And (Mary) became three years old, and Joachim said: Call for the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take every one a lamp, and let them be burning, that the child turn not backward and her heart be taken captive away from the temple of the Lord. And they did so until they were gone up into the temple of the Lord.
And the priest received her and kissed her and blessed her and said: The Lord hath magnified thy name among all generations: in thee in the latter days shall the Lord make manifest his redemption unto the children of Israel. And he made her to sit upon the third step of the altar. And the Lord put grace upon her and she danced with her feet and all the house of Israel loved her.
(From the Protoevangelium of James, Chapter VII.)
All things considered, the idea of a religious vocation is often a lot harder for parents than it is for the young person who has fallen in love with God. Saints Anne and Joachim brought Mary to the Temple with joy, but many other parents wave goodbye at the train station or airport with an aching heart, wondering whether their daughter will be happy in the convent, and whether they will be able to live with the separation that she has chosen. One essay by a Sister, published in the book Why I Entered the Convent (1954), describes the difficult weeks leading up to her departure in a way that many who have felt called to the religious life will recognise:
God really wanted me, and I really wanted Him. But the crux of the whole matter, then, was to do something about it. In almost every narrative, particularly in “success stories,” – and definitely in this particular one – here is the precise point where the obstacles begin to appear, or where, as the melodramatist says, “the plot thickens.”
Actually, “thickens” is a very thin word to describe the obstacle that was for me the most formidable one. For the first time in my life my parents and I could not understand each other. We had always been affectionately and intimately “the Big Three.” Division was a new and painful experience. They saw separation where I sought soul-deep union; they knew only sacrifice where I would reap fulfilment; for them it seemed the end while for me it was a most wonderful beginning.
When those whom you love dearly and who love you even more cannot share your desire – or worse, misinterpret and oppose them – it takes high courage and nothing short of divine grace to keep on desiring. The sharp conflict of loyalties to Christ and to them waged an almost shattering battle of mind against heart, of faith against feeling.
Entering a convent is hard and always has been, for the woman and for her family. Even though you’ve returned to the world, God will surely remember the sacrifice – however reluctant – that they made in remaining behind as you tested your vocation in a religious community.
If God permits His grace to flow to others through her, they have helped to put the channel at His disposal. He is the Potter, but they have contributed the clay. Best of all, they know that with our common loyalty to, and generosity with, God now during life will some day be a major cause for the “Big Three” being wondrously united for all eternity, with each other and with Him.
Lord, God of our fathers,
You bestowed on Saint Joachim and Saint Anne
this singular grace
that their daughter, Mary,
should become the Mother of Your Son, Jesus Christ.
Grant, at their intercession,
the salvation that You promised to Your people.
We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, amen.
When I entered the convent, one of the most difficult things was knowing how painful the separation was for my parents, especially my mom. The three of us have always been very close, and since I’m the youngest in my family and the only daughter, that made it even harder. I’m thankful that they were generous enough to let me go, but I know many tears were shed during my time in the convent.
I am still discerning religious life, and to be honest, one of the things that concerns me is knowing that if I enter religious life again, I will be once more putting my parents through the tremendous suffering they experienced before. ?
Yes…especially when you have come back to them and can see first-hand (or in my case they openly told me) how much they have struggled with your vocation. I came back to my entire family and my parents witnessed me go from perfect joy and freedom to deep depression in a matter of 24 hours after leaving. I think they are more afraid than I am that if I tried again, it wouldn’t work out. It doesn’t help that the reason I had to leave was because I became very ill, and they fear for my health and seeing me like that again. God had given them tremendous graces throughout my time in Carmel, but I remember them saying, “We just don’t know how to be good ‘Carmelite parents’ ”. I think we see through this why Our Lord said that He had come to divide a Mother against her daughter and a Father against his son…
We cannot fix the pain they feel, even though we wish we could. I just think of yesterday’s 2nd Reading: ROM 8:28-30
“Brothers and sisters:
We know that all things work for good for those who love God,
who are called according to his purpose.
For those he foreknew he also predestined
to be conformed to the image of his Son,
so that he might be the firstborn
among many brothers and sisters.
And those he predestined he also called;
and those he called he also justified;
and those he justified he also glorified.”
He didn’t just call us…He called our parents and family as well. The sacrifice is harder for them but therefore more meritorious and sanctifying. We must trust that God is sanctifying them, as He did Joachim and Anne.
Many prayers for you and your family…