The Last Shall Be First Part II: The Hidden “Yes” of Julia Greeley

By LumenChristi.

When I was in college, a good friend told me that we don’t have to find the saints – they find us. God places them in our lives at pivotal moments, to shed light on our own following of him. Since she said this, I have found it to be true on multiple occasions.

After six adventurous years of serving as a missionary, youth director, and other such exciting positions, I now work as a secretary at a church.  I’ve realized God is calling me to a time of being still, and to use the advantages of a stable schedule to allow him to speak to me more deeply. While I am profoundly grateful for this position, and confident that God placed me here (through uniquely providential circumstances) I still feel that I am not doing enough. I miss my adventures. I am in tension between the peace that I am where He wants me, and yet a gnawing feeling of “not enough” that creeps in. I am happy to serve in the hidden tasks, yet can’t help noting the irony between the grandeur of what I did before (giving talks to teens, counseling others in their walk with Christ etc) and the exasperating minutiae of what I do now (fighting with the copier, spending hours on hold with Comcast!).

Underneath all this, is the ever-present tension that surfaces about what I am doing with my life in the long-term. I am at peace that I have given God all I can for now, but plagued by the same gnawing of “not enough.” I want to know the answer to the all-important question – what is my vocation, my purpose in life.  I want to know why God will still not reveal it despite my earnest and faithful seeking.

Recently, into all these tensions, across the years, through a powerful thing called the Communion of Saints, came the perfect heavenly friend for me. While on hold yet again on a call for the parish, I was sorting through piles of paper on my desk and stumbled across an article about the life of a woman named Julia Greeley. I learned that her cause for canonization was currently underway, and was instantly intrigued. (For what is more fascinating than a canonization process currently underway in your own country?)

Julia Greeley was a Catholic, African-American laywoman who lived a poor and humble life. Her path to holiness was the epitome of the “hidden yes.” Recently recognized as “Servant of God” by her archdiocese in Denver, Colorado, Julia Greeley’s life was lowly and uncelebrated. She was born into slavery sometime between 1833 and 1848, and finally freed in 1865 by the state of Missouri’s Emancipation Act. Little is known about the intervening years, except that when she was a young child, she lost her right eye to the whip of an angry slave owner. Once freed, Julia made a living cooking, cleaning, and caring for children as a nanny.

In 1880, she became Catholic and was received into the Church at Sacred Heart Church in Denver. The Sacred Heart then became the central mystery and mission of her life. She would walk for miles to share devotional Sacred Heart pamphlets and medals with as many people as she could. She was also a dedicated servant of the poor. Though she herself lived in poverty, she gave of what she had, and also went begging for the needs of others. Friendship was a central characteristic of her life, in which she transcended the racial and societal divides of her time. White and black,  Catholics and non catholic, rich and poor, old and young alike were numbered among her friends. Young children in particular were drawn to her and delighted in her presence.  Her funeral overwhelmed her tiny parish church as over 1,000 people from all walks of life came to pay their respects.

She attended daily Mass faithfully, and in fact, died on her way to Mass, on the feast of her beloved Sacred Heart in 1918.

Fast-forward to June 2017 – nearly 100 years later – her remains were recently transferred to the Cathedral in Denver. She is the very first person to be buried there. As the bishop, Jorge Rodriguez, who presided over the ceremony pointed out “[Julia Greeley] will be the first person buried in Denver’s cathedral. Not a bishop, not a priest – a laywoman, a former slave. Isn’t that something?”

The humble are exalted. The last shall be first. Even to this day, few people know about Julia Greeley. In her life, she served in the lowliest (and even despised) roles. She had no “status” in secular society. In the Church, she was never a religious, theologian, or leader. And yet, it is her, whom God has lifted up and placed before our eyes.

Her life intersected with mine at just the right moment, to teach me what truly matters. Not only are the hidden yesses more powerful than we realize, but they are enough to bring us to Heaven. Julia Greeley’s life was all about the hidden yes.

The “yes” to forgive the grave wrongs of slavery and physical abuse that she suffered. . .

The “yes” to lead a joyful and charitable life in the midst of an unjust and still-segregated society. . .

The courageous “yes” to enter a Church in a time when there were few to no Catholics of her culture and racial background. . .

The “yes” to literally walk across the societal divides of her time. . .

The “yes” to travel miles on her errands of mercy and evangelization despite painful arthritis . . .

(this particular “yes,” in fact, remained hidden until the very recent examination of her bones during the exhumation process for her canonization!).

And the overarching “yes” to be the love of the Sacred Heart to all whom she encountered.

She has given me a different perspective. Everything has value. Where I am now could, as I believe, just be yet another stop along the way to where God ultimately wants me. Yet even if eternity were tomorrow, it could be ENOUGH to make me a saint. If I but choose to respond.

So, I now try to make jokes, when I finally get through on the Comcast call. Their customer service agent is a person too, whom Julia would have seen as a friend. I win my fight with the copier, knowing that I’ve made the pace of life smoother for everyone else even if they never know about it.  And when anxiety about the future creeps in, I try to whisper, “Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in You!”

Servant of God, Julia Greeley, pray for us!

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!

 

Sources:

http://www.juliagreeleyhome.org/whyjulias-1-1/

Former slave Julia Greeley first to be buried at Denver’s Cathedral

Fourth Anniversary

By Spiritu.

Four years ago today, I laid my bags out on the front steps of the convent and waited for my father to drive in and pick me up. Most of my memories of religious life are still vivid and immediate, but that day is broken up into fragments. I remember unfastening the cord that tied my postulant medal around my neck, and handing both to my superior. Checking and triple-checking the drawers in my cell in case I’d left anything behind. Getting in the car and seeing the sisters standing under the veranda to wave goodbye. That night, opening the farewell card they’d written for me, and wanting to frame it and tear it up all at the same time because it hurt to see their handwriting. It was a long time before I stopped expecting – hoping – to wake up in my cell in the morning and find that everything that had happened since then was a dream.

I once heard a line in a film: “When the past dies, there is mourning, but when the future dies, our imaginations are compelled to carry it on.” After I’d been out about two years, someone asked me whether I wished I’d stayed in the convent, and whether I would go back if I could. From memory, what I said out loud was something profound like, “Um… I don’t know.” What had actually shot across my mind without the need for thought was, In a heartbeat. My future in the convent had been cut off at the root, and my imagination couldn’t give up the idea of going back, trying to make it right, to finish what I’d started.

And now? A few days ago, the anniversary of the date on which I’d told my superior I needed to leave, I sat down and made a list of all the people I’d never have met if I’d stayed in the convent. Colleagues. Housemates. Mentors. Clients. Friends – people I knew both in person and online. The list went for nearly a page. Then I started on a second list, laying out in black and white the things I’d done in the last four years that would never have happened if I’d stayed in the convent. Publishing my writing online; preparing for a career; making a journey overseas and coming home feeling like an adult for the first time in my life. And a third list: the music I’d never have heard, the books I’d never have read, the foods I’d never have tasted, the conversations I’d never have had. Set out on paper like that, the richness of what God has given me in the last few years blew me away. I’d have loved to have been a sister, but to wish now that I had stayed in the convent would be to wish everything I have loved since then multiplied by zero. I couldn’t do it, in a heartbeat or otherwise.

Today is the first-class feast of Saint James the Apostle, which means I’ll need to make time, in between all the other things that have to be sandwiched into the next twelve hours or so, to sing the Te Deum. I want to make time to sing it properly: unhurried, and with real gratitude. In the Divine Office this morning, there was a reading from Saint John Chrysostom:

But nevertheless let us now look at how (the apostles) came unto Christ, and what they said. Master, they said, we would that Thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. And He said unto them: What would ye that I should do for you? Not, surely, that He knew not what their wish was, but that He would make them answer, and so uncover the wound, to lay a plaster on it.

 

That is what He has done in these last few days. I’ve spent far too long binding up the wound of regret and anger on my heart as though it were not serious, crying, “Peace! Peace!” when there was no peace (Jeremiah 8:11) and it must be time by now for Him to lay a proper dressing on it. I’ve felt a lot of grief in the time since I left religious life, but today I’m going to focus instead on the joys that have been given me throughout those years. The people I’ve known, the things I’ve done – everything God has given me to love. Four years to the day out of the convent in which I’d once hoped to spend the rest of my life, I am going to sing the Te Deum and mean it.

Jesus is the Way

By Erin.

There are a lot of difficulties when returning from religious life back into secular life. One that I hadn’t really expected, but that has become quite a challenge, is direction. When I was in the convent I thought I had my life figured out. I thought I had found my vocation. I thought I was living where I would spend the rest of my life with the people I would spend that time with. My direction was very clear and I knew I was in the Lord’s will.

And then I left. And I felt like my life was a mess and I had no direction. I fell into the trap of despair. I was sure there was no hope. But day after day the Lord has been faithful. He has been bringing me out of that trap.

By leaving I felt like I was leaving the Father’s will for my life, not at first, but I fell into that trap after being home a little while. I was consumed with trying to figure out a plan. I needed to figure out what my next career move was as well as my vocation. I wanted to figure every little detail out before I made any sort of move in any direction.

The reality, though, is that by leaving I was actually staying in the Father’s will. He called me out of the convent. I was listening to His voice when I decided to leave. And while that left me “directionless” in the eyes of the world, it really didn’t. It took as much courage and discernment to enter religious life as it did to leave. And both decision were made with the Lord.

I was reflecting/praying with the Gospel today and I realized I’ve been going about my return all wrong. Today’s Gospel is a passage we’ve all heard a million times, but the Lord used it today to bring me some new insight. Jesus addresses Thomas after he questions how they will know what direction they are to go after Jesus ascends into Heaven by saying,

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

You see, I keep complaining about feeling directionless and like my life is a total mess. I want to know the future so I can make a move in some direction. But the Lord revealed to me today that I do know the direction to walk because Jesus is the way.

If I walk in Jesus then everything will fall into place because the goal isn’t to figure out what career I’m supposed to be in or what my vocation is. Don’t get me wrong, those questions are important, but they aren’t the be all and end all of this life. The ultimate goal of this life is to be in communion with the Father in Heaven. And Jesus tells me, and the disciples, in this passage that the way to the Father is Jesus Himself, not a specific career, living situation, or vocation. Our careers and vocations can help us get to Heaven, that is the whole point, but finding them and living them cannot be the ultimate goal. Then we lose sight of our purpose here on Earth which is to get to Heaven.

“Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven and all these things will be given you besides.”      -Matthew 6:33

So while it is easy for me to fall into the trap of feeling “directionless”, the reality is that I know the direction I need to walk. I know the way because Jesus is the way.

Re-published with kind permission from Erin’s blog Arise My Daughter and Come.

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*