by Cate and Catherine
A few weeks ago I (Cate) received an email with a unique and fun contribution to the blog – a post-leaving playlist. This submission from Catherine reminded me that I had my own list of songs written down somewhere – songs that had given me hope and emotional release in those months (and even years) after I left my community. Music is a powerful tool and can be a means of great healing.
Here’s what Catherine has to say:
Not sure about you, but I’m one of those people who likes to have a “theme song” or two for the significant moments and stages of my life, including entering and leaving religious life. I find that music helps me to connect with and process my emotions, make sense of all that’s going on and understand how I can respond to it.
So, here’s my “post-leaving playlist.” I’ve tried to include a mix that covers the spectrum of emotions and stages of processing that happens. Some of these are songs to cry to, others to dance to. Some are Christian, others secular. In all of them, there’s a note of hope and encouragement.
Hope you enjoy 🙂
Psalm 13 (Alisa Turner)
On the Third Day (Matt Maher)
The Cave (Mumford and Sons)
Waiting for My Time to Come (Colony House)
Be Still My Soul/In You I Rest (Kari Jobe)
And here I’ll add my own list to Catherine’s:
Tell Your Heart to Beat Again (Danny Gokey)
Trust in You (Lauren Daigle)
Still Burning (Sixpence None the Richer)
Something Wild (Lindsey Stirling with Andrew McMahon)
Your Hands (JJ Heller)
The Waiting (Jamie Grace)
Magnify (We Are Messengers)
What’s on your post-leaving playlist? Please add your contributions in the comments!
On February 1, 2014, I rode away from my community in my dad’s Honda Civic, which held all of my belongings. I chatted with my dad about what kind of job I could find in my hometown as we drove through the rolling hills of Southeastern Ohio. I hoped that I might still explore consecrated life, but for now I had to simply be a “regular” person.
The following day, February 2, I was the Godmother at my nephew’s baptism. It was also the World Day of Consecrated Life, which the lector did not fail to mention during the petitions at Mass. I won’t say that it was exactly sad for me in that moment, but it was certainly strange.
In the months that followed I would wrestle with the question of vocation and calling. No longer being “consecrated,” what was I? I took some comfort in knowing I was a daughter of the King and consecrated to Jesus through Mary, even if my calling didn’t have a specific name. But it was still hard. Something of my identity was missing. I wasn’t in a consecrated way of life or a missionary any more. I just was.
On that World Day of Consecrated life my baby nephew received the indelible mark of the Sacrament of Baptism. Which of those celebrations was more important? Baptism, by far! But sometimes I would forget that. Desiring a vocation that had a name, I would forget that I was called by name by my God, baptized into His family. If I was to be called to religious life, my vows would be a deepening of the vocation I received at Baptism. But even without religious vows, I still had a vocation at Baptism.
A religious profession, as beautiful and significant as it is, is still not one of the seven sacraments. It’s not my intention to devalue the vows and that beautiful vocation– but remind all of us that the vows that we made at Baptism (or that were most likely made for us) are sacramental.
It can be devastating to discover that we have not been called to commit ourselves for life to a vocation as a sister, nun, or consecrated woman, but nothing can remove the indelible mark of Baptism from our souls. Not leaving, not being asked to leave, not wondering and wandering, not growing older without clear purpose. Nothing.
It’s hard to have a vocation that doesn’t have a name or a form. It’s hard to be a “regular” person after aspiring to the “higher calling” of religious life. It can even feel like…a demotion in the Church.
But nothing could be further from the truth. My dear sister in Christ, as we wrap up this Lenten season and prepare to renew our vows – our Baptismal vows – at Easter, let us reflect on the meaning of that call. It does not need to be “fulfilled” by religious life—if that is not where we’ve been called to stay. In Baptism you have been called. You are known to Him by name. Your name. You are His.
Image by melina
by Myrta Moynihan
For the last year or so, I’ve been reading and meditating on the Sunday readings beforehand. It’s been interesting and fruitful. I am more aware of the readings themselves and better able to follow along. Furthermore, I’ve noticed patterns and relationships between the various texts. It is Year C in Ordinary Time and three of the Second Readings we heard last month come from I COR 12 and 13.
I’ve read this part of 1st Corinthians at various times in my life, but as we know, scripture is “ever ancient and ever new.” These passages are striking me in a different way today than in the past. Paul states that “there are different forms of service.” This line didn’t jump out at me until now. A great reminder that being in lay life isn’t “bad” or “less than.” Paul then lists spiritual gifts and his ending reminds us that these are actual gifts. God gives them “as he wishes.” As a result, I should not be jealous of others (though that can be easier said than done!). I should also have gratitude for the gifts I have received.
Next we had I COR 12:12-30 (I hope you heard the long version at Mass!). Once again, I’ve come across this passage a “million times” before. But I now realize that I only had gifts, talents or skills in mind when I heard or read this portion. The mouth (someone good at public speaking) cannot say to the arm (someone good at loving others), I don’t need you. We all have different gifts, of course! I’m sure I was in this frame of mind because it follows after the list of spiritual gifts.
But, this time I started reflecting on various states of life. Even if you only heard the short version (I COR 12:12-14,27), you’ll notice he mentions, “Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons.” (vs 13) In my mind, this has to do with different “tribes,” ways of living, in-groups and out-groups. As a middle-aged, lay, single, woman, I am an outsider in Catholic communities. It could be easy for me to say to myself, “I do not belong to the body.” (vs15) And, let’s be honest, there are people in the church who have said “I do not need you” (vs 21) through their words, actions or both. But this is a lie. How do we know? Paul states, “But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended.” (vs 18).
That’s great news! Even if I appear unwanted and unneeded in the Church, it’s not true. This also challenges me to step up and make sure that others feel welcomed and have a sense of belonging. Are there people on the fringes that are a part of your parish or community? Reach out to them!
Finally, this line struck me: “Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary.” (vs 22). This restates the above point that the body needs us and we all have a place in the body. But then it takes it even further. If you feel like you don’t have value because you can’t contribute, are too weak, etc. that is a lie. I live in the USA and society tells us that if you can’t produce things, your life has no value. As a result, weakness is a liability and I must conclude that I have no value as a person. But our faith contradicts this message. When I realize how weak I am, my response should now be, “Yay for me!” That weakness makes me even more important and valuable!
Today let’s ask God for the spiritual gifts and thank him for those that we have already. Let’s also make an extra effort to tell ourselves and others the truth: We need you. You are necessary!
How do you feel in your parish or community? Do you feel like a necessary member of the body? Please comment below!
In celebration of my clothing as a religious, some high school friends of mine gave me a rosary that they handmade together. The lavender- and blush-colored beads were linked together with little pieces of wire twisted in meandering loops. In their own words it was “janky”. But I delighted in it…even if you couldn’t pray through all five decades without it falling apart at some point!
When my novice mistress saw the state of this rosary, she offered to fix it for me. She asked if I would prefer she just re-shape some of the loose links, or completely re-do it. I said that I would prefer that she just repair some of the links. She instead proceeded to completely re-do it, despite my preference. When she was done, it didn’t look like the same rosary. Extra chain-links were added before the Our Father beads, and the cross had been replaced with a crucifix. It also was deemed “too nice” to use on a regular basis, and tucked away into a closet containing personal items of those in the novitiate—only to be used if asked for.
Later, after I left religious life, I found the rosary in a small box among the things that came home with me from the monastery. I took it out of the little cardboard jewelry box and tried to pray with it, but the metal my novice mistress remade it with must have been too soft, because it always left a grey dust on my fingers after finishing those decades. So back it went, tucked away in a shoebox of monastery related items, forgotten for a time.
About two years after leaving the monastery, I opened the little cardboard box that held the rosary. The post-it note from our chaplain that read “Blessed!” was even still there. I didn’t want it to stay unused. So I began to work. I took my pliers and began to replace the wire, link by link. And clean each bead, one at a time. And I removed the extra chain-links, piece by piece.
The gesture of repairing the rosary reflected so well where I was at with having left religious life. When I entered there were some kinks that needed to be set right, but the process at the monastery was not the right fit for those beads— all those little mysteries, joyful and sorrowful and everything in between, that make up who I am. Wire that may have made a beautiful rosary with a different set of beads ended up creating a rosary that, although it looked nice, was actually not functional.
So, with the original wire gone and the replacement wire being a poor match, I found new wire. I entered into a new context through which to live that call to holiness. The old wire, the person I was before I entered the monastery is gone. I changed a lot. The replacement wire—religious life—was a poor match, at least with this particular community. So I am left with this new life I am beginning back in the world. It is a life that brings together all those joys and sorrows in a new way. I am discovering new ways to live out motherhood, to care for the people God has entrusted to my care. I am experiencing the delight of the Father in His daughter in unexpected and beautiful ways. I am encountering new opportunities for sisterhood with friends, old and new. I find the Holy Spirit guiding me to new ways of loving and being loved.
Sometimes I wonder what was meant to happen. Was the rosary really meant to go through having every link replaced? And then to have every single link replaced again? It seems like just fixing the kinks would have been so much easier. Yet, perhaps the only way that the Rosary would have received new wire, and a lot of love, was precisely through enduring being remade.
I never did find the original cross to the rosary amongst the items that came home with me from the monastery. When I shared this story with a friend, she noted that this too was fitting, because at the monastery I received the Cross. A quote attributed to Léon Bloy observes that “There are places in our heart that do not yet exist and into it suffering must enter so that they may.” Leaving monastic life was very painful for me. Yet through this pain I have found greater intimacy with Jesus and a greater compassion for the Father’s dear children. I received suffering and, in a beautiful way, I have received a new capacity for love.
By Windy Day.
A few years ago I went for a surprising bike ride. It was a sunny and beautiful day and I set off recognizing that it was a bit breezy. My hat was slightly blowing around but I didn’t think about the direction of the wind. I thought I’d go for a 20 minute bike ride; 10 minutes one way and 10 minutes back.
When I turned around to return, I had a rude awakening. Unbeknownst to me, I had been riding with the wind all along. Now I was going straight into it.
And it was strong. Very strong.
Because I was in the country, the wind cut across the fields and hit me with great force. I felt as though I could hardly move forward. I had gone up and down a few hills on my way there and now I realized that I would have to tackle those hills against this wind. This daunting prospect discouraged me. But I realized that I needed to go. I had no other way of getting home.
So I pedaled and I pedaled and I crept back. The wind was so strong that even when I was trying to coast downhill I was losing speed. It was stunning.
Eventually I made it home and I was rather proud of myself. And exhausted.
I found it to be a great analogy for the spiritual life. The entire time I felt like I wasn’t making progress because I was going about half the speed that I was when I left. It was frustrating to suddenly slow down that much. I wasn’t accomplishing what I thought I would. The expectations I had for the bike ride flew out the window. My hands were cold, my ears were ringing and I was exasperated.
I felt similarly when I returned to lay life. I had grown accustomed to the graces and beautiful gifts the Lord had been giving me during my time of discernment. It was a bright period filled with consolation.
But my time in religious life and the period afterwards were in stark contrast to this peace. I felt as though I was not making any progress at all as I plunged into spiritual darkness. As a matter of fact, it felt like I was going backwards.
As we all know, our feelings about our prayer life and the spiritual life are often inaccurate. We don’t have a precise way to gauge our progress. Saints like Alphonsus, Aquinas and Francis de Sales say that a prayer time which feels distracted and pathetic is the best for you. This is because you persevered and exercised your will! In contrast, when I was riding my bike, even though it did not feel like I was going forward, I could assess my progress by seeing the landscape pass by … just verrrrry slowly.
Often we simply have to trust that we are moving in the direction that God wants, even if it doesn’t feel that way. I encourage you to keep fighting and moving forward even if you want to quit. As the saying goes, “God can’t steer a parked car.” If I have momentum while biking, it’s easier to change direction as opposed to starting from being “parked.” Even if you’re slightly off-course, God will have an easier time reorienting you if you are moving.
But how can you fight discouragement, frustration and powerlessness?
First, remind yourself that you can choose. On my bike ride, a part of me felt I had no choice – I had to get home! But I did have a choice. I could have stopped and collapsed on the road. I could have walked my bike all the way back. I could have waited for a car to come by and tried to hitchhike. And I could have kept riding. We always have a choice. If nothing else, we can choose how to respond internally.
Second, you can do a self-assessment and/or ask for feedback from others. A daily Examen helps but often we don’t have the best perspective on our own spiritual life. Try to check in with family, friends, a spiritual director, etc. to help you get a more accurate perception of your spiritual condition. Just because it doesn’t “feel” that you are changing or growing doesn’t mean that is actually the case.
Next, the sacraments are powerful and provide us with grace beyond measure. Reconciliation and Eucharist both provide much-needed healing and they can be regularly accessed by the faithful. During confession the priest might even offer advice and words of encouragement.
Finally, remember that strength comes from pushing yourself reasonably. If you exercise and only do things you find easy, you won’t get stronger. But, if you do too much, you will hurt yourself. Finding that balance is the key, but it is SO DIFFICULT. If you’re recovering from a physical injury, it’s understandable that you may be afraid to be hurt again. It’s possible that you have experienced hurts, wounds and injury during and/or after your time in religious life. As a result, it can be scary to keep up with prayer, consider discerning with another community or be open to marriage, for example. Be honest with yourself and with God about these fears and allow yourself to be “coached” when you are discerning your next steps. Ask Mary to help you discern when to push forward and when to change course.
Times of desolation and spiritual combat are incredibly challenging. But they can be less difficult if we anticipate them and have tools ready to address them.
If you’re not currently struggling in this way, think about what you will do when you are in this situation. Also, please pray for others who are having a hard time.
If you have experienced this before, please share your tips and strategies in the comments below.
If you are grappling with discouragement, please try the suggestions listed here and keep pedaling! Most of all, be assured of our prayers.
By Sally Hoban.
On September 3rd (2019), the canopy of one the trees in my yard snapped and crashed down in our yard; it missed the house by a few feet. In many ways, the breaking of the top of this tree and the fact that it did not damage our house reminds me of my own path through this dark period of my life. The tree is no longer whole and the top that kissed the sky is now in a woodchip pile somewhere, but thankfully, the tree is still standing, and the damage done to the area where it landed was minimal. In so many ways, this parallels with me, however, I pray that the damage I have done in the depths of my despair and rage has not damaged beyond repair my relationships with those who love me.
As I start to feel the storm of despair and anger recede, I’m beginning to not feel blinded by the light around me. No longer do I recoil when I find myself looking out and wondering what next. No longer do I weep over the yearning to fulfill the call I heard to live out my life as with the congregation I love so much. Yet, I am now able to also acknowledge how painful and agonizing it was to constantly be in the throes of trying to prove my vocation to the decisionmakers within the congregation. So, how do I learn to live with this conundrum…
For so many months, I banged my head against a wall trying to make sense of all of this. I went round-and-round trying to make sense of hearing a call from God to pursue my vocation with this congregation and being rejected; blaming myself for being me, wishing I could have been someone the Provincial Team and the Vocation Director would accept; to replaying my mistakes and wondering how they could have been so great as to be summarily dismissed. I was so in love with God, my vocation and the journey of discernment that I believed nothing could stand in the way of fulfilling this yearning, but something did stand in the way…I was told by the Provincial, “The decision has been made to not continue the discernment with me.”
After the dust settled and I awoke to this reality, I found myself broken and shattered beyond repair. For the first year, I could barely get through a day without weeping and wishing to die. (Yes, I said it, I wanted to die!) I had spent over 40 years searching for meaning in my life. When the spark of living my life as a Catholic sister took hold, my whole being lit up. I found myself living from my heart from the early days of my discernment through the early days of February 2018, when I still believed that Jesus would sweep in rescue me and restore me back to my vocation with the congregation that rejected me. When I became aware that this was not going to happen, my life became a living nightmare and I rejected God and myself, the self that still believed and hoped for meaning in my life.
A few months ago, I was encouraged to embrace the phrase “fake it until you make it”. Since I was told this by one of the sisters from the congregation, it stung all the more. Yet, as the second year of this reality comes to a close, I am aware that in many ways, I have successfully utilized this task. I am back on my feet, albeit different feet than before, but nonetheless, I am gainfully employed, no longer weeping or lost in turmoil when I reflect on the current status of my life, and beginning to take in my life and contemplate a new path.
Like something that was broken and glued back together is never the same, I too am learning that I am broken and slowly being glued back together. I believe that Jesus not only has stood by me during this darkest time in my life, but saved me from the darkness that threatened my very existence. I’m still figuring out how to deal with this, because I am still angry with God over my rejection; however, I no longer have the energy to lash out at God when it arises, instead I find myself desiring to simply be honest by acknowledging this anger, sadness and hurt without losing myself in the depths of this despair.
Somehow though, I don’t want to go back to life before I was broken. I want to learn how to live from my brokenness. Can Jesus use my brokenness in God’s great mission? How can I live with my brokenness without letting it destroy me? How will Jesus to carry me in a new way? How might I use this longing to return to my religious vocation with the awareness that it is unlikely that I will return to my religious vocation with that congregation? Perhaps this leads to the question, do I really want to return to that?
I’ve often reflected upon my friend’s encouragement to write a book about my experience; however, I fear that my recounting of my experience would turn into a negative rant tied with fantastical dreams. Yet, I would like to utilize my keyboard to gain insight into how I might learn to live from this brokenness.
I’m not sure where this journey is leading me. So, I am utilizing my need to express myself, my hope to be heard (read) and the prayer that perhaps this might open a new path on this life’s journey…. Living from a place of brokenness…
Nearly a year after writing this with COVID-19, these words describe where I was. Where I am today is somewhere further down the road of discovering who I am and how I might learn from my experiences. While I don’t pine for what was and what isn’t, I wonder where might God be calling me. The other day my spiritual director reminded me that God isn’t finished with me yet, so I know I am living my next adventure right now.
During prayer, I have been hearing, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”, the line from Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day”. Some days, I am troubled by the question, as I wonder, what to do? Other days, I am on a mission to determine what I am called to do. Today, I realized I am simply living into this moment, and this is my “one wild and precious life”.
 Oliver, Mary, “The Summer Day” from Dog Songs: Poems , (Penguin Books, 2015).