Day One: Love that is Total and Unconditional
Opening Prayer: Almighty God and Father, we glory in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, your beloved Son, as we call to mind the great things his love has done for us. Fill us with the grace that flows in abundance from the Heart of Jesus, the source of heaven’s gifts. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Scripture Reading: 1 Cor. 13: 1-13 Love is patient, love is kind, love is not jealous
Matt. 5:43-48 If you love those who love you, what merit is there in that?
Reflection:Â St. Paul writes to the Corinthians and describes for them the qualities of love. Paul is really describing the qualities of the love that God revealed to us in the Heart of His Son. Paul is challenging us to love the way Jesus did. “Love is patient, kind, not jealous, not prone to anger, there is no limit to its trust, hope, and power to endure…” God wants to mold our heart so that it resembles the Heart of His Son. Let us generously and unconditionally accept that love, and then try to practice unconditional love in our relationship with our neighbor.
1. Pray daily the Prayer of St. Ignatius for Generosity:
Dear Lord, teach us to be generous. Teach us to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not ask for reward, save that of knowing that I am doing your will. Amen.
2. At Mass, we see how Jesus gave himself completely for us. Every time you attend Mass, make an unconditional offering of yourself to God the Father, in union with the complete offering of Jesus.
This Novena in Honor of the Sacred Heart, written by Rev. Peter Schineller, S.J., Â is taken from Apostleship of Prayer/League of the Sacred Heart, can be found at:Â http://www.loyolajesuit.org/peter_schineller/resources/novena%20in%20honor%20of%20the%20Sacred%20Heart.doc
Dear Sisters in Christ,
I do not think it is a coincidence that today, the Birthday of Leonie Martin, is the first day of the Novena to Sacred Heart, leading up to the Solemnity on Friday, June 8th. Leonie was a Visitation Sister, the veryÂ same order asÂ Saint Margaret Mary Alocoque who, with the help of her confessor Saint Claude de la Columbiere, helped promulgateÂ the formal devotion to the Sacred Heart.
The devotion to the side of Christ has existed since His side was pierced on the Cross on Good Friday, but the many devotions, prayers, and novenas we pray today came after Jesus appeared to Saint Margaret Mary. These next nine days we will be postingÂ Novena Prayers and praying them for those who have left the convent and all of those who have asked for our prayers.
Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.
Servant of God Leonie Martin, intercede for us.
Over the years, Iâ€™ve been privileged to be in touch with a number of women discerning vocations to consecrated virginity in the Catholic Church, with more than a few of these being former religious Sisters in the process of discerning their next step. Since consecrated virginity is not yet very well-known or well-understood, properly discerning a vocation to this particular form of consecrated life can be difficult for any woman. Yet I imagine it might present special challenges for those who have recently left a religious community.
Information and advice for former Sisters discerning consecrated virginity could fill several blog posts, but here are some basic points of consideration for anyone who finds herself in this position:
Not all women are called to be consecrated virgins.
While this may sound obvious and self-explanatory, Iâ€™ve heard of cases where a recent Sister is advised to discern a vocation to consecrated virginity by a priest, spiritual director, or former religious superiorâ€”even without anyone involved having much understanding of what the life and spirituality of a consecrated virgin actually entails. Other times, it seems women who have recently left convents consider becoming consecrated virgins almost reflexively, as though consecrated virginity were simply a sort of â€œcatch allâ€ category for unmarried women who needed to find a niche within the Church.
Yet consecrated virginity is not a general vocation which is categorically open to all the faithful, but is rather a relatively rare charism which results from a very specific call from God. Even a woman who meets all the canonical criteria to qualify for the consecration of virgins might not actually experience a true interior call to this way of life. And in some situations, there can be good pastoral reasons for advising women who are technically qualified to become consecrated virgins against discerning this vocation.
The upshot of all this is that no woman who has left a convent should feel in any way pressured or obligated to discern a vocation to consecrated virginity. As serious Catholics, we might sometimes be tempted to think that we should always be able to put ourselves into neat canonical boxes. But we need to remember that this is not the way that God thinks!
Our Lord loves and is pleased with everyone who sincerely seeks to do His will, regardless of whether or not one is settled into a permanent state in life. If a woman is truly called to be a consecrated virgin, this vocation will needed to be discerned on Godâ€™s time, and will come about solely as a result of His providential design and good pleasure.
Consecrated virginity is a distinct vocation in its own right.
Another common misunderstanding about consecrated virginity is that it is simply an â€œalternative vocation.â€ However, the charism of the Churchâ€™s ancient Order of Virgins is much more than simply â€œbeing dedicated to God, but without living in a convent.â€
Consecrated virginity as a vocation actually pre-dates religious life by several centuries, and the spirituality of consecrated virginity is as unique as that of any religious family. For example, consecrated virginity as a form of consecrated life has a particular focus on the call to live as a bride of Christ, a special affinity with the Churchâ€™s early virgin-martyr saints, and a characteristic emphasis on the virtue of Christian virginity.
Consecrated virgins also have their own proper role and identity within the broader household of the Church. Through their consecration, consecrated virgins acquire a special bond with the local Church (and are therefore part of their home dioceses in a more â€œdirectâ€ way than religious, who are first and foremost members of their communities).
Likewise, consecrated virginity is also very different from simply making a private vow. A woman is consecrated as a virgin in a fully public liturgical rite, and from the day of their consecration consecrated virgins are called to bear a public evangelical witness.
Consecrated virginity has its own challenges
On the surface, a call to consecrated virginity might seem less demanding than a call to religious life, since consecrated virgins are not required to leave their homes and families or adhere to all the discipline inherent in community life. Still, my strong belief is that when a consecrated virgin is living out her consecrated life fully, this vocation is just as challenging as religious life, only in different specific ways.
One fairly obvious challenge inherent in the life of a consecrated virgin is the need for a great deal of self-motivation and self-discipline. Consecrated virgins are obligated to live serious lives of prayer (generally understood as the recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours, daily Mass in regions where this is possible, and daily time for private prayer), and they must be faithful to this even without the support of a community or the direct supervision of a superior.
Another significant challenge which is perhaps less readily apparent is the need for continual ongoing discernment. While canon law and the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity call consecrated virgins to be dedicated to the service of the Church, the practical details of how this can be best lived out concretely are left to the discretion of an individual consecrated virgin and her bishop. On even a purely human level, this requires a great deal of prudence and personal maturity; spiritually, it also demands a certain kind of asceticism. Consecrated virgins need to cultivate a listening heart which is truly open to Godâ€™s will and sensitive to the actual needs of the local Church, which underscores the necessity of fostering a profound sense of interior detachment in order to serve Godâ€™s people generously and disinterestedly.
A general lack of understanding and support is another difficulty which, while not intrinsic to this vocation, is a hard reality for most consecrated virgins at this point in time. Very few dioceses have well-developed formation programs for those aspiring to consecrated virginity, and young consecrated virgins in many places often lack peers and role models. Additionally, todayâ€™s consecrated virgins are likely to encounter, at least occasionally, dismissive attitudes and insensitive comments from even good people within the Church.
Of course, a woman who truly has a vocation to consecrated virginity will be given the grace to cope with these challenges. Still, it is important for discerners to be aware of them.
To sum upâ€¦
Consecrated virginity, like any life-long commitment, is a decision which needs to be carefully and peacefully discerned. Many recent Sisters may find it helpful to learn more about consecrated virginity, while keeping in mind that not every former religious who inquires about becoming a consecrated virgin will find that this is where she is called. Yet at the same time, I would also imagine that some former Sisters may actually have been called to the charism of consecrated virginity all along, with their time in the convent serving as part of Godâ€™s providential plan for the discovery of their true vocation.
Last night, I watched the first half of Labyrinth with some friends.
No, not this one.
The two-part TV series set in the south of France during the thirteenth-century Albigensian Crusade, complete with glorious location footage of the walled city of Carcassonne.
As we put the DVD on, the (non-Catholic) friend who had recommended it asked me casually whether I’d ever heard of the Cathars. Yes, I replied: I joined a Catholic religious Order specifically founded to counteract the Cathar heresy. Hmm.
It became clear very quickly that the writers might just as well have abandoned all pretence and sub-titled the show How to Make a Dominican See Red: the Cathars to a man were portrayed as gentle, noble and extremely good-looking people who, quote, “just want to be left to worship in peace.”
For all that they kept hammering the Cathars-good-Catholics-evil theme throughout, the only time I allowed myself a wail of disbelief was when the elderly Cathar hero revealed to his virtuous Cathar daughter (but not his evil Catholic daughter, of course) that he was one of only a handful of people who knew the true whereabouts of…
When Part 1 ended, my friend asked whether I’d liked it. Now, I may not belong to the Order of Preachers in any formal way, but I’m still a Dominican at heart and a sophisticated modern re-hash of the stuff we’ve been arguing against for eight hundred years makes me cranky, so I replied that:
- According to the Cathar heresy, the material world is evil and therefore so is the god who created it, and
- therefore reproduction is evil because it traps pure spirits in corrupt flesh, and
- Cathar “vegetarianism” was due to fear of contamination by consuming the flesh of creatures that reproduce sexually, and
- in true Gnostic fashion, only a handful of extreme ascetics could be “true” and “perfect” followers of the way, and the hoi polloi just had to make do with rejecting the Church and the Sacraments, and avoiding anything that might commit the sin of procreation.
Funnily enough, none of our charming heroes (or the Cathar “priests” who sacrificed themselves for religious liberty) mentioned any of the above. Nor, for that matter, did anyone refer in passing to the murder of the Catholic missionary Pierre de Castelnau which brought the Crusaders to France in the first place. The mass slaughter of Cathars was appalling, and was rightly depicted as such, but there was a cynical post-modern prejudice underlying the whole thing that didn’t reflect the actual worldview of either Cathars or Crusaders, and simply didn’t need to be there.
This really brought it home to me that I’m not in the convent any more: I’m out in a world where heretics are automatically heroes and Catholics are automatically evil. I dearly miss the sanity of the religious life, but it’s clear that my job for now, out in the world, is to follow the example of Saint Dominic, who fought error with logic, charity and prayer.
One day, every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. Until then, you and I are the current generations of the Church Militant, and those who have taught and died for the Faith for two millennia are upholding us in their prayers. Maranatha!
The day I left the convent, I thought, was the most difficult day of my life.Â I had to leave behind a life I patiently waited for and desired to live for such a long time.Â Yet, what proved to be even more of a challenge for me were the days that lay ahead.Â I was in the convent for only a short period of time; despite that, I had to transition back to life in the world.Â I had to venture into the world of secular college classes.Â I had to learn how to deal with the questions, comments and judgments of others who had no idea why I had to leave and who, of course, had no clue about the extreme interior struggles and doubts I was going through.
It has now been over seven years since I left the convent.Â The life experiences, growth and maturity, and self-knowledge that I have gained throughout these past seven, almost eight, years are invaluable.Â I can look back with a grateful heart and see the many ways the Lord has worked in my life: the relationships I was/am able to form, the education I was/am able to gain, the ministries I was/am able serve in.Â The busyness of my life, however, often conceals that deep ache in my heart.Â It is that deep-seated longing I still have for religious life, a longing which many of my friends who have left religious life have also expressed to me.
Not long ago I found myself, for probably the one millionth time, asking God, â€œWhy?â€Â I was weeping at the empty tomb, like Mary Magdalene, wondering where my Lord had gone.Â Overwhelmed with tears, I stood looking out the window of my high rise apartment through miles and miles of the city and surrounding suburbs, crying out and wondering where He was.Â And then suddenly I knew that He was not somewhere out there but rather was standing next to me, like He has been these past seven, eight years.Â Just as He called me by name over seven years ago to leave the world behind and enter the convent, so He called me by name when it was time to leave, and even now, He continues to call me by name for what is to come.
Even through the sadness and tears, there is hope: hope for the future and what lies ahead.Â My time in the convent was a time of great grace and blessing and even though I am no longer there, in each and every day, in each and every task, there is purpose and grace and His love.Â Whether God will call me back to a convent in the future or will leave me in the world, I am comforted in the knowledge that He never abandons us but calls us by name.
Â â€œFor I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope. When you call me, when you go to pray to me, I will listen to you.Â When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you, says the LORD.â€ Jer. 29:11-14a