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

Five Facts About Leonie Martin, Our Patroness

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!

Sources:
http://leoniemartin.org

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%C3%A9onie_Martin

https://aleteia.org/2017/01/26/leonie-martin-st-thereses-difficult-sister-continues-on-the-road-to-canonization/

http://www.sttheresechurchalhambra.org/?DivisionID=10357&DepartmentID=22314

https://www.romereports.com/en/2015/01/29/four-saints-in-one-family-beatification-process-of-st-therese-of-lisieux-s-sister-opens/

An Empty Space for Me

An Empty Space for Me

by Andrea

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.

Frodo’s Wound

Frodo’s Wound

By Drucilla Coghill

I have a colorful scar from a serious illness. When I first got sick, I delayed going to the doctor for treatment because, at the time, I didn’t recognize the meaning of the symptoms I experienced in my body. However, my doctor now says there is a 50% chance of having this problem again, so I’ve been on high alert for symptoms ever since. Going to the doctor as soon as I notice something will (hopefully) keep it from becoming so acute. 

Periodically I notice a slight ache or pain. When this happens, I immediately pay attention to every symptom and try to assess if the illness is coming back. But I’ve noticed that the scar area will hurt for a little while and then go away. Now that I’ve realized moderate discomfort doesn’t signal impending doom, it’s become a source of amusement. (I guess that’s been my way of keeping myself from being overly anxious). 

I’ve chosen to look at it as though it were Frodo’s stab wound from Weathertop in The Lord of the Rings. Because the injury profoundly affected Frodo, it occasionally bothers him on anniversaries and other significant days. In this spirit, I’ve chosen to view this sporadic pain as a reminder of what I’ve been through and an invitation to prayer and gratitude.

As I pondered this phenomenon, I realized it might be helpful for me to view other parts of my life in a similar fashion. After returning from the convent, I was extremely distraught and in a great deal of misery. Fortunately, as time has gone on, this has slackened. But on occasion, I am still confronted with a dull pang of sadness or some other emotion. 

This used to make me fearful because I wondered if I was about to spiral back into the crying, mourning, and active grief. But now I recognize that it’s simply a reminder of a very significant event in my life. 

I need these reminders because I have a tendency to want to rush forward to the next thing, especially if the previous time was difficult. For example, I say: “Being sick was awful, but I feel better now, so I’d prefer to forget about it.” Or, “My time in religious life radically changed the course of my life, but can I please just move on?”

But then that twinge of sorrow, longing, or ache hits me. Sometimes it’s more subtle than others. But I need to give heed to these feelings. If you ignore a small child tugging on your clothing and wanting to be noticed, he or she will either start screaming or tragically give up. 

I don’t want my important life experiences to suffer from either extreme. Instead, I need to let that gentle nudge be enough to help me remember what I’ve been through and show reverence, love, and respect to my experience. I now see that it’s an invitation to pray for deeper healing and grieve this time more fully.

Let us all pray for each other during these times, especially when memories unexpectedly pop up. When you are confronted with old pain, how do you respond? I would love to hear about it.