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

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.

The Healing Mysteries

The Healing Mysteries

by Michaela

I knelt on the floor of the chapel in my favorite spot – next to a pillar near the front, hidden from view of most of the chapel, but near the tabernacle. Almost immediately Jesus’ words from the Gospel of Luke surfaced in my mind: “And he said to them in reply, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.’” (Luke 7:22). 

What was also clear was that these healings would form five mysteries to meditate on through the Rosary (or six – to include “the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” if you pray a Brigittine Rosary). Praying with these mysteries has opened my eyes to just how much Jesus can and will heal me. 

There are ways where spiritually I cannot see, and Jesus wants to heal that blindness. There are times when I want to follow Him, but cannot because of brokenness that is keeping me from moving. He desires to heal that too. When I feel untouchable because of my sins and failings He makes me clean again – especially through the Sacrament of Reconciliation where my soul is washed clean by His Blood. 

There are so many ways Jesus desires to make me whole again, and this redemption is at work even now. Healing sometimes isn’t easy. Sometimes there is the fear of disappointment, or wondering if the remedy will be more painful than the malady, or knowing that to be healed means that life will be changed and there is no going back. 

As I pray with these mysteries, I sometimes sense Him ask me in my heart, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6) and with each mystery I ask for the grace to say, “Yes, Lord. I want to be healed.”

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First Mystery: The Blind Regain Their Sight (Luke 18:35-43)
Now as he approached Jericho a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging, and hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” He shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” The people walking in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent, but he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me!” Then Jesus stopped and ordered that he be brought to him; and when he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He replied, “Lord, please let me see.” Jesus told him, “Have sight; your faith has saved you.” He immediately received his sight and followed him, giving glory to God. When they saw this, all the people gave praise to God.

Second Mystery: The Lame Walk (Luke 5:17-26)
One day as Jesus was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem, and the power of the Lord was with him for healing. And some men brought on a stretcher a man who was paralyzed; they were trying to bring him in and set [him] in his presence. But not finding a way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on the stretcher through the tiles into the middle in front of Jesus. When he saw their faith, he said, “As for you, your sins are forgiven.” Then the scribes and Pharisees began to ask themselves, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who but God alone can forgive sins?” Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them in reply, “What are you thinking in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed, “I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” He stood up immediately before them, picked up what he had been lying on, and went home, glorifying God. Then astonishment seized them all and they glorified God, and, struck with awe, they said, “We have seen incredible things today.”

Third Mystery: Lepers are Cleansed (Luke 5:12-16)
Now there was a man full of leprosy in one of the towns where he was; and when he saw Jesus, he fell prostrate, pleaded with him, and said, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do will it. Be made clean.” And the leprosy left him immediately. Then he ordered him not to tell anyone, but “Go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” The report about him spread all the more, and great crowds assembled to listen to him and to be cured of their ailments, but he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.

Fourth Mystery: The Deaf Hear (Mark 7:31-37)
Again he left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis. And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”) And [immediately] the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. 37They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and [the] mute speak.”

Fifth Mystery: The Dead are Raised (John 11:38-44)
So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.” And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.