Here’s the final post in Lucia’s beautiful Theology of the Body series!
After knowing of God’s immense love, a woman can go forward with finding out what God calls her to. This response is not immediately one of vocation to married or religious life, but rather a call to respond to God’s love.
When one knows that they are loved by another, they desire to give themselves completely to that person in love. It is in such an act that we truly find out who we are. As St. John Paul II points out, “Man cannot fully find himself except by making a sincere gift of himself”. By receiving God’s love and then giving ourselves in love and trust to Him, we truly become who we were created to be.
I started out my second blog post with the theme of hope. Hope: What do I mean by this? How does this relate to the Theology of the Body and how it expresses the Gospel message?
“The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man: it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.” (Catechism, 1818)
Amidst your experience, whether it is one of joy and freedom or pain, suffering, and low self-esteem, how is God leading you to hope? How is He calling you to happiness and the desires of your heart? You have great desires for to love and be loved, and He has put those desires in your heart for a reason. Allow Him to guide you ever closer to Himself through these desires!
God wants to marry us. St. John Paul II expressed this beautifully, “With an act of redemptive love, Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her. By the same act he is united with the Church in a spousal manner, as the husband and wife are reciprocally united in marriage instituted by the Creator.” (TOB, Audience 93). Even if you are not giving your life in the radical vocation of religious life, this still is very true. God created each of us for a deep and intimate union with Him, and our vocation is only the means by which we enter into a deeper relationship with Him.
Now, ask yourself, “Do I truly believe this and live this out? Do I believe that even if I am not a religious that God is still calling me to a deep personal relationship, and not only that, but that He has a particular and irrepeatable mission for me? Do I believe that I am called to an intimate relationship with Christ, based not on what I do, but rather the fact that He loves me unconditionally?” Sit with the Lord and go through asking these questions with Him. Allow Him to stir the deep desires of your heart that are so beautifully put there by Him, and He will lead you to find out who you truly are.
“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
The other two posts in this series are available here:
The image of the Schoenstatt Unity Crucifix in this post is used under a Creative Commons Licence, and the owner is Enrique Lepez-Tamayo Biosca.
In July 2015, Aussie former-Dominican Bek Griffin embarked upon a journey across the Pacific to the USA where she visited other former religious sisters from a range of different States and communities and enjoyed some of the very best couch and futon accommodation that the “Land of the Free” and the “Home of the Brave” had to offer. The experience was both vacation and pilgrimage, both restorative and prayerful… and a heckuva lotta fun!! She shares this experience in the hope of inspiring others in post-convent transition to prayerfully consider responding to the unexpected manifestations of God’s love that bring healing and joy.
ex-Con: n. a former resident of a convent; a former member of a religious community.
Called to vAcation: permission to be joyful!
When we enter religious life, we give the Lord our unconditional “yes” to whatever He may ask of us for the entire remainder of our lives. For those of us who leave and return to the world, this doesn’t cease to be the case. Rather, it takes on a radically different appearance to that which we thought it would. My act of returning to the world after a year and a half in community was fundamentally in continuity with that very first “yes” I gave the Lord in May of 2010 when, praying the 10th Station alone in a candle-lit chapel I responded to the totality of the Lord’s gift with my own offering of my life to Him – small in comparison to His infinite gift, but the very best I had to give, and in some way, pleasing to His loving and adorable Heart.
My act of returning home was a step forward in raw trust, a deep conviction that He was calling me out not as a rejection, but as a positive thing with a definite purpose… and so I took my step forward into the dark, and like Peter walking on water towards Jesus, my trust faltered at a certain point. I flailed and stumbled and found myself over my head amidst wild waves that served as a foil to show up my lack of faith.
My first mistake was to forget that I was not alone, to rely upon my own resources. After returning home, I was determined NOT to “sponge” off the charity of others for longer than necessary (a.k.a. I succumbed to pride.) I put a great deal of pressure on myself to find employment and to become equipped to pull my weight financially. While the intention was to take responsibility for myself and to minimise the impact that my unexpected transition had on those I loved, the impact to ME was that I forgot, for a little while, just how much the Lord loves me! Life took on a bleak and burdensome flavour and this made my interior post-convent processing that much harder. I threw myself into work, and in a stunning act of kamikaze madness, undertook also to complete in the space of about 10 months another Masters degree in my “spare time.” Full-time work and full-time study whilst still maintaining one’s responsibility to be present to one’s family means that, even when you DO uncompromisingly schedule prayer time for the Lord, you don’t have a whole lot of energy left to give to Him! He gets time… but not necessarily quality time. I was aware of my thirst for Him… and yet did not allow room in my life to frequently approach the Well from whence Living Water can be drawn. Occasional bursts of mercifully gifted fervour kept a little flame alive… just.
It’s the battle we all face, I suppose, out here in the world. And yet as we stumble in the dark, our Kindly Light is ever there to lead us on, if only we dare to trust and follow. I made a resolution for the new year. I would build back into my life the pattern of daily mental prayer that I lost when I left community life. It HAD to work – it was at His invitation, after all. It would happen by His Grace.
So it was some 18 months after returning to the world that I found myself in my third post-convent job, a little more stable and lucrative than those prior. Prayer was a more fruitful fixture in my life than it had previously been. Further, I belonged to an international community of women who loved the Lord intensely and were each seeking out ways to serve Him and share His Love with others – I had been in communication with a number of other women who had similarly left my former community, as well as a number of active members of Leonie’s Longing for some time. I realised that these were firm and worthwhile friendships – wonderful gifts! Over a period of about six months, the idea of travelling to the United States to visit some of these friends kept coming up in conversation and even in my dreams. I considered my options and my budget and realised that such a trip would be feasible if I saved carefully… could it be possible that the Lord actually actively wanted me to take a vacation?
It can be so easy, falling prey to my pride, to seek fulfilment in achievement. My academic pursuits left me wide open to this. Nevertheless, in moments of uncharacteristic clarity, I find myself wondering why I don’t just get out of my own way and let the Lord fulfil me!!
Somehow on this occasion I did exactly that. I listened to Him. I got out of my own way. I spoke to my friends and found out which of them would be happy to host me for portions of my adventure… and then I booked flights till my hip pocket could barely handle it anymore. Four very dear and generous friends with a whole lotta God-given love in their heart… and all He was asking me to do was let them love me – to let Him love me.
Things fell into place. My application for a month of vacation time at work was approved without incident. My travel preparations were unimpeded. I got on my flight and some 24 hours later I was hugging a dear friend I hadn’t seen in years! She and I had become very close while in community together; she entered about a year before I did, and left about a year before I did, and our time in the community only overlapped by 6 months. Now here we both were – her a teacher, me an IT professional in the education sector – let loose in the world!! As we road-tripped Texas together, I made the comment to her that seeing her in this new context… ordinary life… and just spending time with her and doing regular things… it somehow really affirmed for me on an interior level my decision to return to the world. There are many trials and dangers associated with no longer having the walls of the convent and the horarium and my religious community – but there are many joys and beautiful things to be experienced, too!
The purpose of my visit to Texas was purely and simply to spend quality time with my very dear friend.
Mission accomplished. Definitely. And that was the absolute highlight of my Texas leg of the trip.
Portrait of St Therese by her sister, Celine
It wasn’t all about staying in and eating icecream and catching up, though. Some of the secondary highlights included:
- meeting HEAPS of awesome, beautiful, hospitable people!!
- visiting the Basilica Shrine of St Therese of Lisieux in San Antonio and seeing the larger-than-life original of the portrait of Therese painted by her sister Celine
- being introduced to Tex Mex
- being told, in Texan drawl ” You’re in ‘Merica – you can do whatever you want!”
Cactus+Beer? I LOVE America!
- discovering the delights of Prickly Pear flavoured beer (whod’ve thunk?)
- kayaking in downtown Houston (I kid you not!)
- checking out the NASA Space Center
- checking out the Alamo
- Museum of Fine Arts in Houston
- finding the little hole-in-the-wall coffee joints that know how to serve up a “Flat White” just as well as any barista in Sydney
- rediscovering the much-missed comfort-food and friendly atmosphere of Chik-fil-A… we SO need this chain to open franchises in my country!
- playing chicken with traffic to get a photograph at the site of the Kennedy assassination
- discovering an awesome breakfast innovation that hasn’t yet taken Australia by storm: the Nest Egg… genius. Pure genius.
- enjoying the generous hospitality of a Venezeulan family who had never met me, didn’t know me, spoke in a different language to me but opened up their home and fed me delicious arepas!
Groovin’ at the Grassy Knoll
Next Stop: Denver, CO>>
(Stay tuned: part two of Bek’s journey will be published on Thursday December 10th!)
An interesting description of hope comes from a French poet Charles Peguy in his book The Portal of the Mystery of Hope. He portrays faith, hope, and love as three sisters. Faith and Love look very important and strong; indeed they are grown adult women. Hope is their immature little sister. As you look at the three sisters it looks like Hope is powerless and unimportant compared to her older sisters. But when one looks closer he sees that it is the energetic sister, Hope, who pulls along her older sisters. Like a puppy that runs back and forth twenty times without tiring as you take her for a walk, she doesn’t grow weary or cautious in the face of disappointments. Hope keeps running and pulls at the hands of her older sisters. Hope gives youth and life to faith and love.
Hope is necessary for salvation, because without hope faith and love don’t persevere. This is why Saint Paul can say that Christians are “saved in hope” (Romans 8:24).
Consider the effects of hope in human trials. Imagine two people who work really awful jobs: all day long, flipping burgers and frying fries. They work seventy hours a week, seven days a week, and they get no vacation time and no gratitude from their employer or from their customers. They think about quitting every day. Now imagine that one person flips these burgers for minimum wage, but the other knows that after working for a year she will be given a check for 10 Million dollars. The first worker will quit after a month. The second one, who holds onto the future hope of a ten million dollar pay-day will gladly flip burgers for a year. In fact she will whistle while she works. (This illustration is from a sermon by Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian church). Her future hope totally transformed her present situation.
But Christian Hope is different than a ten million dollar pay-day. If my future hope is in money or material things, or even future honors or praises, I will be disappointed. These are treasures that “moth and decay destroy” (Matthew 6:19). Technology and Progress are also false objects of hope. Pope Benedict recalls in his encyclical on hope that technology and progress have given gifts and improvements for society, but they have also given progress from sling shots to atom bombs. Even if I seek future fulfillment from people, like my spouse or friends, I will be disappointed. My spouse may be beautiful and truly a gift from God, but ultimately she is still not God and still not perfect, nor should she be. My ultimate hope must be in something that is sure and firm and will never disappoint and will satisfy the deepest longings of my soul.
This hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, is Jesus Christ our Lord (Hebrews 6:19). Jesus is the rock where I anchor my hope. He will never disappoint and he will bring me to eternal life, because he has entered into the inner place behind the curtain, “that is, he died and rose for me as the lamb, whose blood goes before me into presence of God the Father for my forgiveness and makes me an adopted son of the Father.
This hope won’t disappoint because ultimately it doesn’t depend on me. Sure I must cooperate, but ultimately my hope is in God who is merciful and who died for me a sinner. My hope is in Him who loves me with an “unjust mercy”. In the words of Pope Francis, my hope is in Him who knows me, knows my betrayals and loves me just the same, appreciates me, embraces me, calls me again, hopes in me, and expects from me (Cardinal Bergoglio’s words April 27, 2001 about The Attraction of Jesus, a book by Luigi Giussani)
Saint Thérèse illustrates this hope in a letter she wrote to her sister Marie. Marie had been frustrated with her own imperfections and her imperfect love for God. She saw her sister Thérèse and longed to be as good and holy as she. But Thérèse assured her, “my desires for martyrdom are nothing. It is not they which give me the unlimited confidence which I feel in my heart.” Her hope is not in her own goodness, but rather in God’s unbelievable love for her. What pleases God in my little soulÂ is that He sees me loving my littleness and my poverty: it is the blind hope that I have in His mercy.” (The emphasis is Thérèse’s.) That is my only treasure. Why can it not be yours? To love Jesus, the more one is weak, without desires and without virtues, the more one is suitable for the operations of (God’s) consuming and transforming love. It is confidence and nothing but confidence that must lead us to love. (Quoted from a beautiful book, Maurice and Thérèse, by Patrick Ahern)
How can I have this hope? Here is where faith, hope, and love merge. The Letter to the Hebrews says that Faith is the “substance of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith gives me the gift to know God personally. As I know Him I can begin to love Him. He becomes present in my soul, and the “things hoped for” become present in my heart in embryonic form (Pope Benedict, Spe Salvi 7). Through faith, and hope, and love, I begin to live already as a child of God. This why Saint Paul says that Christians while still on earth are already in some sense raised up to heaven with Christ and are already “seated with him in the Heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6). Through Faith the object of my hope is present in my heart, and I love Him. Hope is the gift whereby I cling to Him and His promises despite what challenges might come my way.
Here is where I see the need to pray. I need quiet time with our Lord to know Him, to Love Him, and to Hope in Him.
By Fr. Pieter vanRooyen
Fr. Pieter van Rooyen is a priest in the Diocese of Lansing. He was ordained in 2010 and is currently studying dogmatic theology in Rome. Most importantly, he is a big fan of St. Thérèse!
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