Waiting for Orders

jack_cornwell_vc-wmcBy Penny.

It was the day before I was due to leave Walsingham, England’s Nazareth, and head back down to London for my flight home. I’d hoped that by that stage I would have figured out some answers: do I have a religious vocation? If so, where? And when? My pilgrimage was almost over, though, and no clear answers were in sight. Instead, during my penultimate Mass in Walsingham, the priest gave a homily about waiting that has stayed with me for months.

“Some of you,” he said, “may have heard of a boy named Jack Cornwell.” A lot of the older people in the congregation nodded. “He was a Boy Seaman, First Class, on board HMS Chester in 1916. The ship came under heavy fire from four German battleships, and all the sailors who were on deck manning the Chester‘s guns were killed or fatally wounded within fifteen minutes. Jack Cornwell was in one of the most exposed positions on the ship, but he remained at his gun awaiting orders from his captain – and that’s where they found him after the battle, barely alive and with his chest full of shrapnel, but still standing at his post, quietly waiting for orders.” He died two days later, at the age of sixteen. The priest went on to add that Boy Seaman Cornwell was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross, the highest – and rarest – military honour in Britain, for “gallantry in the face of the enemy.” (According to Wikipedia, he was the third-youngest person ever awarded the VC.)

jackcornwellsgunhmschesterjutland

Jack Cornwell’s gun, aboard HMS Chester.

“I often feel,” the priest continued, “that I’m not doing a very good job of following God’s will – so often when I try to find out what He wants me to do, and to do it, I end up falling short. I want to push harder and try and force things to happen, but end up getting nowhere instead. You may find the same thing sometimes. But all of us – priests, laymen, religious – we are all called by God to stay at our posts, waiting for Him to give us our orders. Even when we’re wounded, that’s the way we are called to live: whoever we are, we are all standing where God has placed us, and quietly waiting for orders.”

The readings for the first Sunday of Advent, too, are about watching and being ready, “for no one knows the day or the hour.” Sometimes we are called to take action and make a leap of faith, but more often, we are called to wait: to remain alert and watchful, so that we are ready when the time comes and God calls us to move. I’m grateful to the priest for his openness about the sense of falling short in service to God, and for cutting through my own impatience with the reminder that we can’t force our lives forward, even in paths that might be His will, before His time comes. The greatest honour lies, instead, in remaining steady and awake at the post in which God has placed us, knowing that when it is time, His orders for each of us will come.

September 14th: the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

An excerpt from the 8th-century poem The Dream of the Rood. It is one of the earliest known examples of Christian devotional poetry. In it, the narrator dreams of a beautiful cross covered with gold and jewels, wondrous to see. As he draws closer, however, the cross starts to bleed. It then speaks to him:

“‘Twas long ago (I remember it still)

That I was hewn at end of a grove,

Stripped from off my stem; strong foes laid hold of me there,

Wrought for themselves a show, bade felons raise me up;

Men bore me on their shoulders, till on a mount they set me;

Fiends many fixed me there. Then saw I mankind’s Lord

Hasten with mickle might, for He would sty upon me;

There durst I not ‘gainst word of the Lord

Bow down or break, when saw I tremble

The surface of earth; I might then all

My foes have felled, yet fast I stood.

The Hero young begirth Himself, Almighty God was He,

Strong and stern of mind; He stied on the gallows high,

Bold in sight of many, for man He would redeem.

I shook when the Hero clasped me, yet durst not bow to earth,

Fall to surface of earth, but firm I must there stand.

A rood was I upreared; I raised the mighty King,

The Lord of Heaven; I durst not bend me.

They drove their dark nails through me; the wounds are seen upon me,

The open gashes of guile; I durst harm none of them.

They mocked us both together; all moistened with blood was I,

Shed from side of the man, when forth He sent His spirit.

Many have I on that mount endured

Of cruel fates; I saw the Lord of Hosts

Strongly outstretched; darkness had then

Covered with clouds the corse of the Lord,

The brilliant brightness; the shadow continued,

Wan ‘neath the welkin. There wept all creation,

Bewailed the King’s death; Christ was on the cross.

Yet hastening thither they came from afar

To the Son of the King: that all I beheld.

Now the time is come,

That me shall honor both far and wide

Men upon earth, and all this mighty creation

Will pray to this beacon. On me God’s Son

Suffered awhile; so glorious now

I tower to Heaven, and I may heal

Each one of those who reverence me.

The rest may be found here.

Do I Believe in the Resurrection?

By Mater Dolorosa.Resurrection Nikolay Koshelev WMC

Of course I believe it, right? As we begin the Easter season we have just heard it proclaimed: Jesus died and rose from the dead! I believe it intellectually. I profess it in the Creed and it is a tenant of our Catholic Faith.

But what does it actually mean for my life?

Christ suffered grievous wounds and rose from the dead… but do I believe He can and would bring about that kind of restoration for me? What about for my seemingly dead vocation? I died to the world to enter religious life and I died to my hopes and dreams for that life when I returned to the world. I have “died” twice to be where I now find myself. Can He truly breathe life into this dark place?

Recently I’ve personally witnessed miracles. For example, for years I had joined groups that prayed in front of abortion facilities. I prayed because that’s what you do! Life is important and you want people to choose life. But then something happened: the facilities in town started closing one by one. WOW! When I heard the news, my first thought was, “No way!” I didn’t realize that I doubted this would ever happen until it happened. I hadn’t even dared to ask in prayer for these places to be shut down because I didn’t imagine it was possible. These events forced me to realize my lack of faith and recognize that God can make the impossible happen.

Rose Flower Love Feelings PixabayNow I wonder: Can He do the same for me? Does God really answer our prayers? Does He really raise the dead? Can He truly and completely heal these deep wounds in my heart?

Do you ask similar questions?

I have found that openly and honestly examining my beliefs and feelings with Him in prayer is a great start. Then specifically invite the Lord into those places. In a gentle and gradual way, He has indeed begun to breathe life into these hurts and wounds. A tiny crack of light appears on the horizon because “in the tender mercy of our God, the Dawn of Compassion will shine upon us, and guide us into the way of peace.” This hope is real and palpable. I have the joyful privilege of sharing with you this hope, and inviting you to have confidence that it will get better!

We all have our doubts and our bad days. As a result, I really recommend that you find people who can remind you of your hope in His Resurrection, and often. Close friends, family, and other young women in this wonderful community of those who have been open to religious life in the past only to discover that He was calling them elsewhere. Community is so important. Surround yourself with people who will truly edify and support you and please do the same for them in return!

Stairs Emergence Nature PixabayIf you don’t think you have anyone, or even if you do, Leonie’s Longing has a contact us page. Community is vital and you don’t have to be alone.

How do you act out your belief in the Resurrection? How do you support others in their trials or how have you been supported? I would love to read your comments below.

You are in my prayers during this blessed and beautiful season of Easter. God bless you!

God, the Divine Surgeon

By Emily.

“Come, let us return to the Lord, for it is He who has rent, but He will heal us; He has struck us, but He will bind our wounds.” (Hosea 6:1)

 

We know by faith that God has a plan for our lives and that nothing happens unless God wills or permits it.  But for so long after I left the convent, I had a hard time having the faith and the humility to accept and believe that this goes also for my weaknesses and mistakes too.  In many ways, my time in the convent was very beautiful and full of many graces, but I cannot deny that I also experienced a lot of emotional and spiritual pain while I was there, as well as after I left.  For a long time I felt much guilt and shame.  I was convinced that it was my personal incompetence that was the sole reason that everything happened the way it did. I felt like I had messed up God’s plan for my life.  I knew He’d draw good out of it, somehow, but I struggled to forgive myself for messing up the way my life was “supposed to” go.

Did I make a mistake in entering the convent?  Was I supposed to have followed a different path but I was just too blind to see it?  Or was perhaps this indeed God’s plan for me, but through my own fault I ruined it?  These questions tormented me.

A few months ago, in a flash of insight that I knew could only have come from the Holy Spirit, God gave me the grace to understand my past and especially my time in the convent in view of His love, mercy, and providence, and most especially, His desire to bring me deep inner healing.

I realized that everything from my past, particularly my experiences in the convent, was all part of God’s plan to bring me where I am today.  He knew that my time in the convent would bring to the surface and open many of the wounds that I carried inside, many of which I wasn’t aware of previously.  I realized that as painful as it was sometimes, it was necessary so that Jesus could begin the healing process in me.  I think that this was a big part of why He called me to that particular community, as well as back out to the world: precisely because He wants to heal me!

One comparison I use to try to understand this is to think of God as being like a surgeon.  A surgeon’s desire is to heal his patient, but in order to heal, the surgeon must make an incision so that he can access the underlying problem that the patient has.  That is to say, the surgeon must wound the patient in order to heal him.  As the prophet Hosea writes, “Come, let us return to the Lord, for it is He who has rent, but He will heal us; He has struck us, but He will bind our wounds.” (6:1)

God does not heal us in spite of the crosses we bear.  He heals us precisely by means of those crosses. Even when it feels like the crosses we’re carrying are our fault alone.  They say hindsight is 20-20, and looking back I can see much more clearly both my shortcomings as well as those of my former community.  It’s a constant temptation to beat myself up for not seeing all that ahead of time – but looking at it from deeper perspective, I truly see God’s providence at work even there. God’s plan isn’t conditional on our perfection.  As St. Paul says, “God works all things together for good for those who love Him.”  All things – both the positive and the negative. Nothing, absolutely nothing, in our lives takes Him by surprise or leaves Him scrambling to figure out how to fix it.  What at first seemed to me like “plan B” for my life was really God’s “plan A” after all.  He knew beforehand all about everything that would happen and has led me through it all, both good and bad.  He knew about all of it, and it was all part of His plan from the beginning to heal me and bring me closer to Himself, because it was necessary for the negative things to come to light so that He, the Divine Physician, could begin the process of healing me.  He permitted the imperfections of it all because it was all part of His plan that is leading to something so beautiful.  One thing in particular I’ve learned these past several months is that God is indeed guiding me and healing me, in His own time and in His own beautiful way, even, and perhaps especially, when He does it differently than I would’ve expected.  But I see now how even our imperfections are incorporated by God into the tapestry of His loving plan for each one of us.  May God fill your heart with His healing and peace!

Unusquisque: A Dominican Love Story

By Cinnamon.

Unusquisque:

1) Latin adjective (masculine singular), from unus (one) + quisque (each). Eg: Each one looks to You to give food in due season.

2) Tongue-twister from the Dominican prayer book, bane of my life in the early weeks of postulancy (see also: gloriosissimae; necessitatibus; famulorum famularumque).

I don’t know whether, in your former community, you tangled with this monster during the formal grace in Latin as I did (it’s pronounced oo-noos-QUISS-quay, by the way, and getting it right for the first time is a real buzz) but if you were in Dominican formation I bet that you’ve encountered these other eight-hundred-year-old traps for the unwary:

  • Courtesy of the angels who started handing out bread at the junior end of the refectory table, you get to go first in everything! Want to wait invisibly at the back and watch the senior Sisters to find out what they do? Actually, you’re leading the procession. Good luck!
  • You (finally) make a perfect profound bow. Everybody else makes a head inclination. Hopefully they’re all keeping custody of the eyes and missed it.
  • For anyone who’s not naturally a soprano:

no further explanation is required. I used to do my choir practice down the local cemetery, figuring that my paint-peeling rendition of this beloved chant would take years off Purgatory for any Holy Souls who happened to be listening.

  • Processions in general. Did anyone else crash into furniture on the way around the chapel? Execute an impeccable turn, and then realise that a partner had been left stranded because you were supposed to bow to her first? Meander off too far to the side and get patiently towed back in by one elbow? (Or maybe it’s just me. Who am I to judge?)

Also, unless your written work rivalled the perfection of the Summa, you will have found yourself on the receiving end of that other profoundly Dominican gesture: the uncapping of a red pen. Veritas. The deepest instinct of these Hounds of the Lord is to find out what’s wrong, and, for the glory of God, fix it. While still in the convent, I read the results of a survey about religious beliefs sent out to different communities of nuns in the 1960s: lots of sisters dutifully filled out and posted back their responses, but, surprising nobody except the authors, the Dominicans corrected the questions before they answered them. (It certainly didn’t surprise me. I’d just failed an essay for the first time since my early years in high school.)

And you know something? I miss it all fiercely. As Dom Hubert Van Zeller points out, a yearning for the externals of the religious life doesn’t mean that my vocation was to stay in that community – of course I miss the processions of white habits, the candle-lit vigils before Jesus in the monstrance, the solemn Salve. It’s also obvious that when my health began to shatter under the demands of monastic life, all of those beautiful things weren’t enough to keep me there. So why, then, did I spend the better part of two years afterward fighting an irrational desire to turn up on the community’s doorstep one morning and ask them to let me have another try?

When I left, the most important thing that became forfeit was not my hope of wearing the veil that would set me apart for Our Lord, and the scapular for Our Lady, and nor was it the chance to spend my days with a lively, intelligent group of devoutly Catholic women of whom I had become fond. It wasn’t even the privilege of living in the cloister and chanting the Divine Office with them at the heart of the Church. What I surrendered was twofold: to be a bride of Christ, and a daughter of Saint Dominic. In my heart, I’m both. Officially, I’m neither. Worse is the thought that, if I died today, in heaven I’d be neither.

Of course, if it turns out after further discernment that I don’t have a religious vocation at all, I could become a tertiary, but I suspect for me that would feel a bit like winning the silver medal. Here’s why. The desire to be a sister first hit me in my teens when I was barely practicing the Catholic faith, and before the year was out I’d fallen head over heels in love with Jesus. Listening recently to the TEDx Talk on discernment that Jenni gave, I realized for the first time that, somewhere in those early days, I skipped a crucial step in the process: I wasn’t afraid of the path ahead. On the contrary, I was awed at having been noticed by God, and wildly excited about getting started in the religious life. Forget your people and your father’s house, for the King has desired your beauty!

Thanks to prosaic things like tertiary studies and the resultant debt, the better part of a decade passed before I got my wish. Enough time to get over the honeymoon, commit myself to some serious study, collect a few battle scars and get a realistic idea of what I’d be facing when I entered. It always surprised me, though, when people said, “Wow, that’s a big step to take! Aren’t you scared?” No, I’m not, was the honest reply – it’s just the next obvious step. Giddy romanticism dispensed with, I was still eagerly looking forward to entering: I’d discovered the Dominicans at World Youth Day, and found what I was looking for in a religious Order. Then, a few months after I entered, I finally met Saint Dominic.

I’d been struggling through an assignment about the founding of the Order (having, as previously mentioned, failed the first one) and, one morning, simply pushed all my other essays aside and buried myself for several hours in the life of this gentle, luminously holy man. The shy scholar who sold his books to feed the starving; the preacher with bleeding feet, on his own among thousands of heretics; the beacon of chastity whose sheepish deathbed confession was that he had sometimes enjoyed preaching to young women more than old; and the devoted spiritual father who promised after his departure to help the brethren by his prayers. By the time I put my books away and hurried off (as quietly as one can hurry down a cloister while dodging the squeakiest floorboards, that is) to help prepare lunch that day, I’d become a Dominican. An ordinary desire to follow Christ had crystallized into the desire to follow Christ just as Saint Dominic had, in contemplation and preaching of the Truth.

So, I’m starting discernment again from scratch, trying to find the place where my home on earth might be. And this time, I am scared. I know what can go wrong, and how badly – but also how beautiful it can be. That’s in the future, though. For now, I remember and continue to pray the exquisite Dominican prayers I learned in the convent – not in some useless pretence of monastic life, but because their meaning has become intertwined with my personality like silk threads woven into a piece of cloth, and I wouldn’t know how to pull them out if I wanted to. I’m still a Dominican inside. Please God, one day I’ll sing His praises in heaven as one, too.

Praedicator gratiae, nos junge beatis.