Sunday, January 24, 2010
This is a long read, but I think anyone who walks through the pains and joys of my days at St. Emma's last summer will find some comforting revelations for his or her own life:
The purpose of this journal is to record thoughts which I would like to remember from my stay at the convent. However, since I have decided to share it with a few friends, I changed quite a bit in the translation so that it makes more sense. It is very obviously merely a combination of random thoughts and meditations and even prayers… and I can hardly think that any but myself would be interested in it… but here I have written it to save myself the terrible task of telling my dearest friends “it was too wonderful for words.”
I have just arrived at the lovely St. Emma’s. The drive down was difficult—I drove standard on the turn pike for the first time—but we arrived safely. When I first got here I experienced a sudden uncertainty. “What should I do!” I was met by a strange woman and shown to a comfortable room, which had formerly served as a monastic cell. I began to unpack with a nervous apprehension so strange to this place. I was saved from this uncomfortable state by a quiet tap on the door and Sr. Maria’s timid voice saying “I only wanted to say hello…” I immediately embraced her cordially and experienced that uplifting of heart associated with this place. In this, my present state, I set off to visit Jesus and survey the grounds.
I began my tour immediately. First, I went, not to the chapel, but to the Crucifixion Scene on the hill. At first I walked calmly, but as I drew near I could not help but run. After standing before Him a few minutes, I snuck behind, crawled up the stone garden surrounding the cross, and gently kissed the great stone feet. Afterwards, I walked around the rest of the grounds. I wished I had not been carrying my purse… for it felt like a restriction on the freedom my soul was experiencing, but I had a reason for carrying it. I then went, by myself, to the shrine of St. Walburga and prayed a few moments about my vocation. After that I went straight to the gift shop to buy my ring and some other treasures—I will look at the Liturgy of the Hours set some time before my purchase. On a sudden inspiration, I grab my scripture rosary book and go out.
As my heart beat softens and I am wearied, I record now only the most special points of the day. I have been here but a day and already resolved two things upon a most important subject: prayer. Since I cannot hope to pray alone what the sisters pray here, but could not bear now to be without it, I shall read the scripture meditations for one decade of the rosary before breakfast and read at least part of the Office each day. Although this is but a small resolve, if I persevere in it I am convinced that I will feel much closer to Christ.
Thought: I can’t help thinking that a cloister may be sweeter than a semi-cloister.
I have decided that since I cannot seem to reach Christ through my own efforts, I shall endeavor to do so through His Mother. She shall be my model and I shall follow her closely so as to use her as a channel through which I can reach Christ. The more I imitate Mary in purity, the better I may come to reach the longed for union with Christ.
Thought: This is the antiphon preceding the Canticle of Simeon in the Divine Office: “Protect us Lord, as we stay awake. Watch over us, as we sleep. That awake we may keep watch with Christ and asleep rest in His peace.” It brings me peace as it is beautiful in its simplicity. Awake for Christ and asleep for Christ.
Tonight there is silence and peace. Resolve strengthens me in my vocation and goodness of life; I can only hope that it will soon give me strength for the tasks ahead. Meantime there is silence and peace.
Thought: What do I wish? I wish I could die now from exposure to this supreme peace and love and fulfill God’s work for me from Heaven—bestowing flowers on all.
Ring: My ring has an image of Our Lady imprinted upon it. This I wear as a sign that I belong to her and choose her to be the channel through which I reach her Son.
Bishop from India: I talked with a bishop from India. I was a bit nervous about the impression I would make… but since he was not attended by anyone else I felt almost a duty to speak to him. He seemed to be a very holy man and I discussed my vocation with him. I thoroughly enjoyed each moment of our discussion. Before he left, he came up to me to say “good bye” and gave me a warm hug; then he held my hands and said some kind words to me. Having only rarely seen a bishop, I did not know how to act. I could barely say good bye and thank him, I was so touched. After he had left, however, I realized my faith/confidence in myself was revived by this interview.
Dream. Every night I choose a dream, or a story, with which I will put myself to sleep. These dreams reflect my hopes or fears or experiences of the day. Tonight this dream shall be the sudden summons of my Master, the immediate response of my heart and likewise the immediate action taken to go to Him, and a life following consisting solely of cloister life and love.
Prayer: Since coming to the convent, I have prayed often with the sisters. The prayers contain such deep meaning for me. When I pray I find a great silence and peace in my soul, a burning fire in my heart (which I think is love), and an enlightened mind.
The vision of my soul. Every time I receive Christ in the Eucharist my imagination is overcome with some reality or picture of His uniting or coming to myself. It is my way of best experiencing His Love and real presence. Usually I imagine that I prepare a palace for Him and merely adore Him as I pray immediately after receiving Him… but today was different. My soul was a dirty hovel and Christ and His Mother sat in two chairs. (Christ and His Mother are rarely separated in my mind) In the “vision” I laid my head on the Virgin’s breast/lap and watched Him as He sat lordly and lovingly. I then approached Him and was caressed by Him and bestowed kisses upon His feet. As my head lay on His Breast, my vision ended as the Mass continued.
I begin my day with prayers, Mass, and Lectio. The passage I choose to meditate is: Mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed. (psalm 84).
Truly, peace and truth are to be found in Jesus Christ. In His true justice and loving mercy we come to understand. Secrets in our hearts are only partial, but Christ can fulfill them and give us peaceful understanding. How many times have we cried out for mercy in the turmoil of our distress? Cannot mercy be found through peace and understanding of justice? Doubt and justice five way to peace and understanding in the goodness of God.
So run my meditations during Lectio. The word of God never fails to comfort me during Lectio.
While reading of St. Francis of Assisi (“The Perfect Joy of St. Francis”), my mind was opened concerning poverty. I have long respected St. Francis, other holy saints, and religious for this virtue. I long to take a vow of poverty and become holy like them. But then I see the words: “intense love and suffering in His face.” What suffering have I experienced? Work, humbling experiences now and then… but where is the suffering? The intense pain caused by longing is a comforting gift. It is not suffering. I see a joyful obedience, dedication, and abstention in the convent which I long to imitate, this suffering is not enough. No, my suffering is found in separation and study. My lack of willingness to sacrifice for Christ is precisely the reason why I am denied the more perfect suffering.
Thought: Is this union denied me? Must I wait?
From just having an interview with the Novice Mistress, I was delighted to find that she and I speak alike. Nothing I say surprises her and I am therefore at ease when speaking to her, expecting neither embarrassing praise nor belittling rebuke.
As sister Maria was going to the novitiate for class, I held her up and spoke to her. A few minutes after I left her I saw a novice running through the hall with her veil and habit flying out behind her. As I walked past her I told her: “don’t worry, she is late too.”
Thought: Tonight I experienced this sequence: contemplation—pain—love—peace
I would not go home if I could stay, but since I must go back here is my resolution: I will spend the rest of my stay thinking and praying about how to take this life home.
What can I say? The work, the peace, the love I find here seems to prohibit words. Now my voice cannot help but rise in song and prayer, my hands long to work, and my soul delights in hunger and fatigue for those things bring it closer to God. My will is bent on reform, on a life so dedicated to becoming like Christ and His Mother that my heart may rejoice in unity with Good.
Vision of my soul: This morning at Mass my soul appeared to be dressed in Marian colors. Jesus sat there, at first, simply delighting in Mary’s touch of my soul. He was dressed in blue and a heavenly white. As I was praying He suddenly changed into the Man of Sorrows; the Man of the Passion. I fell before Him prostrate in tears and astonishment. Christ scourged and covered in wounds never fails to draw my heart fully from all else.
Basilica of St. Vincent: Beautiful! I saw many beautiful and inspiring things here. The best part was the time I could spend with Sr. Mary Clare and Sr. Maria who, in their kindness, brought me to the Basilica on their way to do a necessary errand; one of the few things that brings them out of the convent.
I had planned to walk, read, examine my conscience, and pray this evening after Compline… but I do not feel well and must retire early.
Aug. 6th—the Feast of the Transfiguration
This morning I took great care to be clean and beautiful for the Mass. I said my scripture rosary, as I have done every morning since my arrival, and was sent into meditation by the words: “He who eats my Body and drinks My Blood lives in Me and I live in Him.” How beautiful! Such reflection has caused me to hold the Scripture Rosary in great respect.
Thought: While looking at the schedule of the convent, I see order and room for all things to be accomplished. I want to bring this order into my life, somehow.
Some people say that transformation of spirit does not happen all at once, and I daresay I agree, but such impressions as were made on me this week, this morning, have left me with desire, longing, grace, and strength enough to reform my life into that very “beginning perfection” necessary for entrance into a monastic community.
Sr. Maria is a living saint, as I and many others believe. She was told that she must complete college before her entrance. Now, on the anniversary of her vows, I see some small light illuminating the cloud of my foreboding for the remainder of my education. Comparing Sr. Maria and Mother Mary Anne (who did not go to college), I see that a college education will teach me many things which would benefit the community. Sr. Maria, who I believe to be a saint, was patient.
Thought: If I must study, and am convinced that I must do so, I will strive to study as if the saints themselves had visibly ordered me to do so by God’s command. I believe the reason I feel such aversion to college now is because I had always planned to enter a convent during my 16th year.
I went to Confession with a Benedictine priest this morning. It was like healing medicine and the roses fell from heaven. Sometimes I forget how many graces are stored up in that sacrament!
This is the sixth day of my stay… I am uncomfortable now. The sisters have given me no work and I begin to wonder if I have over stayed my welcome. I did not think of paying them since I was going to work and I was a vocation guest, but I wonder if they expect it… maybe they are annoyed with me…
God heard my nervous prayers concerning my doubts (mentioned above) and He gave me work in the kitchen with a delightful sister and the opportunity to share recreation session with them. Prayers were especially moving as I was tired and I am beginning to see a real possibility of spending my life here.
Thought: Many of the sisters in an convent I choose to join will be elderly. Perhaps that was God’s purpose for the time I spent at the Hawbakers’?
I love You. I love You for the Eucharist, I love You for the Sacrament of Confession, I love You for the cross, I love You for the thorny paths, I love You for Your Goodness, I love You for the consolation You give. I love You for the living martyrdom You have given me through my longing. I love You for the sainthood You have offered. I love you with heart, soul, mind, body, unceasing prayer, and beautiful song.
Vision of my soul: After receiving the Eucharist this morning… My soul was a blue sky with white clouds of powder. I shall dream of this sky tonight and ponder what it means. (Note: it is this particular occurrence that resulted in my accounts of The Pearl City)
Oh my Jesus! How good you are to bring me here. It is a place I know I will be happy; but Jesus, will I be even happier somewhere else? Will I serve You better in a Poor Clare or Carmelite convent? So many years to wait before I can make a decision, but so few to make it. Should I not decide soon where, up to six years from now, I would like to spend my life? But then, I am so young. Just yesterday a former sister here told me that she attempted to join at 21 and found that she was too young to make the decision. Oh Lord! Don’t let that happen to me! Take me to Yourself while I am young and have more to give, please.
Jesus, my life is yours. Give me strength of will, body, and heart enough to live it completely as Your servant and to bear the painful longing and fearful indecision.
I have some time to myself before beginning my tasks for the day. This morning I really missed my friends. I also became aware of a feeling of ignorance. How little I know! All these people with me are experienced with life and books. I cannot even tell what I must do to achieve their wisdom, unless it is only to live. Ah! Neither pride nor despair can touch me here. All beauty noticed is in the soul. All intelligence is valued only according to the ability and potential of the individual. Lord, how great You are! Nothing is expected beyond the fervent service and heartfelt “trying” of each individual.
Here is a place where I think I shall be comfortable.
I will here relate an interesting occurrence in my soul a few days ago. I felt a discomfort beneath my heart. It burned like hunger, so I ate in an attempt to relieve it. But eating did not help. I experienced this only during Mass/Divine Office… but I figure this is because that is when I am most tried in endurance through fasting and extended prayer, as well as more deeply affected by emotions. I wondered if it was, perhaps, an ulcer or some such thing. The “side-effects” seemed to make my throat constrict to such a point that I could barely chant and my heart seemed to beat almost out of my chest. Strange enough, I found some mysterious enjoyment or consolation in it; else, I may have thought it to be unconscious anxiety. The reason I mention it now, and not before, is that I am convince it existed due to its absence. I have not experienced it since I recovered from the excitement following Confession.
Thought: How I long to do something for my Lord! I want to be courageously perfect!
Well, if my stay here made my appetite abnormal, I’ve thoroughly recovered it. I ate enough today to last me 40 days of fasting in the desert. I spent the afternoon cooking with the sisters… I do enjoy working with food.
I joke a lot with the sisters and talk about the wonderful Benedictine life… but I do not mention prayer often. Truly, prayer is what draws me here. The beauty of the chanting is irresistible. This alone would bring me to enter here and all the good things and crosses of this life would matter little to me. Just being here and adoring Christ, my Divine Spouse to be (I hope!), is enough to throw me in an eternal ecstasy. Because of this, I have decided that I must return to the Poor Clare Monastery and understand if I am called to follow Francis or Benedict; or to receive another calling if there is one. At the moment, I would choose Benedict… but I know so little of the Poor Clares… All I can remember of them is the initial calling to join that order.
My dream: Tonight, I will dream about something mentioned in a book I read. I will dream about how Jesus the Man carried a heavy burden, His cross, so mine would not break me.
I love you Jesus, I want to live like this forever… but my tears betray my understanding of reality.
This morning during prayers I was filled with such doubt and dissention among my thoughts that I could hardly bear to keep my seat during prayer; although it seemed even harder to leave the chapel. The cause of this was a sudden feeling that I don’t belong here and an inflow of reasons why I should leave everything immediately and join the Poor Clares (strange, huh?) . Here are some of those reasons:
1. All my longing has been for Christ, He is my vocation.
2. Any desires to learn, eat, or rest are extinguished by my extreme and unending desire for prayer, work, and spiritual reading and exercises.
3. My vocation is an early vocation… strong long before college… while most who attend college before entering the convent are not called until after their education is completed (not the case with Sr. Maria, as I mentioned before).
4. Finally, although I would gladly work through college with faith that God will bring me through… if it is not His Will, if I do not have His support, I could not survive it and retain so strong a vocation.
Reason after reason presents itself… and now I think I cannot be sure at college until I have given some time to the Poor Clare Monastery, a couple months perhaps. What if God is calling me after all? What if He merely told me to pursue college in order to strengthen my faith? What if He is calling me now after all… can I give up such happiness for a courageous attempt of following the possible order of His Will which pains me most? My heart is comforted, for I long to give my childhood dreams a chance. It is often said that the harder path is generally the right one, therefore, I shall not pretend to give up any of the fervor with which I would give myself over to God’s Will no matter what it is.
Thought: how strange it is that I can go directly from wishing to live here forever to longing to enter another convent. I believe I am looking for the same thing in both… my vocation… and just keep seeing possibilities.
My last night here. I have finally realized how much I would rather stay. My life before this week seems to be ancient history… it feels like I have been here forever. The pain I described earlier has returned… and I could hardly tear myself, kissing the ground profusely (such devotions come so natural to me in times when I am distressed that I can hardly practice any discretion), from the Crucifixion Scene I love so dearly.
I have been experiencing an unusual train of thought which I must mention. While talking with the sisters, praying, and reading… my mind strays to this subject continually: my ignorance. For a few minutes I seem to catch a glimpse of what I do not know an am thrown into a state of thorough humility and heartfelt prayer for light. It is actually somewhat wonderful and terrifying, but my faith in Christ keeps my mind composed and causes me to almost rejoice in the spiritual possibilities. (Note: this developed later into "The Mystery")
I am not sure how to describe these “images”… but I can try. Always in them, I seem to be kneeling and praying in a dark chapel with stained glass windows. My mind then “opens” and is aware of deep spiritual emotion. I cannot describe the picture of emotion and knowledge and divinity… I can only say that my thoughts then turn verbally to prayer: “teach me of reconciliation, teach me of prayer, teach me of the Eucharist… I know so little.” The experience is peaceful and comforting, but at the same time it is astounding. To see, even for just a moment, spiritual possibilities that one has never dreamed of, is overpowering.
Well, today I leave what has been home to me the past week. I had packed my journal, deciding that I would not write in it until I get home at 5pm, but a discussion I had with one of the sisters caused me to draw it out again. We were talking about how one must have faith during periods of waiting such as I am experiencing. On retrospect, she said, the timing of her vocation was perfect. As she waited/discerned she was able to attend her daughter’s wedding and her father’s death… but it was hard for her to withstand the longing in her heart. The reason I record this is her final words to me: “You definitely have a vocation, I think.” As often as I speak of my vocation as final, it is only a hope, I sometimes fear. She has given me even more reason to hope for a real vocation.
The End of My Eight Day Retreat
After reading this poor account of my retreat... it may be interesting to remind you that I have recently applied for entrance at the Poor Clare Monastery mentioned here.