The Path is Not Always Straight

By Rosemary Kate.

Recently, I was invited to attend a Mass of Thanksgiving for Blessed Clelia Merloni, foundress of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  I knew nothing about her, but who doesn’t like attending a special Mass with great pomp and circumstance? Besides, I work in Catholic education and thus have a connection to her community today.  The program for Mass had a one page biography, which was nice.  More importantly, there was a short book at the back of the Cathedral that I picked up afterwards and have since been reading, titled, “I Bless You with a Hundred Hearts.”  I discovered that Blessed Clelia could certainly be another intercessor for Leonie’s Longing readers!

Even her biography on the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus webpage does not have the details that caught my eye.  It merely states,

“After various experiences of religious life in different congregations, Clelia entered the Congregation of the Daughters of St. Mary of Divine Providence…Immersed in a life of self-giving and prayer, she sensed a strong calling to establish a new congregation dedicated to works of charity which would visibly express the love of Christ.”

“Various experiences” refers to short stints (usually less than a year) with 6 different congregations!  SIX!  For those of us who have entered and left one or two, I imagine Blessed Clelia may have had thoughts similar to our own along the way.  In between some of those, she also opened and  closed a couple of ministries of her own as a laywoman.  The whole time from her first entrance to her founding of the community was about 10 years.

Her life was certainly guided by Divine Providence, because most of her leavings were due to illness.  For example, her first attempt was at the Monastery of the Visitation, where she became so ill it seemed she was at the point of death but following a dream that upon reception of Holy Communion she would recover, that is what happened.  She still returned home as all advised her to seek a less rigid congregation.  Her stint with the Daughters of St. Mary of Divine Providence came to an end after an illness where the orphans prayed for her recovery as a sign that she was indeed called to follow her inspiration of founding a community herself.

Perhaps most of us have not had such unusual guidance in our vocational discernment, yet, her example of perseverance is worthy of emulation.  No matter where our vocational journeys lead us (whether as a consecrated religious or into holy matrimony), her life can inspire us to continue to trust God, especially when the path seems unclear.  I quote from the book:

It seems that Clelia’s life may have been purified above all by the suffering of obscurity.  God tested her faith by immersing her in large part on a path of darkness.  Doubt, “a hot-bed of purification,” existed for a long time in Clelia’s heart.  As we often see in the lives of saints, she possessed gifts of light, of graces that enlightened the path for others; the ground on which she herself walked, however, was often poorly lit.

Who of us has not felt the same about our own lives?  As I continue to seek my next steps, now several years after leaving my community, Blessed Clelia’s life reminds me that I don’t need to have it all figured out yet.  In fact, my next steps seem to be taking me further from religious life.  Nevertheless, this Blessed has encouraged me to keep moving forward.

After the founding of her community, Blessed Clelia’s trials did not come to an end.  I haven’t finished reading the book, but the little I do know already is inspiring.  Some of those details are found here.  What her story says to all of us is, never give up hope as we trust God and strive to live His Mercy – while the path does not appear straight to us, we are guided by the Hand of our Loving Father.

Blessed Clelia Merloni, Pray for us!

 

Image credits: By ASCJ.Roma – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=67168692 

On the Threshold of Something Beautiful

By Cate (re-printed with kind permission from her blog Seeking Sunflowers) .

I turned right one street before I needed to—the route that led to my old apartment. Shoot, I thought to myself. I’m already running late, and now I have to drive around the block and lose more time. After turning left in order to get back to where I needed to be, I saw a male figure I recognized walking down the sidewalk. My hunch was confirmed as I approached his vicinity, so I pulled over and called out the window to him.

This man and his wife were friends of mine from high school. We reconnected several month ago, before I moved out of town for missions. I had thought about reaching out to them while I was home on break, but my schedule filled quickly, making it impossible to see everyone this time around.

I got out of my car, and we stood chatting for a few minutes in the cold, catching up briefly on life before exchanging hugs and wishing one another well. I was grateful for the happy accident—the seemingly wrong turn—that afforded me this encounter.

Isn’t that how life is sometimes? Unexpected turns lead us down roads that, in the end, we are happy we didn’t miss. In fact, some the greatest joys in my own life have been the result of turns that, at the time of choosing, I seriously questioned being the “right” choice.

I remember the state of my heart one dreary January afternoon several years ago. I was sitting at an office desk across from my friend Theresa, who had been supervisor, coworker, and mentor to me. I had just made a decision that rocked my world—to leave the Catholic organization I had been serving with practically my entire adult life up to that point. Through tears I verbalized to my confidant that I had just made the worst decision of my life.

My dear friend, who knew that the decision came as the result of much prayer and discernment, encouraged me to consider that this detour—if it was in fact a detour—was happening for a reason, and that perhaps there was something or someone along this path that I needed to encounter.

Theresa was right. As I look back, I no longer see in this decision a wrong turn, and I no longer believe that I took a detour. That was the way I was meant to follow, and the blessings that came as a result are ones that I can’t imagine not having as part of my life today.

Since that cold January day I have made plenty of other questionable turns in the road. Some I have made peace with. Other I still wrestle with in my mind. But on my better days I am able to see that all has served to bring me to where I am now.

As we begin a new year, and I begin a new chapter in life, the temptation can be to jettison the past and “begin anew.” While there is certainly wisdom in this approach, I have found the Holy Spirit leading me in a different direction presently.

One of the words I received for this year is build. While this was the one generated for me on a website, and not the one I received in prayer (more on that in another post), I have nonetheless been reflecting on its significance.

We tend to see time as linear: the past in the shadows behind us, and the future on the horizon ahead. But lately I have been challenged to see time as more horizontal. We build on the foundation of the past and ascend toward the future that awaits us. Our past—with its joys and sorrows, good and bad, triumphs and mistakes—all serve as a foundation for where we find ourselves in the present.

Today I stand on this foundation, on the brink of something new. In a few short days I will board a plane to Peru and begin to make a home in this new country. I have a different view than I did on that January day. I now see that it was only by making that difficult decision, and many other that have followed, I am here, once again ready to step into the foreign mission field.

I am grateful for the roads I’ve traveled, for the wisdom gleaned from each chapter, for the beautiful, the challenging, and the grueling. My good God has allowed each and every piece of the journey to bring me to where I stand today, on the threshold of something beautiful.

Desert Poem

By Katita Luisa

“Go to the desert and you’ll understand”.

So I went there this year.

I dipped my toes in that hot sand

and out of love for Him,

I was soon all in

with each grain rubbing against me,

scratching and removing what I wanted most,

purifying me

and my dreams

and my will.

I went there.

I stuck my neck out in that unrelenting heat,

feeling the burn on the most delicate of skin,

reddening,

but out of love for the Son,

I continued-

realizing He was not merciless

but rather merciful,

exposing and toughening

my weaknesses

for the path that would unfold.

I went there.

I reached for my canteen

only to find it empty,

surrendering

my own preparations,

expectations,

wishes

and comfort,

and was invited

to rely solely on Him,

embracing the unknown,

thirsting for Him alone.

And out of love for me,

we went there.

We grew closer rather than apart.

I found refuge in His Heart.

I even saw flowers bloom in that desert-

promises fulfilled,

so unexpected

yet expected,

because I can take Him at His word.

Lessons taught and learned,

my heart broken only to start to heal,

making room for Truth to sink in,

deeper than the cracks of my sin

and the holes of my doubt.

Yes, my cup overflows,

only because it had to be emptied first.

And as we left and I dusted off the sand from my sandals,

I took His hand and said,

“Out of love for You,

I’d do it all again.”

He looked at me, smiled, and said,

“Now you’re beginning to understand.”

Plain Without, Shining Within

By Gertrude Heartwood.

In Fr. (now Bishop) Robert Barron’s video series Catholicism, he points out that Our Lord Jesus did not have any religious status in his society.  He was not a member of the priestly class and was neither a scribe nor a Pharisee. He was a manual laborer, a member of the laity.  So now are we, who once had “religious status” as members of a religious community, counted among the laity.

All states of life were elevated by him, for although he was a regular working man, he also was the model for all in religious life, living poverty, chastity and obedience; and he is the Eternal High Priest.  We know that all priests derive their priesthood from His; that all religious follow him more closely in the evangelical counsels; yet he is simultaneously a lay person.

Reflections like these can comfort those of us who pursued religious life and left, but we can never get away from the fact that we no longer remain in what is considered by the Church to be the objectively more perfect way of life which persons in religious vows have been called to live.

Lay people are not called like priests and religious to a supernatural vocation.  We may be chosen for the married state of life, or for some ministry in the Church, but this is not the same sort of call that a priest or religious receives…a summons to a way of life that can only be lived because of the grace that is available from the Redeeming Act of Christ.  Prior to Christ, the celibate priesthood and the consecrated life did not exist. These are possible only because of the new economy of grace brought about by the Blood of His Cross.

So here we are, just regular folk, living a regular type of life.  Some of us are single, some of us are married. But our states in life are nothing new, nothing particularly Christian.  All cultures and religious traditions have married people and single people. We are just plain Janes.

And yet, are we really?  

In the purely lay state, having no Church status to rely upon, we can show forth the essentials of the Christian gifts, the changes that Christianity brings to human beings.  We look, dress, talk, live like secular folk. But we have the Holy Trinity within us. We have a mother in heaven who watches over us. We have a guardian angel. We have grace upon grace upon grace.  We are new creations. Furthermore, if we are married, we can live that state in life at a higher level, at the level of grace, because it has been elevated to a sacrament.

These hidden treasures of grace we possess within are like jewels sparkling out quietly from within us, upon a world that is inhabited by darkness.  People will catch the sparkles if we remain in His Love, and be drawn to Him too. And that is all we have. Those sparkles of grace. We don’t have a habit, or religious vows, we don’t have a collar, we aren’t set apart.  When people look at us and interact with us, it is as persons just-like-them. The only things we have to rely upon to draw people to Christ is His grace inside of us and our cooperation therewith. No one will look at us in a habit and be moved to think of God.  But if we wear a smile for them, they may see that they have dignity and that they are loved. If all our interactions with them bear the Light of Christ, the heaviness of their darkness can be lifted from them, if even for a moment.

At the same time, we see the goodness in them, these regular folk like us…though not Christian, they can make us marvel at how they too reflect God’s goodness.  His goodness in us, His goodness in them…we and they, regular folk, yet carrying too, the wonder of God’s generous presence.

Experiencing Holy Envy

By Christina M. Sorrentino, re-printed with permission from her blog https://calledtoloveosb.blogspot.com/

One of the greatest blessings of living in a monastery or convent is being able to live with the Blessed Sacrament. When young women would come on a discernment retreat and ask me what my favorite part was of being in religious life, I would always tell them, “Being in the constant presence of the most holy dwelling place”. There were some nights I would go down to the Eucharistic chapel and simply sit quietly alone with Jesus in the darkness with only the sanctuary lamp as my light. I cannot explain the feeling that would come over me as it is indescribable, and it is a feeling that I miss the most after leaving the monastery. I can no longer at night right before bed go downstairs and sit in the stillness before the Blessed Sacrament, and I can say that is my greatest sadness and loss of no longer being in religious life.

As in the words of Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC, I find myself with a sort of “holy envy” in that I wish that I lived in the same house in such closeness to the Eucharist. Religious sisters and nuns are truly blessed in that they actually live in the same house as the Blessed Sacrament, and can visit with Jesus as often as they wish to visit him. I remember after Compline visiting the Eucharistic Chapel on my way back to the Sisters’ residence, and whispering to Jesus, “Good night”.

My heart yearns for the day when I will once again be living in the same house as the Blessed Sacrament. I do not find it a coincidence that not too long after my departure I was given an image of the Divine Mercy, which is such a beautiful image of his grace. I told my father I wanted to hang the image on the wall in my parents’ living room, and I was surprised when he told me that I could do so, and already I knew that Jesus was pouring out his merciful love.

Although the image is not the Blessed Sacrament, it will be a reminder of the merciful love of Jesus for me and for my family. The Divine Mercy Image Enthronement is an invitation to allow Jesus to reign not only in our home, but also in our hearts, and I will remember to trust Jesus and his divine will. This image of great grace brings Christ into our home, and until the day that I can once again live in closeness to the Eucharist I will consider myself blessed that the Image of Divine Mercy will remind me that Jesus is always with me, and to trust him.

 

Christmas When You Just Can’t Even

By Cinnamon.

It’s been years now since I left the convent: I’ve passed through all those different stages of grief (or rather, bounced back and forth between them like a ping-pong ball) and finally come to something resembling acceptance. The pain is no longer raw and immediate, which is a relief. However, there’s a drawback: it’s harder to find inspiration than it used to be. How do I set the world on fire, as Saint Catherine of Siena exhorts, when my usual aspiration is simply to use a limited supply of energy to get out of bed and make it through a day at work? And how can anyone rejoice while holding on to the memory of religious life, or even sometimes the Catholic Faith itself, like the remnants of a parachute that failed to open?

The message of Advent is, “Stay awake and keep watch! He is coming, and we do not know the hour!” These four weeks have compelled us to be alert, both practically, as we handle the pre-Christmas rush at work and family duties at home, and spiritually, with reminders of the immanent coming of Christ and exhortations to be prepared to receive Him – and we’re tired.

The message of Christmas, however, is, “Rest.”

The Guest for Whom we were preparing is here, and has fallen asleep in the manger. Christmas is gentle, domestic: a young mother asleep on a hay bale beside her Son, surrounded by quiet beasts and watched over by her husband. We are weary, drained and battered in soul – so were they. They had walked a long way in uncertain times. At Christmas, though, they have reached a place of shelter, safety and peace, and they offer us the same.

It’s not easy to be Catholic, and the longer you make a sincere effort to be so, the harder it gets. God can seem distant to women who have left the convent, but every Christmas we remember how close He came to us, and in the gentlest, least imposing way He could: who could be afraid of a baby? A baby can’t answer the questions we most need answered – why couldn’t I have stayed in the convent? What am I going to do with my future? – but instead, simply looks up at us with the dark, solemn eyes that newborns have, and invites us to set aside our fears and be with Him for a while. We still seek God, and in this octave we remember that He also came to seek us.

If you’ve had a rough year, this is the turning point: a baby is always a sign of the future, and this Baby more so than any. May the peace of Christ be with you, and may you have a gentle, happy year ahead.