An article taken from Sr. McKenna’s book, Miracles Do Happen
Going to See the “Prophet”
During this time a group of ladies said they were going to see a “prophet”. I got the notion that maybe he could help me. Maybe he would have a word for the future.
The prophet gave me a terrible, uneasy feeling. He looked at me and asked, “Are you married?” He must not know much about nuns, I thought. He asked me very unusual questions. I turned him off. He didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know.
Two weeks later, a sister I knew came to town and I told her about my trip to the prophet. “I’d like to see him,” she said. I should have had sense enough not to go back and to discourage my friend from going. However, I thought that while it had done me no good, maybe he would do her some good. I went with her.
Again, when he saw me, he asked, “Are you married?” I told him he must not be much of a prophet, that he didn’t know anything about Catholic nuns, that I had given my life to Jesus.
He said to me, “You need your head cut off,” and he traced his finger along the back of my neck around to the front. I joked about it and said, “Well, there’s not much in it, but I’d have less without it.”
He kept saying that I should not be a nun, that I should be doing something else with my young life. I kept arguing with him and he kept staring into my eyes. Within half an hour he had me in bits, completely confused. I was convinced people weren’t good, that I could not help them. I was doubting my vocation and even doubting the existence of God; I had never before doubted either. I was convinced in that short time that I should get out of religious life. I came out crying in a terrible desolation. What I didn’t realize was that I was in a confrontation with Satan.
When I came back to my own convent, the sister who was with me said it could not be of God, that I was too upset. She said that if it were of God, I would feel a deep peace.
I didn’t tell any of the sisters about my turmoil and desire to leave the religious life because I thought it would upset them too much. I was alone, with no one to minister to me.
That night in bed I had a terrible confrontation with Satan. I couldn’t sleep. I felt something choking me where the prophet had touched my neck. I couldn’t cry out for help. It was like a force trying to get me to deny Christ and stop serving him. I couldn’t pray. It was a terrible experience. Finally, I must have been able to call on Jesus, for the choking stopped. The next day, the sisters noticed I had a terrible color. I told them simply that I wasn’t feeling well.
That day, we left on a short holiday to San Francisco. On the way, I kept saying, “God, please help me.” At least I was calling on Jesus, but in the back of my mind was a feeling that I had to get out of religious life.
When I got to San Francisco, I stayed in my room. I took the Bible and said, “Jesus, I know this is your living Word. Please, I beg you, speak to me. Tell me especially about my vocation. Is this where I am supposed to be?”
I opened the Scriptures and the words were magnified, as though someone had put a magnifying glass over them. It was the passage from St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 7:32-35, about committing yourself to live the single life for the Lord. “I should like you to be free of all worries. The unmarried man is busy with the Lord’s affairs, concerned with pleasing the Lord; but the married man is busy with this world’s demands and occupied with pleasing his wife. This means he is divided. The virgin -indeed, any unmarried woman -is concerned with things of the Lord, in pursuit of holiness in body and spirit. The married woman, on the other hand, has the cares of this world to absorb her and is concerned with pleasing her husband. I am going into this with you for your own good. I have no desire to place restrictions on you, but I do want to promote what is good, what will help you to devote yourselves entirely to the Lord.”
As I looked at those words in Scripture a marvelous peace and joy came down on me. From that moment I knew that what I had experienced was a deception and an attack of Satan. After that I sensed, however, that there was something more the Lord wanted to teach me.
I went to a charismatic conference in Anaheim, where Ralph Wilkerson, a very popular evangelist, spoke. I went up to meet him and he gave me a prophecy. He said, “Sister, your hands are anointed for the work of God.”
I said to him, “I don’t want to know anything about prophecy.”
He interrupted me and said, “Sister, you went to the false prophet.” He said that the “prophet” had destroyed many of the people of God, and had led many people out of the church. That was the first time anyone told me the man was a false prophet.
At the same conference, I talked to a Catholic priest and told him my story. He said to me “Sister Briege, you don’t need me to tell you anything else. You’ve had your answer in his living Word.”
The Lord then led me back to the same Episcopalian priest who had told me I had the gift of healing.
At a prayer meeting in his home one night, I told him about this terrible experience. He said that someone had told him I was going to see the false prophet. He had wanted to stop me to protect me, but the Lord had told him not to intervene, that I had three lessons to learn from this, and that the Lord himself would protect me. He was led to pray for me while I went there and it was probably his prayers that saved me from the onslaught.
As he spoke to me, I realized I had indeed learned three lessons.
First, I should not have gone to a “prophet.” I was trying to see the future. It was like fortune-telling, like seeking a false god. I was doing what God said not to do in the first commandment, “Thou shalt not put strange gods before me.” My life must be centered in God; I must leave the future completely to him. He is the Way and I must abandon myself to him.
Second, I had to learn the difference between judging and discerning. The first time I went to the prophet, I knew something was wrong, but I thought I should not judge him. I had sensed the presence of evil, but I did not know what it was. I thought it might be my own attitude. I learned from this experience that I must pray for the gift of discernment.
Third, I learned that my vocation was not a gift from me to God, but that it was his gift to me. He had given me this vocation to liberate me for his gospel, not to bind me. I learned that I must get on my knees daily and thank the Lord for the gift.
A Fool for Jesus
On the plane back to Florida, I began thinking that it could not be mere coincidence that so many unrelated people all thought I had the gift of healing. I was praying the breviary and read the passage about the calming of the storm (Lk 8:22-25). It was as though the Lord said to me, “You know, I have complete control over the elements. They obey me. But you have a free will. You can choose.” The Lord showed me he would never force me.
Then he gave me an image of a house. I have a great imagination, which I believe God uses to speak to me. In this image of the house, I was inside and a man came knocking at the door. I opened the door and he seemed to be a very nice man so I asked him in.
I told him, “See all these rooms. Make yourself at home, go anywhere you like in my house.” I followed the man as he walked through all the rooms. There were many of them and they were very pretty. Suddenly he came upon a locked door. On the door in large dark type was PRIVATE PROPERTY-DO NOT ENTER. He turned to me, and as he turned, I recognized him to be Jesus. He asked me, “Briege, why can’t I go in this room?”
I replied, “Come now, Jesus, look at all I’ve given you. I want to keep a little something for myself.”
I heard him say, in this image, “You know, Briege, if you do not open that door, you will never know what it means to be truly free.”
I remember looking at the image and saying to myself, “Now what is in that room?”
The Lord said, “I’ll show you.”
Inside that room was my reputation, what others thought of me. I didn’t want Jesus in that room because I was preserving my good name and my reputation. I wanted to follow Jesus, but I wanted control of my life. I wasn’t going to be a tool. Anything to do with the cross, with picking up my cross, that was out of the question.
I heard Jesus saying to me, “I thought you gave me your life.”
Clearly the words of my vows came to me. I had promised to give my life to the Lord, for whatever he wanted from me in the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Clare. I saw myself kneeling before the mother general and the bishop and I heard myself saying those vows. At the same time, I heard Jesus say, as he pointed to the closed door, “On whose terms did you make that commitment?”
I realized that I had said, “Jesus, I love you and I give you my life – but on my terms.” My religious life would never know fully the joy, the peace, the strength, and the courage – all that he wanted to give me – until I abandoned every part of my life and was willing to be a fool for him.
That day on the plane I said to him, “Jesus, you know I can’t go back to Florida and tell people I have the gift of healing. I’ll do the praying and you do the telling.”
I came home to Florida, resumed teaching and going to prayer meetings and doing my regular duties. After two weeks, I went to a prayer meeting and was asked to share on my trip to California. I wasn’t going to talk about healing, but as I got up, a lady jumped up and said, “Excuse me, Sister, I want to say something. You have the gift of healing. You know about it, but you are more worried about the approval of people than you are about God’s will.”
I looked at the woman and said, “I’ve never seen you in my life before. Who are you?”
She was a freelance writer from Canada. She said that when she woke up one morning, an image of my face appeared on her wall and she said, “It was revealed to me that God had given you the gift of healing but that you were afraid of it.”
She did not know where I was, but had been led by the Holy Spirit to the Franciscan Center in Tampa where this very prayer meeting was being held. She told one of the sisters at the center, “I came here looking for the young Irish nun with the gift of healing.” The nun said, “There was no Irish sister here.” But the woman insisted, “She will be here.”
I could not remember ever having seen this woman. I looked at her and said, “How do you know I’m Irish? Has the Holy Spirit told you?” I was making a joke of the whole thing.
She said, “I was in Orlando at a retreat you were on.” She had been present when I was healed. She said to me, “You know God wants to use you in a ministry of healing.” She kept talking, but I didn’t hear anything else. I was in a panic and asking, “Oh, Lord! What’s going to happen to my first graders? What am I going to do?”
And just as all these thoughts were coming into my mind, the most beautiful calmness descended upon me and this inner voice said, “Briege, why are you so worried? Do you believe in your vow of obedience? You know, I didn’t give you the gift of vows to bind you, but I gave you the gift of vows to liberate you for my gospel. I was obedient to Mary and Joseph. I was obedient to my Father. What I ask of you is that you be obedient to your superiors and to those in authority in the church and I will work through them.”
I said immediately, “Oh, thanks be to God, now it’s my superior’s problem!” That shows how one can use the vow of obedience to suit oneself. I was saying, “Well, now, I’ll make this up in such a way that my superior and the principal will have to say no to my involvement in healing.”
I said to my principal, “Sister, there’s a woman who wants to write an article about me on the gift of healing in a magazine.”
She looked at me and said, “Goodness, Briege! Have nothing to do with healing. It’s too sensational.”
That was exactly what I wanted to hear. “Don’t worry, Sister. I’ll not say a word about it to anybody.”
I thought that if ever anybody asked me about the gift of healing, I’d just say I was under the vow of obedience and my superior doesn’t wish me to talk about it.
Three weeks went by and all things were going along wonderfully. I was pretending to worry about the welfare of the congregation and the church, but I was really worried about Briege McKenna, about – being a fool for Jesus, about being called a “faith healer.” I didn’t consider that Jesus was a faith healer.
Two weeks later, I got an invitation to speak to a women’s guild in a parish. I was going to talk on prayer. I thought I did a good job. I talked a full hour on prayer and never once mentioned healing.
Two days later, I got a phone call from a woman who had been to the prayer meeting. She wanted to talk to me about healing. I was surprised because I had not mentioned healing, but I went to see her anyway. The woman told me her life story. It was very tragic. She had decided to kill herself, but circumstances would not permit it. Then she heard about my talk and became curious. When she saw and heard me, she found nothing right with me. She thought I was too young to know anything about prayer. She told me she got up and walked out. She didn’t believe one word I was saying.
When she went home, she began again to contemplate suicide. That night she saw me walk into her room and stand beside her bed. My reaction was, “I didn’t come to see you, I was at home in bed.”
“Oh, no,” she said, “you were here in my room last night. And I couldn’t get rid of you.” Apparently, the Lord used an image of me to reach this poor woman.
She told me that I said to her, “Why do you not believe in Jesus?” She said that whether her eyes were opened or closed she could see me and if she turned away from me there I was on the other side of the bed.
As she told me this, I thought, “Oh, Jesus, use me all you want during the day, but don’t have me roaming through homes in the middle of the night.”
And I heard Jesus say to me, “But I thought you said that if I’d do the telling you’d do the praying.”
This woman had been in complete despair. Her face lit up and she said, “Do you think it’s possible that God could help me?”
A short time later I got the flu. This same woman phoned me. She told me to put my trust in God, that he would take care of me. Only two weeks earlier, she had been contemplating suicide, and now she was ministering to me!
The Lord had really touched her life. She was completely converted, and came back into the Catholic church.
It was at that time that I said to myself, “Briege, mother superior or no mother superior, what you have to do is seek the Lord and do his will.”
So, I went off to a priest, a good intellectual Scripture scholar. I didn’t want to go to someone in the charismatic renewal for fear they would be too enthusiastic and would simply say something like, “Well, just follow the leading of the Spirit.”
When I had told this priest my story, he said to me, “You know, if I was God I’d tell you to get lost. How many more times do you want Jesus to reveal his will? The only thing the Lord needs and asks of you is that just like Mary you say yes. God respects his children and he will only ask you to do his will. You have no power, so it has nothing to do with what you can do. What God is asking of you is whether you are willing to say yes and let him use you as his instrument.”
I said, “But Father, how can I know when to pray? I can’t just go up to someone who is sick and tell them I can pray for them for physical healing.”
He smiled at me and said, “Sister, you don’t have to tell people. If Jesus called you to this ministry of healing, then he will lead you to people and he will lead them to you. But, let’s get this straight. Physical healing is only one facet of healing. There also are healings of emotions and memories. But the greatest healing is spiritual healing.”
Then he took my hand and said, “Sister, go home to your community and live your community life. Do what you’re called to do as a sister of St. Clare and if this call is from Jesus, he will open up the way.”