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:
The Discernment of Spirits by Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV
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.