life you are called to live out and why that name was chosen. On Dec. 8, 2002, during the Mass of my first vows I was given the name Miriam James. I was thinking of the Letter of St. James where he talks about persevering and “may your persevering make you perfect” (cf. Jas 1:4), but the founder actually named me after my father who had just passed away. It was a profoundly tender moment for all of us in the chapel that day.

Radiant: The charism of the SOLT community is to live in Marian-Trinitarian communion and serve on ecclesial family teams in areas of deepest apostolic need. Could you unpack what this means?

Sister Miriam: Our spirituality is very Trinitarian, to Jesus through Mary. Everyone in our community makes a consecration to Jesus through Mary and our Lady is at the heart of our community.

Ecclesial family teams are how we serve on teams of priests, sisters and laity. A bishop will invite us into a diocese, and we serve his deepest need. Sisters only serve with their own priests, and the laity joins as well. All the vocations serve together as one family, like the Trinity is three persons in one God. It’s three vocations serving together in one team and one family for Christ.

Radiant: You went to college on a full volleyball scholarship and still continue to coach. How do you see faith and sports play a part in the spiritual life?

Sister Miriam: Sports is one of my deepest loves. I think there is a tremendous parallel between the discipline of a sport and the faith life as well. That’s why St. Paul says “run so as to win” (1 Cor 9:24). Becoming disciplined, trained, transformed and having those deep moments of joy when you are in a game, being “in the zone,” where time ceases and it just goes on forever, those are moments of eternity. Sports is such a great teacher to us if we hold it in its right place.

Radiant: You have served in Rome, Seattle and Texas and you travel throughout the country. What is the deepest longing that you see in human hearts?

Sister Miriam: Many times the needs of the human heart might look differently on the surface, but at the heart of every person, every person longs for communion and relationship. All of us want a life that has meaning and purpose. No matter where you go in the world, the human heart is always the same. Especially here in America, we’re very affluent, but there is a tremendous rate of loneliness and interior brokenness. People are dying to be received and loved. They are dying to know that whatever has happened in their life, they can be forgiven, that they can be transformed, and that whatever is happening in their story is not the end of their story.

Radiant: How do you reconcile time with your community and time traveling as a Catholic speaker?

HeidlandSister Miriam: My life is very funny. I think people look at my life, and they see me on stage, and they see me in certain things, and they think they have an idea of what my life is like. But most people don’t know that my life actually in reality is very simple and very quiet. So I do travel and I give talks at conferences and retreats, but then I come home and I live in a community with my sisters. My elected position within my community is I am a consultant to my general superior. I live in a very rural countryside of south Texas, and my life is very, very quiet. There are days I don’t even leave the house. There is a deep balance of the two. I think people have an idea of what it’s like for people to speak a lot, but it’s actually quite simple.

Radiant: You have mentioned how saints often choose us, not the other way around. What saint has most recently “picked you”?

Sister Miriam: Recently, a saint that has surprised me is St. Joan of Arc. She is a bold warrior of a woman who led an army and ended up suffering tremendously. We need female witnesses like that in the world today, of women who are using their femenine genius in all that the glory that God has given us and how we reveal him to the world. To be bold in our love and to be bold in our truth, courage, kindness, bravery and strength. In a sense, to lead in a revolution of tenderness (JPII). I am actually by nature very shy, quiet and introverted, so I love this bold woman who has come into my life and continuously chooses me. Every time she comes I’m like, “what are you trying to tell me?” and I’m asking her for help that she would lead and guide me and just give me the words to speak and to be at such a time as this so that the Lord can know.

Radiant: Have you picked up any new hobbies since being quarantined?

Sister Miriam: I love outdoor projects, everything from power washing to weeding a well overgrown garden. I love being outside as much as I can.

It is very easy in times like this to become very self-centered and very afraid, but it is important to look everyday for ways we can serve the other. How can we be a gift?

Radiant: How do you hope the world changes from the COVID-19 pandemic?

Sister Miriam: When all of this happened, I was very deeply impressed with the Lord saying to me that this is a very important time, and this is time that we are given now, and we won’t be given again, and I don’t want to waste it. I think our priorities are being reordered, and I think that Jesus is speaking very personally to each one of us. We are being forced to sit with yourself to see what the Lord is saying.

My heart for the world and myself as well is to have a deep and transformative encounter with Christ so that when these days have ended, we’re not the same people we were when it began. Let the world be transformed to the things that are most important.

Sister Miriam hosts the “Abiding Together” podcast, which can be found on iTunes, and has written a book, “Loved As I Am,” which can be found on Amazon. She tweets at @onegroovynun.

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