Apr 27, 2014 |
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!
Jesus, I trust in You!!!
Apr 20, 2014 |
One can view the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus from either a cosmic or a personal viewpoint.
From a cosmic viewpoint, the Resurrection is the ultimate triumph of God’s love and power over the forces of evil, whether seen as human or Satanic. The failure of the woman and Adam in the garden becomes the happy fault, the necessary evil which is wiped away by the bloody sacrifice of Jesus, the Son of God. As he left the tomb, he stomped upon the head of the serpent who now has no power to destroy us humans. The gates of the garden have swung open and we humans may now return to paradise to where we were originally destined. God’s love has triumphed over human venality and selfishness, the sources of evil and man’s inhumanity to man, the causes of so much human pain and suffering. And while this world has not passed away and evil still roams the earth, there is now the hope of overcoming evil and of living an eternity of bliss.
From a personal viewpoint, the Resurrection gives meaning to our every day. Even if we wake up in pain, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, we can believe in God’s love, we can expect healing. Without the Resurrection, the Crucifixion merely mocks our suffering; with the Resurrection, the Crucifixion says I love you: I love you so much I would undergo all this for you so that, whether you are happy or sad, in pain or not, limping or dancing, you can know I understand and your pain is not the end of the story. There is hope.
Resurrection is around the corner. You can believe in that, you can trust in my love, you can look forward to better days, and in that way ease your pain. The Resurrection says don’t give up. We must not only take up the cross to follow Jesus; we must also take up the Resurrection!
By Fr. Benjamin Russell, O.P.
Fr. Benjamin served for many years as the Formation Director of the Central Dominican Province of St. Albert the Great in Chicago. He is now enjoying semi-retirement with the Friars of the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana.
Apr 13, 2014 |
Hello to you all! I am Father David Hasser, a priest of the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana. I was ordained a priest in 2007 and currently serve full-time as the Director of Vocations for our diocese. In anticipation of you reading this brief post, I wish I could have heard your personal story and written this just for you! Since I haven’t figured out how to do that yet, let’s ask the Holy Spirit be our guide today and during this celebration of Holy Week!
It is Palm Sunday, and when Jesus enters Jerusalem He intimately embraces and experiences our broken, blind but beautiful selves. He draws the closest to us ever in order to love us to the consummation of His original and enduring promise.
In the fourth Eucharistic Prayer of the Roman Missal we pray:
And you so loved the world, Father most holy, that in the fullness of time you sent your Only Begotten Son to be our Savior. Made incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, he shared our human nature in all things but sin. To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation, to prisoners, freedom, and to the sorrowful of heart, joy. To accomplish your plan, he gave himself up to death, and, rising from the dead, he destroyed death and restored life. And that we might live no longer for ourselves but for him who died and rose again for us, he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father, as the first fruits for those who believe, so that, bringing to perfection his work in the world, he might sanctify creation to the full.
When all is said and done, this is the answer and invitation for which your heart searches! This was true 2000 years ago and still is today. You have been sanctified to the full! He has spoken His Word of salvation, freedom and joy to you! However, selfishly fallen angels may bother you with so much distraction and nonsense that your heart becomes restless again. You need to let yourself rest in Him, beauty ever ancient, ever new.
I don’t know how you originally discerned to enter the community which you eventually exited. I don’t know how you feel about that discernment and which direction you are now pursuing. If you are still looking for your next step, I’d encourage you to let the Holy Spirit move you rather than the expectations of the world. I wonder if you feel pressure to tie up your experience in the convent with a nice little ribbon bow and put it behind you. I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it. Use everything you’ve experienced so far to help you follow The Lord now, because He still calls out to you. He still invites you to follow Him and to be concerned for the things of the Kingdom of Heaven, maybe in a different community, maybe with a different charism, maybe in marriage and family life or maybe in private consecration.
Take the time you need to sit at the Master’s feet and rest in Him. He still calls you to come after Him and follow Him, to see where He is staying. He still calls you to communio through His intimate covenant with you. If outwardly it does not take the form of communal consecrated life, I would encourage you to keep your heart and life open to be consecrated to Him. He embraces your brokenness, blindness and beauty, and He invites you to share in the consummation of His promise. Let His message of salvation, freedom and joy be the invitation to which you next respond!
Apr 6, 2014 |
Sacrificing sacrifice. At first it sounds like a contradiction. After all, if a person who, having resolved to give up sweets for Lent, justifies eating a bowl of ice cream by saying that she is offering up the sacrifice of not avoiding desserts, it sounds silly. It sounds like the person is either looking for some kind of loophole, or maybe that whatever they decided to sacrifice in the first place just isn’t a big deal to them.
But could there be situations where having to give up the sacrifice we had anticipated making in fact costs us more interiorly than the original sacrifice would have? I think that for someone who has left the convent, this can frequently be the case.
The Song at the Scaffold, a novella written by German author Gertrud von Le Fort, is a fictionalized story using many historical facts about the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne. When, during the course of the French Revolution, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy commanded that all monasteries be suppressed, these brave nuns refused to obey, and ultimately were executed. Certain quotes from this novella give insight into what is really at work when a woman discerns that she is called to leave religious life.
When the French government began its persecution of priests and religious, one of the nuns in this convent, Sister Marie of the Incarnation, was filled with an ardent desire to offer her life to God in martyrdom. In her zeal, she even persuaded the other nuns to have a similar desire. Full of fervor, they made a vow to offer their lives in order to save France. However, as the events of the story unfold, Sister Marie is the only one of the nuns of the monastery who was not put to death. How devastated she must have been! The author of the story tells us:
Now, my friend, comes the real sacrifice of this great soul. We see Sister Marie of the Incarnation approaching it and disappearing into it as through a dark gate, disappearing entirely. This sacrifice has no proud name. No one admired her for it, noted it down, or even observed it. Yet she too sacrificed unto death, effacing the significance of a whole lifetime: she sacrificed sacrifice. (Von Le Fort, Gertrud. The Song at the Scaffold. New York: Sheed & Ward, 1993. Print. Pg. 69, emphasis in the original)
It is certainly no small thing to make the type of consecration that these Sisters made, and it shows Sister Marie’s generosity and nobility of spirit that she desired the grace of martyrdom so fervently. Surely it would have been a great and beautiful thing and given God much glory if Sister Marie had died a martyr’s death. However, God was calling her to make a different sacrifice; one that was even harder for her.
I doubt anyone will disagree that entering religious life, notwithstanding its great beauty, entails a good deal of sacrifice. You give up marriage, having children, being able to see and communicate with your family and friends as much as you might like, the freedom to decide your daily schedule, a career, and many other things. Daily living of religious life also brings with it many crosses, some small and some larger. Going into it, you were aware of this, and yet you embraced this new life with joy because Jesus, the one you love above all, was asking it of you. You pledged yourself completely to Him.
Then the time came, however it happened, that it became clear that it was not God’s will for you to remain in the convent. For many, if not all, it was probably a very hard time: I know it was for me! But know that in asking you to leave the convent, God was not rejecting the offering of yourself that you made to Him. Rather, God was asking of you a different sacrifice: a sacrifice that meant giving up some of the deepest desires of your heart. There was nothing wrong with your desire to give yourself completely to God through religious life: far from it! God still desires your total gift of self, but now in a different way.
Entering religious life is a visible, notable sacrifice, one that frequently draws the admiration of others. Even people who aren’t particularly religious might recognize, to some degree at least, the beauty of religious life. Not so with leaving. To an outside observer, it can perhaps look as though a woman who has left religious life is giving up, or, alternatively, that she is finally “coming to her senses” and getting back her “freedom.” They may not realize that for some, leaving the convent is a huge sacrifice: perhaps even greater than the sacrifices involved in entering in the first place.
The decision to leave the convent can indeed be a sacrifice with “no proud name, one that [n]o one admire[s], note[s] down, or even observe[s]. A sacrifice that no one knows, sees, or understands” save God alone, the loving God who sees what is hidden in the depths of your heart. He is so intimately united with you that not only does He know what you are experiencing, He has experienced it all Himself.
Earlier in The Song at the Scaffold, there is a scene where Mother Teresa, the monastery’s Prioress, is informing the Sisters of the government’s decree forbidding religious to make their vows:
Then she read the decree. You, my daughters, she said to the two novices, because of this cruel law, will offer up your perpetual vows to His Majesty by sacrificing the joy of pronouncing them solemnly. For it is not important to realize our own aims, even though they may be the most worthy, but to fulfill the will of God. Do not therefore rebel against this decree, my dear novices, but neither should you try to repress your sorrow by sheer force of will. Embrace your disappointment and it is justifiable in complete love of God, and you will be obeying the spirit of our order. You will be Carmelites in the full sense of the word at the very time that the world does not permit you to be Carmelites. (pgs. 34-35)
This quote really gets to the heart of the matter. Think about it: Why did you enter the convent in the first place? Wasn’t it because you thought that this was God’s will for you? And why did you leave? Was it not because you realized that God was asking you to do something different? In both cases, you were seeking God’s will. Without question, the desire we had or have for religious life is a good and holy desire. However, what matters ultimately is that we are striving to do God’s will. Thus, so long as we are seeking God’s will, we should be at peace.
Nevertheless, I think Mother Prioress makes a good point in saying that this disappointment we may experience is “justifiable” and that we shouldn’t “try to repress [our] sorrow by sheer force of the will.” I think it’s quite natural and normal to go through a certain grieving when we have to give up such beautiful, long-cherished desires. Yet that sorrow is part of the cross that Jesus is now asking us to bear. Each one of us, by our Baptism, is called to be a “bride of Christ.” Some Christians are called to live out this identity in a particularly striking way by means of religious life, but each one of us, without exception, is called to a spousal union with Christ. The cross is an integral part of this union. So by asking you to leave the convent, Jesus is by no means rejecting you as His spouse. Rather, He is indicating that He wants you to live out this spiritual union in a different way.
And isn’t that what it really means to be a religious, that you are seeking to conform your will entirely to God’s, even when it is difficult? After all, that is why you took the vow of obedience, or were preparing to take it, because you wanted to always be sure that you were doing the will of your Beloved. Truly, to paraphrase Mother Prioress, you will be the bride of Christ in the full sense of the word at the very time that you do not externally appear to be the bride of Christ. This “sacrificed sacrifice,” made with love, is something very beautiful and precious to God. This cross you are carrying is His gift to help you become more and more like Jesus as He prayed to His Father, “Not My will, but Yours be done.”
Jan 24, 2014 |
Often when I’m examining my faults, I will let the train of thought take me to the town called “Maybe That’s Why I was Called to Leave the Convent.” And before I know it, I’m recalling instances like that one worldly conversation I had with a sister; or the feeling of insecurity when trying to do the ‘right thing’; or the way I overreacted when the pot of soup boiled over; or my attachment to always winning at a game of cards…need I go on? Well, most of the time these thoughts lead me to further examination, which leads to either a vague feeling of enlightenment or the feeling of disappointment…in myself and in God.
Except for last night. I was lying in bed and started to think about how it seemed like I wasn’t able to embrace the present circumstances of my life. Again, that train took off: “That’s it!! I don’t think I embraced ‘The Life’ as ‘My Life’…”
And all of a sudden, it’s like the Holy Spirit jumped in front of this train and simply said: WHAT IF I did everything I was supposed to do (according to the state of life I was in), and it was God’s plan all along?! WHAT IF I didn’t do anything wrong but it was all right in the sight of God?
It certainly gave me peace as the “train” came to a screeching halt and I remembered that “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4).” Which means that He had each and every one of us in mind before He even created the world – so He must know what He’s doing and loves us according to His plan!
WHAT IF I could stop trying to make excuses for “Why I was Called to Leave the Convent”?
—I think it would be a lot easier to see my life as more of a purpose and less of an accident.—
Lord, grant me the grace to see myself and my life as You see it.
By Liz Miller
Liz is a college student who embraces all of life’s awkward moments. She loves Ven. Fulton Sheen and puns.