Friday, March 13, 2009

Losing Carmel

During my retreat, I had this incredible experience in confession. I go to confession a lot. My priest offers confession immediately after Daily Mass and there's nothing like the Eucharist & motherhood to immediately expose most of my shortcomings on a daily basis.

So needless to say, I've become a little blaze about receiving this sacrament. I mean I'm thankful always, but sort of in the "it's nice to have a newly washed car" type of way. I rarely get the "Wow there is something seriously wrong with your soul's engine and it needs immediate repair" type of surprise.

This confession was so "weird." I was in the middle of Adoration when I felt this strong pull to go immediately to confession with the director of our retreat. I felt confused, because confession was "scheduled" later in the retreat when more than 5 extra priests would hear confessions on Saturday afternoon. One of the things I most looked forward on my retreat was making a leisurely catalogue of my sins without the immediate neediness of three young bodies. So the fact that I was "hurrying" to confession, seemed a waste of my opportunity this weekend.

The thing about Adoration is that these "pulls" happen in a very tangible way in your soul. So without even knowing why, I got up and stood in line for a rushed confession before the start of Morning Mass.

While I stood in line, again reviewing why this action was so foolish, I looked up. There was a luminous stain glass window of St. Yves. I was so shocked. St. Yves is the patron saint of lawyers. He was the first guy I prayed to in RCIA class when I first starting opening up to the whole "communion of the saints thing." I'd stopped practicing law soon after converting to the faith and promptly forgot all about him. St. Yves isn't a popular saint, and I've never even see a prayer card made out to him. To see a main window dedicated to him immediately off the central alter, seemed incredible.

I didn't have much time to contemplate what this meant, because it was my turn.

I started out the same "Bless me Father for I have sinned, it's been two weeks since my last confession...." I've said those words countless times in the last six months.

But this time WHAM!

This sacrament was so intense.

I even got called over from behind the screen to get my head prayed over at the end of confession. That's has never happened to me before.

So in the middle of all of intension confession and advice, I heard this really hard truth.

"You know, becoming a lay Carmelite is a lot for a mother of young children to handle."

I'm losing Carmel? It hurt so much, I couldn't breath.

The priest went on to say "I'm not saying that you can't participate in the charism. It's just that you've got to be sure that this is God's will. You can't get caught in checking off things just because you like to check off boxes."

Every word that he said hurt my heart. I still couldn't catch my breath.

The priest went on to say "You're the one who said you had a problem with perfectionism. I'm just talking about things that you've already brought up."

I nodded. I still couldn't talk. Then we went on to talk about my other sins.

That conversation happened three weeks ago. This Sunday I'm not going to my regular Carmel meeting. I've taken a break from trying to squeeze in Daily Mass, two Litany of the Hours, a rosary and a 1/2 hour of quiet prayer each day. With the exception of my rosary & my St. Louis de Monfort prayers, I catch the rest when I can. My prayer life is much better. But it still feels weird. My husband does most of these prayers each day, and it still feels weird to not join him in the Litergy of the Hours or a full 1/2 hour of quiet prayer.

A Catholic friend of mine asked me "what do you mean it hurt when the priest said this might not be time to become a lay Carmelite?" I couldn't describe it really.

It just hurts.

Carmel is home. Carmel is the place where my life makes sense. Where all my character defects are suddenly not "stupid" or "wrong." I liked having a place. I liked belonging to an order. I liked having an intimacy with Theresa of Avila, and St. John of the Cross and all the other Carmelite saints. Maybe that's just my pride and selfishness.

What's the big deal about waiting?

This waiting for my kids to grow up doesn't have an "end date." I'm hoping to have more children. It feels weird to have this excuse of motherhood when the other mothers in my group have 5, 6, and 10 children.

But the truth is, I'm still little. 90 minutes of prayer every night after my kids go to bed at 8 PM hurts. It makes me resentful. I went into confession just thinking that "I was the problem." I came out confused that something so "right" could still be not in God's plan for me right now.

In the middle of my retreat, when I hurt so badly after that confession I felt the comforting presence of the Little Flower. Saint Theresa wanted to go to Carmel at age 12, when her beloved older sister joined the order. She hurt so much she got sick. I felt comforted that at least this awful "waiting" period was still part of the Carmel experience.

Today, as I struggled to figure out how to tell my Aspirant class leaders that I was missing class on Sunday, I opened the "Story of the Soul" for comfort. Immediately I saw this passage concerning St. Theresa's request to enter Carmel at age 15, "Come come" the Holy Father said "if it's God's will you will enter."

Comforting words on a hard, Lenten Friday.


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  2. Abigail,

    I'm so sorry; I know how hard it is to let go of a dream. I wish I had comforting words to offer; but I think you've found better consolation from St. Therese.

  3. Abigail,

    Praying for you... for peace with where God is leading you now, and in the future.

  4. Anonymous

    I will pray for you!

  5. I'm praying for you, Abby.

    When I realized my vocation was married life and not joining the Visitation, it was a great gain and a great loss. The Lord knows what he is doing, though. While there are some days when I long for the quiet and respose of cloister life and the intimacy that comes with being the Spouse of Christ, I generally have the peace that comes with knowing that I am in the Father's will in my marriage and in a home full of children. And the friendships I created with St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal remain. Just because I'm not a true member of the order does not mean they aren't still ready to help be a spiritual father and mother for me. I don't think I'd be making it in my vocation without these stalwart friends. Just because the Lord doesn't want you to go all the way to Carmel right now in your life, doesn't mean he hasn't lead you to a spiritual home with spiritual companions.

  6. My wife and I are – or have been – a CCL teaching couple in Tomball, TX, and I can relate very strongly to your experience of questioning whether you are truly called to be a lay Carmelite at the present time through our experience with CCL. I love all the gatherings of the NFP teachers and the feeling of belonging somewhere within the Church. All this comes as a direct result of participation in CCL as a teacher. We’re not merely the couple standing at the back of the gymnasium or gathering space with a bubble surrounding us that (and this is a scientifically demonstrable fact) actually prevents anyone from speaking to us as soon as they a) know we have five kids or b) realize what we hope to teach them. Rather, we are a couple called by God to teach other couples the Christian truth about married sexuality. Being set apart is hard. Sometimes being an NFP teacher is lonely. OK, a lot of times it is lonely. And rejection hurts, too. But really knowing that you were called, that you heard the call, and that you responded is enough to set the whole world at peace.

    So it might comfort you to know that we are now being called away from teaching NFP.

    It’s not that teaching NFP is bad. Quite the contrary, NFP remains beautiful and true, and someone has to teach it. Just not us. At least not now. And not for the foreseeable future.

    My wife heard this call most clearly months ago. I am only beginning to understand myself. Possibly it comes from watching her heroism in feeding our newborn baby through the night and sometimes staying up for hours each night to calm our fussy newborn. She does this out of love, in part to help me navigate through my current spate of 60+ hour weeks at work. But the call is now quite clear. My family is the first call – it is everyone’s first call. That is why God makes the call to marriage and family His very first commandment in the Bible. Man and Woman are created, blessed, married, called to have children, and called to educate each of those children so that each one, in his own turn, can hear and respond to the same call. This is even true of priests and celibate religious: they all must be true to their parents and brothers and sisters and nephews and nieces first, or else their own vocations will suffer. And the vocation of each priest and First Order religious is to be spiritual fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters to the entire Church. This is true even in the cloister, for the spiritual battles remain the most intense and high stakes struggles on this earth today.

    But each in his own turn, and each in his own way. It is crystal clear to me now that first I must order my own family. Once that is done, I can return to discernment. In the meantime, I need not give up any of the spiritual practices and helps that were stalwarts to me and to my wife when we were NFP teachers. Those remain, even as the call pulls us both into a slightly different direction.