The Last Shall Be First

 By LumenChristi.

May/June can be hard months for those of us still discerning our place in life. Weddings, ordinations, professions of vows, and entrances into religious communities are a painful reminder that another year has come without any such milestone in sight for us. We rejoice with our friends and families – do our best to put on yet another reception with love, and send yet another friend off to the convent/seminary with prayers.  And sit through yet another homily about “celebrating a yes to the Lord and to one’s vocation.” And go to confession yet again for envy/self-pity/lack of trust in God.

Am I right? Or is that just me?

I read an article recently called  “We said yes too” about the struggles of Catholic couples who struggle with a miscarriage or infertility. While those around them get celebrated for having many children, they often experience the implication that those who don’t have a wild 7+ member crew in tow “aren’t open to life” or “haven’t said yes.” The author goes on to explain how she and others like her have said yes – hidden yesses too deep and painful to share. Yes to giving back to God an unborn child gone too soon; yes to the surrender of hopes and dreams in the struggle with infertility; yes to allowing the gifts that God has given to be enough.

When I read her article, as a woman discerning her vocation who has hit many painful detours along the road, I identified deeply with what she said. Though my life and struggles are different, my heart leapt with bittersweet joy as every word resonated.

“I have said yes too,” I thought. Not the “yes” that gets celebrated during “vocation season.” Not the exhilarating “yes” of a vow to the Church or to another person to commit my life forever. But a silent, not-spoken-out-loud kind of yes, I had given.

The “yes” to surrender my will and my desires to God and trust him for the timing.

The “silent yes” to Him in not settling for a “celebrated yes” that I knew wasn’t His will for me.

The “yes” to being faithful in prayer even during the times where I was no longer sure who I was praying to. . .

As well as the little “yesses” too that can cost a lot at times. Yes, Lord, I will smile at my friend and share his/her joy right now even though I would rather run away and cry. . .Yes, Lord, I will bite my tongue and accept criticism in humility when a priest or leader in the church asks “haven’t I thought about my vocation?” (Believe me, I ‘ve thought about it!!! Too much maybe!”)

We, dear single, discerning ladies, have said our “yes” too.  I am not arguing that these “yesses” become publically celebrated. Firstly, that would be awkward, but secondly, some yesses are meant to be hidden. As Christ lived the first 30 years of His life, so too are many of the yesses along the way to holiness, hidden – sometimes

 

even disguised and misunderstood. Such is the brokenness of humanity and the mystery of God. But as I was reading this article and reflecting on my own “yes,” I realized how important it is to understand and treasure it myself . I think, in the future, it will help me to step back from others’ celebrations just long enough to pause, and pray.  “I too have said yes, Lord and you know it. Give me the strength to keep saying yes, even when it is difficult.”

Each woman can fill in what her “yes” has been. . .

“Lord, I said “yes” to entering the religious life, following you while my family thought I was crazy. . . and then, when you sent me back to that same family, I said “yes” again just as generously, although this time it was with tears. . . “

“Lord, I followed you out of the convent and into the world, not knowing

where it would lead. I’ve accepted every bump in the road and being “a fool for you” as I adjusted back to secular life . . .”

“Lord, I desire marriage and a family, but I’ve said YES to waiting for it to happen in your time and in your way. . .”

“Lord, I do not know where I’m going, but I’ve said “yes” to journeying joyfully even when I feel desolate. . .”

“Lord, being at Mass right now only brings me pain, but I say “yes” to being here with you anyway. . .”

Each of us can find a lot of these “yesses” in our lives, and I have realized it is important to remember them.  I believe that for me such remembrances will be the key place where I will find the power to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to walk in faith when I would rather see.

Of course, we are not alone in either the remembering or the resolving to do better. I hope it consoles you as much as it did me, to rediscover that no “yes” goes unseen by God. I think these yesses, that are the last to be thought of in this world, are the first to be remembered in His eyes, and the foremost to be felt by His heart. I think the more conscious of them that we become, the stronger we will be in remaining faithful to them.

God-willing, one day we too, will have the opportunity to make one of the “celebrated” yesses. But in the meantime, the silent ones are nonetheless real. Treasure your “yes” and allow the Lord to treasure you.

His Mercies are New

By Encordemariae.

A few months ago I was blessed to attend a weekend retreat. As I prepared for it I was excited but also nervous since I didn’t know what it would hold. This retreat was at a retreat house owned by a community I had discerned with quite a bit, so I had been there many times as a discerner. When I arrived for the retreat I was suddenly hit with a wave of unexpected emotions. This place had played an important role in my spiritual life even before my discernment but now my relationship with it had changed. What did it hold for me now? How did God want me to respond? As I pondered these questions I became convinced that even though things were not the same there were still things for me to learn in this place.
On this retreat our theme was “Streams of Grace and Mercy” so I knew that God had special plans for me that weekend. Along with the retreat theme there were some things that kept coming back to me in my readings, our conferences, the reflections given etc. These were “peace of mind”, and “healing of soul.” We all need these things in our lives but I feel like this was really important for me right now as I transition back to life “in the world”. As I walked in the gardens I could hear Him speaking to me saying “you are precious to me, and I’m proud of you”. I was also reminded of my need to pray and sacrifice for sinners and my own sins. Right away I realized that work on these areas would extend far beyond one weekend of retreat, but at least I had some ideas for growth and development in my life. Keeping my thoughts and actions focused on Christ and following His call to let “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding to guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus”.
None of us will ever arrive at complete peace of mind and healing of soul in this life, it is only in Heaven that we can hope to see this. Here below it is a constant journey of stops and starts, falling and rising again, always seeking the will of God. God knows that we are fallen, that we are weak, so He gives us people and places along the way to help us on our journey. While my relationship with this retreat house has changed, I can see that there are still good things for me there and I pray that with God’s grace I can respond to His will.
How is God calling you to grow closer to Him? What fears do you need to let go of to fully live for Him?

Deliver me from the “Post-Convent Binge” – 3 practical tips

By seekingHim

OK… so I’ll admit, this is probably a surprising topic, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who has turned to emotional eating and binge-watching TV as a coping mechanism during my post-convent adjustment! So it’s time to break the silence and speak straight to the heart of the matter.

For me, in the first few weeks after leaving the convent, life was fantastic. I was at peace with my choice, I was confident that I had been called out just as I had been called in, and so I was keen to discover God’s purpose in that.

Fast forward a few months >> my uncertainty and my lack of clarity about that purpose started to get the better of me. Both patience and trust faltered… and I looked for comfort to replace the peace I was rapidly losing. I looked in all the wrong places.

Enter: the Post-Convent Binge.

It started with food – emotional eating.

It continued with TV, hitting “next” at the end of each episode.

Then there was coffee. Then I landed a part time admin job, but longed to be taken more seriously, as I had in pre-convent days. So I sought after human respect. Then as I landed full-time work and acquired more responsibility and respect, I of course sought to be remunerated accordingly.

It’s worth noting that, with significantly more lucrative conditions now, and more professional seniority than in those early days, I’m still not satisfied. None of these things satisfy.

This is not to say that seeking to better oneself and one’s conditions so that one can buy a home, meet civic and financial responsibilities, etc. is a bad thing! What I’m admitting to here – in this public forum – is trying to replace what I lost when I was called away from the convent with lesser things.

Would that I had remained in trusting poverty and littleness, in His presence, instead of seeking to forge ahead without Him!!

Living life in reality, though… just because for a time I discerned religious life and within the safety of convent walls sought to love God with an undivided heart, doesn’t mean I’m now Saint <insert name>!!

No-siree! As each day of post-convent bitterness needed to be sweetened with more sugar, which called for something savoury to balance out the sugar, and then caffeine to keep me awake so I could watch more episodes of whatever TV series harnessed my attention to escape from the reality of my restlessness, I became drastically unhealthy. Dormant health issues resurfaced and I put on an alarming amount of weight. My lifestyle had become hopelessly sedentary, and all the things that lit up my brain’s reward center and gave me short-term solace and distraction were having a more holistic effect of hurting my body and making me feel shame and deep unhappiness.

With grace, some things began to improve. I started exercising and lost a heap of weight. I started to curb my emotional eating – this is still an ongoing battle for me but progress is being made. My health dramas have started to fade again into the background. I don’t spend all my time watching TV (although this isn’t perfect yet, either).

But this article isn’t about my progress in these areas. What this article is ACTUALLY about is remembering where we find our happiness. And as you’re about to see, my improving health and lifestyle are NOT the source of my peace – rather they’ve become possible because I’ve been turning instead to He who is the source of my peace… in very concrete ways.

Permit me to get theological for a moment.

Aquinas asks the multi-pronged question “Does happiness consist in wealth? In honor? In fame or glory? In power? In any good of the body? In pleasure? In any good of the soul? In any created good?” (ST I-II, Q2) and goes on to categorically demonstrate that happiness cannot be found in any of these things. Having established where happiness is not, Aquinas goes on to look at where happiness IS, i.e. in man’s ultimate end, God (ST I-II, Q3). Aquinas rather eloquently demonstrates that it does not reside in our will – we can’t just put aside our food and our TV on DVD and set our teeth and gird our loins and decide that come hell or high water, we’ll be happy. Nope! Happiness – TRUE happiness, which is not completely attainable in this life but can be experienced in the next – is a consequence of the will having already done it’s choosing, and ultimately coming to rest – in Him! It makes a nice bookend to Augustine’s “You have formed us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are ever restless until we find our rest in You.”


So if two of the giants of Catholic tradition are telling us that we can’t be happy until after we die (echoed by Bon Jovi’s “Sleep when I’m dead” …? OK, maybe not!) then where does that leave us now?


Our earthly happiness – the extent that we are granted a foretaste – resides in the level of union with Him that is possible on earth: our participation in the Sacraments. Further – our earthly happiness is in the seeking… it is in the very restlessness we are experienced coupled with trust that we will come to rest in Him when all is said and done:

“Upon my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he gave no answer. I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek him whom my soul loves.” I sought him, but found him not.The watchmen found me, as they went about in the city. “Have you seen him whom my soul loves? Scarcely had I passed them, when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go until I had brought him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me.” – Sngs 3:1-4


So let’s move from our theoretically theological headspace back into the realms of the real.


Do you binge on food?

On coffee? On TV?

On quiet catch-ups with friends?

On noisy parties with friends?

On seeking prestige/money/power in jobs?

On seeking academic achievement and recognition?

And the big one of our time… on scrolling almost feverishly through social media?

If you do – don’t despair! I’m convinced I’m not the only one, and neither are you. Provided we don’t get stuck in the mud, it’s all a part of the seeking… but here’s the thing. When we realise that none of this is helping us, none of this satisfies – well – the search needs to move on! We need to acknowledge that – like our first parents, we sought to be like God but without God, and turn back to Him! God sure as heck ISN’T in my smartphone, so where to from here?

These three tips have been helping me to break free of slavery to things that don’t satisfy, to free my heart for God alone:


1. Each time I become consciously aware that I am seeking my happiness/peace in something other than God, I take a moment to prayerfully and explicitly reject the lie and ask God to help reorient my heart back towards Him.


2. I pray Blessed John Henry Newman’s prayer, “Lead, Kindly Light” (or sing along with Audrey Assad’s awesome version of it) – and I am very intentional about the line: “I do not ask to see the distant scene; each step enough for me” as an exercise in renewing my trust in Him. Whilst I am not capable of ACTUALLY trusting just because I WILL to trust, I know that His grace bridges that gap and makes trust possible if only I continue to renew that expression of my will to trust Him, and my need for Him to help me.


3. Finally – and most importantly – I get to daily Mass whenever possible. It’s not always possible in lay life – it isn’t protected in the same way that the horarium of my past religious life made possible. When I cling to the Mass, and to Eucharistic Adoration and to Confession, and make good use of them, I am participating in that foretaste of the happiness we trust will be possible in eternity resting in Him. This ebbs and flows for me, and sometimes I go weeks without getting to mid-week mass because of work schedule or just other excuses – but I always notice that when I DO cling to these beautiful Gifts He makes available to us – this makes all the difference.


I hope these three tips help any of you who might be struggling in the same way that I have!


May He give you peace. He’s the only one who can!

If any of you have found other things helpful here, please feel free to offer these suggestions in the comment box below to help others who might be struggling. You don’t have to use your real name, if that helps… I didn’t! *wink*

Detour

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.

Scripture with the Desert Fathers (Part 1)

By Ignatia.

When I left the convent, I almost stopped praying altogether because it hurt too much. Every time I walked into a chapel I burst into tears: that had been the center of convent life, and that’s where everything that was really important happened, and I was so angry with the Lord that He hadn’t helped me stay, and so hurt, and so disappointed – and at the same time, I was completely terrified that I had walked away from Him, that I’d disappointed Him, that I’d left just because it got hard. If it hadn’t been for a priest at my parish who reached out to me (who’s now my spiritual director), I might have just stopped praying and eventually lost my faith. Recently, as we were discussing the phenomenal growth that I’ve experienced in my relationship with the Lord in the year and a half since I left the convent, Father, too, acknowledged how precarious my faith was at the beginning.

The first time I met with him, only about 5 days after coming home, the first question he asked me was “Are you praying?” He was the only person I talked to after leaving who knew to ask me that question, and who knew that the answer might be “no”. He himself had once been in a similar position, having discerned out of seminary (he re-entered later), so I suppose he had the insight that personal experience brings. When I told him that, indeed, I was not praying, he rather sternly told me that I needed to be praying a holy hour every day, especially because I wasn’t doing anything else at the time – I didn’t have a job yet so I was just home by myself all day. It took me a long time to really get into the habit of doing that – every confession for at least a month and a half included “not praying” – but eventually, with his encouragement, it started happening regularly.

At the beginning, I felt like I had to re-learn how to pray – I no longer trusted myself to recognize the Lord’s voice, and I had to ask my spiritual director to explain to me how to pray as though I had never done it before. For weeks, all I did during my prayer time was cry. Cry and yell at the Lord and tell Him how confused and hurt I was and how I didn’t understand any of this and how I hated Him for abandoning me and not helping me stay and how I hated myself for walking away from the convent and from Him. So it was pretty tough … but by some grace of God, I was able to stick with it and it slowly got easier and less painful.

I’ve discovered since then that it’s normal to struggle with praying when you leave the convent. I’m pretty sure every woman I’ve talked to who’s been in that situation has mentioned not being able to pray, or not wanting to, or not knowing how to anymore.

But what to do about it?

Obviously, I’m a big fan of the holy hour every day plan – it has helped me to get to a place where my faith is stronger and more real than it ever has been before.

My director had encouraged me to follow this structure in my holy hour:

10 minutes of just sitting with the Lord, recognizing His presence and looking at Him – and letting Him look at me.

15-20 minutes of Lectio Divina or Ignatian meditation on the Gospel of the day, allowing the Lord to speak to me through Scripture.

15-20 minutes of spiritual reading or another devotion, like praying the Rosary or Divine Mercy chaplet.

Most of the time, I just prayed with the Gospel, or, if I felt that wasn’t fruitful, I picked up a book. I read parts of St. Faustina’s diary, all of Benedict XVI’s “Jesus of Nazareth”, a book called “Edith Stein and her Companions” (highly recommended, by the way – there are a number of people who were martyred with St. Edith Stein who had previously left religious life!) and a number of other books during the ten months I spent at home “recovering”.

Still, doing a daily holy hour isn’t the only way to pray, nor is it necessarily the best way for you right now. It really depends. It could be that you’re experiencing a lot of anxiety, so trying to sit in the chapel for an hour might not work well. Or perhaps you have a full-time job, and just don’t have an hour to spend in the chapel each day. The important thing is giving the Lord space and time to speak to you, whether that’s in the chapel or out on a walk or in a prayer space in your room or at the library or on your lunch break at work or wherever. Being able to hear His 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?

(For the answer, stay tuned for Part 2 this Saturday!)

As the Year Ends…

cross-christian-pixabayBy Jacqui, re-printed from her blog Talitha Koum with kind permission. Please pray for her as she begins her volunteer work at at orphanage in India!

The past year has been such a journey. As we near New Year’s Eve, I am seeing more and more comments on social media about how terrible this year has been…as a whole. I have been conflicted in my response.

Yes, people died. We, as a society, have mourned the loss of many celebrities this past year. But, how many people have lost a friend or a loved one? How many parents have had to lay a child to rest too early? Personally, I have been to two infant funerals in 2016, and was not able to attend another. Dear friends of mine, who lost their babies all too soon.

I imagine their pain is overwhelming. Yet, I admire their determination and faith, that in the Lord’s time, all pain and sorrow will be healed. They have not dwelled only on their loss…they have found moments of joy and great blessing. They have chosen to look at the graces of 2016 and to look forward, in hope, to a new year. A new beginning. A fresh start in living out their lives of faith and trust in Divine Providence.

As I reflect on my own life, this past year, there are many moments of great pain and sadness. There are moments of death. Moments of utter abandonment. Moments where spiritually, there was only great darkness and a deeply penetrating feeling of despair or hopelessness. How easily I could look back and say, “Thank God, this year is finally over! It was such a terrible year. Hopefully 2017 will be better.” Yet, I choose to see God at work in my life. I choose to not focus only on my hard times, losses, etc.

In my looking back, this is what I see my year was:

I was living my life, as Sr. Emilia. I lived the life that, for as long as I can remember, I have always dreamed of. Then, in discernement, I began to pray about being called to an openness…to the idea…that I was being called to leave religious life to discern marriage. That was a huge time of fear, faith, trust in the darkness, excitement, etc. It was a gift…even in the pain.

I attended a Theology of the Body course retreat, in PA. That retreat literally, “changed my life!” I had no idea how beautifully painful that week was going to be. The Lord showed me throughout that week, His great and abiding love. The phrase I used after that week was, “…it felt like I had been stripped and beaten, then hung up to dry, alone.” It took me months to connect that imagery, to that of Christ, on His own Cross. Then, my pain (because it was on that retreat that I discerned I was called to marriage…which meant leaving my life and sisters at the monastery) became beautiful…because it was united with our Bridegroom’s Cross…the marriage bed of the Lamb.

(Now, a quicker version of the rest of the year…)

I left religious life in May. I lived with my Granny for a time. I lived on Kelley’s Island for three months. I applied and was accepted for a time of volunteering in India. I moved home to prepare for that mission. Now, we are just 6 days from my departure to India! I will live the first 5 months of 2017, on the other side of the world.

There were SO many days of great pain and sadness, as I adjusted to my new life outside of the monastery…without community…without such intense and beautiful prayer. Looking back, I see only growth and the gift of the Father’s love. There are no regrets. Yes, I could focus on the many wounds and struggles, the deaths of family and friends, etc. but I have chosen to look back at 2016, with gratitude. I choose to see the many gifts bestowed upon my life, as well as the times when I failed to live my life in holiness.

I choose to look forward to 2017…not in the hopes that “2017 will be better,” or “to forget 2016!” No, I look foward to this new year of blessings and growths…trials and pains…adventures and the unknown, while remembering the past year and how it helped to bring me to where I am.

I implore you, my friends, to take a look at your own lives and focus on the blessings…even in the face of pain. Seek to find the good. What graces were you given this past year? What moments did you see growth in? Have you taken it to prayer? Have you thanked God for His love and blessings?

Merry Christmas!

Happy New Year! May it be a year of abundant growth and happiness.