By Bernadette Monica.
My life has certainly taken a detour over the past few years. I never would have chosen the road I’ve ended up on, but for better or worse, here I am. There’s certainly been a lot of grace in everything that’s happened, but there sure has been a lot of anguish as well. I was reflecting on that as I was on the train home one evening as I approached the one-year anniversary of being told I needed to leave my community. It had been an usually rough week, and when the battery of my iPod died I started to pray the rosary. It was Friday, so I was praying the Sorrowful Mysteries, and I started to contemplate Christ’s words about taking up our crosses and following Him. A friend of mine had recently said something about how each of our crosses is just the right size for us to carry, because our cross was made specifically for us – that if we all got to put our crosses in a big pile then pick the one we wanted, we would choose our own, because it’s the one we’d best be able to carry. And the one that brings us closest to Christ if we allow it to.
As I sat on the train I was reflecting on that – how, as much as I would never have chosen the path I’m on, somehow good seems to be coming out of it, even in the midst of the moments of trial. That doesn’t mean a happily-ever-after where everything somehow magically works out. Rather, I can see that I’m growing stronger and better able to carry my cross; I’m learning to see and appreciate the beauty of Christian friendship and community, and to appreciate the gift of the other, in spite of people’s faults and failings; I‘m realising that I have choice to love and trust others, even when I’m not feeling loving or trusting – that the risk of hurt or rejection, or even betrayal, is a lesser evil than a life of loneliness through shutting people out. And slowly, a little at a time, I’m learning to accept , work though and let go of some of the more painful experiences in my life. My prayers do seem to be having an effect – not necessarily through convincing God to change His plans or my circumstances, but rather through Him working to bring about change and growth in me.
That first year and a half after leaving my community wasn’t easy. In fact it was the hardest experience of my life, and I’ve faced some difficult challenges in the past. It’s been just over two years now since I was in the middle of the toughest, most shattering, and most heartbreaking experience of my life to date. After desiring for so many years to give my life to the Lord I found myself back at was seemed like square one, struggling to make sense of things and get back on my feet again. Forget detours – it sometimes felt like my life has undergone a head-on collision with a semi-trailer. And yet this is the road I’m on. I’ve long since realised that this isn’t a detour – that there’s no going back to the way things were or changing some of the things that have happened. Like it or not, this is this is the road I’m on and these are my circumstances. No-one else can carry this cross for me, although they can help me bear the weight if I allow them to.
In the words of Vaneetha Rendall, whose article inspired this post:
“I cannot cling to the past. I cannot get back on the old road and put everything back the way it was. Some things will get better over time. Some prayers will be miraculously answered. Some dreams will come true.
But the old road is gone.
…This new road that I am on, bumpy and twisty as it may be, is the path that God has chosen for me. It is the best road. The only one worth taking.” http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/when-the-detour-becomes-your-new-road
This is the road I’m on, and as lonely and difficult as it has seemed at times I have to keep moving forward. I have to trust that God is working through everything, and keep looking for the beauty in my circumstances. And there is beauty. Just as water is never so sweet and refreshing as it is for the parched wanderer who stumbles across a spring in the desert, so too are all the daily blessings, simple joys and small pleasures so much more worthwhile and of such greater value after having endured the trials in our lives.
Every day and in every moment I can choose to accept my path and to keep walking it; to trust that the Lord is leading me, and to beg Him to carry me in those moments when I feel too weak or too overcome with grief or helplessness to push on. And every day, if I open my eyes and look around, there are those small reminders that I do not have to walk this road alone. The more time that passes the more I realise the truth in that, and the more I see how God’s grace is extended to us and is working to bring about fruit in our lives, even in the worst of circumstances. I see the ways He has brought about growth in my own life, and some of the ways He has used my experience of heartbreak to help me to have more compassion for others in their own sufferings. I can also see, at least to some extent, how He offers opportunities for healing in certain moments of struggle, or in circumstances that may bring up unpleasant or even outright painful memories.
1 Peter 1:6-9
There is cause for rejoicing here. You may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials; but this is so that your faith, which is more precious than the passing splendour or fire-tried gold, may by its genuineness lead to praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ appears. Although you have never seen him, you love him, and without seeing you now believe in him and rejoice in inexpressible joy touched with glory because you are achieving faith’s goal, your salvation.
For each of us who have had the experience of entering and leaving a religious community, our roads have taken unexpected twists that we weren’t expecting, often didn’t feel prepared for, and certainly wouldn’t have chosen in and of themselves. We have each faced, and continue to face, our particular trials, but there is grace in that, and St. Peter reminds us that it is through our sufferings that our faith is strengthened and purified, and that even in the worst of circumstances we can trust that God is working to bring about the good of our eternal salvation and union with Him. I pray that each of us may find strength, comfort and healing in walking with the Lord this Holy Week, and that we may be renewed in hope for the resurrections that follows the cross.
This won’t be a long post – if your Holy Week has been anything like mine, you’ve spent the past four days either in church, heading to church, or falling in a heap after getting home from the church, and it’s all turning into a bit of a blur!
There is one thing, however, that I do remember clearly. In the homily he gave for the Easter vigil, the visiting bishop who said Mass for us began by saying, “Every great change in life begins with a form of death: the transition from childhood to adolescence involves casting aside the life of a child, as the beginning of adulthood requires us to leave behind adolescence and take on a new way of living. In order to be re-created, something of the old self must first die.”
My mind, of course, went straight to Leonie’s Longing. To leave religious life does indeed involve putting something to death – in many cases, it means the loss, whether temporary or permanent, of aspirations that had been cherished for years. And yet, a new life is being created for each of us out of the old one we once possessed.
Our Lord was called a fraud, a bringer of false hope – this deceiver said that He would rise again on the third day – and yet, He kept His promise. He returned. The battered, tortured body that had been sealed in a tomb rose, alive and glorious. Nothing, not even death, could hold power over Him.
Death – of a body, of a hope, or of the person we used to be – is not the end for those who follow Him, but the beginning of a new life. “Christ has risen,” the bishop said, “and so will we.”
May you rejoice in all the blessings of Easter!
Slightly belated… it’s been a crazy, crazy pre-Easter week!
A few months ago, a friend of mine who had taken the Myers-Briggs test before she entered the convent asked me whether I knew my own personality type. I thought for a bit, and came up triumphantly with: “Ravenclaw.”
More recently, however, I’ve begun to wonder whether I might have to talk the Sorting Hat out of re-sorting me into Slytherin. Looking over the blog that’s been entrusted to me for nearly three years now, and seeing the weird characters that spring up more quickly than we can cull them, I find my thoughts turning to jelly-legs jinxes and bat-bogey hexes upon the hackers who caused all this damage. Thinking about the communication breakdown caused when all our contact emails on the website got knocked out – and you, the readers for whom we run this apostolate, couldn’t write to us for over a month – makes me want to call up a fleet of dementors and go pay said hackers a friendly social call for afternoon tea.
Never mind. Being the Blog Mistress of a badly damaged blog has been a frustrating affair; we’re struggling up from the ashes, but we’re not there yet. Like Theresa, I’d like to ask you to pray for us – to Our Lord, Our Lady, Saint Isidore of Seville… all would be most deeply appreciated!
I’d also like to make an additional request. We need blog content, and – let’s not beat around the bush – we need it badly! You’ll have noticed in the last few months that we’ve been getting by with Monday Memes, which are fun, but they’re not the profound, soul-healing stories and reflections that form the heart of our apostolate. Those stories come from you. If you’ve had an insight in prayer, read a moving book, or heard a saying that drew a response from you – please, we’d love to hear it.
Our guidelines for blog post writers are very few and very simple: please don’t name or criticise specific religious communities, dispute Church teachings, commit plagiarism, or incite a flame war in the comments section. Everything else is up to you – topic, content, and length. You can write for your anniversary of entry, vows, or leaving; you can write a poem; you can write for the feast day of a beloved Saint. If you’d like some ideas for topics, or have an idea and want to talk it through, please write to me at blogcontent[at]leonieslonging.org.
In the meantime, may you have a blessed Lent, and may the odds be ever in your favour!
Oh wait. Wrong book.
By Ignatia, continued from Part 1.
Being able to hear God’s voice is vital for figuring out where He’s calling you now – if you aren’t listening to Him or giving Him space to talk to you, how can you know what His will is?
So what’s another way to pray that doesn’t involve sitting still for an hour?
A friend and I just started this prayer idea for Lent which might prove helpful.
First, the background:
We had a one-day retreat recently at my school, and the priest giving the retreat was speaking about the desert fathers way back at the beginning of monasticism (ca. 4th century AD). He said that they left the cities because, after being legalized, Christianity had become something associated with status, and they felt like they needed to experience difficulty in order to progress in holiness. One of the things that they wrote about was their thoughts – that is, those stories we tell ourselves all day long to narrate what’s going on around us. And they recognized that our thoughts are really, really powerful – the things you think enter into your subconscious and manifest themselves in your actions. And negative thoughts, they said, were particularly potent. They also recognized that temptations generally started not with passions or emotions, but with a thought. So they tried to figure out how to battle these lies that they found themselves telling themselves all the time (the negative thoughts), and they figured out that they needed to replace the lies with truth whenever they came up.
If you have ever done any cognitive behavioral therapy, this might all sound rather familiar. Modern science and psychology has “discovered” many of the same things that the desert fathers knew back in the 4th century.
But what the desert fathers did that went beyond what most modern therapists do, is that they took the next step: I need to replace these lies with truth, but where is Truth found most of all? In Scripture. So they would memorize Scripture to have ready as a “weapon” against the thoughts – similar to the way the Lord used Scripture during the temptation in the desert.
Our retreat master told us the story of a monk who had been in the desert for ten years. One day, he went to get water somewhere near a village, and he saw a woman there. And immediately, the thought came into his head: “Why am I out in the desert doing all this penance? It would not be so bad to get married. Look, this woman is all alone – she probably needs someone to provide for her. I could do that. I could leave behind this penitential stuff and go help her.” But he knew that it was a temptation and not the authentic voice of the Holy Spirit. And the verse that he had been meditating on that day was “The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.” He immediately began repeating this verse over and over, attacking the temptation and reminding himself to find his comfort and fulfillment in the Lord alone.
So what our retreat master encouraged us to do was to have a “word” from Scripture every day that we read either before going to bed or when we wake up in the morning, and that we then carry with us throughout the day, maybe writing it on a sticky note and putting it someplace we’ll see it. We should keep it very close to us and think about it throughout the day, so that if at any point during the day someone were to ask “What is the word you’re carrying today?” we could answer without hesitation.
Based on this, my friend and I have decided to work our way through the Psalms using this method – one verse every day. And that one verse is the “word” that we read and think about and give to the Lord to fill it with meaning for that day. This means that it’s really about Him: We’re not picking verses we like, we’re just working through them as they come and waiting to see what the Lord does with them, asking Him to help us understand them and to hear Him speaking to us through them.
And when we find ourselves falling into negative thoughts during the day, we can use this word as a weapon against it. So the thought might occur to me “I’m such a failure, I’m never going to be able to do anything with my life” and instead of agreeing with it or trying to fight it on my own strength, I can respond by repeating that verse over and over. It redirects my thoughts to the words of the Lord in Scripture instead of getting stuck thinking about how much of a terrible person I am.
And the fact that the desert fathers – and even Jesus Himself – used Scripture in this manner to fight temptation gives me the confidence that this is an ancient practice in the Church in which I can trust.
Recently, my verse of the day was “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous” (Psalm 1:5). I can’t say that I was thrilled with this verse – it just didn’t seem to say much to me. But I was determined to do my best to let the Lord use it to speak to me and to let Him fill it with meaning.
I’m currently in graduate school studying theology, and on that day in my Moral Theology class, my professor began talking about obedience in religious life and what it encompasses – as well as what it does not encompass. The topic was rather out-of-the-blue, since the course is on virtues and vices and we hadn’t read anything directly related to religious obedience. It’s a sensitive topic for me – and for many of us who’ve left the convent, I suspect – and so it was difficult to remain calm, but by some grace of God, I was able to stay calm enough that I could really listen to what he was saying and ask questions, and it actually helped me a lot. I felt like I was finally starting to understand better what had happened to me in the convent and the events that led to my departure. Still, it brought up a lot of emotions, which manifested themselves when I went to Mass after class. As I was kneeling after Communion trying to pray and my heart was hurting quite a bit, I called to mind my verse for the day and tried to use it against the hopelessness that was threatening to overtake me … but it didn’t work. I felt absolutely nothing. No consolation came. So I turned to the Lord and told Him so: “Lord, this isn’t helping! Give me something that actually helps!!!!”
To my surprise, a verse from the Psalms immediately ran through my mind: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom should I fear? … Of whom should I be afraid?” (Ps 27:1). And with it came a sense of peace. I spent the rest of Mass – and then the rest of the day – repeating that beautiful verse which I am sure the Lord gave me to help me. It continues to give me comfort and the strength to continue to process some of the more painful memories from my time in the convent even now, a week later.
I have to admit that I hadn’t envisioned this practice turning out that way – I had anticipated the Lord suddenly giving me an insight into the verse I’d originally had, not give me an entirely new one! But somehow He always manages to surprise me, and is constantly reminding me not to box Him in. So I am learning even through lessons like this one to rely even more fully on the Lord and to remain open to His voice, however it comes to me.
Perhaps you’re in a place where a daily holy hour isn’t possible for whatever reason, or you want to pray with Scripture more but can’t afford to set aside any more time for prayer than you already have. I hope this method of praying with Scripture will prove helpful – it’s less intimidating than committing to a holy hour every day, since it only takes a few minutes at the beginning or end of your day, and then a brief moment now and again to recall that one verse while you’re “on the go”. It can help combat the negative thought cycles we so easily find ourselves caught in, and it’s a beautiful way to incorporate the Word into your everyday life, giving Him the opportunity to speak to your heart in His own words.
St. Anthony and all the desert fathers, pray for us!