Jun 9, 2016 |
It was about four years ago now. I was on a discernment retreat and I heard Jesus speak to my heart that he was not calling me to be a religious sister. He was calling me to marriage.
I told Him about the beauty of religious life, how these women give everything to Him, their parents and siblings, their desires for children and for a spouse, their sexuality, and their hearts, to receive so much in return. I spoke to Him about how their hearts are so directed toward Him that at the hour of their death, they will not be staring into the unknown, but into the future they have with their Maker and their Husband.
He spoke to me of the great sacrifice He required of me, one that the religious life could not pull out of me in the same way that an imperfect man could. A sacrifice that would challenge me in a unique way, and squeeze love out of me, requiring me to respond with a love that is not my own. He spoke to me of a love that would pour over me every day, begging me to pour it out onto others. He heard what I spoke to Him, and yet still said, “But I will show you a still more excellent way.”
I was heartbroken, but I believed Him.
Three years after that, I lived the reality that I was not married, engaged, or dating. I was (and still am), “single as a pringle,” as one of my friends likes to say. As I tried to adjust the reality that I was not called to the religious life, but serendipitously, both of my sisters were, to two different communities, which were both different than the one I was discerning with. I felt far away from God in a way and I was tempted to wonder if I did enter the convent, how holy would I have been? Would I have been like Saint Therese in her little way, or like St. Teresa of Avila, in her big way? In response though, I was sobered by the Holy-Spirit-inspired question: is hypothetical holiness more important than obedient faith? Of course not; “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”
Almost exactly three years from that discernment retreat, I went on a day retreat, one based on Theology of the Body, and the keynote speaker was Dr. Janet Smith. Her words were maybe new, maybe repeated, but this time they stuck. She said that, “Marriage does not eradicate man’s loneliness, but only alleviates it.” Wow. She said that, “every human relationship, especially marriage is a sign, a symbol, of our real relationship with God.” Wow. She said that, “In images of the Coronation, Mary is the woman being crowned, but Mary is a type of the church, and thus a type of each one of us. In the image of the Coronation, imagine yourself being crowned by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.” Wow. She said that “the Church is the bride of Christ, and thus each one of us is a bride of Christ.” Wow. She encouraged us to spend time in prayer imagining God the Father crowning us as His daughter, Jesus crowning us as His bride, and the Holy Spirit crowning us as His spouse. Wow.
In that moment, I realized that since the weekend I heard Jesus direct my steps away from the convent, I thought: He doesn’t want me to be His bride. He doesn’t want me. I regarded myself as unlovable and undesired. But, of course, that was (and is, and is to come) far from the truth. The expression of the spousal call may be different from the way it would be for a sister in vows, but as Dr. Smith said, I AM A BRIDE OF CHRIST simply because I am part of his Church. He is the one who makes me His bride. It is not a religious community that makes me Jesus’ bride. It is Jesus who makes me His bride. He has chosen me, and chooses me daily to be His bride. He reaffirms His love for me every day, an innumerable number of times, in a myriad of locations in the world, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. There, on the cross, my bridegroom offers Himself to me. I am loved. I am lovable. I am his bride.
I do not now have a husband, fiance, nor a boyfriend (See pringle comment above). I have not found the secret to thinking something was so right for you and living the reality that you are called elsewhere. And I do not know my future. I do know that I am imperfect, I am sometimes emotionally constipated, I say the wrong things, and embody awkwardness in all of its delights. But I also know that I am lovable and loved. I know that God looks upon me and loves me. I learned from the religious community of one of my sisters that, “God sees you like no other person sees you. God loves you like no other person loves you. God does not look at you in your limits, in your failings. He looks at what is limitless in you. He looks at you in what is most profound in you.”
I have moments (days, weeks, months, etc.) when I doubt my future. When I give in to fear that what God promised
will never happen. It is in those moments that I must remind myself, that I must preach the Gospel to my own heart: everything is about Jesus. There is no relationship that has greater gravity than the one I have with Jesus. There is nothing greater than Jesus. It is in those moments that I repeat the words of St. Teresa of Avila:
“Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one. Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end.”
May 27, 2016 |
“You will not be alone, because I am with you always and everywhere. Near to My Heart, fear nothing. I Myself am the cause of your departure. Know that My eyes follow every move of your heart with great attention. I am bringing you into seclusion so that I Myself may form your heart according to My future plans” (Jesus to St. Faustina, 797)
April 27, 2014- One of the most difficult days of my life, and yet, a very important day for the Church- Divine Mercy Sunday when St. John Paul II, the “Divine Mercy Pope”, was canonized. This was the day that I came home from the convent, and yet as I reflect on it more and more, I see it as a reflection of God’s Mercy and love to me.
Mercy, we hear it so often at Mass and in Scripture. It is one of the greatest attributes of God, and yet, how many of us plunge into the depths of what it means? The Latin, Misericordia, comes from “miserere”, which means “misery”, and “cor”, which means “heart”. So, this word literally means the act of a heart entering into another’s misery. So Divine Mercy is the message that not only does God enter into our misery with us, but that He comes and brings an even greater good out of every evil and suffering.
Coming up on the two year anniversary of my leaving, God blessed me with the beautiful grace to go on pilgrimage to the country that radiates God’s Mercy. He truly took me on a journey to experience the reality of this heart reaching out to me in my misery, especially in the experience my coming home from the convent. How? Redemptive Suffering. The people of Poland have experienced so much suffering, from the destruction of cities like Warsaw during World War II, to the incomprehensible terrors that resulted in concentration camps like Auschwitz. And yet, while these people have been through evils unimaginable, they have a heart for the Lord and hope unlike any other I have experienced.
This really blew me away… How can people who have experienced such immense suffering live like this? How can they have joy and hope, when everything they loved seemed to be taken away from them? How can they rejoice in Christ when they clearly came face to face with their own weaknesses and lived through so much fear?
In my own pain coming home from the convent, I have found that it has brought me face to face with fear and my own weakness. I have often given into discouragement, thinking that I can only love God once I move past the “ups and downs” of grieving the convent. But the people of Poland really helped me to see things in a new way through the lens of God’s Mercy.
As I progressed through my pilgrimage, the answer to my questions became clear to me. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Maximilian Kolbe, Faustina, John Paul II…These people were not immune to fear or death…Actually they were steeped in it. But what made these people saints they were meant to be?
They encountered the immense power of Divine Mercy. They experienced evil, came face to face with fear and suffering, and yes, knew ever deeper of their helplessness amidst such evil. But they made a choice- they chose to use it as an opportunity to cling to Christ and to take part in His suffering with Him. They saw their crosses in life through a twofold lens- that God was with them in their cross, and that they could unite their cross for another. They made the decision to allow the merciful Christ to be with them in their own pain, to receive His love gushing forth from his heart, and to be one with Him on the cross. And not only did they live out their suffering with Christ, but they had faith in God in whom they trusted would keep His promises. They had the hope in the reality that the resurrection comes after the cross, and that Christ not only brings good out of evil, but an even greater good!
The image of Divine Mercy shows this reality well. In this image, Jesus is appearing after He rose from the dead, and yet, He bears his wounds…the wounds of His Love. His wounds are glorified, and radiate the depths of God’s Mercy to us. It is Jesus saying to me and to you, “I love you this much. I am here with you and will lead you through this.”
And perhaps what is most important is the words at the bottom. “Jesus, I trust in You.” Yes, these words seem to reflect the attitude and call that Christ presents to us in this Jubilee Year of Mercy. Jesus is asking us to trust Him, amidst worries, struggles, and even joys! When coming face to face with our weakness in our own specific journeys coming home from the convent, He wants us to trust in His goodness and in the reality that the resurrection comes after the cross. Just like Himself, He wants our wounds to be glorified- we need only to entrust them to Him!
Feb 24, 2016 |
By a Leonie’s Longing reader.
Photo credit: the fifth image in this sequence (the broken umbrella) is used under Creative Commons licence, CC By S-A 2.0. The owner is AshokaJegroo.
Dec 3, 2015 |
As the end of the year draws near and we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, Advent is a beautiful time to reflect upon the blessings that God has given us.
This year, Leonie’s Longing invites you to join our #thanksconvent movement, and tell us what you gained from your time in the convent. It could be something as simple as a skill that you picked up in religious life, or as profound as a new way of drawing closer to God that you experienced there.
You can share your thoughts with us on Facebook or Twitter, or comment on this blog post, as many times as you like. At the end of December, the #thanksconvent comments will be gathered into a single post in celebration of the gifts that God has given us from our time in religious life!
Oct 16, 2014 |
Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of a Saint very dear to my heart (no pun intended), Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque. She spearheaded the promulgation of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (who was spear-hearted!), which was always present in the Church in one form or another but not formally recognized until then.
Before I started telling my own story about leaving the Convent and struggling with my eating disorder, I used to envy others who had seemingly more glorious stories. I thought my story was boring and embarrassing. Later on, however, I learned that my friends and acquaintances thought otherwise. And I soon realized that the Lord was a big fan of my story, not because it was particularly intriguing, but because it was the beginning of the story of my redemption. I started to see my wounded past as salvific, instead of shameful.
And if I can have this kind of experience – that my story is important and that my life has meaning and purpose – then certainly you can too! Each of our lives is so filled to the brim with extra-ordinariness in the midst of ordinariness, with grace in the midst of trial, with love in the midst of fear and pain, and mercy and forgiveness in the midst of apparent failure. So no matter who you are and what you struggle with, those sufferings are valuable gems. They are like the jewels on the Cross that represent the 5 Wounds of Christ. The points of access to redemption and salvation.
I love the images of Saint Thomas the Apostle when the Lord asked him to but his finger in his side, revealing to him and to us the gaping wound in His Side.
It is in His Wounds that we find refuge. There we realize that He knows our pain and our wounds. And as we put our finger into His Side we experience His vulnerability and humility. We realize the boldness of His trust in the Father’s Love that led Him to the Cross, to His seeming abandonment by the Father, and to His suffering and death.
But this wound is not a sign of failure and pain. It is the mark of His glorious Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven. In His Wounded Side we find, for us, the Love of His Sacred Heart, the Mercy He lavishes upon us, and the freedom He offers us in uniting our wounds to His. Yes, in Him we find freedom. Apart from Him there is nothing. When we try to rely on own accomplishments for affirmation and self-worth we end up being trapped under an avalanche of guilt, shame, unworthiness, loneliness, fear, and anxiety. But when we open our wounds to Christ and have the audacity to let Him see us as we really are, broken and in need of so many things, it is then that he pours Himself into us.
And despite the nothingness we may feel at times, the messiness of our life we finally admit to ourselves, and the rawness of the feeling of those wounds, we are finally filled. We no longer have this gaping empty bandaided wound because the Precious Blood of Jesus has finally gained access.
As we celebrate Saint Margaret Mary, who was given the vision of the Sacred Heart and who united her own heart to His, let us make a gift of our wounded hearts to the Lord and see Him graciously accept them, heal them, and care for them.