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.

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.

The Rosary: A Prayer for Comfort

rosary-pixabayBy 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.

#Censusfail

By Penny.Form Character Pen Pixabay

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?

Postulant.

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?

Nil.

What is your anticipated annual income in five years’ time?

See above.

What is your level of seniority within the organization?

Non-existent.

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?

Non-existent.

At what age do you expect to retire from the workforce?

Death.

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).

Laptop Keyboard Human Hands Typing PixabayA 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.

I’d Rather Go to Heaven

Bank Sit Rest Wait Recovery PixabayBy Amata

Some years ago, I was talking with a dear friend.  She and her husband had been struggling to conceive, and she was sharing with me how painful this experience was.  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.  She said she’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.  She’d rather go to heaven than have a baby, if that was what it took.  I continued to ponder and to be amazed by those words.  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.   I love babies, and I could see the pain in my friend’s eyes as she spoke.  And yet, she would rather go to Heaven than have a baby.  Her desire for God, for sanctity, and for doing God’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.  He is not talking about a world in which we have absolutely no desires.  Rather, he is talking about a world where our desires match God’s desires for us, where we make decisions based on God’s will, and where we subject our own desires to God’s desires for us.  When I first heard of this idea, I struggled to understand what it really means.  What does this holy indifference really look like in today’s world?

I think I saw it in my friend’s eyes that day.  She’d rather go to Heaven.  She was placing her own desires at the feet of God and accepting His will for her as necessary for her own salvation.  And even as she spoke, there was a joy behind the pain.  Nobody was twisting her arm making her accept the will of God.  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.  She’d rather go to Heaven.

Bible Rosary Prayer Pray Holy PixabayI think that, in many ways, the greatest sufferings in our life come from a lack of this holy difference.  If we are really
able to say “blessed be God” no matter what comes, if we can learn to let go of something because it does not correspond with God’s will for us at this moment, then I think our lives would be so much easier.  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.   Would I like to still be in my religious community, joking that I’ll be buried out back?  Yes.  But, I’d rather go to Heaven, and if living in the world as a layperson is my path to sanctity, then so be it.  Would I rather have had that cloistered vocation that I explored?  Somedays, yes.  But, I’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.  I never imagined that at this point in my life I would still be so…unsettled.  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?  Oh, yes, by all means!

But, I’d rather go to Heaven.

Video Blog Post: Finding Community Away From Community

Here it is, folks!

 

Bonus: blooper reel and out-takes at the end!