Live Out Loud – Leonie’s Longing Retreat

Live Out Loud – Leonie’s Longing Retreat

One of the highlights of Leonie’s Longing in 2023 was the in-person retreat that some of the women of our community were blessed to attend. One of the participants shares her thoughts about this beautiful experience.

by Carryl

The cozy evening skies of Kittery welcomed us as the car rolled up to the Leonie’s Longing retreat. Theresa, Sally, and I were met by Roberta and Elise with warm smiles and tight hugs. As we entered the house, the day was closing behind us. We heard the indistinct mooing of the cows in the adjacent barn and felt the soft evening breeze caressing us with sweet country smells from the wheat fields and pine trees.

The idyllic wooden cabin was festively prepared prior to our arrival by Elise and Roberta (assisted by their families). They showed us around, and we stored our bags in our respective cozy rooms. The living room had pictures that told a story of centuries past, and the old rustic iron cast stove stood in the living room as if an elderly grandparent could be welcoming us home in the country.

We had dinner and talked at length, getting to know each other and sharing the unique stories that providentially brought us together. After dinner, we retired to the living room for a brief discussion of the retreat schedule, followed by a surprise “goody bag” with lovely little notebooks, pens, and chocolates, among other things. The day concluded with a prayer of thanksgiving.

retreat group at the lighthouse

 

The next morning was quietly exciting as we visited the beach and a lighthouse in Maine before proceeding to St Martin’s Church in New Hampshire to officially begin the “Live Out Loud – Leonie’s Longing in-person retreat, 2023.” After a delicious dinner, we headed inside the church for Adoration of the exposed Blessed Sacrament. Peace filled my being as I sat before my Lord and thanked Him for bringing us together in His name. After this grace-filled commencement, we headed back to the house for our nightly discussion and closing prayer.

The weekend was the highlight of the retreat.

Saturday started off with a heart-warming private Mass celebrated Fr. Andrew Nelson at St. Mary’s Church. Fr. Andrew spoke to our hearts with words of serenity, joy, and encouragement, urging us to continue bearing witness to our vocation beyond the convent. God’s work keeps progressing within us even after leaving a religious order, and Fr. Andrew emphasized that God is not done with us yet. God’s mysteriously beautiful plan is being fulfilled in our past, present, and future, and we have much more to do in our own unique vocations. This was the first step of our inward journey of healing and acknowledgment. Then, after Mass, Roberta led us through guided meditation to reflect on ourselves, our strengths, and our values.

Later in the evening, we participated in a relaxing session of “SoulCore” (led by a friend and instructor, Monica). This involved a series of stretching exercises synchronized with praying and meditating on the holy rosary. After SoulCore, we were so relaxed and yet energized that we decided to take a stroll in the fields behind the house to breathe in the fresh air of the Kittery countryside and to pay a visit to our friends, the cows. Interestingly, Elise received a big kiss from a very hungry cow.

 

After this little backyard adventure, we returned to the house, and Elise led us through our next session of guided meditation. She used the progressive muscle relaxation technique to calm and center us so that we began an inward journey to the core of our being to tap into our past and present and to ponder our inert ambitions and dreams. This exercise was deeply refreshing and enlightening. We wrapped up the evening with a few quiz-like games and closed the day with another prayer of thanksgiving.

Sunday was the last day and the climax of the retreat, as it was the wonderful feast of the Divine Mercy. We attended Mass again at St. Mary’s Church. This time we met Fr. Andrew’s mother, who had also left a religious order a long time ago! After lunch at a nearby diner, we returned to the same church for the Divine Mercy chaplet, beautifully sung by the choir.

I must include a personal note here, as I was touched on this day by a combination of the Mass readings, homily, personal discussions, and confession. I was reminded of the undying and everlasting love of the Heavenly Father and how He is always with us. He is with us in our joys, in our struggles, in our confusion, and in our times of forlornness. He is always there, and it is freeing to trust in Him and constantly repeat the words of St. Faustina, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

The next morning was the dreaded time of farewells and “Monday blues,” but thankfully, we were still brimming with the warm joy of the grace-filled weekend. After long-drawn, heartfelt hugs, we parted ways with hopeful sentiments, eagerly awaiting the next in-person event or retreat. Until we meet again, may God’s Divine Mercy be always with us!

group in front of Divine Mercy image

Keep the Fire Going

Keep the Fire Going

by GA

I left the convent five years ago. It was still Advent. Christmas never came to my heart that year. The sense of a perpetual, watchful waiting for the “what next?” was far from comforting. 

Like many, if not most of you reading this blog, I have asked God why He would call me into that life, only to call me out and back into the restlessness of the world that I once knew. It still makes no sense to me. Countless times I asked why He changed His mind, but I couldn’t hear an answer. 

It took five years to hear an answer, and it came through the fire in an old fireplace. 

If Moses found God in the burning bush, I can say found Him in the request of a priest to “keep the fire going.” And like Moses, I had little idea about where the answer to the call would lead. 

It was the last night before the end of an extended weekend retreat. I was enjoying the crackling sound of the wood burning in the fireplace of the old house that quietly saves the story of that sacred place. In the burning silence of that evening, my mind couldn’t help but wander into memories of being a postulant and enjoying the novelty of a real and old fireplace at the Sisters’ retreat house. 

The fire had been started by one of the priests directing the retreat, but he had to step away and needed for someone to keep vigil. I happen to be there accompanied by another retreatant. He turned around, asked us to “keep the fire going,” and left. My eyes wandered around studying the scene in front of me, planning on how to engage and respond to the request to keep the fire going. Whispering, the other retreatant acknowledged that she had no clue about how to keep the fire alive, but she volunteered to bring in the wood from the pile outside. 

While she did that, I played around with the instruments at hand, and made sure to be successful at my entrusted task. In my mind, I was to keep the fire alive for the benefit of all retreatants present that night. Eventually, I would have to leave my task to participate in a healing service that would soon start in the chapel, so somebody else would have to keep the fire if they wanted. 

Little did I know that what I had done by adding wood to the fire until I walked away would keep it alive until the moment when it would be needed in the healing service.

The retreat director announced his plan for the service. After some singing and praying, we were to respond to some questions on a sheet of paper, walk to the fireplace, and offer our writing in the fire. Ah… that’s why the fire was needed. The fire was needed for the healing. 

Father didn’t have to explain why it was important to keep the fire going when he asked me to do so. He just asked, and two of us responded—not knowing how to perform the task fully, and not knowing why we were entrusted with such task. 

I found some peace in this experience. While I continue without an answer for why God called me into religious life only to call me out again very soon, I trust that in my responding wholeheartedly to His request, I was instrumental in Him accomplishing something for myself and for others. 

I just have to trust that this is true—just as it was true that I needed to keep the fire alive that night. Rather than continuing to ask the question without an answer, I trust that God will reveal Himself at the right time. I just need to keep the fire going.

May you have a blessed Advent. May you find peace in the fire that burns within you.

Do Not Be Afraid; Just Have Faith

Do Not Be Afraid; Just Have Faith

by Katita Luisa

The year to the day after I entered the convent, back in the world, the day’s Gospel spoke to me deeply.  It was the healing of Jairus’ daughter and the hemorrhaging woman, and I needed the faith that they had. I heard Jesus speaking the same words He spoke to the official to my own bruised heart: “Do not be afraid; just have faith” (Mk 5:36).

“I’m sick of healing!” I told a priest a few months prior. “Well, sorry to break it to you”, he began in his Texan accent, “but life’s all about healing. We’re gonna heal until we die.”

Healing is tough work and can be exhausting. Plus, I admit I was sick of asking Jesus to heal me and asking others to assist in that process. Some days, I still am. But it’s part of the process. And it’s worth it—in His way and in His timing. Otherwise, we reject the Master Physician (and deprive Him of being such) and just end up more broken.

“Do not be afraid; just have faith.”

I used to fear the things God was asking of me, and I’m sure I still do in some ways. But what about the things He wasn’t asking of me anymore?

I had entered the convent. I left my job, sold my car, gave away belongings, moved away from my community, and said countless goodbyes. I happily left it all behind to follow Jesus. I thought I was doing what He had asked of me. I thought I had faith—until He would eventually tell me to leave and trust even more.

“Do not be afraid; just have faith.”

My biggest fear of entering religious life was that I would be asked to leave. When that became a reality, I was ashamed.  But I also became amazed at where Jesus would take my little “yes.”  It was never wasted.

“Do not be afraid; just have faith.”

I can reach for Jesus’ cloak, confident that He wants to heal me. I can already see evidence of His healing as each year passes since leaving the convent.  Even better than that is more intimately knowing Jesus’ Heart, and my own heart. 

I know the joy of His will and the freedom of forgiving my former sisters. I entered to answer His call, and I am glad I answered His call to leave. And just maybe, I will continue to answer His call to be healed.

Photo by Allen Taylor on Unsplash

Six Things I’ve Learned in Six Years

Six Things I’ve Learned in Six Years

by Katita Luisa

Today was a little off, and I wasn’t sure why…until a memory on social media popped up, and I realized why. Yes, today is six (!) years since I entered the convent.  

At first, each day seemed to drag by, a painful reminder that I wasn’t where I thought I’d be. And then it got better. Not magically, nor overnight.  But today, looking at the picture and remembering entrance day, I am happy I was brave enough to enter, and I am happy God had other plans. I don’t even know who that girl is in the picture, but here are six things I wish she had known:

1.  Jesus loves your gift of self and the desire He placed on your heart to belong to Him alone. Don’t doubt that He has called you to Himself, even if He asks you to leave these walls.  

2. You are loved, good, and chosen, just as you are. Your vocation is not something to be earned.

3. Jesus isn’t only the Just Judge. He is a Lover. Trust the Good Shepherd’s voice, and don’t confuse it with someone else’s.  

4. There is sanctification, and then there is something else.* If something feels off, it probably is. The convent is a place to be perfected, but it’s not a perfect place.

5. You’re not a burden. 

6. Starting over post-convent doesn’t mean you failed. In fact, it may be one of the best gifts.

 

*I found this podcast episode very helpful in beginning to learn about spiritual abuse.

 

Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

Grief is a Revolving Door

Grief is a Revolving Door

by GA

When my alarm went off and I sat up on my bed, my mind thought of God for a moment, then quickly asked the question, “What day is it?” It was Friday, and I still had to go to work. I laid back once again and scrolled on my phone. I checked emails, social media, and my bank account—nothing unusual for that day. Just a regular Friday. 

It was not until the middle of my workday that it hit me. It was the sixth anniversary of my receiving the letter of acceptance into the postulancy. All it took was a memory to pop up on my social media, and just like that, my heart was hijacked by grief until I fell asleep in tears at 10:00 pm. Grief is a revolving door. 

The post that made me realize the significance of the day in my personal history was that of a playlist I had listened to on repeat an entire evening when I found the anticipated letter in my mailbox. That playlist was filled with upbeat, uplifting music both in English and Spanish, including songs like “Happy” by Pharell Williams and “Try Everything” by Shakira. 

For most of my life I had been dreaming of the moment my everything would change by entering religious life, and this letter was my passport to that life. Of course, I was happy, and of course, I blasted the music in my third-floor apartment and danced in my living room with the Mississippi River as my witness. I had not shared on Facebook the reason for my happy playlist, but it is impossible for me not to remember the motives behind my post. Only this time, looking back to a post from six years ago, instead of dancing, I was paralyzed by grief.

My heart asked for a witness right after I took a deep breath. I needed someone who could hold my grief with me for a moment, helping me come to terms with the wave of emotion. Six years before, my witness for joy had been the big river, but now only a few people would understand what I felt without much explanation. They too had lived and left religious life. For a moment, as I held my face over praying hands, I thought of how I was still alone with the sharing of my grief story. I considered not bothering these convent friends but instead going onto a social media group to post about my grief. However, I did not want to appear as if seeking sympathy.

Seconds later, I realized that there was at least one person who would be receptive and responsive to a message of this type. She had entered the same congregation with me and had left a couple of years after I left. Entering religious life had also been the dream of her life. So I trusted my instinct and texted her a screenshot of the memory, explaining the context for the playlist. She immediately responded like I had hoped. She also commented on the songs and her impressions of them. That was it. All I needed at that moment was a witness. However, my day continued.

My heart continued to be hooked up on the meaning of the day. At the end of my workday, I went grocery shopping, visited with family, and finally sat down to eat dinner alone in my new apartment. The quiet evening was certainly inviting me to dwell a little more on it all. I prayed to God about my pain, the dream He had placed in my heart, about how I had offered everything to him out of love, about how He also called me out of the convent, and about how I continued to be single and, seemingly, hopelessly alone. Tears dripped all over my shirt, my lap, and my sofa. As I allowed myself to have that moment, I worried that my neighbors would hear me sobbing. I couldn’t help it! 

I went online and found a video about singlehood. The YouTuber shared her favorite psalm to pray with when she is yearning for connection. The psalm, she said, helps her offer her pain to God. I found myself falling asleep and somehow mustered the strength to brush my teeth, wash my face, put on my night creams, and make it to bed. My heart was certainly yearning for God and His love. Therefore, I pulled up my psalms and went straight to the one recommended by the YouTuber: Psalm 69. I prayed it like never before. It was painful. In seconds I was sobbing again and could not read anymore. 

Then it came to me—I could only continue to trust God. He was always there, on my side, but I kept acting as if I doubted His love and glorious dreams for me. I laid back, turned off the light, and allowed my eyes to dry as I inhaled and exhaled, imagining myself on Jesus’ lap. He was the witness of my grief all along. 

The revolving door of grief, though painful, had returned me once again to His presence. Grief was turned into gratitude.

 

Photo by Zack Yeo on Unsplash