Unusquisque: A Dominican Love Story

By Cinnamon.

Unusquisque:

1) Latin adjective (masculine singular), from unus (one) + quisque (each). Eg: Each one looks to You to give food in due season.

2) Tongue-twister from the Dominican prayer book, bane of my life in the early weeks of postulancy (see also: gloriosissimae; necessitatibus; famulorum famularumque).

I don’t know whether, in your former community, you tangled with this monster during the formal grace in Latin as I did (it’s pronounced oo-noos-QUISS-quay, by the way, and getting it right for the first time is a real buzz) but if you were in Dominican formation I bet that you’ve encountered these other eight-hundred-year-old traps for the unwary:

  • Courtesy of the angels who started handing out bread at the junior end of the refectory table, you get to go first in everything! Want to wait invisibly at the back and watch the senior Sisters to find out what they do? Actually, you’re leading the procession. Good luck!
  • You (finally) make a perfect profound bow. Everybody else makes a head inclination. Hopefully they’re all keeping custody of the eyes and missed it.
  • For anyone who’s not naturally a soprano:

no further explanation is required. I used to do my choir practice down the local cemetery, figuring that my paint-peeling rendition of this beloved chant would take years off Purgatory for any Holy Souls who happened to be listening.

  • Processions in general. Did anyone else crash into furniture on the way around the chapel? Execute an impeccable turn, and then realise that a partner had been left stranded because you were supposed to bow to her first? Meander off too far to the side and get patiently towed back in by one elbow? (Or maybe it’s just me. Who am I to judge?)

Also, unless your written work rivalled the perfection of the Summa, you will have found yourself on the receiving end of that other profoundly Dominican gesture: the uncapping of a red pen. Veritas. The deepest instinct of these Hounds of the Lord is to find out what’s wrong, and, for the glory of God, fix it. While still in the convent, I read the results of a survey about religious beliefs sent out to different communities of nuns in the 1960s: lots of sisters dutifully filled out and posted back their responses, but, surprising nobody except the authors, the Dominicans corrected the questions before they answered them. (It certainly didn’t surprise me. I’d just failed an essay for the first time since my early years in high school.)

And you know something? I miss it all fiercely. As Dom Hubert Van Zeller points out, a yearning for the externals of the religious life doesn’t mean that my vocation was to stay in that community – of course I miss the processions of white habits, the candle-lit vigils before Jesus in the monstrance, the solemn Salve. It’s also obvious that when my health began to shatter under the demands of monastic life, all of those beautiful things weren’t enough to keep me there. So why, then, did I spend the better part of two years afterward fighting an irrational desire to turn up on the community’s doorstep one morning and ask them to let me have another try?

When I left, the most important thing that became forfeit was not my hope of wearing the veil that would set me apart for Our Lord, and the scapular for Our Lady, and nor was it the chance to spend my days with a lively, intelligent group of devoutly Catholic women of whom I had become fond. It wasn’t even the privilege of living in the cloister and chanting the Divine Office with them at the heart of the Church. What I surrendered was twofold: to be a bride of Christ, and a daughter of Saint Dominic. In my heart, I’m both. Officially, I’m neither. Worse is the thought that, if I died today, in heaven I’d be neither.

Of course, if it turns out after further discernment that I don’t have a religious vocation at all, I could become a tertiary, but I suspect for me that would feel a bit like winning the silver medal. Here’s why. The desire to be a sister first hit me in my teens when I was barely practicing the Catholic faith, and before the year was out I’d fallen head over heels in love with Jesus. Listening recently to the TEDx Talk on discernment that Jenni gave, I realized for the first time that, somewhere in those early days, I skipped a crucial step in the process: I wasn’t afraid of the path ahead. On the contrary, I was awed at having been noticed by God, and wildly excited about getting started in the religious life. Forget your people and your father’s house, for the King has desired your beauty!

Thanks to prosaic things like tertiary studies and the resultant debt, the better part of a decade passed before I got my wish. Enough time to get over the honeymoon, commit myself to some serious study, collect a few battle scars and get a realistic idea of what I’d be facing when I entered. It always surprised me, though, when people said, “Wow, that’s a big step to take! Aren’t you scared?” No, I’m not, was the honest reply – it’s just the next obvious step. Giddy romanticism dispensed with, I was still eagerly looking forward to entering: I’d discovered the Dominicans at World Youth Day, and found what I was looking for in a religious Order. Then, a few months after I entered, I finally met Saint Dominic.

I’d been struggling through an assignment about the founding of the Order (having, as previously mentioned, failed the first one) and, one morning, simply pushed all my other essays aside and buried myself for several hours in the life of this gentle, luminously holy man. The shy scholar who sold his books to feed the starving; the preacher with bleeding feet, on his own among thousands of heretics; the beacon of chastity whose sheepish deathbed confession was that he had sometimes enjoyed preaching to young women more than old; and the devoted spiritual father who promised after his departure to help the brethren by his prayers. By the time I put my books away and hurried off (as quietly as one can hurry down a cloister while dodging the squeakiest floorboards, that is) to help prepare lunch that day, I’d become a Dominican. An ordinary desire to follow Christ had crystallized into the desire to follow Christ just as Saint Dominic had, in contemplation and preaching of the Truth.

So, I’m starting discernment again from scratch, trying to find the place where my home on earth might be. And this time, I am scared. I know what can go wrong, and how badly – but also how beautiful it can be. That’s in the future, though. For now, I remember and continue to pray the exquisite Dominican prayers I learned in the convent – not in some useless pretence of monastic life, but because their meaning has become intertwined with my personality like silk threads woven into a piece of cloth, and I wouldn’t know how to pull them out if I wanted to. I’m still a Dominican inside. Please God, one day I’ll sing His praises in heaven as one, too.

Praedicator gratiae, nos junge beatis.

All I Have to Do is Dream

By Spiritu.

Here’s one thing that works to my advantage: I’ll never need to pay a psychoanalyst to decipher the hidden meaning of my dreams. Last night, for example, I was kneeling in my parish church when the Sisters from my former community unexpectedly walked in. They didn’t see me, but I watched them as they genuflected and took their seats near the front, and I wondered whether or not to go over and join them, since I wasn’t wearing my postulant uniform. Then I woke up.

Nearly two years out of the convent, my subconscious clearly still hasn’t quite let go of what might have been. Thankfully, it’s better than it was: at around the time I would have received the habit, for example, I started waking up in the middle of my Clothing ceremony several nights a week. (At least my community had the understated custom of giving the novice’s religious name at the start of the ceremony rather than the end, so I always got that far!) After about a year back in the world, I’d dream myself standing outside the convent in twilight, just as I had stood in real life while wheeling out the bins each week during postulancy, looking up through a window into the brightly-lit community room where the Sisters were gathering for evening recreation. Now, I wonder what that dream means?

For a long time after returning to the world, I slept a lot, but badly: going to bed at 8.30pm, waking up as late as possible the next day, and getting dizzy with tiredness sometime in the late afternoon. A number of times, I was appointed designated driver home from outings when, despite being stone-cold sober, by 10pm by I was definitely no safer to drive than anyone else in the car. (If I make it to heaven one day, I confidently expect that Saint Christopher will be waiting just inside the pearly gates to deliver a lecture on the subject that I’ll never forget.)

Not being a doctor, I can’t offer medical advice, but if you’re in this situation I can tell you a few things that have worked for me:

1) For a short-term rescue if you’re getting faint during the day, forget the sugar and eat a salami stick. I started carrying some around with me (the individually-wrapped ones), and found that the salt, fat and juices gave a much better energy boost than chocolate.

2) The biggest one: no screens for an hour before bed-time. No phone, computer or even TV, as the bright lights apparently interfere with the brain’s sleep cues. (Well, minimal screens, anyway. I cheat. I’m cheating as I write this now, in fact.) This one actually fixed most of my sleep problems in one go, and drastically reduced the dizzy spells next day.

3) Chamomile tea. If you’re like me, the challenge, waking or sleeping, is to find a channel in your mind that’s not playing repeats of Life in the Convent. Slowly drinking a cup of chamomile tea just before turning out the light can help gently disconnect those loops of thought and take you downward into sleep.

And then there’s the 2am demon: what if I’d…/perhaps if I’d…/if only I’d… (Or its evil twin, what if they’d…/perhaps if they’d…/if only they’d…) The only thing that helps here, unfortunately, is time and a conscious effort to understand and process the grief. It’s as though every memory of life in the convent, good or bad, is a sharp edge that needs to be gone over with sandpaper a certain number of times before it gets dull enough that you can handle it. However, it’s 2am and you’d really like to go back to sleep, so what can be done for some relief in the meantime?

Here, I’ll pass on three suggestions from the wise and patient priest who suddenly found a wildly unhappy recent ex-postulant in his confessional back in 2013.

1) If you’re playing certain scenes over and over, perhaps making magnificent speeches where you actually once stood mute, bring your sense of the absurd into play. Imagine the scene with Bert and Ernie in the background reacting to what’s going on, or Mr. T providing a running commentary. If it sounds extremely stupid, that’s because it is… but I actually laughed out loud the first time I tested it on one of my painful convent memories.

2) Or, if that’s just too silly for words, how about this? Imagine you’re sitting at a table so long that the far end disappears into the distance, and slowly, gently slide the people you’re angry with down the table away from you, further and further until they’re so small you can’t see them anymore. Keep them there and turn your mind to something else.

3) If all else fails or – worse – the person you’re angry with is yourself, then turn the light on and write down, very specifically, what is bothering you. Then (my own later addition), decide on something concrete that you will do in the morning to move on from that situation. I will say a decade of the Rosary for someone’s intentions. I will put $5 in the Saint Vincent de Paul box. I will make coffee for my parents/housemates. I will say the Office of the Dead for the souls in Purgatory. Anything, as long as it’s clear, charitable and constructive. Then turn the light off and, for heaven’s sake, go back to sleep.

And me? Self-evidently, I’m not “over” the most vivid months of my life just yet. But two years out is a hell of an improvement over two months out, no longer bittersweetly receiving the habit night after night being but one example. The Sisters still walk through my dreams sometimes (do I ever, I wonder, walk through theirs?), but slowly, a couple of years behind schedule, my heart and mind are catching up to my life in the outside world. Thanks be to God.

Sensory Overload

By Pinkie

While at University I spent a summer on an archaeological dig. We lived in platform tents in the woods and drove about thirty minutes to get to our dig site and “town,” which was very small. A few people had cell phones but it did not matter because there wasn’t a signal there anyway. We had no TV, radio, internet, phone or anything like that at camp. We worked hard physically all day and sat around the fire talking and being silly at night. Then we went to bed and did it all again the next day.

On a holiday weekend a number of us drove to a bigger town which actually had a movie theater and we chose to see Moulin Rouge! If you have not seen this movie I would describe it as an explosion: intense visual images, singing and dancing, fast-paced editing, and over-the-top in every way. Many people who saw it found it rather overwhelming. My mother told me that a friend of hers went to see it and walked out of the theater because she hated it so much. For our group, which had been on a media fast for all intents and purposes, it was basically a massive sensory overload. We sat there with our mouths hanging open, not even sure what was happening to us.

Afterwards, we laughed about it and told our teammates who didn’t come to the theater with us all about our experience. It was fantastic to have a group of people who could understand. We made jokes about it, sang the songs at night and processed the experience together.

When I returned to the world from the convent, it felt much the same way. The world was loud, intense and overwhelming to my senses. But instead of being a two hour movie, it was constant and never-ending. And I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it, to help me feel normal again.

At first I felt terrible. I thought, “There is something wrong with me!” But gradually I realized that I just needed to give myself time and permission to be human. Instead of forcing myself to hang out with my friends a few times a week, I cut it down to two times, and more if I felt up for it. I also limited my phone conversations. Slowly I adjusted and I could do more than that.

What about you? Did the world feel loud and wild when you returned? If so, how did you handle it? Did your family and friends help you adjust?

He Delights in You!

By AfterEpiphany.

I experienced God’s indisputable sense of humour (hey – He’s the AUTHOR of humour!) on the day that I left the convent. Through a strange act of Providence, I was rostered to do the First Reading at Mass with the Community on the morning that I left. Attending Mass was my very last act in Community – afterwards, I was whisked away to gather my things, eat a quiet breakfast and prepare to leave for the airport, whilst the rest of the community all went to community breakfast.

The fact that I was the reader for the day meant that I absolutely couldn’t become distracted or zone out during the reading. The significance of every word I read is even still with me. But what has me gobsmacked (yes, even now!) is the particular reading it was that day – Is 62:1-5. Here is a snippet from it:

“No more shall people call you ‘Forsaken’ or your land ‘Desolate’, but you shall be called ‘My Delight’ and your land ‘Espoused.’ For the Lord delights in you and makes your land his spouse. As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you.”

Um… WOW.

I really don’t think it was an accident that this particular Scripture passage was the reading for my last day wearing a religious habit, responding to a religious name, and belonging to a religious community. I think He had a message of comfort, and hope and deep, intimate love for me that day, one to carry within my heart for the rest of my life. Perhaps He also intended this message for each of you – my brothers and sisters in Christ who have experienced similar life changes of late in “discerning out” of your religious order or seminary.

Those questions that so many of us ask upon returning to the world: does God still love me? Doesn’t He want me to have an intimate relationship with Him anymore? If I have to be out in the world, can I still make my life all about God? Can I still bring others to Him as a lay member of the faithful?

This reading is His answer to me…
… and maybe to you as well?

He calls each of us to intimacy with Him. And even if we are not being wed to Him in the same mystical sense described in Canon 607, there is still a spousal element to our relationship with Him, by virtue of our membership in the Church, His Bride, for whom He freely laid down His life.

“Religious life manifests a wonderful marriage brought about by God… a gift of self by which their whole existence becomes a continuous worship of God in love…” ~ from Canon 607

But aside from all of that, He is my Builder and my God, and HE DELIGHTS IN ME!! *shakes head* I still don’t get that! It’s a mystery, but I trust that it is true. He delights in you too.

Yes, you!

To conclude, here are some passages to sit with; as scattered as they might seem at first glance, they unite in a very definite, and comforting, message of hope and promise:

Mt 28:20  |  Songs 3:1-4  |  Jer 29:12-13  |  Is 54:4

AfterEpiphany spent 1.5 years living religious life, half a world away from her homeland, convinced that God was calling her. He was: to a deep conversion of heart. Out in the world again, and with a professional background in IT Project Management, it would be remiss of A.E. not to have a 5-year plan for herself! her twofold plan consists of the completion of a PhD in Theology, and securing a job in an academic library as her interim livelihood. She cares deeply about faith education and the spiritual formation of young adults.

Who’s the Fairest One of All?

By Misericordia

To all of you who have twin siblings, you and I both understand deeply the concept of sibling rivalry. As an identical twin, my early life was a constant comparison. I loved (and still love!) my twin sister dearly, but I always felt self-conscious. I was never “as good” at things, even though I was the older twin, by eleven whole minutes!

When we were little, my “younger” sister loved pink and all the princesses in every story. However, I decided I was the queen. Why settle for princess when I could control everything (including the princess)? This seemed like a no-brainer to me!

The only problem was that the queen in almost every fairy tale is a villain…so my parents were slightly disturbed when I asked if I could be Maleficent for Halloween. But alas, I had to settle for being an octopus, which no where near resembled my second favorite queen, Ursula.

Eventually, I realized that the possibility of actually becoming a queen was unlikely! But more importantly, the Lord has personally shown me in adulthood that the less control I have over my life and that of others, the more room He has to work, and the more He can reign in my heart. So, as a former Queen-wannabe, I am preparing myself for the courts of the Kingdom of Heaven, where we are promised to be co-heirs with Christ.

Another lesson the Lord has taught me in my journey of Faith is that in addition to having a relationship with the King, I am also meant to have a relationship with the Queen of Heaven – Our Lady. She, however, is very unlike those I wished to emulate as a young child. First of all, she had no power over any earthly territory, not even her very womb, which she surrendered to the care of her Heavenly Father. Secondly, unlike fairy tale queens who succumb to jealousy and fear over losing their identity as the greatest or most fair, Mary at the Annunciation trusts the Lord when presented with the news that she could be both Virgin and Mother. And not only that but the Mother of God! And lastly, through her faith and hope, she was able to reveal to others how to live and love in total service of God and those around her.

Simply put, she knew who she was before God, and that was always enough, despite her material poverty, poverty of will, and the difficult circumstances she faced as a young mother who was not yet married. Her radical trust in God’s Providence and timing in all things was fuelled by the understanding of her identity and knowledge of her belonging to God. And consequently this fuelled her love of others, as she knew more than anyone the Love of God for their souls.

Even though we might know all of this intellectually, we can still feel ourselves distant from her because she is so holy, perfect, and immaculate, and we believe we do not possess any of the same graces. It is as though we see ourselves as a peasant in rags outside of the royal castle. However, her perfection opens the drawbridge for us. Her power was in her Assent to the Will of God, and the constant Fiat she lived in every action, word, and deed, was all for our salvation, that we may be one with her Son and the whole Community of Heaven. Thus, her seemingly untouchable holiness only brings us closer to her and the Blessed Trinity. She sees us approaching from afar and summons the guards to open the gates to us!

Similarly, her call to holiness was not only for her, the Queen of Heaven, the Queen of Angels and of Men, it is for all of us- all angels and men! We are asked to participate with her in the same spirit that she was given, the spirit that dwells in each of our hearts.

So I hate to break it to you, but no, we are not the fairest of them all. But are we searching for this perfection from mirrors, accolades, and the visible “successes” of our life conquests? Not to fear, because we can safely say that Our Lady truly is the fairest one of all! And praise God that we have so great a Mother to intercede for us at the Throne of the Most High God. The Queen of Heaven who watches over us, Sons and Daughters of the King.

Misericordia works for her home diocese, is a caffeine addict, and loves swimming.