Book Review – You Need a Budget

You Need a Budget by Jesse Mecham

Reviewed by Onie Woolahan.

Studies show that the vast majority of people in the Western world do not learn how to handle money when they are growing up. And if your experience was anything like mine, you did not learn about handling money in religious life (poverty, right?). Therefore, chances are high that when you returned to lay life, you were not any further along in learning how to manage money.

You Need A Budget is a great tool for anyone looking to get a better handle on finances. 

I’ve read things here and there about budgeting, finance and investing. Many of these books are similar and tell you to save your money, cut up your credit cards, have an emergency fund, etc. But this book is different and I really liked the perspective that the author brought to this topic. The main point he makes over and over again is that you know what’s important to you and therefore your priorities with money can only come from yourself. He encourages you to first think about what’s important in your life and use your money to do those things.

In areas of my life such as career and relationships, I’ve come to realize that I need to ponder my goals and strategize what I need to do to get there. But for some reason it had not occurred to me to think about my money in this way. It’s a great paradigm shift and I am excited to see what happens as I put these ideas into practice.

I really enjoyed this book and I think you will too. It’s easy to read, very positive and has information that can help people in various stages of life.

Asperges Me: Autism and Religious Life

By Penny.

Written for Autism Acceptance Month, April 2019.

‘I am very pleased with Marie; she is a great comfort to me. I only wish my poor Léonie were more like her. I cannot understand her character; the wisest sages would be out of their depth with her. But I hope that some day good seed will sprout in that soil.’ (A Difficult Life p. 17)

Saints Louis and Zélie Martin had five daughters who survived to adulthood. Four were bright, pretty, affectionate, and charming. One wasn’t.

Marie and Pauline, the two eldest, were very close; Céline and Thérèse, the youngest, were like ‘two little bantam chicks’ that could not be separated from each other. Léonie, in the middle, spent much of her childhood on her own, getting kicked out of school because of her strange and rebellious behaviour and causing more worry to her parents than the other four put together. At the time that Zélie wrote to her brother about her ‘poor Léonie’ in 1871, the girl was an awkward, angry nine-year-old who struggled to understand her lessons or control her overwhelming emotions. Were she alive today, she would doubtless be diagnosed with moderate to severe learning disabilities, but in the late nineteenth century she was simply a slow, ‘trying’ child.

Like all of her sisters, Léonie would eventually grow up to become a nun. Unlike her sisters, however, she became a nun on her fourth attempt. Today, she is known as the Servant of God Sister Françoise-Thérèse Martin VHM, and the cause for her canonisation is underway in France. She is the patroness of our apostolate, named Leonie’s Longing in her honour, which provides support for women around the world who have left the religious life at any stage of formation. Interestingly enough, there is also another Catholic lay association which holds her as its patroness: the Leonie League for the Advancement of Autistic Persons.

Posthumous diagnosis of someone who lived over a hundred years ago is an ambiguous exercise at best, of course. Nonetheless, Léonie’s social difficulties, academic struggles, ‘loneliness of spirit’ (as she described it in her own words) and lifelong difference from others have made her an instantly familiar, approachable older sister to autistic Catholics who have experienced all of these things themselves. I know. I’m one of them.

When I was a child in the 1990s, autism was still largely seen as an exclusively male phenomenon: the province of small boys who sit and rock in corners, refuse physical contact, and recite train timetables to themselves over and over. Even now – though this is improving – the diagnostic criteria are still heavily weighted toward the male presentation of symptoms, meaning that boys are often diagnosed and supported in early childhood while girls (who present the same patterns but in different ways) tend to flounder along on their own until their twenties, thirties, or even later. I began to wonder whether I might be on the autism spectrum while I was at university in my early twenties, but concluded from my reading that I couldn’t possibly be: I can hold a normal conversation, make eye contact, feel empathy for other people, and I have a rich and complex inner world, all of which are supposedly beyond the reach of autistic people.

Except when they aren’t.

This is the video that popped up in my recommended list on YouTube in October 2017 and changed everything I thought I knew about myself:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wKb5TUX49U

Even if you don’t know anyone on the spectrum, I’d encourage you to watch it, not least because it breaks down the stereotype of there being any one ‘typical’ form of autism. The host is a young woman from the UK, and watching her on screen was like watching myself – lively, quick-talking, and animated in a way I’d been told that autistic people couldn’t be, but with the admission that this social persona had been developed through years of deliberate trial and error, and aimed at camouflaging the fact that she was most often out of her depth when communicating with other people. Exactly the way that my persona was. I had few friends as a child and none (except online) as a teenager because I was so odd that others my age avoided me; my brain was a powerful computer attached to the social awareness of a child less than half my age, excitable and tactless, and with a sense of humour involving things that weren’t funny to other people and vice versa.

I started changing in my last year or so of high school, which was – not coincidentally at all – also the time I began discerning a vocation to the religious life. For the first time, I began to want to fit in with other people and get along with them. I learned to mask the physical mannerisms, odd laughter and blunt social comments that had made me stand out, and by the time I got my first job in my early twenties, I could usually pass for normal. (Like many people on the autism spectrum, I object to being labelled ‘high-functioning’ – dammit, I work hard for that functioning!) Every now and again, I’ll still slip up and someone will look at me oddly and say, ‘That was weird,’ but by and large as an adult I manage to roll the dice and land on ‘endearingly quirky’ rather than ‘fruitcake.’

I went through the psychological testing process for autism in November 2017, and was diagnosed formally in early December that year. (Under previous versions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, I‘d have been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. In the current version, Asperger Syndrome has been folded into the umbrella diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.) My response? Pure relief. Suddenly, I could explain why I do peculiar things like borrow forty non-fiction books at a time from the library and read them at every spare moment (information being my brain’s version of crack), quote textbooks verbatim Hermione Granger-style, and struggle so much with time management (because the executive function of the brain, which is responsible for organising things, works more slowly in autistic people). Even more importantly, it also began to help me understand why I had crashed and burned out of religious life at twenty-four with a force that wrecked my physical and mental health, along with my spiritual life, for years afterward.

It’s a myth that autistic people don’t feel emotions. We do. Almost unbearably, so deeply we could drown in them, but rarely in a way that we can put into words at the time. Think of Léonie, who loved her family beyond measure but had no idea how to express that love in a form that they could see or understand. Or me, crying silently in my cell because I had no idea why I was failing so badly and being corrected all the time. I’m not writing this for sympathy, but because I know that you, my sister in Christ – even if you’re not on the spectrum yourself – will understand exactly what I’m talking about when I describe sleepless nights, mysterious stress-related illnesses, bewilderment at how something so longed-for could hurt so much, and the deadening grief for your vocation that begins even before you leave the convent. That part is common ground for all of us.

What diagnosis gave me was that all-important why. Why I had caused the Sisters such frustration with my slow working style and hesitation in moving from one task to another: when I was told to do something, the delay that my executive function needed to process the instructions and come up with a plan of action would have looked from the outside like foot-dragging. Or why I was sometimes corrected for mistakes as though they had been deliberate acts of disobedience: because the Sisters had been signalling me with their eyes or gestures not to do something, and I either hadn’t seen their signals or didn’t understand what they meant, because non-verbal hints are almost invisible to people on the autism spectrum. So I went ahead and blundered headlong across the community’s rules and customs, over and over and over, and kept not learning because I couldn’t identify a pattern in the things I was doing or failing to do. The Sisters’ corrections were justified – if I had seen their directions and carried on anyway, it really would have been disobedience – but it took an autism diagnosis five years later to reveal to me how much I must have been missing under the surface of things.

I would watch others to see what they did, but without knowing which of those numerous things I was supposed to do as well (is the way she pours her glass of water a community custom, or her own personal preference?), imitation was largely a matter of guess-work. Interestingly, by the time I left, the novice who sat next to me at meal-times had started to pick up on this and developed a system of signals with meanings that she explained to me directly: ‘When I do this, it means you need to do that.’ I’ve never forgotten the courtesy she showed me; it became one of my anchors in the refectory, which had nearly as many customs as the chapel.

I’d been studying the principles of religious life intensely for more than half a decade before I entered – forty books at a time from the library, remember? – and that was a convenient mask for the fact that, in day to day community life, I actually had very little idea what was expected of me or why. Could I have asked for help? Perhaps, if I had known why I was floundering. Lacking the understanding that my brain structure was actually objectively different from that of the women around me, however, all I could see was that there was a method to all of this somewhere, but not what it was or where it was. Looking back now, I can see that I was trying to live within a system of unspoken rules and norms, ancient and modern traditions, and the complex social interactions required when a group of people live in such close proximity to each other… and I was oblivious to most of it. I therefore carried on doing what autistic women do best: camouflaging my difficulties with a smile and trying to appear normal. Until, finally, I couldn’t keep going.

I left the convent just before my mask broke: I had a cell inspection and a mid-postulancy review coming up within a couple of days of each other, and knew beyond doubt that one or the other of them was going to be the end of my ability to cope. I wanted to stay. No, strike that; I needed to stay. My whole heart was in the religious life, and I wanted nothing else. I had friends among the Sisters, enjoyed my studies, and immersed my soul in the deep, ancient rituals of convent life, just as Léonie Martin had over a hundred years before. So what do you do when desire isn’t enough?

‘O my God, in my life, where you have put so little that shines,’ Léonie wrote in 1934, ‘grant that I, like You, may choose true values, disdaining human values to prize and desire only the absolute, the eternal, the Love of God, through constant Hope.’ (A Difficult Life p.96.)

I now have the benefit of knowing that I’m on the autism spectrum; there are hundreds of books and websites out there that help me to understand the unique wiring of my brain, compensate for my blind spots, and make best use of the many unusual strengths that come with the territory. I finally understand that (apart from those caused by my own character flaws) the worst difficulties that I had in the convent weren’t my fault. They weren’t the Sisters’ fault. They weren’t anyone’s fault. I was just wired differently, and nobody (including me) knew it.

Léonie’s path was far harder: doggedly conquering her social difficulties, sensory sensitivities and overwhelming emotions minute by minute for the rest of her life without ever knowing why she was different, but slowly learning endurance and fortitude by following the Little Way of her younger sister Thérèse. In a letter to her Carmelite sisters in 1936, five years before her death at the age of seventy-eight, she described herself jokingly (but with a quiet air of wistfulness) as a ‘broken window’ in the convent (A Difficult Life p.112). She was loving and loved in her community, but the constant work of being different never got easier. A year later, in her retreat resolutions, she wrote:

‘It is inappropriate for me to moan over my faults, as I have done until now; I realise now that it is pride. As our Holy Founder said, it is no wonder that weakness is weak; so I must humble myself, not vex myself. I want to be little, so little! Little children fall without hurting themselves badly – they are too small for that; this is the example I want to follow. I can feel that this is what Jesus expects of me.’ (A Difficult Life p.96).

Like me, and like all of the women who read this blog, Léonie knew what it meant to fall, and fall hard. When desire wasn’t enough to match some external or internal circumstance that forced us out of the religious life, we went through every stage of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, please God, acceptance – just as she did. Through all her struggles within the convent and without, it was in God that Léonie found the ‘constant Hope’ of which she wrote in the final decade of her life. She struggled too much to have any confidence in herself, so she gave herself up to His mercy and turned to Him for the strength she lacked. Autistic or not, we’re all in the same boat here: as the Superior of my community said to me just before I left, sooner or later, in any vocation, God is going to require sacrifice.

The nature of sacrifice is that it hurts. Léonie surrendered herself to God even (and especially when) she was in pain; even (and especially when) she felt in her soul that she had failed. This is what makes her such a beautiful example for autistic people, who live by means of an ongoing process of trial and error in a world where most of the rules are hidden from us, and for women of all neurotypes who have had to re-construct a life outside the convent where they once hoped to remain forever. I’m in an area of overlap between the two groups – how’s that for a minority within a minority? – and with April being Autism Acceptance Month, this seemed like the right time to describe my own experience in religious life as a person on the autism spectrum, and to honour a woman who has therefore become my patroness twice over.

Back in January 2015, on the day that Léonie Martin received the title Servant of God, I wrote an article on the blog describing her as ‘the patron of the awkward, the naturally contrary, those whose personalities didn’t quite “fit” in the convent, those who didn’t get it right the first time (or the second, or the third) but somehow keep crashing their way up the narrow path that leads to heaven.’

Four years, an autism diagnosis, and much hard work of healing later, Léonie is still one of the people I most look forward to meeting after I die; a black sheep of Christ’s flock, a very human woman, and above all a faithful daughter of the Church.

‘Well, provided I have enough wit to love God with all my strength, living only by love and humility, that is enough for me.’   –  Léonie in 1910. (A Difficult Life, p.103.)

Servant of God, Sister Françoise-Thérèse Martin, pray for us!

 

 

Unofficial Checklist for Autism in Women by Samantha Craft: https://the-art-of-autism.com/females-and-aspergers-a-checklist/ 

References: Baudouin-Croix, Marie. Leonie Martin: A Difficult Life. Veritas Publications, Dublin 1993.

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 

Greener Grasses

By Sean O’Neill.

So heed me now, though all my quondam whimpers rise

From darknesses and little deaths You did despise,

Or seemed to. Your tremendous volte-face preyed each year

Upon my gullibility to bend Your ear

And racked this ruined soul with frames of phantom guilt.

Your accidental turning broke the barns I built

To store unrealised the mildewed fruit I bore.

I listened and ran bleating to Your closing door.

But when you turned I never saw your fabled smile

But wept upon Your thorny brow, to lose my guile

Where rivulets of blood do still obscure Your eyes

And gather where my hopes and weathered dreaming dies.

But here I lie, and ever did I, catlike, do.

For once, I now remember, where the olives grew

With mists between the small hills and dawn on the felled

Ancient castellations of the Marches, You held

My eyes and opened them on glimpses of Your face.

And have You changed? Is this now why there is no trace?

But now I think I mind a moonlit path I walked

Where all the trees were dancing with your voice and talked

Between themselves and lifted their long-fingered praise.

And You stopped me like a traveller with your gaze

And bade me lift this old, old burden from my back.

You have not changed. But surely I must learn my lack.

Then other places where Your love drew near, precious

And strong , or weeping and long, like milestones, conscious

Of me, spread along these dusts. I pine in my sleep,

Now. Now Your mercies crowd upon me from some deep

And dead forgotten cavern of my wayward heart.

I am the lost sheep. But no sooner do we start

Back on the pasture than I stray among the rocks

Or bandy words with here a wolf or there a fox.

Brand my hide with Your blood-red love, sacred shepherd.

Teach me the strong timbre of your speech that, once heard,

Will ever be obeyed; and lead me, lead me now

To grasses greener, sweeter than the heart knows how.

 

This poem first appeared in First Things, June/July 2004. Poem and image © Sean O’Neill, used with permission from the author.

 

 

 

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.”

Stained Glass

By M. Cabri

Over a year and a half ago when I left a religious community, everything in my life seemed to be broken. My family seemed to have fallen apart while I was thousands of miles away, and I could not seem to maintain emotional equilibrium. I alternated between extreme joy and deep interior darkness. Inside, I tried not to be blinded by the fear of not understanding what was going on, and the growing sense, which I refused to accept, that I may have to leave the community. My spiritual life had been undermined as well, and I alternated between wondering if it was spiritual dryness or something I had done terribly wrong. I felt burdened by the obligations of communal prayer in a monastic community. I seemed to fall asleep in both of my meditations every day no matter how hard I tried to keep watch with Our Lord. I received no consolation at daily Mass. Whenever I went into the chapel to pray the Divine Office, rosary, or make a Holy Hour, it couldn’t be over fast enough. I was painfully agitated and restless. The silence seemed to crush me. When I could speak, I never seemed to be able to say what I needed to my superiors, which left me feeling hopeless and desperately alone.

In the months before I left, I cried myself to sleep more nights than I can count. I never seemed rested when I woke up in the morning. Every day I dragged myself to my chores, trying to tell myself wholeheartedly and joyfully that this was all for Jesus, but I found that I wasn’t even able to convince myself of that anymore.  For the first time in my life, it truly seemed like Jesus was taking away the grace to live a life I had dreamed of for so long. I remembered how happy I had been as a postulant and new novice and couldn’t make sense of the inner darkness I felt now. I wrestled with feeling like I never could be enough for Him, that all my prayers and labor was in vain. I even began to wonder if He still was there, loving and supporting me. I couldn’t even look at my Sisters without crying. Finally, I just broke.

The great mystery of salvation is that Christ does not merely come to make everything externally appear better, leaving the root problem intact. He wants to, and DOES, heal the inner brokenness! Click To Tweet

For a few blissful and painful days, I lived in a limbo of dreading I must leave and knowing my Sisters did not know what would happen. I felt interior joy (or relief) at the prospect. I sensed all I wanted was freedom from what had become oppressive to me, not realizing that I was pining for earthly treasure which could not satisfy my heart. His grace (or my willfulness) seemed to keep me in one piece long enough to smile and say goodbye to my Sisters without dragging them into my inner chaos.

From that place, I came home across the country, hoping that somehow everything would be better again. Those painful first days, I could barely go outside because I felt unable to face the world as I was. I felt immodest walking around habit-less, horror that I had left the community, shame for my shaved head and an unshakable sense of failure. I could barely tolerate going to Mass or praying, because I felt divorced by the One I had promised to marry, whom I still love. Everything reminded me of the Sisters I had left behind who were now dead to me. I saw their faces everywhere and heard their voices in my head, sharing their joys, sorrows and spiritual growth with me. To this day, I still do. I still do.

Over a year later, after being in therapy and having the advice of a wonderful spiritual director, I approached the community again. The prompt reply was that they did not think I had a vocation to their community and should discern elsewhere. The experience was like leaving all over again. I feared that no community would ever want to talk to me.

In the six months since that conversation, I have approached two communities. From both, I have received understanding, love and support. One vocation directress even praised me for my courage in continuing discernment of consecrated life. Both emphatically assured me that I could have been refused simply because the community had too many applicants that year or did not have the resources to invest in a young woman for a second try at religious life. After a long struggle, those words are beginning to set me free.

It is easy to see everything as a personal rejection. Many of us already see ourselves as damaged goods, irreparably broken and unlovable. The great mystery of salvation is that Christ does not merely come to make everything externally appear better, leaving the root problem intact. He wants to, and DOES, heal the inner brokenness! We are all wounded and damaged by sin, either our sins or the sins of others. He sees the brokenness and what He can do to make those scars radiant. We are all like shards of glass which individually can be unimpressive. But when the chips are filled, edges polished, and we are pieced together with the rest of the Body of Christ, we will be more beautiful than we ever could have imagined. The more perfect and transparent each individual piece is, the more light will shine through that piece and make the whole window radiant.

Jesus wants to shine through your life so that the world will come to know Him through you. The more you reflect Christ, the more His light will shine on people around you. Click To Tweet

Jesus wants to shine through your life so that the world will come to know Him through you. The more you reflect Christ, the more His light will shine on people around you. Offer up your suffering, grow in holiness, and above all, continue to hope when all seems hopeless! The Body of Christ needs your suffering; don’t waste it! He IS faithful, even when we cannot feel it! Let Him heal you and know that all the saints and all of us who are journeying this path with you are praying for you!