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*

Stay With Us, Lord

By Girasol.

Stay with us, Lord, as we journey through this day, through this life.
We are wayfarers. The path is unclear, the past confusing, the future uncertain.
Our hearts are downcast, our spirits are sad.
You begin to speak to us as we walk along.
You speak words of truth and consolation.
We do not immediately recognize You given the state we are in.
But little-by-little we notice that our hearts are becoming fuller, our spirits are raised.
In some mysterious way, joy again becomes tangible.
We long for more of Your presence, we beckon You to stay,
so afraid you might leave us desolate once more.
But our fears are unfounded:
not only do You stay for a time–You devise a way to remain with us always.
By making Yourself known in the breaking of the bread,
you pledge to give Yourself to us each day and remain at our side,
filling us with the joy that only you can give.
Our cry “stay with us, Lord!” is an affirmation of our faith in the promise that You will,
and a profession of our own desire to walk this path hand-in-hand with You.

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 2)

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!