May/June can be hard months for those of us still discerning our place in life. Weddings, ordinations, professions of vows, and entrances into religious communities are a painful reminder that another year has come without any such milestone in sight for us. We rejoice with our friends and families – do our best to put on yet another reception with love, and send yet another friend off to the convent/seminary with prayers. And sit through yet another homily about “celebrating a yes to the Lord and to one’s vocation.” And go to confession yet again for envy/self-pity/lack of trust in God.
Am I right? Or is that just me?
I read an article recently called “We said yes too” about the struggles of Catholic couples who struggle with a miscarriage or infertility. While those around them get celebrated for having many children, they often experience the implication that those who don’t have a wild 7+ member crew in tow “aren’t open to life” or “haven’t said yes.” The author goes on to explain how she and others like her have said yes – hidden yesses too deep and painful to share. Yes to giving back to God an unborn child gone too soon; yes to the surrender of hopes and dreams in the struggle with infertility; yes to allowing the gifts that God has given to be enough.
When I read her article, as a woman discerning her vocation who has hit many painful detours along the road, I identified deeply with what she said. Though my life and struggles are different, my heart leapt with bittersweet joy as every word resonated.
“I have said yes too,” I thought. Not the “yes” that gets celebrated during “vocation season.” Not the exhilarating “yes” of a vow to the Church or to another person to commit my life forever. But a silent, not-spoken-out-loud kind of yes, I had given.
The “yes” to surrender my will and my desires to God and trust him for the timing.
The “silent yes” to Him in not settling for a “celebrated yes” that I knew wasn’t His will for me.
The “yes” to being faithful in prayer even during the times where I was no longer sure who I was praying to. . .
As well as the little “yesses” too that can cost a lot at times. Yes, Lord, I will smile at my friend and share his/her joy right now even though I would rather run away and cry. . .Yes, Lord, I will bite my tongue and accept criticism in humility when a priest or leader in the church asks “haven’t I thought about my vocation?” (Believe me, I ‘ve thought about it!!! Too much maybe!”)
We, dear single, discerning ladies, have said our “yes” too. I am not arguing that these “yesses” become publically celebrated. Firstly, that would be awkward, but secondly, some yesses are meant to be hidden. As Christ lived the first 30 years of His life, so too are many of the yesses along the way to holiness, hidden – sometimes even disguised and misunderstood. Such is the brokenness of humanity and the mystery of God. But as I was reading this article and reflecting on my own “yes,” I realized how important it is to understand and treasure it myself . I think, in the future, it will help me to step back from others’ celebrations just long enough to pause, and pray. “I too have said yes, Lord and you know it. Give me the strength to keep saying yes, even when it is difficult.”
Each woman can fill in what her “yes” has been. . .
“Lord, I said “yes” to entering the religious life, following you while my family thought I was crazy. . .and then, when you sent me back to that same family, I said “yes” again just as generously, although this time it was with tears. . . “
“Lord, I followed you out of the convent and into the world, not knowing where it would lead. I’ve accepted every bump in the road and being “a fool for you” as I adjusted back to secular life . . .”
“Lord, I desire marriage and a family, but I’ve said YES to waiting for it to happen in your time and in your way. . .”
“Lord, I do not know where I’m going, but I’ve said “yes” to journeying joyfully even when I feel desolate. . .”
“Lord, being at Mass right now only brings me pain, but I say “yes” to being here with you anyway. . .”
Each of us can find a lot of these “yesses” in our lives, and I have realized it is important to remember them. I believe that for me such remembrances will be the key place where I will find the power to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to walk in faith when I would rather see.
Of course, we are not alone in either the remembering or the resolving to do better. I hope it consoles you as much as it did me, to rediscover that no “yes” goes unseen by God. I think these yesses, that are the last to be thought of in this world, are the first to be remembered in His eyes, and the foremost to be felt by His heart. I think the more conscious of them that we become, the stronger we will be in remaining faithful to them.
God-willing, one day we too, will have the opportunity to make one of the “celebrated” yesses. But in the meantime, the silent ones are nonetheless real. Treasure your “yes” and allow the Lord to treasure you.
“Do not cling to me,” (c.f. Jn 20:17
The post-Resurrection encounter between Jesus and Mary of Magdala is one of my very favourite Scriptural accounts. Yet it poses a gentle challenge that I found very helpful upon returning to the world, if a little hard to hear, at first.
I’d invite you to step into Mary’s shoes for a moment. That moment of recognition at being called by name would obviously bring an unspeakable joy, an excitement, an awe. But I think there might also perhaps have been a sense that “now that He’s back, things will be just like they used to be…” Perhaps Mary was clinging to a set notion of the pre-Resurrection Jesus? She had to let go, to allow Him to return to His Father.
The words “do not cling to me” speak to me, also, as I ponder this account. I had certain ideas about my relationship with the Lord when I was in the convent. When I returned to the world, it was tempting to cling to these ideas. They were comforting, familiar. But they were my own ideas about Jesus – they weren’t actually Jesus.
How is Jesus revealing Himself to me in the present moment? Who am I before Jesus, now? How do we relate? Is my relationship with Him stagnating, because I am clinging to those old ideas? Perhaps it’s time for me to invite Him back in, to allow Him to love me, to grow in love for Him… a different kind of love…
Q: What is “From My Inner Cell” all about?
A:Â From My Inner Cell: Conversations with God for convent-leavers
Some years ago, I was talking with a dear friend. She and her husband had been struggling to conceive, and she was sharing with me how painful this experience was. However, she said, if this was something that she needed to go through, to suffer, so that she could become holy, then so be it. She said she’d rather go to Heaven than have a baby, if that was what it took to get to heaven, if this experience of infertility was purifying her and sanctifying her through her pain.
Her words that day stuck with me. She’d rather go to heaven than have a baby, if that was what it took. I continued to ponder and to be amazed by those words. I grew up in a large family, where babies are seen as one of the greatest gifts God can give, and now I feel myself drawn to marriage. I love babies, and I could see the pain in my friend’s eyes as she spoke. And yet, she would rather go to Heaven than have a baby. Her desire for God, for sanctity, and for doing God’s will was greater than her desire to have a child of her own.
St. Ignatius talks about the indifference that is necessary for sanctity. He is not talking about a world in which we have absolutely no desires. Rather, he is talking about a world where our desires match God’s desires for us, where we make decisions based on God’s will, and where we subject our own desires to God’s desires for us. When I first heard of this idea, I struggled to understand what it really means. What does this holy indifference really look like in today’s world?
I think I saw it in my friend’s eyes that day. She’d rather go to Heaven. She was placing her own desires at the feet of God and accepting His will for her as necessary for her own salvation. And even as she spoke, there was a joy behind the pain. Nobody was twisting her arm making her accept the will of God. Rather, mingled with her tears there was a genuine desire for Heaven and an excitement at the thought of seeing God Himself face to face for all eternity. She’d rather go to Heaven.
I think that, in many ways, the greatest sufferings in our life come from a lack of this holy difference. If we are really
able to say “blessed be God” no matter what comes, if we can learn to let go of something because it does not correspond with God’s will for us at this moment, then I think our lives would be so much easier. Easier said than done, I know.
As I continue to ponder my own journey of discernment of religious life, through living active life and nearly joining a cloistered community, these words have stuck with me. Would I like to still be in my religious community, joking that I’ll be buried out back? Yes. But, I’d rather go to Heaven, and if living in the world as a layperson is my path to sanctity, then so be it. Would I rather have had that cloistered vocation that I explored? Somedays, yes. But, I’d rather go to Heaven.
And now, as I discern married life and am surrounded by friends and siblings with families of their own, it is easy to be frustrated. I never imagined that at this point in my life I would still be so… unsettled. Would I absolutely love to have a family of my own right now, or at least a serious boyfriend, so that I can be closer to the vocation God seems to have in mind for me? Oh, yes, by all means!
But, I’d rather go to Heaven.
I think Joseph is quite a comfort to the average convent/seminary leaver. I’m not talking St. Joseph the Foster-Father of Jesus… he’s awesome, yes. But right now I’m talking about the owner of a certain Technicolour Dreamcoat.
We all recall that he was sold into slavery by his brothers who were offended that he seemed to think himself better than he really was. He was thrown into prison because he turned out to be better than the Pharoah’s wife thought he was. And if the irony of all of that wasn’t enough, throw in the fact that he was accompanied in his unjust fate by two others who deserved their punishment!
Unlike the Event for which this was a pre-figurement, where one of the thieves asked to be remembered by the Innocent One when He entered His Kingdom, in this case rather it was the innocent one who asked to be remembered:
“Only think of me when all is well with you, and please do me the great favor of mentioning me to Pharoah, to get me out of this place.” (Gen 40:14)
This request was made of the “chief cupbearer,” who promptly forgot all about Joseph when he left the prison. Joseph remained in prison for another two years.
What on earth went through Joseph’s mind and emotions over that two year period? What do you think he prayed about during that time? Did he give up hope that he would be remembered and freed? Was there some point at which he decided there was no way he was ever getting out of there, and was that belief something that sparked off the grief cycle for Joseph? Do you think He got angry at God? Perhaps he felt as though he had been forsaken? I wonder if that first little while after leaving the convent/seminary isn’t just a little bit like Joseph’s time in prison?
In the story of Joseph, we cannot help but notice that he did not return to Canaan. Yet as the adventure played out, albeit in a place other than that which Joseph had planned, it is worth remembering that God provided him with the means to put things right with his brothers, to be reunited with his father and to live a full and happy life.
L-R: Bek (Technology Coordinator), Theresa (President), and Penny (Blog Mistress)
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?
“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 freak-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.
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 our 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!)
Then, as Bek and Theresa had been “collecting” Doors of Mercy, it was my turn to take the photo:
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.
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!
(The black ship in the background is the SV Notorious, the only replica fifteenth-century caravel in the southern hemisphere.)
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…
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 thought 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”!