I was a sophomore in college, haunted by a persistent idea. Could I be called to religious life? This thought had persisted since I was eleven years old, but the urgency was new. At January’s March for Life, I met some amazing religious sisters. Before I knew it, I was finishing my sophomore year, bidding farewell to my close-knit community of friends and professors. I entered that order the following August. Leaving family and friends to enter religious life was the hardest thing I had done. Through the tears, I was still able to see Christ bidding me to come to Him, to walk upon the waters. During the months that followed, I was able to truly put out into the deep and bask in the light of His love. Through this, I experienced the relationship that is possible through prayer and silence.
A year and a half later, I was again invited to leave the boat. I had loved my time in the convent, but the summons came to go home to my family and, from there, to discern the possibility of cloistered life. I left my habit, my community, and my religious life behind to follow the call. Readjusting to life “in the world” was particularly challenging. There were many moments of sinking into the waters, but through it I learned that, although I felt like I had lost so much, my only security was in the person of Christ. I learned that I needed to rely on Him even more than before, and to trust Him as I navigated these waters.
Seven cloister visits later, my world shifted again. I was on my third visit to a cloister, and during this visit was seriously discussing the application and potential entrance dates with the mother superior. And then the call came again. This time, He was inviting me to step out onto the waters of lay life and to be open to the vocation of married life. This change was completely unexpected. However, a deep peace was present, just as it had been the previous two times. Within a short time after this visit, I had a car, an apartment, and a full-time job.
Now, several years later, as I look back on these three events, I notice how much I have grown through them. My “fiat” cannot just apply to one event. If I say yes to whatever God wants in my life, then I must be open to all of the very different, crazy things that He can ask of me. My time with the active order taught me about the powerful and relentless way that Christ loves each one of us. As I left the convent, I learned that He, and He alone, is my rock in this world. And as I look back on the cloister that I almost joined, I can only laugh. I laugh at God’s surprising way of guiding my life and turning it upside down time and time again. I laugh at the way He somehow has access to my heart to guide it so well. I marvel at the way He always, always guides me with a sense of peace. And the next time I am called to step out of the boat to follow Him, I will probably laugh at the idea. Indeed, God has given me laughter.
Last night, I watched the first half of Labyrinth with some friends.
No, not this one.
The two-part TV series set in the south of France during the thirteenth-century Albigensian Crusade, complete with glorious location footage of the walled city of Carcassonne.
As we put the DVD on, the (non-Catholic) friend who had recommended it asked me casually whether I’d ever heard of the Cathars. Yes, I replied: I joined a Catholic religious Order specifically founded to counteract the Cathar heresy. Hmm.
It became clear very quickly that the writers might just as well have abandoned all pretence and sub-titled the show How to Make a Dominican See Red: the Cathars to a man were portrayed as gentle, noble and extremely good-looking people who, quote, “just want to be left to worship in peace.”
For all that they kept hammering the Cathars-good-Catholics-evil theme throughout, the only time I allowed myself a wail of disbelief was when the elderly Cathar hero revealed to his virtuous Cathar daughter (but not his evil Catholic daughter, of course) that he was one of only a handful of people who knew the true whereabouts of…
When Part 1 ended, my friend asked whether I’d liked it. Now, I may not belong to the Order of Preachers in any formal way, but I’m still a Dominican at heart and a sophisticated modern re-hash of the stuff we’ve been arguing against for eight hundred years makes me cranky, so I replied that:
- According to the Cathar heresy, the material world is evil and therefore so is the god who created it, and
- therefore reproduction is evil because it traps pure spirits in corrupt flesh, and
- Cathar “vegetarianism” was due to fear of contamination by consuming the flesh of creatures that reproduce sexually, and
- in true Gnostic fashion, only a handful of extreme ascetics could be “true” and “perfect” followers of the way, and the hoi polloi just had to make do with rejecting the Church and the Sacraments, and avoiding anything that might commit the sin of procreation.
Funnily enough, none of our charming heroes (or the Cathar “priests” who sacrificed themselves for religious liberty) mentioned any of the above. Nor, for that matter, did anyone refer in passing to the murder of the Catholic missionary Pierre de Castelnau which brought the Crusaders to France in the first place. The mass slaughter of Cathars was appalling, and was rightly depicted as such, but there was a cynical post-modern prejudice underlying the whole thing that didn’t reflect the actual worldview of either Cathars or Crusaders, and simply didn’t need to be there.
This really brought it home to me that I’m not in the convent any more: I’m out in a world where heretics are automatically heroes and Catholics are automatically evil. I dearly miss the sanity of the religious life, but it’s clear that my job for now, out in the world, is to follow the example of Saint Dominic, who fought error with logic, charity and prayer.
One day, every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. Until then, you and I are the current generations of the Church Militant, and those who have taught and died for the Faith for two millennia are upholding us in their prayers. Maranatha!