I have been struck, recently and most powerfully, by how much my vocation is also a marital vocation. In a very real, albeit spiritual sense, I take Christ's family as my own Mother, my own Father, even my own foster father. St. Joseph, protector of virgins, pray for us!
On Sunday, the last sunday of Advent, I began to weep after receiving my Lord in the Eucharist. I cannot tell why, for it is a stirring of my heart without words, but I believe it stems from a sense of overwhelming loved-ness. I feel so loved in that moment. And on Sunday the choir sang the above song, Of the Father's Love Begotten, during the Communion reflection, so that only inspired a deeper love for my Lord as my Father. This version of the song
gives you a clearer understanding of the song's lyrics.
Then I had my first less-than-positive-and-nowhere-near-delighted reaction to my announcement to join the convent. An old friend of my grandmother's (product of the early post-Vatican II generation) warned me that her sister "tried that out" but was asked to leave because she was questioning a lot of rules, there are a lot of rules, and she was causing division in the community, etc. I just smiled and let it pass. But before I left the event, my dad, who had heard the conversation, took me aside and told me (with a choked up, earnest tone) that he did not like her warning, that he did not agree with her saying a consecrated person just has to "follow a lot of rules", and that he is delighted with my decision, and he couldn't be happier for me. I just received it with a smile and a "thank you", but as I was driving from the occasion, I was crying for the second time that day, just from gratitude for my Heavenly Father, who has given me His Son and my own vocation as a virgin bride, but Who has also blessed me with such a loving and wonderful earthly father. I know my father will be sacrificing much in "giving me" to the convent—little things like the daddy-daughter dance, the walk down the aisle, the father's toast; and big things like grandchildren—but he has supported and rejoiced in my vocation and for that I am ever grateful. Even my prayer meditation this morning included this (paraphrased) word from my Father: "Every father delights in receiving that simple tenderness which his little girl gives him."
I also rejoice at receiving Christ's mother as my "mother-in-law" but really, as a deeper union of mother and daughter than I have received from her before. My parish just put in a life-size statue of Mary in which she is depicted as very pregnant with Our Lord, her hand protectively resting on her belly, her other hand extended to receive all her other children. And I love that statue, first because it is the only time I have seen such a pregnant statue of our Virgin Mother, but also because it is such an incredible witness of Mary's role not as queen, not as virgin, but as mother
. She is protective, she is responsive, she is tender, and real to her children. She is preeminently present
in her children's lives, if they seek her out.
And as much as my mother has supported me—even joking about having Jesus as a son-in-law or throwing an engagement party for me—I receive so much intimacy and tenderness in my discernment from our Blessed Mother. She is a mother pondering the depths of my heart alongside me, showing me the path to live spiritual motherhood as well as joyful virginity.
And in his silence, in his immediate action
for what the Lord asks of him, St. Joseph is my model of the contemplative-active lifestyle I seek.
Thus is my vocation a family affair. I am bound up in all the glory and virtue of my Holy Family, and ever grateful for the imitations of this Family I see in my own parents.
Every day lived for God is a rare adventure. –Mother Mary Francis, PCC
Mother's quote above is from a passage in her book, A Right to Be Merry, in which she explains what the Poor Clares do throughout their day. But it spoke into my heart, too, because any life in the Christian faith could be called "a rare adventure". All it takes is a soul living wholly for the Lord.
This is, to me, a great consolation, a great gift, as I wait. I am waiting upon the Lord, I am waiting to receive the next "call" to a particular charism. And yet, my love does not wait. My joy is overflowing and I will not pent it up for days ahead. I must live it and share it now. In the present moment. I am nowhere near "the final countdown". And so I must learn patience. The grand adventure of patience in this season. It is a rare adventure to be experiencing this "engagement" joy, to experience it during Advent, to see the coming Christmas through eyes that recognize it may be the last time I share it with my family as "a single woman". And I must live that adventure fully, drink deeply from the gift of life God gives me today.
What part of this rare adventure are you living? What do you receive from the Lord that causes you joy, or hope, or the quietness of gratitude in this present moment?
And just because I love typography, I'm giving you another picture with the quote from my post title. :)
I have actually started reading A Right to Be Merry
by Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C. of the Poor Clares. (See my post about recommended reading here.
) There is a very beautiful passage in which she talks about the kind of girl who would desire to enter a cloistered convent (these Poor Clares are cloistered). Much of this particular chapter is dedicated to answering the questions about what kind of girl would choose this. "The neurotic? The lovelorn and disappointed? The selfish and shiftless? The social misfit?" (p. 52) After debunking the myths that cloisters harbor such women, Mother's next tack is to answer the question, "What is the point?" If a cloister requires a girl with a sense of humor, a girl wishing to give her love only to the Most Deserving Person she could, a girl who is willing to be selfless in everything, a girl who must be sane and normal and "fit for the world", even so, why should she spend all her time in prayer? Why, when there are so many activities in which nuns are needed? So many hospitals, schools, homeless shelters, and orphanages that need such capable young women. And here is her beautiful answer, that struck such a chord in my soul:
But where is there a more essentially practical Christian than the girl who rises in the night to pray for those who do not pray, who performs with joy a whole lifetime of penances for those who sin and wish to do no penance, who chooses the obscurity of the first thirty years of the God-Man's life rather than the activity of the final three, who elects to dwell with our Lady in a cloud of silence and at the immediate beck and call of her Lord?
Now, I am actually discerning an active-contemplative order, and not a cloistered one. Still, this applies the same way. Every sister is an example of this. And even those who are not called to religious life can practice these habits in small ways. Turning off the radio in the car during a commute somewhere to unite in silence with Our Lord. Offering up sacrifices and penance for those who are unbelieving. Refraining from complaint when we do not achieve "success" or we aren't "noticed" by others…and remembering the obscurity of Christ's life before active ministry.
I don't have to wait to be a religious to practice some of these things. I think it is because such habits begin as attitudes of the heart, more than actions of the body. Fiat.
High time for a short one. I have written rather lengthily and didactically lately, so here's a more meditative post. I went to morning Mass today—I really love receiving my Lord in the morning—and Father had an encouraging homily about my post topic, the mindset of champions. He spoke of how easy it was, when we were children, to be so impatient on long road trips. "Are we there yet?" is our question that inevitably comes hours before we anywhere near our destination. And how marathon runners are so inspiring because they have somehow conditioned their minds or hearts or bodies to believe that they can finish the race, that it is possible, that they can go that next mile, even when their bodies tell them to stop.
So it is in our spiritual life. And I find, so it is in my preparation for religious life. I have always believed myself to be in the category of "slow and steady" when it comes to running. My pace may be like a turtle's, but I get myself into a rhythm where I can endure for a long time. Endurance running (or endurance jogging is much more accurate).
Father encouraged us today to have that mindset of marathon runners, the mindset of champions. To teach ourselves to go one more mile, to keep moving forward and push past the pain of the moment. Because the suffering is to be expected, the pain is going to be worth it in the end, and, in some way, the pain is what strengthens our will. For when we have the discipline to push past the pain, our will is strengthened into something a little bit superhuman. Not that we want to become masochists, or turn our pain into something we do for the sake of a stronger will. But we push past it for the sake of "the glory that is to come." Our path as Christians is to be marked by suffering, for it is literally the path of a Christ-follower, and His road led to ultimate suffering and beyond—to ultimate ecstasy.
I find I need to grow in the mindset of a champion. I am an impatient woman. I want to find my order now, or soon. I want to give my two weeks' notice tomorrow. I want to leave behind all I have and all I do to go and be who I am meant to become.
But that is not the way of champions. That is the way of deserters. I must wait, and patiently endure. I must commit faithfully to what still lies in front of me. I must get "my ducks in a row". I must finish these upcoming miles before the finish line—it would be inglorious for me to jump on a truck out of the marathon and speed right past the finish line, bypassing all the fruits of those miles in between, the miles of my upcoming months. I am not really willing to do that, even if my heart longs to give up this glory. I will push through that pain. And I will grow stronger because of it.
And maybe someday God will crown me a champion for it. Fiat.
So in the beginning of my last post, I mentioned that I would later discuss Mother Mary Clare's suggestions for how
to discern well. Again, you must take every source of discernment with a grain of salt (unless it's a source that's been canonized/beatified). So even though so many of us want to know that burning question of my post headline, "How do I know if I'm discerning the right way
?", the truth is that there is no right way
, no certainty for whether we are doing it right
. Because God speaks to every unique soul in a singular, a totally unique way. However, wisdom in any discerning soul will honor the counsel that older, wiser, and holier heads pass along, especially when such counsel is entirely in keeping with Church doctrine, teaching, and exhortation. Not to mention it rings true with "common sense". So, without further ado:
- Start praying, not thinking. It is easy for all of us (myself notoriously included) to "think" about discerning during our prayer time rather than actually "praying", actually having a conversation and listening to what the Lord wants. SO OFTEN my interior voice sounds like this, "Lord, I just think that I'm called to the active religious life because of these things in my personality. And I just don't do well with so much silence in my life. And just help me discern all the pros and cons of this particular order." That's not praying, it's having an interior monologue addressed to God, but really just sorting through my thoughts about it. My prayer needs to be something more like this, "Lord, I know that I feel drawn to the active religious life. But is that because I'm afraid of silence? Where do you want me to serve? Can you enlighten my fears and hesitations so that I can work through them?"
- Keep your eyes fixed on Heaven. Be aware, interiorly of our ultimate goal, of the "Heavenly realities" of our life. In this way you will more strongly fight against Satan's attempts to lure you by worldly desires, thoughts, or possessions. Remember that the world cannot understand the idea that you may love Someone so much that you would give up that same world and all its pleasures for love. The world does not understand, many whom you know will not understand, and they will all try to lead you away from the call because they fear your "yes" to love is the greatest rejection. The world does not like to be sacrificed.
- Ponder these things in your heart. Take Mary, our Mother, as your model. She kept all her "yes's" in her heart, she pondered all the words of the Lord, all the prophecies, all the miracles of her Son in her heart. Do not expose too rashly or too widely that greatest treasure…the love of your heart. Let your intimate union with God be a thing that you guard as the wellspring of your life. It was meant to be sacred, set apart, devoted if you will, to Him alone and for Him alone. This has been one of my greatest challenges so far. Because I am so eager to say, "I'M ENGAGED!!! I'm going to be the spouse of the King of the Universe!! God is so good to me!! Praise Him Praise Him Praise Him!!" I want to tell everyone, I want to tell all my Catholic friends. I want to see how my non-Catholic friends will react. But I bite my tongue, I search my heart. I test out my zeal. Do I want to tell this particular person because she ought to know? If I want to share it with a whole room full of people, or if I want to share it on Facebook, that is not right. I know it. That sort of desire stems from my desire to be approved of, to be celebrated, to be the center of attention, to even be somewhat infamous. Surely in some of my social circles the desire to be a religious is a claim to notoriety. I can imagine that will be the case among my coworkers in my secular job. I can share my joy with my family, with my most intimate sisters who will be supportive, who will pray for my discernment, who will hold me accountable to my commitments. As for the rest, well, I ponder even the deepest parts of my vocation within me.
- Abandon yourself in Christ. This is it. This is the simplest form of holiness, the surest way to true joy. When we trust Him, we will hear Him. We will begin to know Him. We will allow ourselves to be filled with His love and transformed by it. In your abandonment of self, of fear, of worry to be emptied of all that and filled instead by Christ's love, Christ's hope, Christ's peace—you cannot miss the call to whatever vocation He desires for you.
Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. I believe that's a Henry David Thoreau quote, but forgive me when I admit that though I have a lovely old hardbound copy of Walden, I have never read it. :X
This post is mostly taken from the notes I wrote during my fateful Come & See retreat. It's the same retreat that started this blog, the same that initiated my "betrothal" period, the moment that started my path firmly on the road to religious life. November 15-17, 2013.
The following insights were given in a talk about Discernment. Mother Mary Clare, mother superior of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is not only an awesome speaker, she is also a beautiful mother to so many, including myself. Without further ado:
- Don't let the season of discernment drag out. If you are single, and you start doing some serious soul-searching to see if you are called to religious life, don't get the idea that you'll meander your way through this for two or three or five years or until God smacks you in the head or "the right man" cuts in on that lovely dance you've been dancing with God. Expect to spend about six months to a year earnestly discerning religious life. More about what it means to "earnestly discern" in the next post. And if Mr. Right comes around—and Mother warned us that you should expect Mr. Right to cut in AS SOON as you start this discernment season—you say "no" to that date. Because Mr. Right will be willing to wait on your heart a little longer while you spend this time with Jesus. Know that you can always take another "season" to reconsider religious life later, once your 6 mos./year-long discernment is finished and after you move on to other things.
- Invest in good female friendships. There is so much beauty in growing in relationship with fellow sisters. Not only do these women help you to feel less lonely, or help you to not "need" a man in your life, such friendships also encourage you, give you examples in faith, and allow you to learn more about yourself. Women who are honest with you about how they receive you (and perceive you) can actually be profound instruments in the hand of God as you discern your vocation.
- Visit a few convents. Mother encouraged us to see around 2-3 different places. And how do we decide what orders we're supposed to choose to visit? Pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, desires. This is like the number 2 rule of discernment, after praying. Pay attention before you go, like when you're visiting the order's website, or having email discussions with the vocations director for that order. Pay attention while on the retreat, especially to your feelings and desires. Do you feel at peace, at home, comfortable, happy? Are you anxious? Are you fearful? Are you freaking out because you think if you're there for another TWO WHOLE DAYS they're gonna fit you up in a habit before you can blink? And do you want to be there? Do you hate it? Do you find yourself constantly fighting internally to follow the prayer and communal life they've invited you into for that brief period? And as far as the questions of "how many places do I visit? how will I find the order that's right for me?" are concerned, don't get caught up in the idea that you'll have to trot the globe to find the right home. Like with Mr. Right, God is not going to put the order you're meant to belong to out of reach, beyond the realm of possibility. He'll lead you where you're meant to go. And if the first two or three convents you visit all leave you with some "off" feeling, or some "missing" element, or just plain "I did NOT have a good time there" feeling, then do, keep looking. And if it was just a good experience, or an equally great retreat at more than one convent, go back. Go again and see what the Lord wants to say this time.
- Read some good spiritual materials. There's A LOT out there. Here is the list of suggestions from Mother Mary Clare:
For myself, A Right to Be Merry
and "…And You Are Christ's"
are on my immediate "to read" list. Another book that is just a beautiful spiritual "game changer" if you will is Interior Freedom
by Fr. Jacques Philippe. It really gets to the heart of the modern soul trying to break free of her fears.
- Make a decision. At the end of it all, after six months, nine months, or a year, choose. God honors your decision. If you have given Him a season, and He has called you to religious life, you will know. See my post about the signs that you will know. And if you choose another vocation, be that marriage, consecrated virginity, or the community of a secular institute, live freely and fully in that decision, knowing that you have nothing to regret because you pursued the Lord's will without reserve.
When He rocks the boat, He doesn't let it sink. He doesn't even want it to capsize. The waves (of His mercy) are only meant to shake me out of complacency, and sometimes even out of despair. No wonder the Hebrews author described hope as an anchor of the soul (6:19).
So it was with me, when Christ knocked loudly enough on the door of my heart that I could no longer ignore Him. Then He mounted the cross, received the price of my sins, and asked me to fill the place in His heart that only I could and become His bride. It was way better than if He had just got down on one knee to honor my feminine heart. Still, it was rocking my boat. It didn't change much of what I do in my daily routine (except perhaps, renewing my desire for Him. As if my soul didn't already long for Him, now I feel as if I really am panting with the Psalmist. Oh, Lord, sooth my impatient heart!).
But the boat was rocked and my soul has changed in some profound way. I know it. It is like a binding covenant. He has set Himself as a seal upon my heart. And all my questions about purpose, all my self-dubbed "fruitless" work in the secular world, all my frustration with worrying whether my life really could be spent meaningfully—in an hour all was quelled by His Voice, by His Call. And hope rose anew in my heart.
So since He makes all things new, He is making my sight new. My "soulsight" as it were. I have entered into this Advent with some new joy. I have always loved Advent, I have always loved hopeful expectation. I have always loved the first snowfall and the return to Christ and the childhood of Christ unfolding in the readings. Mary features so prominently in the Liturgy this season. But this year seems different from so many other Advents. Maybe every year is different. Maybe I just forget as the seasons change. But somehow there is a new weight to it, a new quieter joy, as I wait not just for my Savior and my God and my Brother and my Shepherd (Psalm 23 was part of the Liturgy this week), no, this year I wait for the coming of my Beloved, my Betrothed. It is an incredible profound perspective shift.
I am looking now at my story, at my life, at my spiritual landscape, with eyes that see the possibility of new beginnings, of simple and humble style, of vast freedom. I will be celebrating the Christmas season very differently next year. I will be saying farewell to many people in my life. I will be purging out so many possessions in my life. And for everything I will leave behind I will gain the exquisite beauty of the Lord's own heart to call mine. I will gain a greater union with my God than I have ever known. Will it be worth it? Absolutely.
And so I wait with even more joyful anticipation than usual this Advent. I wait with even greater longings. I wait with the hopeful gaze of a child who know how deeply she is loved by her Father. I wait with the expectation that the best gift I will receive at Christmas is my Lord Himself. He has always been a gift to me, but this year, it's a new gift. And it's priceless. And it's worth waiting for.
"...hold fast to the hope that lies before us. This we have as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm, which reaches into the interior behind the veil." –Heb. 6:18b-19
"Vocations are born in prayer and from prayer; and only through prayer can they persevere and bear fruit." –Pope Francis
I am just a little bit reminded of the song in the movie Enchanted
, "How does she know that you love her? How do you show her you love her?"
But the real question I am asking myself is, "How do I know that I'm called to religious life?"
In my previous post, I mentioned the VISION vocation network. They also had a link on their website
for a vocations guide. In this insightful guide is an article about "The 5 Signs that You Might Have a Religious Vocation."
I'm the type of blogger/person to approach everything I read with a grain of salt. Or perhaps more than one grain. I have discovered that this is a symptom of my jaded cynicism, which is a character trait I do not want to cultivate, but, well, it does help me to stay real. And be less gullible, or less easily swayed by the first thing I enjoy reading. So even though I am sharing these "5 Signs" with you, please go read the original article and form your own opinions based on this and other sources of information available to you about The Call. And please, follow Pope Francis' message as quoted at the top of this article.
Ok, so five signs. The article makes them a bit poetic. They are as follows:
1. A peace like no other
2. Your deepest desire
3. With God all things are possible (i.e. the possibility of religious life is open to you)
4. Others can see it
5. Joy: the irrefutable sign
Praise God He has already given me these "signs" in the few short weeks I have been 'betrothed' to Him! I do not pretend that my life changed drastically when I received the call and said, "Yes!", even though my perspective on life changed. I still struggle to spend enough time in prayer. I still get caught up in little details that may end up being meaningless. I still go to work every day and come home feeling as if my accomplishments are negligent. But we press on, because He is faithful.
1. I actually experienced more peace than joy when Christ proposed to me. There was a stillness in me, a calm certainty once I said Fiat
, that this was indeed what God wanted me to do. This was what all my life before had led me to. Then came joyful awe that He could love me that much, could love me so particularly as to desire me to become His bride.
2. In that same hour, that "fulness of time" one might say of my own history, I saw clearly my desires. I saw how much I longed to be set apart from the world, set apart to belong entirely to Him, spend my days in prayer, in greater knowledge of Him, and in serving in just exactly the way He wants. I even saw how my capacity for such a life was cultivated in my own education and spiritual upbringing.
3. God is
making it possible in my life. I have just a few school loans to pay off, I have a job I will be willing to relinquish in even just a year from now, I have no long-term commitments keeping me tied to the world, and I have a heart that belongs entirely to Him. I am furthermore blessed to have very supportive family and friends to bless this season of my discernment and encourage my vocation.
4. I just experienced this last weekend: I was talking to a childhood friend of mine, sharing my little testimony about how the Lord "popped the question" as it were, and she told me that she wasn't really surprised to hear me share it. That she had mentally been adding me to a list of women she knew who were sisters or nuns for a while now. It was not a certain thing to her, but she already thought of me as someone she could see joining a convent. It was a beautiful testimony, and a gift to my discerning heart. I was touched to hear it.
5. Ah, yes. This is something I generally have an abundance of. Several people have commented about my joy, about my zeal for life. How many chances I have had lately to experience joy. Every time I tell someone or talk about it with someone I already have told, I feel like my insides are glowing. Not lovey-dovey, stomach-feels-all-twisty kind of romanticism but something brighter, bubblier, and, if possible, steadier, more resilient. Granted, everyone I have told has reacted positively, if not outright ecstatically. (I told a group of college woman I was a mentor to and they freaked out just as if I were getting engaged to Prince Charming…which in a way, I am!) And somehow I just trust that the Lord will keep the flame of my joy constant even when I tell someone who reacts in a negative or critical way.
So I discovered last month or so the VISION vocation network. Though the site itself is a bit unwieldy, the offerings they have are very helpful. They have a questionnaire to match your desires, history, and personality to compatible religious orders. They have a directory of many, many religious orders out there for you to search. They have links to a vocations magazine, which I will talk about in my next blog post. But today, I want to talk about their Spirituality quiz. Or more specifically, the Spirituality Types
they categorize you in based on the quiz.
Just a mere 14 questions, the quiz is a ranking one: you get four character traits to each question and you have to rank them based on how similar they are to you. For example the first question asks you to rank how much you are independent, compassionate, spontaneous, or factual.
The types are split into four categories, and I think they are probably thorough enough. Contrary to popular thought, they do not categorize you into things like contemplative
, charismatic, devotional, liturgical
. That is to say, their goal is not to identify the style
of your prayer, but merely to categorize the four primary ways
people pray and connect to God. The four are:1) Path of Intellect (Thomistic)
2) Path of Devotion (Augustinian)
3) Path of Service (Franciscan)
4) Path of Asceticism (Ignatian)
You can click on the link to view all the descriptions.
This is the season for expressing gratitude. Or rather, though we ought to be grateful at every moment for all our blessings, this is the season it is easiest to remember. It is easy to be grateful for a new book to read, delightful food, loyal friends, and that cozy satisfaction of burrowing under blankets with a mug of something warm and delicious and the companionship of silence. Even solitude is something to be grateful for.
I am brimming with gratitude this morning. I thank the Lord for His love for me…that He first wanted me, so very long before I ever wanted Him, ever wanted to belong to Him. I love celebrating Advent. I love praying the Liturgy of the Hours with its special Advent readings and antiphons. I love preparing our house with pretty decorations and sweet food (read cookies) to bring more expressions of joy and welcome into our home.
I'm so grateful to have a job, to have really amazing friends, and a lovely flatmate. I thank Him that I even have a vocation to look forward to, a life that will be beautiful because it is meaningful, and that finally, after these twenty-three short years, finally He revealed it to me. Praise Him still.
Well, I could go on, but I think that's a good list to publish. Gratitude has led to praise, and praise has led to hope, and hope is a thing with wings.