First Fruits

By Cinnamon.

I’ll start with a confession: I’ve never been much good at Lectio Divina. Or any kind of slow, meditative reading, for that matter. In my community, every time a postulant or novice finished a book she was using for spiritual reading, she was supposed to present the superior with a written review of it. Now, with half an hour of spiritual reading every day, I’d be through the average book in about a week, and the reviews had started taking precious time away from my essays. So I wised up and started scouring the library for the longest, heaviest spiritual books ever written, and that cut down dramatically the number of reviews I had to write. Easy-peasy!

More recently, my spiritual director instructed me to SLOW DOWN in my reading of Scripture, though which I had hitherto been going at quite a clip. Reading one sentence in the time it would normally take me to read fifteen is a struggle against my own impatient nature, but it has been worth it – a couple of days ago, I was stopped in my tracks by something I’d otherwise have skipped over blithely!

In fulfilment of His own purpose He gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of His creatures. James 1:18.

The first fruits? Me?

In Scripture, the first fruits are a sacrificial offering that you bring to God, collected on the first day before it has time to become damaged, as Abel brought the best among the firstborn lambs of his flock as a sacrifice. Furthermore, according to, the first sheaf of wheat was brought to God as a guarantee that the rest of the harvest was coming – a symbolic offering of the whole.

Objectively, I’m still young. But I don’t feel young – and moreover, as I start to close in on thirty, which is the cut-off age for aspirants in many religious communities, I’m more and more aware of an uneasy sense of time running out. Do I have anything left to offer God that is fresh, bright and hopeful, and which hasn’t been frayed or tarnished in some way since I left the religious life?

My answer: I have no idea. I hope so.

God’s answer, as given in Scripture: that’s not how it works. We don’t give the first fruits. We are becoming the first fruits. I’m not the one who took the initiative here: the marks of Baptism and Confirmation stamped on my immortal soul – invisible to me in this life, but seen clearly by His eyes – are the first gifts of His love for me.

I remember being told in the convent that everything we give to God is the result of an actual grace that He has bestowed on us, meaning that if I pray, it’s because the Holy Spirit has given me the grace to want to pray, and then another grace to follow through on that desire. I also remember how incredibly tiny it made me feel at the time, but now I see more than ever the beauty of it.

Undeniably, the offering I can make to God is cringe-worthy when viewed in and of itself: a mass of half-formed good intentions, lingering wariness and skim-reading impatience, for the most part. But forget that for a moment. I don’t decide that I’m going to make an offering to God – the Holy Spirit decides, and prompts me to do it until, hopefully, I cooperate. The first fruits are not my offering, but His. I hitch my forlorn prayers to the grace of the Holy Spirit, and the Father receives both with love. Hebrews 7:25 adds this:

(Jesus) is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

That’s another highlight from my slow-motion Lectio: the Holy Spirit gives us the grace to pray in spite of our weaknesses, and then Jesus brings our prayers to the Father, having sprinkled us with His own blood to make us acceptable before Him (Hebrews 9:13-14).

It also struck me that in John 17:9, Jesus says to the Father, “I pray for those You have given Me, for they are Yours.” The Father gives us as a gift to the Son, the Holy Spirit gives us the grace to love the Son, and the Son then presents us to the Father as His brethren (2:11-12), the first fruits of His Passion. We were created out of nothing for this. And, once created, our souls are immortal – if we are faithful to the graces He has given us, when the sun expands into a cold red giant millions of years from now, you and I will watch it happen. When the seventh seal breaks and heaven falls silent for half an hour, we will be there to hear it. When the final war rages against Satan, and Saint Michael and the angels drive him into hell and slam the gates closed at the end of time, your voice and mine will join in the praise of God. We are the first fruits of that new creation which is to come, something infinitely larger than ourselves in which we are given the grace to participate, as a sign of the rest of the harvest that will follow.

Re-Entering the World: A Step Down? Not So Fast.

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