To all of you who have twin siblings, you and I both understand deeply the concept of sibling rivalry. As an identical twin, my early life was a constant comparison. I loved (and still love!) my twin sister dearly, but I always felt self-conscious. I was never “as good” at things, even though I was the older twin, by eleven whole minutes!
When we were little, my “younger” sister loved pink and all the princesses in every story. However, I decided I was the queen. Why settle for princess when I could control everything (including the princess)? This seemed like a no-brainer to me!
The only problem was that the queen in almost every fairy tale is a villain…so my parents were slightly disturbed when I asked if I could be Maleficent for Halloween. But alas, I had to settle for being an octopus, which no where near resembled my second favorite queen, Ursula.
Eventually, I realized that the possibility of actually becoming a queen was unlikely! But more importantly, the Lord has personally shown me in adulthood that the less control I have over my life and that of others, the more room He has to work, and the more He can reign in my heart. So, as a former Queen-wannabe, I am preparing myself for the courts of the Kingdom of Heaven, where we are promised to be co-heirs with Christ.
Another lesson the Lord has taught me in my journey of Faith is that in addition to having a relationship with the King, I am also meant to have a relationship with the Queen of Heaven – Our Lady. She, however, is very unlike those I wished to emulate as a young child. First of all, she had no power over any earthly territory, not even her very womb, which she surrendered to the care of her Heavenly Father. Secondly, unlike fairy tale queens who succumb to jealousy and fear over losing their identity as the greatest or most fair, Mary at the Annunciation trusts the Lord when presented with the news that she could be both Virgin and Mother. And not only that but the Mother of God! And lastly, through her faith and hope, she was able to reveal to others how to live and love in total service of God and those around her.
Simply put, she knew who she was before God, and that was always enough, despite her material poverty, poverty of will, and the difficult circumstances she faced as a young mother who was not yet married. Her radical trust in God’s Providence and timing in all things was fuelled by the understanding of her identity and knowledge of her belonging to God. And consequently this fuelled her love of others, as she knew more than anyone the Love of God for their souls.
Even though we might know all of this intellectually, we can still feel ourselves distant from her because she is so holy, perfect, and immaculate, and we believe we do not possess any of the same graces. It is as though we see ourselves as a peasant in rags outside of the royal castle. However, her perfection opens the drawbridge for us. Her power was in her Assent to the Will of God, and the constant Fiat she lived in every action, word, and deed, was all for our salvation, that we may be one with her Son and the whole Community of Heaven. Thus, her seemingly untouchable holiness only brings us closer to her and the Blessed Trinity. She sees us approaching from afar and summons the guards to open the gates to us!
Similarly, her call to holiness was not only for her, the Queen of Heaven, the Queen of Angels and of Men, it is for all of us- all angels and men! We are asked to participate with her in the same spirit that she was given, the spirit that dwells in each of our hearts.
So I hate to break it to you, but no, we are not the fairest of them all. But are we searching for this perfection from mirrors, accolades, and the visible “successes” of our life conquests? Not to fear, because we can safely say that Our Lady truly is the fairest one of all! And praise God that we have so great a Mother to intercede for us at the Throne of the Most High God. The Queen of Heaven who watches over us, Sons and Daughters of the King.
Misericordia works for her home diocese, is a caffeine addict, and loves swimming.
By Nancy McCall, MS, LPC
In religious life, one is freed from having to make the mundane decisions about what to eat, what to wear, when and what to do for work, and when to pray. In this way of religious community, which involves self-effacement and obedience to others, one can focus on purifying the heart, growing in grace and on prayer for, and service to, others. It may take the religious person many years to progress far in purifying the heart. Meanwhile, she is growing in grace and does, at least formally, pray for others. When one exits religious life, one can come to believe that because she was free from those mundane decisions like what to wear and what to eat and when to talk, that she is somehow now rendered incapable of decision-making. No, not true at all. All the time while in religious life, the religious sister or brother was still making the most important decisions for himself or herself throughout every day.
You see, the important decisions involve the heart and eternal things. “Will I love today or only be placid?” “Shall I give fully or half-heartedly?” “Shall I bear difficulties patiently or become internally resentful?” “Shall I follow the way of Jesus or just go through the motions?” It is the same outside of religious life, only you must attend to the mundane things too.
Think for a moment and ask yourself, “Did I learn anything in religious life that will help me simplify my life now and be more attentive to God’s Holy Spirit?”
In religious life, there is a purpose for releasing you from the mundane decision-making you were likely used to prior to entering the convent. One purpose is that it is essential when living in community. If everyone decided what they wanted to eat, how would you have meals together? The other major purpose for this release from mundane decision-making is to free each person to focus on those things mentioned above: purifying the heart, growing in grace and on giving energy to prayer and service to the world. Now that you are not living in the same kind of community, naturally many mundane things of life will present themselves to you again and you must deal with them.
What is the best way to manage this new encounter with the diurnal? First, realize that while everything seems to have changed in your experience, nothing has actually changed in the larger picture. Your purpose in life is the same: to purify the heart, grow in grace and to pray for and serve others. Second, there is an art to living and one of your jobs right now is to study that art. For example, the best trick for deciding what to wear in the morning is to decide the night before. An easy way to decide what to do tomorrow is to decide this evening. And just as adhering to routine preserved simplicity for you in the convent, creating and adhering to routine will simplify and bless your life now.
What about that sense of community and common cause that you feel you are suddenly missing? How in the world can such a thing be replaced? You feel lonely, possibly rejected, and you are essentially on your own. Sometimes, the reason little daily decisions seem so difficult is because much bigger decisions are not yet made: in particular, the decision of overall vocation. What’s worse is that I thought I had that huge decision made. What a relief! Now it appears to be unmade. “Oh no!” So I think to myself, “what I was so certain of has unraveled before my eyes, how can I move on not even knowing which way to move?”
The best way to move on is to begin. It’s always easier for God to direct someone who is moving. Begin by choosing to look at your own situation in a fresh and beautiful way. Something beautiful has happened to you. It may look and feel ugly and awful, but it isn’t actually. And Jesus, who adores you, will show you its beauty in time – ask Him.
Second, remember, your decision-making abilities have not been surgically removed. Your emotions may have been badly wounded and your thought processes turned upside down because your circumstances were caught in a toad-strangling, unpredictable storm. You are going to recover, because God has not abandoned you, even if others have.
Third, routinizing all the important things and daily necessities can go far to normalize your life right now. Make a routine based on wisdom, your desires and practical needs. This may require prayer and could be aided by someone you trust who is especially good with routine.
Last, be attentive to self-care. Without good self-care, you will fail at everything. Here are some basics of good self-care:
Remember, you are still in a discernment process. This is an important time in your life. Seek God. Ask for wisdom (James 1:5) and open yourself to all the beauty that is about to be revealed to you.
The ID Card Saga and other Former Nun-People Problems
I am reminded of God’s sense of humor every time I pull out my license. Why? Because I got my license renewed two months before I left the convent, and haven’t gotten around to changing it – so as you can imagine every time I board a plane or go to a bar for a Theology on Tap I have to pull out my ID, with a picture of me very clearly in habit. I can only imagine the thoughts of the Airport Security and Bouncer. I’m sure they’re thinking I’m some crazy nun in cognito who jumped the convent walls for the weekend. Keep going sister, hop on that plane to Orlando! I won’t tell anyone! I once walked into a liquor store to buy champagne for a cupcake recipe, and a second later walked right back out because I couldn’t bear to show my license. I could only imagine! Here sister, I’ll put it in a brown paper bag so no one will know! Ginger ale would have to do! Now I can laugh about it.
These experiences also remind me that although I’ve left Religious Life, despite the shame and confusion that often comes with it, the Lord is not disappointed that I am no longer a Sister. I am the same in His Eyes even when I’m wearing basketball shorts and a t-shirt and am called by my given name.
I think many of us go through this crisis when we leave Religious Life and Seminary. We live a particular life with a particular order, and our identity can become wrapped up and intertwined (like DNA chromosomal strands) with the identity of the community. Then when we leave we feel like nothing. I remember thinking, “Who am I if I’m not a sister?” But I think we’ve had it all wrong from the beginning. At least for me, I was never confident in my identity. In this “create-yourself” culture, I thought- from as far back as I can remember- that I had to find it. Everyone seemed to have some defining characteristic, relationship, talent, etc. that seemed to define them. And I didn’t feel perfect at much of anything.
Being an identical twin also makes things complicated, especially when people ask, “Who’s the smart once and who’s the athletic one?” and other questions of that sort. She seemed to be better at most things, and some people thought I was her because they didn’t know I existed. The more I tried to be good at something, or find what could justify my being, the more restless, empty, and alone I felt.
In college, it was a whole new world, where I found wonderful Catholic friends who loved me for me! It was hard to be convinced, but the healing began! I could trust people a little, and for once I saw people look into my eyes and see God’s Presence in my soul. I couldn’t describe it as such then but I knew that they recognized my worth more than I did. The Lord led me to Himself slowly and beautifully and I discerned Religious Life, entering after I graduated college.
I was excited for everything about becoming a Sister. I thought I could leave everything behind including the old me, and start fresh. But history was repeating itself. I had done this before. In sixth grade I moved to a new school, and decided to change myself. I didn’t like who I was and how I looked, so I grew out my bangs, got contacts instead of glasses, bought a few new outfits (since my old wardrobe was almost entirely Land’s End – my mom’s favorite). This is when I started developing an eating disorder. It was just in my thoughts at first- I wanted to be different since I felt so invisible. It got worse in high school and my family was worried. My soul was crying out for help but was afraid to receive it, so I managed it, and was “okay” all through high school and college. It was an exhausting, never-ending search for self-acceptance and perfection. Even after all those years at “failing” to be perfect I thought I had finally found the one path that would make me perfect.
Just as I thought I could leave the old “me” behind in 6th grade, I thought I could now leave the 22 year old “me” behind when I entered Religious Life, including the eating disorder. I got rid of my clothes, my job, my car, everything! But it stowed away in the few possessions I brought to the Convent.
I managed pretty well the first year of Postulancy as I had for so many years. When I entered Novitiate I was so excited because I was genuinely excited, but also because I thought I was a new person. The habit covered a lot of my body but it didn’t hide my past. My new name didn’t take away the hatred I had towards my old self, since – shockingly – it was the same self! Shortly after entering Novitiate, my eating disorder got progressively worse and my Novice Director noticed the darkness I’d held inside me for over 10 years. I was terrified, but consoled to finally be able to let this disorder not control me and my life. I went through Counseling for a while but it became clear that I needed more intensive treatment. And so after two and a half wonderful, beautiful, and blessed years, I departed with two outfits and my nun shoes, feeling sorrow but great peace and clarity that it was God’s Will.
I knew when I left that, even in a community dedicated to proclaiming the dignity of life, I could tell anyone else they were a beautiful, unrepeatable gift of God, but I could not believe it for myself. I knew that God was going to help me know that I was beautiful and loved.
Misericordia works for her home diocese, is a caffeine addict, and loves swimming.
I don’t know how many of you watched the show Joan of Arcadia, but my family loves it. The show was only on TV for two seasons, starting in the Fall of 2003. The basic idea is that God appears (in human form) to Joan, a “normal teenager” who is understandably hesitant to believe that it is actually God speaking with her.
As Joan begins to trust God more, He asks her to do things, and she does, though often reluctantly. Many times things seem to go wrong, blow up, cause more harm than good, etc., and Joan questions why she was asked to do the task. Sometimes God points out the good effects (ripples) of her actions that she didn’t notice. But there is regularly a sense of mystery and you, the viewer, are aware that you still don’t really know the full story.
I think it can be like that with our time in the convent: We do not even recognize the influence we may have had on others or that they have had on us. And too often, when we don’t see these things, we try to fill in the gaps of situations – the “whys” that we can’t see yet – without knowing the full story. We think we know, but the truth is we can’t even imagine.
That reminds me of another show I just discovered, Once Upon a Time. The main character is Emma, who believes that her parents abandoned her on the side of the road 28 years ago. You eventually learn that her parents actually sent her from a fairy tale land to protect her, in the hope that she would one day be able to save them from an evil curse.
What would it be like for her to learn her real story and realize that everything she thought was true actually was not true at all? 28 years of anger, hurt, and bitterness about being abandoned -then suddenly you find out Truth – and that changes everything.
Could it possibly be the same for us? We may feel hurt, betrayed, abandoned by God, perhaps by our former communities, the Church, etc. We may think we know what happened. But do we really know? Do we really know God’s plan? What will it be like when we really, truly know?
I know: It will be like HEAVEN.
Until then, all we can do is speculate. So, what if:
Your time in the convent helped free you from a pattern of sin?
Your entering the convent inspired someone to re-examine their relationship with the Lord?
You let go of some possessions that someone else really needed?
God just wanted to see if you would say yes, like Abraham, and give Him everything, so that He could build something even better with you?
You inspired another sister to endure in her vocation while you were there?
Of course, it could be that none of those things was “the reason” you entered. We could very likely have the story all wrong. In the convent I was told to not judge the motivations behind other sisters’ behavior. It was incredibly hard. But there is such wisdom in that. We need to do the same with God: Trust that He has a plan. Trust that He knows the entire story. Trust that He really knows what is going on. And consider that perhaps we are at times blind to see it.
Whatever you do, don’t let the evil one lie to you and say it was a waste, and don’t be discouraged!
I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.
But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.
By Joan d’Arc
Joan was in the convent for a time before finding herself suddenly back in the world. She enjoys reading and hanging out with friends. She also makes really good popcorn. Seriously good.
I was once told that leaving during postulancy is the equivalent of ending a relationship after a couple of dates: it was only a trial, a getting-to-know you period, and no commitment had been made on either side. Unfortunately, that’s not what it feels like. When I hear people describing what it was like to pack their bags and move out of an apartment shared with someone they’d eventually hoped to marry, I now feel a strange kind of empathy: that’s what it feels like. (Did you sometimes look around at the other postulants and novices and imagine what you’d all be like together as a group of old nuns one day? Yep, me too.)
If not yet formally committed to the religious life, a postulant is at least invested in it, and it won’t go quietly from the heart or mind afterward. Insignificant things suddenly remind you that you’re not on the path to being a nun anymore. It hits like an actual punch to the ribs, and all you can do is brace yourself and think: Ouch.
A few weeks after I left the convent, I looked around my new bedroom for somewhere to flop down and read, and realised with a shock that I was no longer subject to the custom that forbade sitting on the bed, because I was no longer part of the community which held that custom. Ouch.
At Mass six months afterward, I stood for the Our Father and tucked my hands under the long cotton scarf I was wearing. I had left well before receiving the habit, but suddenly realised what a scapular would feel like draped over my hands, and that I would have been wearing one by then if I had stayed. Right on cue: Ouch.
A couple of months after that, we had the story of the rich young man as the Sunday Gospel. To describe the result, I will need bold text, Caps Lock, and a minimum of three exclamation marks: OUCH!!! The story is far too familiar to need repeating here. Have you ever read a vocations guide that didn’t include it? For balance, I wish there were resources for discerners that included this story:
And the whole crowd of people from the district surrounding the Gerasenes’ country begged Jesus to go away from them, for they were thoroughly frightened. Then He re-embarked on the boat and turned back.
The man who had the evil spirits kept begging to go with Jesus, but He sent him away with the words, :Go back home and tell them all what wonderful things God has done for you.” So the man went away and told the marvellous story of what Jesus had done for him, all over the town.
Why had I never noticed it before? This one lonely everyman, overwhelmed by the love shown him by Jesus, begged to follow Him, and was gently told to go back to his family instead.
When I read that story during Lent, it was like letting out a breath that I’d been holding for the best part of a year. I was not the rich young man who had turned away sorrowfully out of love for the world. I was not the foolish bridesmaid who had brought a lamp but neglected the oil. Most of all, I was not the worker who put my hand to the plough and looked back. I was the one who knelt at His feet and said, “Lord, let me come with You!” and received instead the loving instruction to go home.
Naturally, there are still things that catch me off-guard: During the morning Mass on Easter Sunday, I felt a rush of emotion as the familiar opening notes of Haec Dies flowed through the church. If your Sisters sang it every morning throughout Easter week, as mine did, you could probably chant the first two words in your sleep. Ouch. Forget nostalgia: this felt like hunger.
God’s gift to me is the grace to be able to say now when that happens, “Lord, thank you for this pain – please turn it into something productive.” It took ten months for me to reach this level of acceptance, and I have a long way to go yet, but I’m grateful to be here.
At the age of seventeen, Spiritu watched some elderly nuns laughing together after Mass and decided instantly that this was what she wanted to do with her life. After six years of intense study about the Catholic faith and the religious vocation, she entered a beautiful community in her own country, Australia. Seven months later, she returned to the world, saddened that her discernment hadn’t worked out as she’d hoped. She is now exploring other possible options for the future, and owes an enormous debt of gratitude to her family for their love and help.