An Unconventional Week

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L-R: Bek (Technology Coordinator), Theresa (President), and Penny (Blog Mistress)

By Penny.

Almost three months to the day after I promised to write this blog post, I am sitting down at my laptop with the resolution not to budge until it’s done.

What I set out to write back in January was a lively, cheerful account of a week spent with two friends I’d met through Leonie’s Longing, and an introduction to the video blog that we made together. Ever since then, I’ve been writing short, stilted paragraphs that have instantly hit the recycle bin (literally for the paper drafts, and figuratively for the typed versions).  What made it so difficult to put it all together as a narrative?

Plug

“Leonie’s Longing: pulling the plug on post-convent loneliness!”

I think the key is in an insight that Theresa, the President of Leonie’s Longing, had during the long drive down from Sydney to Melbourne: when you meet someone else who has been in the convent, the normal process of conversation is reversed. Usually, to get to know another woman, you’d ask what she does for a living, what books she likes to read, how many pets/kids/siblings she has and so forth, and only after weeks or months would you move on to more personal topics. But when you meet someone who was in the convent, you ask things like: “What community were you with? What drew you to them? How long had you been discerning? How did your family react when you told them you were entering the convent?” Then, eventually, you take a deep breath and ask the difficult questions: “Why did you leave? Are you still discerning a religious vocation?” And, more importantly, you’re able to understand the answers.

It doesn’t matter what country your community was in (mine was Australian; Theresa and Bek, our Technology Coordinator, were in the US); if you’ve been in the convent, you have a shared understanding of things like familial LL3freak-outs when you mention the word “nun,” the process of clearing out your former life as you enter, the experience of living such a disciplined life, and of battling the most difficult aspects of it and then finding yourself back out in the world. The part of me that hoped to become a bride of Christ is a sister to the part of you that longed for the same. In a parallel universe, we might one day have met at a seminar for religious, you in your habit and me in mine. (“I declare, ours is the only sensible one here!”) And yet, here we are, out in the world again together. We’ve walked the same road separately, and found suddenly found ourselves on it together. It’s hard to pin that connection down in words, which makes it that much harder to write a blog post about. Still, here goes!

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll have seen Bek’s “couch-surfing” journey across the United States, visiting friends from her former community. It was in about August last year that Theresa first raised the idea of making Bek’s journey in reverse, and coming to visit our two Australian LL volunteers. By November it was a fact, and in December we planned it all out in detail: she and Bek would travel around Sydney for a week or so, and then drive south to Melbourne, meeting me at the halfway-point, Albury, along the way. It’s a fair trip.

Map LArge

In Melbourne we would walk through the Door of Mercy at the cathedral, wander around the famous arcades and visit the museum dedicated to Saint Mary Mackillop, our only Australian Saint so far (though several more causes are underway). We’d also drive along the Great Ocean Road and have lunch on the beach, and then make some time for karaoke. Excellent plan. Nothing went according to it.

On the morning of the fifth of January, still bleary-eyed from a monastic wake-up time several hours earlier, I sat back in my seat on the train to Albury and sent off what is in retrospect a remarkably awake-sounding text to Bek: “Howdy! I’m making good time, currently passing through Wangaratta – how are you going in your travels? Hope you’re having a pleasant run!”

Alas, they were at that moment stuck in the McDonald’s drive-in queue from hell in Yass, about four hours out of ourPenny Bek Skeleton designated meeting place on the border between Victoria and New South Wales. They’d set out from Sydney at six in the morning, roughly the same time I’d dragged my weary bones onto a tram into Melbourne, but by the time the three of us finally converged on Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Albury, I’d had a peaceful train journey and they were ashen-faced from a long, long drive and the prospect of more to come. This is where the invisible bond between former religious that I mentioned earlier became all-important: we met in front of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, and six hours together in a tiny car became a mixture of singing, prayer, serious spiritual conversation, and funny-awful jokes. What the other unsuspecting folk in the rest-rooms at Seymour thought of being serenaded with O Salutaris Hostia as we compared the versions we’d learnt in our respective communities, we’ll never know.

We reached Melbourne late at night, many hours later than planned. After Mass the next morning, another part of our grand plan fell through: the Door of Mercy at the cathedral in Melbourne is now only open for one hour a week during Sunday Mass, so we weren’t able to walk through it together as we’d hoped. However, as we stood on the steps of the Door, I was able to make a formal presentation to Leonie’s Longing of a medal that I had touched to the relics of Saint Therese and her parents the year before. (May the Saints of the Martin family intercede for our apostolate, and all who visit our website!)

Theresa Penny Holy Door
Then, as Bek and Theresa had been “collecting” Doors of Mercy, it was my turn to take the photo:

Theresa Bek Holy Door

We never did get to the MacKillop Museum (next time… next time…), but we did have dinner with another ex-conventual friend of mine. Four women, four very different experiences of religious life, four different personalities, accents, and senses of humour, but with a shared understanding of post-convent life: a conversation that could only have come about through Leonie’s Longing.

Theresa Bek Penny Claire

We didn’t drive down the Great Ocean Road, either – circumstances including but not limited to a bushfire saw to that. Instead, we drove down the other way to the Mornington Peninsula, and spent the day with my mother!

Penny and Mum Mornington

(The black ship in the background is the SV Notorious, the only replica fifteenth-century caravel in the southern hemisphere.)

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Part of our intended tour of the Peninsula that day was a trip to the lighthouse at Cape Schanck, but we didn’t get there. Instead, we made a coffee-inspired detour to the lookout at Arthurs Seat, and found, not coffee, but…

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Sisters! Specifically, the Servants of the Two Hearts, whose apostolate is primarily youth ministry, and who had gone up to the lookout on a detour at the last minute just as we had. Once more, Theresa’s theory about post-convent conversations was proved correct. When we explained to them who we were, the Sisters asked us which communities we’d belonged to, how long we’d stayed, and whether we were still discerning – the kind of in-depth conversation you can only have with others who have that understanding of the religious life in common. We didn’t end up finding any coffee, but instead, something far more significant: the realisation that God was guiding our journey together, even when we were fatigued or led astray by the GPS, or the doors that we LL18thought would be open were locked, or we ended up at the top of a mountain we hadn’t expected to climb. All things considered, I think there’s a metaphor in that.

Stay tuned next week for our first-ever video blog post, made by the three of us together, on the topic of “finding community away from the community”!

Heaven Longing or Leonie’s Longing?

Marseille Hand Bronze Trust PixabayBy Guadalupana.

Picture this, I’m on a silent retreat (but not a religious vocation retreat; I’m no longer discerning religious life!) and at the end of the closing Mass for the retreat, the priest calls forward for a “special blessing” two religious sisters and four consecrated women as well as any women who may be feeling as if they are called to be the “spouse of Christ”. No one else probably noticed, but an invisible dagger went into my heart. I wonder what would have happened if I suddenly yelled, “Christ is my Spouse too! He’s the Spouse of all of us! (and maybe I want a special blessing too!).”

God had mercy on me. Once the women had returned to their pews and we were praying after Mass, a song was played with lyrics from the beginning of the Gospel of John 14. “Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many mansions. Were it not so, I should have told you, because I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I am coming again, and I will take you to myself; that where I am, there you also may be.” I then started to cry. This was the Gospel passage at one of the final Masses before leaving religious life and these are consoling words. And so I ask myself this question. Was it really religious life that I longed for or Heaven? Union with God, to feel Jesus’ presence 24/7, the Beatific Vision, our Eternal Home: that is my true longing; my thirst. Deep down all of humanity has this same thirst; realized or not. When drawing closer to God in prayer, this desire would naturally increase. I had it before entering religious life and, if I’m honest, it was not quenched in religious life for religious life was still not Heaven. I don’t have Leonie’s Longing as much as I have God & Heaven Longing!

I’m going to end with a few resources and thoughts:

1. Danielle Rose is my favorite Catholic singer. She also used to be in a religious community. If you haven’t heard this song yet, I invite you to listen to it. It’s titled “The Saint That Is Just Me”. Here is a link to it, though with a YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fh_fSNz6NvQ “Yes, if it weren’t for my sins or wounds or weakness, then You wouldn’t have married me upon the cross. Why do I fear being seen naked and broken? That’s why you came; cause I need You that much. When you hung upon the cross looking at me, You didn’t die so that I would try to be somebody else. You died so I could be the saint that is just me.”800px-Peter_von_Cornelius Wise Foolish Virgins WMC

2. Lighthouse Catholic Media puts out several inexpensive talks on CDs. “Jesus the Bridegroom. The Greatest Love Story Ever Told” by Dr. Brant Pitre may be one of my personal favorites for possibly obvious reasons. 😉 He has also written a book with the same title.

3. Drink deeply of God’s mercy. A few days ago, I was in a Perpetual Adoration Chapel praying when everyone else that had been in there got up and left. I was left alone with Jesus. While before Him, I saw more deeply times I haven’t trusted Him yet also how He loves me. Oh, how He loves us. I am currently reading “7 Secrets of Divine Mercy” by Vinny Flynn and recently finished reading a book titled, “The Second Greatest Story Ever Told. Now Is the Time of Mercy” by Fr. Michael Gaitley. Both are SO good. Fr. Gaitley’s most recent release is “33 Days to Merciful Love” and can be used to make a consecration to Divine Mercy (St. Therese of Lisieux style).

So rest in God’s Merciful Heart & Love AND ponder this: God also longs for me (and you) to go to Heaven where we will be His brides forever! “Jesus, I trust in You!”

A Late Advent Reality Check: The one Hope that will NEVER be disappointed

By Lily.

Advent isn’t just a time of hope – it’s a reminder of in Whom to place that hope!

That seems pretty intuitive – almost “Captain Obvious,” really… but there’s a reason why we get an annual reminder of this!

If you work in any kind of commercial enterprise you’ve probably encountered the notion of “expectations management” before. Keep expectations reasonable (or lower) and exceed them. Don’t over-promise and under-deliver! The idea being that disappointment is the result of unmet expectations. If we extrapolate this, we come to the conclusion that if we hope too much then we’re sure to be disappointed.

Some of the things that can disappoint us at Christmas are:

  • the food you’ve painstakingly planned and prepared doesn’t turn out as well as you had hoped it would
  • some members of the family didn’t manage to make it to (or prioritise) the family gathering
  • that the same two members of the family who are always at each others’ throats are at it again!
  • that you’re too tired to enjoy the day, much less the season
  • the music at the Christmas Mass is sub-par
  • the neighbour’s party is loud and there are excesses of drugs and alcohol and their behaviour on the other side of the back fence is disruptive and so NOT what you think Christmas should be…

and… and… and…

See what I did there? Where was Our Lord in any of that?

These things ARE irritating when they happen. But if we place ALL of our hope in Jesus and His coming, we should be able to be peaceful amidst the chaos of life in our fallen world.

Not in an avoidance sort of way, you understand.

I mean REAL peace, all the while acknowledging inconvenience or unpleasantness and experiencing how those things feel. Living life, but keeping things in perspective.

Yep – we live in a fallen world.
Yep – at least SOME of our best laid plans for our Christmas gatherings and celebrations will invariably go wrong.

But I reject the idea that hoping for too much is the source of disappointment. Rather – hoping for things in an inordinate way is the source of disappointment.

It’s great to have plans, and natural, human hopes for our upcoming festivities – but these should all be subordinate to the coming of Our Lord, and what that truly MEANS for each one of us. If we’ve spent any time in prayer or meditation at all this Advent, we’ve somehow been confronted with our profound NEED for Jesus. We KNOW we need to let Him into our daily lives more. Our hearts are crying out for Him from the depths of our fallenness! (Who knew the De Profundis was such an Adventish prayer?!?)

Expectations management may well be applied to client relationships in industry, but it does NOT belong in our faith life! We have an INFINITE God who has adopted us as His children! We have an INFINITE Saviour, Emmanuel, God among us!!

When He in whom we hope is infinite, and His love and desire to draw us to Himself is ALSO infinite, how could we ever be disappointed?

If the family is fighting, or someone just doesn’t show up – it’s hard, but it’s just an example of the fallen reality that Christ’s coming is intended to heal! When the fight breaks out, or you get word that someone isn’t coming… give it to Him. Really and truly make that act of your will – surrender it to Him and ask Him to help you be that person in the family to lift everyone else’s spirits!

If the turkey is a little too dry, or something burns, when you’re preparing the Christmas meal? I don’t believe even that tiny (in the scheme of things) annoyance is beneath the notice of the infinite King who became small, became an infant, for you. Look over at the little nativity scene that is set up in your home (or in your mind’s eye, if you don’t have one) and imagine the baby Jesus being such a cute and cuddly little bundle of baby that your heart just melts, and look, there, you’ve already found something more meaningful than whether or not the food is perfect.

Etc. etc. My point: invite Jesus into EVERY ASPECT OF THE DAY. Sometimes, ironically enough, it’s these little things that can help prompt us to remember Him, whose day it is. We might forget to even THINK of Him if everything went perfectly! See it for the invitation it is to include Our Lord in the feast of His own Nativity!

I truly hope you and your family have a very blessed and joyful Christmas! I hope you can find your peace in Him – the fulfillment of your hopes in Him! Be gentle and patient with yourself, be gentle and patient with others, drive safely if you’re travelling, and include Him in every aspect of the Christmas Season that your creativity allows!

Merry Christmas!

 

 

Am I Not Here?

By Guadalupana.

I have a confession to make.  My name is not really “Guadalupana.”  However, Our Lady of Guadalupe played a role in my name in religious life and I am going to pray that she guides me in this blog post; to share what is on my heart!

Near the end of postulancy, I had a “home visit”.  During this visit, my beautiful maternal grandmother whom I was very close to gave me a book about Our Lady of Guadalupe titled “Am I Not Here?”  This encounter and book are special to me.  It was the last time I saw my grandmother alive; she ended up passing away during my first year of novitiate.  As my grandmother pointed me to Mary, Mary would want to point us to Jesus.  Am I not here?  This is true for Our Mother but also for her Son, Jesus.  He is here with us and wants us to more deeply know of His love and for us to receive it.

God is Love.  We hear this phrase often. I’ve said it often.  Yet, here is confession:  A part of me struggled with this even though I’ve had many graces that should lead me to do otherwise.  I won’t go into the details why, but off & on during the past few months when hearing Gospel passages where it sounded as if Jesus was “yelling” at the Pharisees, fear & worry would surface and a question which was semi-hiding in my heart would come out.  How would Jesus treat me?  Would He have treated me, for instance, in the same manner as a sister who at times had lost her temper at me over little things?  Were they little things?  Is God displeased at me?  Does He look at me like His beloved daughter and treat me gently or does He look at every mistake I make waiting to “pounce”?!  This uncertainty that was in my heart would cause me to lose my peace when “bad things happen” or when someone would speak harshly or when hearing certain Gospel passages.  Uncertainty can lead to a cycle of questioning God’s love, being hard on self, & being unforgiving towards others when it arises.

A few weeks ago, I had a meeting with a priest for spiritual direction that had a really good impact on me as well as a meditation and talk on the topic of “Forgiveness of Self.”  This brought greater clarity, peace, and healing to my soul.  This post would be too long to share everything (and it is probably too long now!), but here are five main points from this night that may be of help to anyone else who has been in a similar situation (religious life or not) or who has had similar questions lingering in their hearts.

  1. I tried, I desire to love & serve the Lord, and I need to enjoy His Company.

The priest told me how he had suffered through novitiate.  Novitiate is a drastic shift.  We are not sure what to do.  He reassured me that I had given it a sincere try.  He said that I love God a lot (I do?!) & God appreciates it (yay!).  He told me that in my desire to love & serve God, be careful not to get over analytical.  Drop it when I start to worry & analyze. Worrying is a cross that is self-afflicted.  Enjoy God’s company.  I’m not a Pharisee.  I need to distinguish shortcomings from hypocrisy; which entails not trying & only being interested in the facade.  Let God love me. I cannot earn God‘s love but I don’t have to; He just loves me.

  1. I am not closing the door on God & He will make something beautiful out of all of this.

The priest assured me that by closing the door to religious life, I am not closing it on God.  Rather, God has closed the door on religious life for me. (In the past, being told that would have bothered me…I would have felt rejected by God.  However, now it brought me comfort.  God has not rejected me.  God knows what’s best for me.  As I typed this, I recalled something a religious sister shared with me after I had told her that I was not called to make first vows. This sister told me that while she was before the Blessed Sacrament & telling the Lord that she didn’t understand why I wasn’t called to vows, she heard the Lord say: “I know better.  I will take care of her.”) The priest also told me that I had a rough journey and it’s a mystery why God allowed it, but He would only allow it if He can draw something good & beautiful from it and it was not a punishment. Confide in God’s mercy & grace.  He is a loving God.

  1. Have a healthy social life & be open to God’s will, which may be to marriage.

Have the freedom to enjoy self without worry.  Also, we love Jesus by doing His will, such as getting married.  If it’s not His will, He’ll let me know.  God willed me to exist and He is involved with the dating process because He is involved in my life.

  1. Let go of shame and welcome “DTC”

In Luke 5:1 (the calling of St. Peter), St. Peter told Jesus to depart from him because he’s a sinful man. (Peter was hard on himself.  Jesus instead told Peter to not be afraid and that he’ll be catching men. Jesus held Peter still. Peter could have given into great shame.  Shame: “should have mastered everything”. We tell ourselves that we should have been better by now, etc.  Rather, I belong to the “deserving of tenderness club” (DTC)! I deserve to be affirmed and to affirm self. Self-inflicting torture can take up room where the Lord wants to dwell.  Don’t go to bed without forgiving yourself.  Wrap yourself in your Father’s arms and let the Lord affirm you.  Let Him show you how He sees you.

  1. Accept God’s mercy and love.

One way to accept God’s mercy is to accept Him looking at you.  Look at Jesus crucified & take the time to let Him look at you, to accept the gift of Himself on the cross.  He loves you by giving Himself to you.  It’s done.  You’ve been forgiven. We can use a crisis to reaffirm our identity: I’m a beloved daughter of God; You gave Your life for me.  It’s an opportunity to go deeper through the struggle. There may be lies such as “I’m not worthy to be loved” or “there are so many things I didn’t do well.” Reality: You are a beloved daughter of God and He loves you.  St. Therese of Lisieux offered herself to the love of God, not to His justice.  God has a lot of love to give but not enough to receive it. St. Therese’s Little Way, confidence in God, acceptance of His love, being His child. She accepted to be loved.  Receive His love.

We can always go deeper into the reality of God’s love for us.  “Am I Not Here?”  Yes, Mary is with us.  Yes, God is with us.  Yes, all those in Heaven are with us.  They want us to know that we are not alone in our struggles AND that God wants to set us free from the worries that stop us from enjoying His Company and to be at peace. “…the thing that disturbs you, the thing that afflict you, is nothing.  Do not let your countenance, your heart be disturbed.  Do not fear… Am I not here, I who am your Mother?  Are you not under my shadow and protection?  Am I not the source of your joy?  Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms?  Do you need anything more? Let nothing else worry you, disturb you…” – Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego (1531)

Trying to Earn God’s Love

By Ignatia.

For three years before entering the convent, I had worn a chapel veil at Mass. As a child, I’d been attracted to the beauty of the veils themselves, and in college I became exposed to the theological reasoning behind the practice, which cinched the deal for me. I bought my first veil (a real mantilla!) in Madrid at World Youth Day and I’d worn one ever since. I loved veiling and adhered to it religiously (pun very much intended!), and I eagerly hoped and prayed that the day would come where I would wear a veil not just in the chapel, but “full time” as a religious sister.

When I finally heard and accepted God’s concrete invitation to join a religious order, I was ecstatic. Of course, there were difficulties with the decision to enter: Shortly after requesting entrance, I was offered several full scholarships for graduate study at prestigious universities, the Order asked me to do an additional “optional” year of formation as a prepostulant at a house in a foreign country, I needed to change my lifelong vegetarian diet in order to be able to eat “from the common table.” And I was asked not to wear a chapel veil as a prepostulant. While this last difficulty was not the hardest of those decisions (after all, I had the prospect of soon becoming a fully-habited religious sister in front of me!), I will admit that I struggled with it. It was one of the first tests of obedience that the Lord asked of me in religious life.

I grew a lot over the course of prepostulancy and during my two months as a postulant. And when I returned home from the convent, while it felt natural for me to continue veiling in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, it was with a very different mindset than when I’d begun the practice.

Thus, a week after leaving the convent, I found myself at daily Mass trying to push aside my anger with myself, my anger with some of my former Sisters, my feelings of deep vulnerability, abandonment, and loss, and basically just an overwhelming amount of inner turmoil. While I was kneeling in thanksgiving after Mass was over, an older gentleman approached me. “It’s so nice to see a young woman with her head covered at Mass! The Lord is granting you many graces for wearing that,” he said to me. Whereas before, this comment would have spoken to my pride and made me feel flattered (“I know! I’m such a good Catholic!”), now I just felt irrationally angry. I wanted to yell at him that “With that mindset, the Lord would probably be granting me far more graces if I were still in the convent! You don’t know anything!” Noting my anger and resolving to take it to prayer to examine it later, I responded instead with a weary smile and as much restraint as I could muster: “I hope the Lord grants me graces regardless of what I’m wearing on my head.”

During a personal Holy Hour a little later, I returned to that interaction. “The Lord is granting you many graces [for wearing a veil]”, I quoted in my journal. “Well,” I continued writing, “I personally hope the Lord is granting me graces because He loves me and because I love Him and try to follow His will, not because of some piece of lace on my head. In fact, I have a feeling that I received more graces in not wearing a veil as a prepostulant than I do now in wearing a veil as a laywoman, since the former was done in obedience.”

“But God doesn’t love me because I veil or because I pray or because I entered the convent. He loves me because that is Who He is. And because Who He is doesn’t change, His love for me will never change. His love for me is not dependent upon what I do or don’t do, on what I wear or don’t wear. I am loved no matter what because He is love and He loves me.”

Until that moment, I’d never realized or admitted to myself that I’d been trying to earn God’s love, but that’s what I’d been trying to do. I didn’t feel worthy of the Lord’s love, so instead of accepting that I am unworthy and He loves me
anyways, I tried to make it “worth it” for Him to love me. But somehow, in that place of brokenness, of realizing just how weak and sinful I am and how insufficient all my “great big efforts” to make myself “worthy” of being loved by God actually are, the Lord spoke Love into my heart. “Oh, little one,” I heard Him say, “My dear, sweet little one, you don’t need to try to win My love, you don’t have to earn it. You can’t earn it. My Heart is already yours and nothing you do will ever alter that.”

I am eternally grateful to that older gentleman for helping open my eyes to the reality of the Lord’s love for me and for helping open my heart to His healing. His comment led to a moment of deep insight and consolation that has been helping me navigate the stormy waters of these first few months of post-convent life.

I still wear a veil at Mass. I continue to love the tradition, and it helps remind me that I am both beautiful and His bride, even if I’m not a religious sister. But I now veil with more humility and less rigidity because I realize that it won’t “earn” me anything. It’s one of the many precious insights that the Lord has so graciously granted me since leaving my former community.

“You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride;

You have ravished my heart with one glance of your eyes.”

(Song of Songs 4:9)