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”!

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.

Friends Under the Same Sky


By Cecilia Therese.

As I transition after leaving the convent after 10 years,the hardest thing has been to miss everyone that I had meet in the apostolate in the parishes where I worked. I was at a parish for 6 years and in that time I met families, parishioners that became like family. Not being able to see them or talk to them is very heavy in my heart. Today I was reading the Bible and I came across this verse:

Genesis 31:49 “The Lord watch between you and me, when we are out of one another’s sight.” This could be a great prayer to lift up to God while we are missing them.  I also came across this : “Whenever I miss my friends, I look in the sky although I can’t see them there. But I feel happy because we are under the same sky.”

The great thing is we have a Mother -The Blessed Virgin Mary. We can ask her to keep all those we had to leave from under her mantle.  Recently I heard that a parishioner I was close with died of cancer this past month. She was 28 years old and a mother of 3 little children. I had the grace to sing and play organ at her wedding a few months ago and in her wedding she was baptized, received first communion, confirmed and made her wedding vows all in the same ceremony! It was beautiful to see her baptized in her wedding dress. She died on a Saturday (the Day of the Blessed Virgin Mary close to 3pm).I am sure Mary was waiting for her in heaven.

So when we are in those moments where we miss the convent and people we left behind, we can turn to Our Lady and ask her to be with us and with those we care about. She went to Jesus at the wedding feast of Cana in her concern and said they have no wine. She is always interceding and she is the queen of heaven and earth.  We are under the same sky as those we left. The Blessed Mother is also there. When you look up at the sky see your friends and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“If you ever feel distressed during your day call upon our Lady and just say this simple prayer: ‘Mary, Mother of Jesus, please be a mother to me now.’ I must admit this prayer has never failed me.”
–Blessed Mother Teresa

“Love our Lady. And she will obtain abundant grace to help you conquer in your daily struggle.” –St. Josemaria Escriva

May Our Lady of Guadalupe Pray for us!!!!

The Outside Matters


By Sackcloth Dreams.

Recently, I was part of a discussion about theology students wearing the roman collar. One side said that seminarians shouldn’t wear the collar because it confuses people and they think a guy is a priest when he is not. But the former seminarian at the table explained how wearing the collar helped him feel more committed in his studies and the path he had embarked upon. It was interesting to hear.

The fact is, our bodies and our clothes matter, whether we like it or not. The outside reflects the interior, but our interior can also be shaped by our exterior. When I feel yucky in the morning, my initial reaction is to put on something comfortable and well-worn. I don’t want to put forth the energy to look nice. I want easy. But yet, if I stop myself and make the effort to look nice on the outside, it makes a difference in my attitude. There have been many days where I felt down but my usual clothes were in the laundry. As a result, I had to “dress up” because that was all I had. And it made a difference.

The day I entered the convent and changed into my postulant outfit was intense and most of it is a blur. But I do remember wanting to stand up tall and have proper posture to almost show respect to my new life and community, represented by my clothes. This feeling continued during my time there. My attire almost commanded me to carry myself a certain way.

When I returned to lay life, clothes were hard to come by. I don’t have sisters and I didn’t have any friends of the
same size/body type. As a result, I was given some ill-fitting clothes by people in order to get through and I used them for a long time (too long). I hate shopping with a passion and I didn’t have the money to get a new wardrobe. But I also didn’t feel like making the effort because I thought I wasn’t worth it. This created a cycle which I am still battling.

In “Searching for and Maintaining Peace” Fr. Jacques Philippe demonstrates the importance of the body and our actions. He says, “I should begin to strive to this peace in the easier situations of everyday life… to avoid excessive hurry in my gestures and the way I climb the stairs! The soul is often reeducated by the body!” (pg 82).

Haven’t we all experienced this? Don’t you pray differently when you are kneeling as opposed to sitting or lying down, for example? We have many times throughout our day when we sit, stand, lean, lie down, etc. But in Western culture we very rarely kneel or prostrate ourselves. This makes these postures meaningful. In regards to my surroundings, when I am in a beautiful church it is much easier to raise my mind to God. Furthermore, when I used to work in the Capitol I was often tempted to genuflect in the legislative chambers because the architecture was beautiful!

I had noticed this when thinking of postures in prayer, the beauty of a church and other more obviously “spiritual 
matters” but I hadn’t ever thought about it in regards to my appearance. I am blessed to have a spiritual director who has been helping me grow and pray through my struggles with my exterior. He has constantly encouraged me to pray with these difficulties and be open and honest with the Lord. It is humbling to realize how much of our identity is wrapped up in our exterior. I tried to deny this reality for so long and now I am forced to surrender. It does matter.

So how about you? How did you feel about clothes? Was it hard to give up religious garb because it saved you from clothing decisions? Or did you immediately go to the trendiest store after returning and run up a big bill?