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 Consecration 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.”
The 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.
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.
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?
By a cousin of an LL board member, written after she was called to leave a mission field that she loved.
My precious daughter, all I want is you.
I want you to know me more.
I want you to trust me more.
I want you to love me more.
That’s all I want from you.
Everything else is secondary, it flows out of that.
Being a missionary … serving me … being my hands and feet in this world,
its all secondary.
I want all of you.
And if it takes breaking your heart that’s what I am going to do
because I love you.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
The Immaculate Conception was a big feast day in the convent I had entered. We had our letter-writing day for all of our Christmas cards on that day and it was a mad race to try and write to every person that we did not often have the chance to write the rest of the year. There was Christmas music on and different Christmas treats around in the midst of all the Advent preparations. I always enjoyed this day in the convent, and I found it difficult the first year I was home again during Advent and had to write Christmas cards whenever I chose to make time for them. There is something to be said for the beautiful way feast days are often celebrated in the convent.
Mary was someone who was difficult for me to relate to and understand prior to entering Religious Life. I did not have much of a devotion to Mary, and I often prayed the rosary half-heartedly because I felt it was a “good” thing to do. During my time in the convent, my devotion and love for Mary grew and grew. I am grateful for that gift that Religious Life gave to me.
After returning home, I found I couldn’t even speak with Jesus in prayer most of the time because I felt so completely rejected by Him. I had laid down my life and made my vows only to discern Him asking me to leave a year later. Mary was the one solace I had in leaving because I felt like she could understand my pain of feeling so separated from Jesus while still knowing in my mind that He did love me and want what was eternally best for my soul. I’m grateful for her taking my hand and leading me through the darkness of leaving Religious Life. On days when I couldn’t bear to spend a minute in prayer, I was able to say a prayer to Our Lady and find some peace with her.