Back in April, we launched a survey that forms our contribution to the preparatory phase for the 2018 Synod on Youth, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.
We have been blessed to receive generous and thoughtful responses from many, many former religious, and former seminarians too, from across the United States, Australia, Canada and Europe.
Thank you for sharing your experiences!
We will continue to take responses until Thursday, June 1, 2017.
If you have been thinking about whether or not to respond, be assured that we receive responses with the greatest reverence for what you choose to share. The responses are anonymous, and each question on the survey is optional – you can answer as much or as little as you like.
Only Board Members can see the actual responses; general information about trends will be provided to the diocese of one of our Board Members for inclusion in the material given to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who will submit a national report for review in Rome.
To visit our Survey Page and to take the survey, please click on the image below!
Even though I don’t know what your plan is, I know you’re making beauty from these ashes.
“Broken Hallelujah” by the Afters
Broken, Blessed, and Beautiful: Isn’t this the Paschal Mystery we proclaim? Isn’t this also how the stories of our lives are written?
As we continue to celebrate this Easter season and look to embody this message of hope in daily life, the Alleluia quiets, the joy dims, and life’s daily struggles often begin again to filter and obscure the light. The promise of Spring found in the garden on Easter morning can fade and seem far off come nightfall.
As each of us knows, the landscape of life can shift dramatically, leaving us feeling lost, broken, and discouraged. The friends of Jesus knew this well as it played out before their very eyes. The Paschal Mystery has seasons, as do our lives. Personally I’ve lived these seasons through religious life, single life, marriage, and motherhood. I’ve felt the effects of these shifting sands. The benefit of time and experience has led me to the sure knowledge: God is taking me at my word, as I’ve so often prayed Psalm 51, “Create in me a new heart, O Lord, renew in me a steadfast spirit.” Each season has its own particular challenges and joys, its own blessings and brokenness. While the details of our individual stories may vary, the Author remains the same. He is in ALL the details, the brokenness and the blessing. We are reminded that life is a journey: We are ALL works in progress, perfectly imperfect, forgiven, redeemed, and loved beyond measure by a Wounded Healer.
Luke’s Gospel tells the story of the Risen Lord’s appearance to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Aren’t we like the disciples who walked the Road to Emmaus? To them, and to us, words can barely convey the heartfelt pain, loss, and grief of the past few days. But Jesus walks with these disciples and listens without judgment to their outpouring of emotion, unrecognized, just as He walks with each of us, listens to each of us. We and these disciples are exactly where we need to be.
When they arrived at Emmaus, they invited him with these words, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening!”
And it happened while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.
He may have vanished from their sight, but most certainly not from their hearts. This encounter would provide hope and encouragement as these disciples lived out their renewed faith and Easter hope.
May each one of us invite the Risen Lord to walk with us, to stay with us. May we invite Him to open our minds and our hearts, so we may recognize Him, beautiful and broken, in our current circumstances. He will feed our spirits and fill our hearts with blessing.
By Meg Meg left community after 8 years of serving as a professed religious sister. Discernment and transition were challenging for her, but three years after returning to the world, Meg met her future husband, Mike, with whom she now has three children. At present, Meg is “rediscovering” her love for all things creative, writing poetry, visual arts, and living a healthy lifestyle. She is grateful for the opportunity to offer encouragement to those who have left religious life.
Leaving the atmosphere of religious life can feel like a big let-down. It’s easy to fall in love with that atmosphere, away from the seemingly pointless hustle and banality of our modern culture. It’s easy to think that you’ll never find the peace and tranquility you found “on the inside” again, and this fact alone drives many people who leave a community to near-madness. I know, it happened to me. But it doesn’t have to be like this.
One of the biggest problems I faced when leaving was despair. I worried about how I’d find work and where I would wind up and how I’d pay the bills. I worried that I’d failed God, or worse, that He and in particular His ministers in the Church had failed me. I wondered if He really cared about me or had a plan for me. I also felt that the world was completely against me, that worldly people would believe me to be a religious freak, and that without life in a religious organization I would be incapable of survival, in both the spiritual and material sense. Never in my life was I more wrong. What I desperately needed was a view of good things that can happen on the outside, and thankfully I got that.
I’m not advocating a foolhardy Pollyanna attitude, but I do know from first-hand experience that the world really isn’t quite so bad as that, and being a faithful and joyful Christian is possible out here. Here’s some things I discovered, in no particular order:
The world is a place filled with beauty. Beg, borrow, or steal a ride and go camping. Visit some place you’ve never been. Meet some new people. Or if you really can’t get very far, go for a long walk. Stare at the sky. Watch a squirrel closely. Listen to beautiful music. Then remember this: God made all this for you. God made you, and everything around you, because He loves you. This experience is His gift to you. This experience has been so necessary for me from time to time, because otherwise, if I’m trapped indoors or at work for a long time, I can easily assume that God isn’t close. When you’re in the convent or in a seminary it can be easy to forget to perceive beauty and God’s loving care for the world in places outside the Adoration chapel, the choir bench, or a beautiful traditional Mass. You’ll feel starved for love and beauty if you ignore the great beauty of the world around you.
Waste time with other people. It can be tempting to spend a lot of time working or praying, or working and praying, if you’re really into ora et labora. But humans are meant to be in relationship with others, and most often you’ll find that you can’t do that if you won’t just waste time with them. In a community it’s easy to take this for granted. You’re always together, doing the mundane things of life. When you’re outside, you won’t have this. So ask somebody to sit and eat with you in the break room at work. Talk about frivolous things and laugh. Even the most introverted of people can feel starved for this after leaving a community.
Remember that the world in a very real way needs you, and you will need the world. Remember that God has given you gifts, gifts that are meant to serve other people. Be prepared to be surprised at the ways your gifts get used by others. The skills that you thought would make you so perfect as a priest or a nun could very well make you an extremely effective counsellor or businessperson. Don’t be afraid to use these skills on the job and outside of it too. It will draw people to God in ways they do not expect, and He will reward you more than a human employer could do. There is little in this life that is more rewarding than that.
Finally, consider seeking new ways to pray. Without the community life of prayer you may find it very difficult to pray in the old ways. I found that after leaving seminary I could no longer pray the Office with anything other than a sense of reluctant recitation. I needed something else. So I learned lectio divina, and started taking a sketch pad with me to the parish Adoration chapel to draw what I meditated upon. God is a person who loves you and wants to spend time with you, so do not become discouraged if your old prayers seem lifeless and impossible. He will understand if things change.
By Anthony Anthony is a thoroughly lovable former seminarian, artist, and Catholic blogger. He is not only the author of this week’s post, but also the creator of its featured image. If you’ve never seen his artwork, check out his blog at http://weaselsgonarf.blogspot.com/.
Especially during the first several months after I returned home from the convent, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out just what went wrong. Initially, I nearly exclusively blamed myself. I felt like it was my fault that I didn’t stay: I was too proud; I was too lazy; I wasn’t fast enough; I didn’t prepare myself well enough before I entered; I didn’t have enough experience dealing with people and life in general; I didn’t pray enough; I wasn’t detached enough; etc., etc., etc. I could go through a whole litany of other self-accusations that I made, but I think this small sampling gives you an idea of my state of mind.
But after a while, I came to a simple observation – one that now seems very obvious: The Sisters aren’t perfect! Perhaps it goes without saying that even the best, holiest community isn’t going to be perfect, since each community is made up of human, imperfect members. So maybe the system of formation should have been organized better, or communication could have been improved. This Sister could have been more patient; that Sister could have been more understanding. Of course, this isn’t an appropriate place for me to publicize the community’s shortcomings in detail. Nevertheless, I think it was important for me to realize that the blame (if the situation could even be considered to be one of “blame”) was not entirely mine.
During my time in the convent, one of the things I remember Mother and the Sisters emphasizing frequently was the importance of forgiveness. They especially taught us the importance of forgiving our parents for the mistakes they made in raising us. They pointed out that Mary and Joseph were the only perfect parents, and since they were not the ones who raised us, our own parents had most certainly made mistakes. However, we also have a lot to be grateful to them for. They worked hard and sacrificed much to provide for us, giving us the best they had. It took humility to accept this message, but it also brought a lot of peace.
As time has gone by since my return home, I have come to realize that I owe this same forgiveness to my former community. When I look back over the time I spent with them, I am filled with such gratitude for all they gave me, both materially and spiritually. They accepted me, they taught me, they were patient with my mistakes, they counselled me, they prayed for me, they took care of my physical needs. In innumerable ways they showed me love, affection, and support. Moreover, when I think of all the sacrifices the Sisters have made, I cannot help but be in awe of these beautiful, generous women I was blessed to live with for nine months. Yes, they had their shortcomings at times, but I really think they have more to forgive in me than I have to forgive in them. But truly, they gave me the very best they had, and for that, I am forever grateful.
So did I make mistakes during my time in the convent? Could I have done things better? Definitely.
Did the Sisters make mistakes? Were there things that they could have done better? Quite likely, yes.
Do I need to forgive both them and myself? Yes!
A few months ago, on the one-year anniversary of my entrance, I was having a hard time inside. I was blaming myself for all that had happened, feeling that if only I had tried harder, then everything would have worked out and I would still be in the convent like I was “supposed” to be. I was recording my feelings in my journal, then I paused. I offered up to Jesus everything that was in my heart, and I felt as though I and all my past was enveloped in Jesus’ Divine Mercy. At that moment I felt more peace than I had experienced in months; I knew that God had forgiven me and that everything was going to work out in His time and in His way. I just need to trust Him.
I confess that I don’t yet practice this trust perfectly. I still sometimes battle with feelings of guilt or with old hurts that arise once more in my mind. But deep down I know that God is going to use every part of this situation for good, and that everything I’ve been through is in some mysterious way part of His plan. I only need to put my hand in His pierced one, with all the confidence and love of a little child.
This childlike trust is so important. St. Peter Julian Eymard encourages us to “[a]bide in the home of the divine and fatherly goodness of God like his child who knows nothing, does nothing, makes a mess of everything, but nevertheless lives in his goodness.” I remember coming across this quote as an aspirant, and being very encouraged by it, since I so easily got discouraged by my mistakes and failings. It is not that we should deny responsibility for our sins, but rather, we must have total confidence that we are God’s little children. His tender, fatherly love and patience are so much greater than our human failings!