June 16th passed by like any other day for me. There was nothing special about it this year. In fact, though I was surrounded by many vibrant young people who were on fire for God, none of them knew anything about what this seemingly ordinary day meant for me. In my heart I bled silently and I hid all traces of nostalgia from their view. It was the 2 year anniversary of my First Profession of Vows.
Having lived in a convent for 2 ½ years, I didn’t dream that I would leave since I was so certain of my vocation there. When I made my First Profession, I had wished I could have promised “until death” instead of “for 3 years”. Little did I know that only a year later, I would be back in the world, no vows, no veil, no reason to celebrate that “wedding day” anymore.
Anniversaries are things that generally only you (the celebrated person) remember and you find you either have to remind others or celebrate alone. When you leave the convent, there are many anniversaries to get through (the first year being the hardest of course). The difficulty is that no one else knows about them, or if they do, they hesitate to mention such a delicate subject with you. I think it would have meant so much to me if someone would have recalled that 2 years ago I made a Profession, or 3 years ago I had entered the convent, or 1 year ago I left, but there was only silence; silence and my lonely memories of times when joy had seemed so full in my heart. What goes on in your heart on these days cannot be described or understood by most of your friends and family. You might cry and they might think you are unhappy being among them now. You may feel very confused as to whether it is even O.K. to remember that day with joy. I believe it is. Someone told me, “Never be afraid to receive the gift of consolation from Our Lord.” The memory of being somewhere else on that day (however many years ago) can be painful, but there is some joy there, too, for this prominent moment in our life in which our heart was touched and changed.
I know that the day of my First Profession was a glorious one for me! I cannot forget the immense joy I experienced of giving myself to God as His spouse and He to me. That joy was real. I praise God for that. But I also realize that since those vows are now dissolved, it no longer holds the same significance, and would be unhealthy for me to believe that it did. These moments of reality seem like band aids being ripped off to expose the wound that won’t quite heal. Yet, it is in that stripping that God can heal and soothe. In these moments He invites us to open our hearts and hear Him say, “See, I am doing something new (in you).” (Isaiah 49:19)
Maybe it feels like a lonely battle; that God has left you to your mourning and seems to do nothing new with you. I’ve found that in this case, the most effective weapon I can wield is gratitude. Start by thanking Him for life in general. Thank Him for His love (and the fact that you are alive proves that He still loves you), for family, for friends, for work, for food, for shelter, for your faith, for your parish, anything that brings you joy or used to bring you joy. Thank Him for flowers, for animals, for sunshine, or the cross you cling to and the pillow you cry into. Thank Him for tears you have shed, the healing they have already worked, the moments of consolation or relief from sorrow and every moment your heart has been moved. Thank Him for all that you are and all that you have been, for all that others have been for you and for all that God has given you and continues to give you. Thank Him for those who care for you and show you love, even if it is not in the way we desire or need it. Thank Him for the few that understand you and the many people who don’t but still love you anyway. Thank Him for music that soothes or distracts you from your pain. Thank Him for the joy-filled memories: the peace you had, the love your heart brimmed with, and the change that was worked in your soul. Thank Him even for leading you out of the convent, for in doing so He has brought you one step closer to the fulfilment of your greatest desire, the goal of your existence: UNION WITH GOD! Thank Him for the Hope of Heaven.
I’ve found gratitude to be the most powerful and peaceful means of living through an anniversary, experiencing all the human feelings that come with it, but also gleaning all the graces of that day that God desires us to. You may not celebrate it in the same way anymore, but it is still a part of your life that you cannot ignore. So, rather than try and forget it ever happened or pine for the past, thank Our Lord for every joy and grace you received from it and let Him fill your heart with new grace this day. He at least has not forgotten this anniversary. How could His tender Heart not be moved by the remembrance of a day you gave yourself to him even more completely? He wants to celebrate with you and cause you to realize how you can welcome these anniversaries with a heart of gratitude.
“In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)