By 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?
Happy New Year! May it be a year of abundant growth and happiness.
By Lucia Delgado.
For most of my life, I prayed often. I prayed for my family, friends, the country, and the whole world.
When I entered the Catholic Church in 2004, my prayer life was under development. I was introduced to the Rosary by the Dominican friars and they helped me understand the Blessed Mother more fully.
I guess that is why I decided to aspire with a Franciscan community under the protection of Our Lady of Sorrows. I was attracted by their desire for prayer. After a brief aspirancy period, I left the community after praying and asking the Blessed Mother for help. It seems that I was entering religious life to please others. Six months later, I met my fiancé and we have a wedding date set. During the discernment process I lived in fear; the marriage vocation scared me because of past family experiences. The Lord told me that everything will be fine… just follow Me. I sat up and accept the call to marriage and eventually motherhood. May God’s will be done.
The Virgin Mary was called not only to be a mother to the Lord; she was called to be a mother to all of us. Her fiat changed everything; she had peace know that God’s will be done.
In the month of the Rosary, I decided to reflect on this beautiful prayer which St. Dominic prayed in order to bring others to the Lord. I would that the brief aspirancy helped me to pray the Rosary and have a greater love for the Blessed Virgin Mary who leads us to Jesus.
By praying the Rosary, my fears are diminished. Mary was courageous enough to travel to visit her cousin Elizabeth; she trusted God throughout the pregnancy and the birth of Jesus.
She was sorrowful during the Passion but she knew that joy was coming.
For those who have left religious communities, know that joy is coming soon. We are not abandoned by our Lord and His Mother. He gives us His Mother to comfort us.
Hence each Ave Maria is a prayer for comfort.
Get online on August 9!
So ran the slogan for the 2016 Australian census, which – for the first time ever – could be submitted online. We’d been assured it was unhackable, which inevitably turned out to be more or less the same as unsinkable. I got online on August 9 and found the website down, bombarded by so many millions of fake logins that the Australian Bureau of Statistics had hit the panic button and closed it down.
In filling out all the census questions a couple of days after the original deadline, I was reminded suddenly of the last time someone attempted to include me in a survey of this kind, which also didn’t work out as planned. Three-and-a-bit years ago, a letter from my former university arrived in the convent mailbox containing a Graduate Careers questionnaire for all alumnae. I dutifully filled it out:
What is your current occupation?
What are the primary responsibilities of this role?
Prayer, penance, and the witness of a holy life.
How many hours per week do you spend performing this role?
Ideally, every waking minute.
What is your current annual income?
What is your anticipated annual income in five years’ time?
What is your level of seniority within the organization?
What is your next anticipated career development?
Novice, about eight months from now.
What is the level of seniority of this position within the organization?
At what age do you expect to retire from the workforce?
Sadly, although it gave the sisters a laugh at recreation, I didn’t end up mailing back the answers above; partly because I genuinely didn’t want to skew the results of their survey, and partly out of a sense that a religious vocation is not something that can be broken down into a tidy set of numbers as they would have to attempt to do. (Imagine an accountant trying to classify “a hundredfold in the life to come” as your superannuation, and you’ll see what I mean.) Had I still been in the convent this year, I assume my superior would have entered me on the census as an employee in a religious non-profit/charitable organization or some other odd contortion of language like that, because the census isn’t equipped to handle “spouse of Christ” any more than the census that brought Saint Joseph to Bethlehem two thousand and six Decembers ago had a category for “carpenter/foster-father of the Messiah” (#censusfailcaesaraugustus).
A census is a practical, quantitative tool, not a qualitative one: if I check “Catholic” in the religion category, a computer somewhere far away will go click and add one Catholic to its demographic information, and that’s the whole bewildering tapestry of my religious experience to date statistically done and dusted. It’s rather like the limitations of the Google Analytics data that I, with my Blog Mistress hat on, use to measure traffic through the Leonie’s Longing website. I might be delighted to see a spike on the graph showing that over a hundred people viewed a particular article, but that spike doesn’t tell me the most important thing of all: what that article meant to the real people who read it. My own cheerful postulant answers to the university survey were contrariwise all true, but contained not a single piece of information that they could use because everything that mattered was inside my soul and therefore unquantifiable. And although I’ve finally submitted my census, and hope that the government will be able to use the information I provided to help get an idea of the demographics of Australia in 2016, the act of filling my life out on a form is a reminder that although a human can be represented in numbers, the numbers will always fall short of the image and likeness of God.
Some years ago, I was talking with a dear friend.Â She and her husband had been struggling to conceive, and she was sharing with me how painful this experience was.Â However, she said, if this was something that she needed to go through, to suffer, so that she could become holy, then so be it.Â She said sheâ€™d rather go to Heaven than have a baby, if that was what it took to get to heaven, if this experience of infertility was purifying her and sanctifying her through her pain.
Her words that day stuck with me.Â Sheâ€™d rather go to heaven than have a baby, if that was what it took.Â I continued to ponder and to be amazed by those words.Â I grew up in a large family, where babies are seen as one of the greatest gifts God can give, and now I feel myself drawn to marriage.Â Â I love babies, and I could see the pain in my friendâ€™s eyes as she spoke.Â And yet, she would rather go to Heaven than have a baby.Â Her desire for God, for sanctity, and for doing Godâ€™s will was greater than her desire to have a child of her own.
St. Ignatius talks about the indifference that is necessary for sanctity.Â He is not talking about a world in which we have absolutely no desires.Â Rather, he is talking about a world where our desires match Godâ€™s desires for us, where we make decisions based on Godâ€™s will, and where we subject our own desires to Godâ€™s desires for us.Â When I first heard of this idea, I struggled to understand what it really means.Â What does this holy indifference really look like in todayâ€™s world?
I think I saw it in my friendâ€™s eyes that day.Â Sheâ€™d rather go to Heaven.Â She was placing her own desires at the feet of God and accepting His will for her as necessary for her own salvation.Â And even as she spoke, there was a joy behind the pain.Â Nobody was twisting her arm making her accept the will of God.Â Rather, mingled with her tears there was a genuine desire for Heaven and an excitement at the thought of seeing God Himself face to face for all eternity.Â Sheâ€™d rather go to Heaven.
I think that, in many ways, the greatest sufferings in our life come from a lack of this holy difference.Â If we are really
able to say â€œblessed be Godâ€ no matter what comes, if we can learn to let go of something because it does not correspond with Godâ€™s will for us at this moment, then I think our lives would be so much easier. Â Easier said than done, I know.
As I continue to ponder my own journey of discernment of religious life, through living active life and nearly joining a cloistered community, these words have stuck with me.Â Â Would I like to still be in my religious community, joking that Iâ€™ll be buried out back?Â Yes.Â But, Iâ€™d rather go to Heaven, and if living in the world as a layperson is my path to sanctity, then so be it.Â Would I rather have had that cloistered vocation that I explored?Â Somedays, yes.Â But, Iâ€™d rather go to Heaven.
And now, as I discern married life and am surrounded by friends and siblings with families of their own, it is easy to be frustrated.Â I never imagined that at this point in my life I would still be soâ€¦unsettled.Â Would I absolutely love to have a family of my own right now, or at least a serious boyfriend, so that I can be closer to the vocation God seems to have in mind for me?Â Oh, yes, by all means!
But, Iâ€™d rather go to Heaven.
Here it is, folks!
Bonus: blooper reel and out-takes at the end!
Almost three months to the day after I promised to write this blog post, I am sitting down at my laptop with the resolution not to budge until itâ€™s done.
What I set out to write back in January was a lively, cheerful account of a week spent with two friends Iâ€™d metÂ through Leonieâ€™s Longing, and an introduction to the video blog that we made together. Ever since then, Iâ€™ve been writing short, stilted paragraphs that have instantly hit the recycle bin (literally for the paper drafts, and figuratively for the typed versions). Â What made it so difficult to put it all together as a narrative?
I think the key is in an insight that Theresa, the President of Leonieâ€™s Longing, had during the long drive down from Sydney to Melbourne: when you meet someone else who has been in the convent, the normal process of conversation is reversed. Usually, to get to know another woman, youâ€™d ask what she does for a living, what books she likes to read, how many pets/kids/siblings she has and so forth, and only after weeks or months would you move on to more personal topics. But when you meet someone who was in the convent, you ask things like: â€œWhat community were you with? What drew you to them? How long had you been discerning? How did your family react when you told them you were entering the convent?â€ Then, eventually, you take a deep breath and ask the difficult questions: â€œWhy did you leave? Are you still discerning a religious vocation?â€ And, more importantly, youâ€™re able to understand the answers.
It doesnâ€™t matter what country your community was in (mine was Australian; Theresa and Bek â€“ our Technology Coordinator â€“ were in the US); if youâ€™ve been in the convent, you have a shared understanding of things like familial freak-outs when you mention the word â€œnun,â€ the process of clearing out your former life as you enter, theÂ experience of living such a disciplined life, and of battling the most difficult aspects of it and then finding yourself back out in the world. The part of me that hoped to become a bride of Christ is a sister to the part of you that longed for the same. In a parallel universe, we might one day have met at a seminar for religious, you in your habit and me in mine. (â€œI declare, ours is the only sensible one here!â€) And yet, here we are, out in the world again together. Weâ€™ve walked the same road separately, and found suddenly found ourselves on it together. Itâ€™s hard to pin that connection down in words, which makes it that much harder to write a blog post about. Still, here goes!
If you read this blog regularly, youâ€™ll have seen Bekâ€™s â€œcouch-surfingâ€ journey across the United States, visiting friends from her former community. It was in about August last year that Theresa first raised the idea of making Bekâ€™s journey in reverse, and coming to visit our two Australian LL volunteers. By November it was a fact, and in December we planned it all out in detail: she and Bek would travel around Sydney for a week or so, and then drive south to Melbourne, meeting meÂ at the halfway-point, Albury, along the way. Itâ€™s a fair trip.
Â Â Â In Melbourne we would walk through the Door of Mercy at the cathedral, wander around the famous arcades and visit the museum dedicated to Saint Mary Mackillop, our only Australian Saint so far (though several more causes are underway). Weâ€™d also drive along the Great Ocean Road and have lunch on the beach, and then make some time for karaoke. Excellent plan. Nothing went according to it.
On the morning of the fifth of January, still bleary-eyed from a monastic wake-up time several hours earlier, I sat back in my seat on the train to Albury and sent off what is in retrospect a remarkably awake-sounding text to Bek: â€œHowdy! Iâ€™m making good time â€“ currently passing through Wangaratta â€“ how are you going in your travels? Hope youâ€™re having a pleasant run!â€
Alas, they were at that moment stuck in the McDonaldâ€™s drive-in queue from hell in Yass, about four hours out of our designated meeting place on the border between Victoria and New South Wales. Theyâ€™d set out from Sydney at six in the morning, roughly the same time Iâ€™d dragged my weary bones onto a tram into Melbourne, but by the time the three of us finally converged on Saint Patrickâ€™s Cathedral in Albury, Iâ€™d had a peaceful train journey and they were ashen-faced from a long, long drive and the prospect of more to come. This is where the invisible bond between former religious that I mentioned earlier became all-important: we met in front of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, and six hours together in a tiny car became a mixture of singing, prayer, serious spiritual conversation, and funny-awful jokes. What the other unsuspecting folk in the rest-rooms at Seymour thought of being serenaded with O Salutaris Hostia as we compared the versions weâ€™d learnt in our respective communities, weâ€™ll never know.
We reached Melbourne late at night, many hours later than planned. After Mass the next morning, another part of our grand plan fell through: the Door of Mercy at the cathedral in Melbourne is now only open for one hour a week during Sunday Mass, so we werenâ€™t able to walk through it together as weâ€™d hoped. However, as we stood on the steps of the Door, I was able to make a formal presentation to Leonieâ€™s Longing of a medal that I had touched to the relics of Saint Therese and her parents the year before. (May the Saints of the Martin family intercede for our apostolate, and all who visit our website!)
Then, as Bek and Theresa had been â€œcollectingâ€ Doors of Mercy, it was my turn to take the photo:
We never did get to the MacKillop Museum (next time… next timeâ€¦), but we did have dinner with another ex-conventual friend of mine. Four women, four very different experiences of religious life, four different personalities, accents, and senses of humour, but with a shared understanding of post-convent life: a conversation that could only have come about through Leonieâ€™s Longing.
We didnâ€™t drive down the Great Ocean Road, either â€“ circumstances including but not limited to a bushfire saw to that. Instead, we drove down the other way to the Mornington Peninsula, and spent the day with my mother!
(The black ship in the background is the SV Notorious, the only replica fifteenth-century caravel in the southern hemisphere.)
Part of our intended tour of the Peninsula that day was a trip to the lighthouse at Cape Schanck, but we didnâ€™t get there. Instead, we made a coffee-inspired detour to the lookout at Arthurs Seat, and found, not coffee, butâ€¦
Sisters! Specifically, the Servants of the Two Hearts, whose apostolate is primarily youth ministry, and who had gone up to the lookout on a detour at the last minute just as we had. Once more, Theresaâ€™s theory about post-convent conversations was proved correct. When we explained to them who we were, the Sisters asked us which communities weâ€™d belonged to, how long weâ€™d stayed, and whether we were still discerning â€“ the kind of in-depth conversationÂ you can only have with others who have that understanding of the religious life in common. We didnâ€™t end up finding any coffee, but instead, something far more significant: the realisation that God was guiding our journey together, even when we were fatigued or led astray by the GPS, or the doors that we thought would be open were locked, or we ended up at the top of a mountain we hadnâ€™t expected to climb. All things considered, I think thereâ€™s a metaphor in that.
Stay tuned next week for our first-ever video blog post, made by the three of us together, on the topic of â€œfinding community away from the communityâ€!