The Last Shall Be First (Part 1)

By LumenChristi.

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.

The Rosary: A Prayer for Comfort

rosary-pixabayBy Lucia Delgado.

For most of my life, I prayed often. I prayed for my family, friends, the country, and the whole world.

When I entered the Catholic Church in 2004, my prayer life was under development. I was introduced to the Rosary by the Dominican friars and they helped me understand the Blessed Mother more fully.

I guess that is why I decided to aspire with a Franciscan community under the protection of Our Lady of Sorrows. I was attracted by their desire for prayer. After a brief aspirancy period, I left the community after praying and asking the Blessed Mother for help. It seems that I was entering religious life to please others. Six months later, I met my fiancé and we have a wedding date set.  During the discernment process I lived in fear; the marriage vocation scared me because of past family experiences. The Lord told me that everything will be fine… just follow Me. I sat up and accept the call to marriage and eventually motherhood. May God’s will be done.

The Virgin Mary was called not only to be a mother to the Lord; she was called to be a mother to all of us. Her fiat changed everything; she had peace know that God’s will be done.

In the month of the Rosary, I decided to reflect on this beautiful prayer which St. Dominic prayed in order to bring others to the Lord. I would that the brief aspirancy helped me to pray the Rosary and have a greater love for the Blessed Virgin Mary who leads us to Jesus.

By praying the Rosary, my fears are diminished. Mary was courageous enough to travel to visit her cousin Elizabeth; she trusted God throughout the pregnancy and the birth of Jesus.

She was sorrowful during the Passion but she knew that joy was coming.

For those who have left religious communities, know that joy is coming soon. We are not abandoned by our Lord and His Mother. He gives us His Mother to comfort us.

Hence each Ave Maria is a prayer for comfort.

I’d Rather Go to Heaven


By Amata

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.

Pierced But Not Broken

Mary Magdalene Crucifixion Kreuzigung WMCBy Girasol.

In my former community, we would comment–in a somewhat light-hearted way–about the age of thirty-three being the “year of crucifixion.” Perhaps those community sisters of mine who had already passed that age spoke with more truth than I realized. While there are certain moments of more intense suffering and offering at different stages of life, independent of age, the “year of crucifixion” didn’t pass by without reminding me very clearly of the cross.

At thirty-one, I said goodbye to my community family and embarked upon a new way of life. At thirty-two I met a knight in shining armor and seriously opened myself to the possibility of marriage. And not more than a day after my thirty-third birthday, my knight and I–after a long conversation and many tears–decided that we needed to step back from the relationship. God had not given me the peace I needed to move forward in that vocation.

In some ways it was more painful to end an eight-month relationship than it has been to leave my community of many years. Or perhaps the one was now compounding the other. I was working through not one loss but two. In spite of feeling peace in the rightness of the decision, the sadness continued for many months.

Providence would have it that I had already intended to renew my Marian Consecration on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. The Boat Sunrise Water Outdoor Sea PixabayConsecration day itself had its share of crosses, not the least of which was my inability to attend Mass due to my “worldly duties.” Yet on the following day–the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows–I had a moment of heart-to-heart prayer with My Mother. The previous few months had been painful. I needed to be with her at the cross. I wrote this reflection:

“With Mary I stand at the foot of the cross. No…I don’t stand. I fall. It’s hard, so hard. It’s painful. Why? Because of love. Love can hurt. I may have to leave at the altar of the cross something that I love dearly. Why? Because the love of Christ is more, and if He is asking the sacrifice, I can’t refuse it.

But I really have nothing on Mary when it comes to pain, suffering, and loss. Talk about a broken heart! No…her heart was pierced but not broken. She knew suffering like no other yet was not driven to despair. She hoped against all hope. She offered, she loved. And it is with her that I walk through this valley of tears. I’ve renewed my consecration to her – and if I take this act seriously, how much more does she? She is my faithful companion. I know that she does not abandon her children.”

14th-century_unknown_painters_-_Crucifixion_with_Saints_and_Noli_Me_Tangere WMCThe tears didn’t magically disappear that day, my heart wasn’t healed in an instant,nor did the twists and turns suddenly make sense. But I had a new awareness of Mary’s presence in my life. If Mary could maintain faith and hope in the midst of unimaginable suffering, can she not help me to do the same in my sufferings, small by comparison? She accompanies me at the foot of the Cross, consoles me and reminds me that I have reason to hope. Because if thirty-three is the year of crucifixion, it is also the year of resurrection. We all have that to look forward to, my friends – in small ways in this life and a glorious way in the next.

The Release


By Mater Dolorosa.

A few months back I was getting up off the floor and I felt a twinge of pain in my leg. Ugh! I guess I pulled a muscle. So for a few days I iced it and heated it and stretched it. It still hurt but I got tired of taking care of it. I figured after a few more days it would go away.

But it didn’t.

As a matter of fact, it started getting worse. It was easy to ignore or forget about because it didn’t hurt constantly. But if I moved my leg in a certain way, the stabbing pain came out of nowhere and was blinding. As this continued, week after week, month after month, I started to get worried. Shouldn’t this have gone away by now? Is this something more serious? Do I have a tumor or something?

During this time, I started seeing a physical therapist about something else. She tried to get me to do a certain stretch and I couldn’t because of the terrible pain. So she stopped what she was planning on doing and focused on that crazy muscle that I had been ignoring.

Recently I have come to realize there are parts of my heart that are just like this. They are super tense and need help. They aren’t constantly nagging so I don’t know they are there. But suddenly, if I am put in the right situation, OUCH! The stabbing pain can’t be ignored.

I’ve prayed about those things here and there, on and off. They seem to kind of go away, but then once a certain thing happens again, they rear up. What am I supposed to do? Where did that come from? Why is this taking so long to heal? Why am I not over this?

With my leg, it took a while, but the physical therapist was able to find a certain position I could be in to slowly give me relief. I asked her how I would know how much I should stretch it. (I have a tendency to be a “no pain, no gain” person but this time I had enough sense to realize that was not the correct approach). She explained that I wasn’t trying to stretch the muscle, I was trying to relax and get it to release.

Release? What does that even mean?

But as I took the exercise home, I started to understand. I couldn’t just set aside 5 minutes for some stretching. I needed to prop myself up with pillows and just try to relax and let the muscle calm down. It had been in such distress for months; I needed to give it time to realize everything was okay. I had to prop it up with sturdy things. Nothing slippery could suffice. My body knew it might slip out and wouldn’t relax. And I had to lie there for a long time and let it gradually calm down. Then I needed to take a quick break, and do it again, and then a third time. And then the next day, the same thing. After a few weeks of this, it is much better, though I still have more to do.

In my prayer, it is the same way. I can’t just toss up a few prayers about these deeps hurts for a couple of minutes each day and wonder why they aren’t really going away. I need to spend dedicated time with the Lord. I need to relax and hand those things over to Him. I need to release those hurts – truly let them go. And most of all, I need to be patient with myself and my heart. Just as our bodies need time to heal and recover, so do our hearts.

How about you? How have you been able to let go? Please share your insights below! God bless you.

Help My Unbelief

By Ignatia.

My God, I am Thine for time and eternity. Teach me to cast myself entirely into the arms of Thy loving providence with the most lively, unlimited confidence in Thy compassionate, tender pity.

(From the Suscipe of Ven. Catherine McAuley)

The night of January 1st, I couldn’t fall asleep. My mind kept replaying things I’d done wrong in the convent. Over and over and over again. And then it hit me that it’s no longer 2015 and that I no longer have a prayer partner in the community, since their tradition is to assign a prayer partner for the year on New Year’s Eve. It felt as thought someone had punched me in the gut. My last real connection, the last concrete evidence of having belonged to the community was gone. It hurt so badly that I couldn’t breathe … so I asked the Lord to use my pain to bless someone who really needed it and wound up praying for a close friend of mine. And then I just curled up in Our Lord’s arms and sobbed.

“It hurts – IT HURTS – oh please make it stop hurting! …But until then, use my pain to help someone else.”

As I cried, an image of Jesus, beaten and bloody after the Scourging, came into my mind. And I realized that this pain, this feeling torn apart, this sorrow and mourning and loss, this is my cross right now. Here is where I am in union with the Lord. And it hurts terribly … but He is holding me. For:

“He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before Him. In love He destined us for adoption to Himself…” (Eph 1:4-5, emphasis added)

He loves me. His plan for me is love. And He is making me holy. He has chosen me, and the gift and the call of God are irrevocable.

I could’t have said that when I first returned home three months and three weeks ago. When I first came home, I wasn’t even sure I believed God had a plan for me at all, much less that it was good. When my spiritual director asked me back in November if I believed that God desired my happiness, I couldn’t answer him. I knew intellectually that, yes, God desires everyone’s happiness and that He has a plan for each person and that His plan is good. But I didn’t believe it for myself. Not really.

And when I admitted that to him, my spiritual director told me I needed to pray for an increase in faith. Faith?! I remember thinking at the time. But I have faith – I believe in God and I go to Mass and I pray. I don’t need an
increase in faith.
But Father explained that faith, one of the theological virtues, wasn’t just belief in God: it was belief or trust that God has a plan for me, that He is good, that He loves and cares about me, that He truly listens to me. Oh. Well, that’s a little different. I guess I’d never thought about it like that.

He told me that I needed to begin my daily holy hour begging God for an increase of faith. He also reminded me that I had to put effort in, too – I had to hold up my end of the bargain by making acts of faith. He encouraged me to go back to times in my life where God answered my prayers and to actively call those to mind as I prayed.

“Okay, Lord, I don’t really feel this right now, but I’m going to choose to believe that You have a plan for me and that You love me and that You’re still calling me to follow You – and that You will answer my prayers for increased faith. You have answered my prayers in the past – as I tried to decide where to go to college, as I discerned with different religious communities, as I struggled with obedience in the convent, and even… even when I begged You to give me the grace to stay or to let me know clearly whether I should leave. You have answered my prayers, so I choose to believe that You will continue to do so. I do believe, Lord, help my unbelief.”
At the beginning, my acts of faith were hesitant and usually came only after I’d spent time crying over the Gospel reading or despairing of His love for me. But as I stuck with it, I was amazed to find my heart changing. Advent and Christmas were very difficult for me emotionally, as everything seemed to remind me of the convent and my former community. But somehow, even through the pain, the acts of faith became easier to make, and I suddenly found myself successfully fighting temptations to despair with faith. Not that the temptations stopped, but when they started, I had the strength to pull back and say “No! I’m not going to give in this time! I choose to run towards God, trusting in His mercy and compassion and His love for me. I choose not to believe the lie that He is no longer calling me, that He doesn’t want me, that He wants me to be in pain.”

The difference is incredible – it’s a level of faith and confidence that I have never had before. And it’s made the grief bearable. It’s made me able to look beyond my pain and recognize the opportunity to offer it in union with Our Lord on behalf of someone else. It’s turned depression and hopelessness into something constructive and life-giving. It’s given me a way to hope even while I suffer.

I share this praying that it might help lift someone else’s burden of sorrow just a little and that it might give hope to those of us (me included) who are still waking up crying in the middle of the night after having dreamt of the convent or those of us unable to fall asleep for grief over having left. I can’t say for sure that the pain will go away (I’m not there yet, although I think some of the other LL members may be able to attest to it), but it is possible to believe and hope again even while it hurts. And this faith, this hope truly can give us the strength to carry this cross in union with the Lord who loves us.

I guess the question is: Will you ask Him for faith?