I have always seen Advent as a beautiful season of hope and joyful expectation. I fell in love with Advent when I entered my religious community. There’s something about the quiet waiting of our Blessed Mother that has resonated so deeply with me.
For the first time in eight years, I am spending Advent at home with my family, instead of in the convent. I made the decision to leave the community six months ago, after more than seven years as a religious Sister. I chose to leave during a period of intense desolation, and looking back, I see that I acted in haste, without any true discernment. At the time, I was sure I was at peace with my choice, but my former postulant directress very wisely told me, “What you feel is relief, not peace.” I brushed her off as not understanding my situation, but after six months, I see the truth in what she said. I have yet to find the peace I thought I had. Instead, I came very quickly to deeply regret leaving the convent, and do not yet know if it would be possible for me to return.
This Advent, I find myself seeing Mary in a new way. I reflect upon her months of pregnant expectation, and for the first time, see more than just her joy. It must have been a time of great uncertainty for her, and also of learning whole-hearted trust in the God of the impossible.
How critical are hope and trust during the pregnant pauses in our own lives. In times of “limbo,” pain, or uncertainty, the temptation can be to fall into anxiety and even despair. Blessed are we to have Mary to guide us and be our example in these times.
As we enter the final days of Advent, I picture myself sitting alongside Mary in the later months of her pregnancy. The initial excitement has passed, and in the silence, perhaps Mary’s heart has begun to fill with questions of what the future will bring. I acknowledge the questions rising up in my own heart…questions of discernment, of God’s will, of doors that may or may not be closed before me. But rather than give in to the fear and uncertainty, I fix my gaze on Mary.
Very gently, she takes my hands in hers. She places my right hand over her heart, and the steady beating makes her hope, faith, and trust almost tangible to me. I cling tightly to Mary’s hope and trust, as I seem to have so little of my own right now. Then she presses my left hand to her belly, and as I feel the movement of the baby within her, I am reminded that times of uncertainty and waiting are really moments pregnant with God Himself. It is only by being faithful in the waiting that the sacred new life can be born.
If you, too, find yourself in a season of uncertainty, take heart. Hold tightly to our Blessed Mother, and know that something new and beautiful is in the waiting.
Dear sister, may the love of God, the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you!
I write this letter to you, my sister in Christ, who has had the courage and love to respond to a desire, an invitation, and a mystery: to belong wholly to God. You prayed, you strove to discern if this was a call to religious life, and you took a leap of faith. Now you are at a new stage in your discernment, one which is no less a leap of faith. You have left the community in which you lived, prayed, worked, laughed, cried, loved, and have come back into the “the world.” Please do not believe that you are alone. I want you to realize that there is a community of women throughout the world who have also made this step in and out of the convent. For many, if not all, this journey to and from has come with great sacrifice.
Dear sister, the Lord knows your sacrifice. The Lord knows our going and coming and He accompanies us on each step. Psalm 121:8 “The LORD will guard your coming and going both now and forever.” The journey you are on may be sorrowful or joyful—either way, the Lord intends to journey with you. “For the Lord will not abandon his people nor forsake those who are his own.” (Psalm 94:14).
Recently, my spiritual director shared with me about an article he read wherein a novice mistress sadly described the wounds that women carry when they leave the convent. She noticed that for many, who believed that they were to become the “bride of Christ,” leaving felt like a divorce, a rejection. The pain of this wound can be felt so acutely, it leads women out of the Church.
I would like to say to these women: your grief is real, your wounds are real, but please do not confuse your pain with how Jesus feels about you. Please do not believe that He no longer cares. Jesus does not reject anyone who comes to Him (even if it may feel like it and even if you say: well, I have left Him). Sometimes we may be tempted to imagine ourselves as that “ideal sister” we thought we were called to be, to the point of losing our own identity. We compare ourselves to that image of a “fervent aspirant” or “generous postulant” that was ready to do whatever God asked. Then, at some moment along the way of our discernment, we realized that we cannot live up to that ideal. What do we do with this realization?
A major moment of insight and growth came to me in prayer one day (after I had already left the convent) when the Lord lovingly revealed to me that my offering to Him was lacking something. I didn’t understand at first, thinking I had given up everything. But He told me that my offering lacked something personal. As I pondered this, I realized that I wasn’t being authentic with Him because I had been striving to live up to what was asked of me as a sister, while not offering everything that was really happening inside my mind and heart. I was burying the real me in favor of an image of who I thought I should be. What I was trying to offer to God was something other than me.
When Jesus said in John 6:37, “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me,” He did not intend this statement to be true only if you become a nun. Jesus said two very important words: everything and anyone. Can you exclude yourself from this invitation to hope? So, if you feel rejected, alone, and are struggling (I totally get that—I cried every day for two straight months when I realized I was leaving the convent), please reach out to someone you can trust. Jesus did not give us the grace of courage and love to enter religious life, only to abandon us and expose us to useless pain. “The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29). Please, do not lose sight of what you have received in Christ.
In Baptism, you are a beloved daughter of God, a temple of the Holy Spirit, called to intimate communion with the Most Holy Trinity and all the members of the Body of Christ. You are beloved and you belong. You are called by name and have a real family that prays for you throughout the world. God has a purpose and a mission for your life which is a secret of His love and Providence. In Confirmation you were sealed with the Spirit with an eternal seal of love.
So please remember, Bride of Christ, that your soul remains His. As a member of the Body of Christ, you remain His Bride. You are that betrothed, chaste virgin spoken of in St. Paul’s letter (2 Corinthians 11:2). Not wanting anyone to be led away from the love of Jesus which remains and endures forever, I share in the sentiment of St. Paul because I too love you, my sister in Christ, and I pray that you may continue to know the love of God and the peace of Christ “that surpasses understanding” (Philippians 4:7) as you continue your courageous and loving journey into the arms of God.
– Aimée Dominique
When I was in college, a good friend told me that we don’t have to find the saints – they find us. God places them in our lives at pivotal moments, to shed light on our own following of him. Since she said this, I have found it to be true on multiple occasions.
After six adventurous years of serving as a missionary, youth director, and other such exciting positions, I now work as a secretary at a church. I’ve realized God is calling me to a time of being still, and to use the advantages of a stable schedule to allow him to speak to me more deeply. While I am profoundly grateful for this position, and confident that God placed me here (through uniquely providential circumstances) I still feel that I am not doing enough. I miss my adventures. I am in tension between the peace that I am where He wants me, and yet a gnawing feeling of “not enough” that creeps in. I am happy to serve in the hidden tasks, yet can’t help noting the irony between the grandeur of what I did before (giving talks to teens, counseling others in their walk with Christ etc) and the exasperating minutiae of what I do now (fighting with the copier, spending hours on hold with Comcast!).
Underneath all this, is the ever-present tension that surfaces about what I am doing with my life in the long-term. I am at peace that I have given God all I can for now, but plagued by the same gnawing of “not enough.” I want to know the answer to the all-important question – what is my vocation, my purpose in life. I want to know why God will still not reveal it despite my earnest and faithful seeking.
Recently, into all these tensions, across the years, through a powerful thing called the Communion of Saints, came the perfect heavenly friend for me. While on hold yet again on a call for the parish, I was sorting through piles of paper on my desk and stumbled across an article about the life of a woman named Julia Greeley. I learned that her cause for canonization was currently underway, and was instantly intrigued. (For what is more fascinating than a canonization process currently underway in your own country?)
Julia Greeley was a Catholic, African-American laywoman who lived a poor and humble life. Her path to holiness was the epitome of the “hidden yes.” Recently recognized as “Servant of God” by her archdiocese in Denver, Colorado, Julia Greeley’s life was lowly and uncelebrated. She was born into slavery sometime between 1833 and 1848, and finally freed in 1865 by the state of Missouri’s Emancipation Act. Little is known about the intervening years, except that when she was a young child, she lost her right eye to the whip of an angry slave owner. Once freed, Julia made a living cooking, cleaning, and caring for children as a nanny.
In 1880, she became Catholic and was received into the Church at Sacred Heart Church in Denver. The Sacred Heart then became the central mystery and mission of her life. She would walk for miles to share devotional Sacred Heart pamphlets and medals with as many people as she could. She was also a dedicated servant of the poor. Though she herself lived in poverty, she gave of what she had, and also went begging for the needs of others. Friendship was a central characteristic of her life, in which she transcended the racial and societal divides of her time. White and black, Catholics and non catholic, rich and poor, old and young alike were numbered among her friends. Young children in particular were drawn to her and delighted in her presence. Her funeral overwhelmed her tiny parish church as over 1,000 people from all walks of life came to pay their respects.
She attended daily Mass faithfully, and in fact, died on her way to Mass, on the feast of her beloved Sacred Heart in 1918.
Fast-forward to June 2017 – nearly 100 years later – her remains were recently transferred to the Cathedral in Denver. She is the very first person to be buried there. As the bishop, Jorge Rodriguez, who presided over the ceremony pointed out “[Julia Greeley] will be the first person buried in Denver’s cathedral. Not a bishop, not a priest – a laywoman, a former slave. Isn’t that something?”
The humble are exalted. The last shall be first. Even to this day, few people know about Julia Greeley. In her life, she served in the lowliest (and even despised) roles. She had no “status” in secular society. In the Church, she was never a religious, theologian, or leader. And yet, it is her, whom God has lifted up and placed before our eyes.
Her life intersected with mine at just the right moment, to teach me what truly matters. Not only are the hidden yesses more powerful than we realize, but they are enough to bring us to Heaven. Julia Greeley’s life was all about the hidden yes.
The “yes” to forgive the grave wrongs of slavery and physical abuse that she suffered. . .
The “yes” to lead a joyful and charitable life in the midst of an unjust and still-segregated society. . .
The courageous “yes” to enter a Church in a time when there were few to no Catholics of her culture and racial background. . .
The “yes” to literally walk across the societal divides of her time. . .
The “yes” to travel miles on her errands of mercy and evangelization despite painful arthritis . . .
(this particular “yes,” in fact, remained hidden until the very recent examination of her bones during the exhumation process for her canonization!).
And the overarching “yes” to be the love of the Sacred Heart to all whom she encountered.
She has given me a different perspective. Everything has value. Where I am now could, as I believe, just be yet another stop along the way to where God ultimately wants me. Yet even if eternity were tomorrow, it could be ENOUGH to make me a saint. If I but choose to respond.
So, I now try to make jokes, when I finally get through on the Comcast call. Their customer service agent is a person too, whom Julia would have seen as a friend. I win my fight with the copier, knowing that I’ve made the pace of life smoother for everyone else even if they never know about it. And when anxiety about the future creeps in, I try to whisper, “Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in You!”
Servant of God, Julia Greeley, Pray for Us!
Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!
Former slave Julia Greeley first to be buried at Denver’s Cathedral
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.