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
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
Leonie Martin is the patroness of our apostolate because she is one of us. She was, like those we serve, a woman who wanted to follow the Lord in religious life but encountered many struggles in finding her state-of-life vocation.
Leonie eventually found her permanent vocation as a religious. She has been named a Servant of God, the first step in the process of canonization (the process of being declared a saint of the Roman Catholic Church). Her feast is June 16.
Here are five interesting things about our patroness.
#1 – Leonie was the third child in a family of future saints
Leonie was the third daughter born to Louis and Zelie Martin. The Martins would go on to have nine children in all—four who died in infancy or early childhood and five daughters who would all eventually enter religious life.
Leonie’s sister Therese (of Lisieux) was canonized in 1925, and her parents, Louis and Zelie, in 2015.
#2 – Leonie had a difficult childhood
From a very young age, Leonie dealt with illness and behavioral struggles. As an infant and toddler, she suffered from eczema, which covered her body, and she nearly died at 18 months due to other illnesses. She was a constant source of worry for her mother, Zelie.
She was kicked out of a convent school due to her behavior and suffered abuse from a maidservant. Leonie was perceived as less talented and less beautiful than her sisters—being sickly and mentally underdeveloped. One can imagine the suffering this would have caused in her young heart.
#3 – Leonie left religious life three times
Though she was the first of her sisters to embrace a religious vocation in her heart, her path to final vows was lengthy and painful.
At age 23, Leonie entered the convent of the Poor Clares. The austere way of life was too difficult for her, and she left after six weeks. She later joined the Monastery of the Visitation at Caen, staying only six months the first time and two years the second time.
Her third attempt to enter the Visitation Monastery (and her fourth attempt at religious life) was successful. And that probably had something to do with the encouragement and intercession of her sister. Keep reading!
# 4 – Leonie was inspired by Therese’s autobiography
Two years after Leonie left the Visitation sisters the second time, her own sister Therese died of tuberculosis. The following year, Therese’s autobiography, A Story of a Soul, was published. Reading her sister’s autobiography gave Leonie new hope, and she decided to attempt religious life once again. In 1899, she re-entered the Monastery of the Visitation, where she made vows and remained until her death in 1941. She took the religious name Françoise-Thérèse.
Fr. Antonio Sangalli, postulator of Leonie’s cause for canonization, said, “[Leonie’s] vocation is the result of her being close to her sister Therese. She helped her sister to embrace her vocation as a sister in the Order….[Leonie] took her sister’s words very seriously, especially the phrase about the little path. She put this into practice with incredible loyalty.”
#5 – Leonie lived to see Therese’s canonization
Leonie’s sister Therese of Lisieux was canonized in 1925, sixteen years before Leonie’s death. What joy it must have given Leonie to see her little sister—whose life and writings influenced her so deeply—raised to the altars and declared a saint of the Catholic Church.
Though Leonie’s path to religious life was fraught with suffering and obstacles, she found joy in her vocation at last and lived four decades in the monastery. There she found peace and joy, as evidenced by this quote:
“I am very happy–as happy as it is possible to be on this earth. When I look back on my past, as far back as my earliest childhood, and compare that time with this, I am overwhelmed with gratitude to the Heart of Jesus, who has enveloped me in so much love, and who has placed me in this loveliest anteroom of heaven, where I shall live and die.”
Servant of God Françoise-Thérèse, pray for us!
Today Leonie’s Longing celebrates ten years! Thanks be to God! Our website officially launched on April 29, 2013, in honor of St. Catherine of Siena. For ten years, we have been here for women who have left religious life. We have shared our experiences of sorrow and joy with one another. We have been an online resource to help women know they are not alone in the path of reassimilating to lay life.
We are grateful to God for this mission, and we pray for all the women who have crossed our path over the years. In the coming days, we will be sharing more content in honor of this occasion.
Has Leonie’s Longing had an impact on your life? Please let us know in the comments. We love to hear from you!
Staring at the Crucifix, I cannot help but notice that there is an empty space on each side, as if for another person. I remember when I first entered the novitiate it was customary to set a small crucifix on top of your bed after making it every morning.
One time, I got really sick and had to lie down after breakfast. A sister kindly accompanied me to our common bedroom to help me out. As she was getting the bed ready, she said, “Jesus, it’s Your time to rest; make room for her because being in bed is her biggest cross. So it is now her turn.” (I really did hate being in bed!) As she set the crucifix aside, I looked at her and said, “Please don’t tell Him to leave me alone in the cross. There is an empty side just for me; we can share it. We become one through the cross. As Saint Paul said, ‘I want to complete in my flesh what is lacking in His passion.’”
I don’t know where that thought came from. At that, we both just looked at each other and smiled. The sister helped me get in bed and then left. As time went on, we would remind each other of that day, and whenever we would make our beds, we would kiss both sides of the crucifix, hoping to become worthy of sharing the cross with Jesus. It became our thing. A few years later, I heard a priest say in a homily, “There is no life without crosses, and there are no crosses without Christ.” And it reminded me of that day in the novitiate’s dorm.
Now, whenever the burden seems overwhelming and the cross too heavy to carry, these thoughts come back to my mind. It is comforting to know that we are not alone; Jesus is there with us and for us. Even though the pain (moral, spiritual, or physical) does not necessarily go away, it is through the cross that we unite ourselves to Him. In whatever state of life He has called us to, we belong to Him, and He is our ultimate end. And If the cross still feels too painful, we can remember that at the foot of the cross was Mary, the Mother of Jesus—and our Mother.