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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Advancing the Quest

Sometime tomorrow morning, I will load up my car with a duffel bag and a backpack and drive off into the wilderness of...southwestern Wisconsin.

Ok, so I'm not that GREAT of an adventurer, so what?

It's not about the physical the heart of the search for God is how far we're willing to go spiritually, and whether we can die to ourselves enough to follow where He beckons.

I'm a little worried, though, about the practical parts of this trip; I think my car needs brakes and I'm hoping I won't need an entire expensive brake job when I get back. (I'm afraid of BOTH expenses, but brakes are kinda essential). More debt. And of course, ever since the engine rebuild in January to replace the craced cylinder head, I'm wondering about another engine breakdown as I travel alone in a state hours from the help of family and friends.

So...indeed, I go into the wilderness in a way maybe not many do, and there are no sojourners on such a pilgrimage who experience exactly the same thing, find the exact same trail or who can map it out for another.

Discernment is so deeply personal that only God knows the route, the signs, the pitfalls and the final destination to be found on this side of Heaven.

In some ways, I wish I was making this trip through the eyes of a curious author and had as my goal a sort of spiritual documentary. Of course, for my blog readers that's largely what I've provided, at least to your eyes and hearts.

However, it would be far more descriptive and detailed, with character sketches and expositions of the different spiritualities, devotions, and practices, etc. if this were truly of that documentary category.

Where I go, although my musings may contain parts of documentation sufficient for the idly curious, my focus isn't on the superficialites, but the depths that cannot be described in any words in any language. These retreats are a true search for meaning and vocation in the most fundamental of ways. I go to find God, to find out if this is what I was born to be, if I was brought into this world in order to enter the silence and prayer of the monastery for the salvation of souls. Am I to enter the heart of the Church, hidden but constantly beating and giving life to the other parts of this Mystical Body?

I don't know. I can't know, not unless I go to find out.

I've written before that I've always felt like a fish out of water. I've never "felt" like I belonged in this world or to it. I went through a period of time where I felt like I wasn't wanted anywhere, valuable to anyone. Sometimes I STILL read the scriptures and psalms that speak of the Father's house having many mansions, and doubt creeps into my soul.

"There's room?" I hesitantly ask. "For me?"

And I huddle outside, in many ways refusing to hear the answer, preferring the bitter cold of winter to the warm solace of the heartfire that constantly burns for those desiring to bring their own coal to the fire that is their source of life.

I have a little more courage now, though, having received heartfelt invitations of those who have seen the little coal that is burning through. If I don't do something with it, it will die. So I have responded to those invitations, embarking on a journey that has been filled with dark valleys and beautiful vistas....but none of those latter meant for me. Or maybe just not yet. I haven't yet found the summit.

The most subtle invitation came from my first visit, where first Mother, the General Superior, and one of the other foundresses, on the day that I left both told me that they had room for me there. I had a place, if I wanted it. The door was wide open to me, and remains so. The warmth of the hearth for my coal that will be left black and cold if I don't do something with it so as not to smother the heat.

Like a vocation, a coal is fragile, too. It can be smothered. It will always remain what it is, but without fulfilling its purpose, it remains in a state of potential and will never be completely consumed in the fire it was meant to enter into and become. Even if that coal's destination is to become a diamond, again it must be compressed and consumed in a different manner to become alight with a fire of a different kind.

I don't yet know where I belong, but it is comforting to know that there is a place for me, somewhere. No one has rejected me. In this quest for God, I honestly have found nothing but love in all directions.

I pray this next experience is a good one, too. Perhaps I will arrive and know immediately that it will never be my home. Yet don't we all visit beloved relatives and in so doing, take a bit of their own hearts with us when we depart?

Or will I arrive and in the next few days of silence, solitude, and discernment, will Jesus be revealed to me in a way never considered?

Will I find home? Clarity?

I don't know. But I go, and as I did before, I take you with me in prayer, too. No pilgrimage is ever undertaken alone. A true pilgrim takes the world on his shoulders; it's part of the job.

Please pray for me, too.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Contemplation Via Horseback

I miss walking into the pasture holding a haltar and a rope. I miss the interested-yet-bored gazes of those pasture inhabitants for whom I was not searching. I miss the dew sparkling on the grass and wetting the bottoms of my jeans. I miss the winter snows coating the fuzzy coats of the horses meandering in their equine conversations as I crunched through the thin icy snows in my Thanksgiving Day approach.

I would walk that pasture through three seasons, and walk them back, willlingly, as the horses knew their grain would come to them as a reward. They'd eat as I groomed, and even somewhat cooperatively raise their hooves at my prompt, only occasionally nipping at me playfully or dropping their weight on me on a bad day, but never enough to harm or crush. And still, their hooves were cleaned in spite of themselves.

It was a lived dream for me that year as we explored the sparkling October trails, reveling in the freedom of a headlong gallop; and as for me, I knew I'd not experience this again. I'll pick the bugs out of my teeth for the rest of my life in fond memory of days I wish had never ended.

But alas...they did.

So it it has been that just as most of my life has been marked by a deprivation of horses, so I am now but for that short time of nearly perfect paradise.

It's been a rough go of it for me lately, first one intense discernment retreat only to return home to prepare for another. Maybe it's been the most difficult summer of my life thus far, even given what I've been through before.

The best things in life are never easy, but occasionally we're given a respite.

This afternoon, although I prefer the freedom I knew in the past, I bridled myself to what was available in order to be free to enjoy that very same gift if in a different package.

It's been a few years since I've gone horseback riding, for both the ridiculous expense and pendantic boredom of the average trail ride to be found in Minnesota has been a deterrant. I've always loved horses, but for a time several years ago I was so spoiled that I couldn't anymore appeciate the simplicity of the experience of a rented mount bonded to a life of perfect plodding.

Today, though, this afternoon, I finally gave in, knowing that what I needed was contact of the equine kind, the only "therapy" that could get through my own melancholy and even the spiritual warfare of the recent weeks. I needed the simplicity of the gait, the ambiance of the forest and plains, and the mindlessness of the trail ride to remind me that the core of what I loved is still the core of who I am.

The dappled forest trails always take my breath away. I love how the sun falls among the shivering leaves as their shadows paint patterns on the alternate mediums of sand, dirt and moss. The radiant beams shine forth in spite of the pines, catching their reflections from the constant dust kicked up by draft-mix hooves and it's a wonder we don't cough as we pass through harmlessly even as our mounts shake their heads to bid the flies adieu.

Horseback riding is a purely contemplative sport that, even done via the trail, involves intimate contact between the horse and rider. It mimics the motions of the human walk but is entirely different. It elevates the human even as it diminishes him or her for that person must respect the reality of the horse and its own deadly power.

But all that aside, it is contemplative.

This afternoon, late as the shadows began to fall, I even TRIED to think of my recent trials, but couldn't. It was more important to remember the shouts of Martha from my 13th year as she yelled at me to make sure my "butt bone" was properly in contact with the saddle, my stomach was pulled in, shoulders back, chest out. It was more important to feel the movement of the Draft that carried me and let his own movement become my own in perfect fusion coherent with those lessons from long ago.

It was more important to relax into the saddle, maintaining posture, and know that God was present with every breath, every recognition of creation, every step, every movement. It was more important to let everything go and think of nothing, only exist in this very moment, living in the present.

I tried to pray, and remembered parts of Psalms, repeating the "Glory Be" in chant tones as we ducked under branches or only beams of light finding their way through them. And that Glory Be lived in and through me, finding in the rhythm of the horse the perfect gait in which to sing the prayer from my very heart and soul.

The gentle rhythm of the walking horse brought a memory to my very bones, and I fell into it like a duck to water, wishing only for a faster rhythm.

It's impossible for me to ride a horse and not desire to post the trot which I learned so ponderously when I was only 13. I remember my first couple lessons, disappointed in them because we hadn't moved from a walk but for a couple times, and how hard it was to rise and fall to a walking rhythm. Yet when the movement made sense in proper context, it was far more than a dance; it was flying. And when we learned to canter, it was even better: it was a lesson, with all of them, that come to greater fruition in adulthood in the wild abandon of the Minnesota River trail.

Yet today, it didn't matter that we were simply plodding along. It was enough to feel the movement of the horse, to find my own center of balance, and, for awhile, to not have to think about anything but this perfect synthesis of creation. To ride, to glorify God in the most simple of activities, and to know that, at least for the moment, I was free.

It was a perfect respite.

Today I was free, if only for an hour, and now everything makes much more sense.

Praise God!

Monday, July 27, 2009


I remember one summer day when some wildflowers blooming between the two-lane road and the river caught Mom's eye, and she pulled to the side of the road, exclaiming over them. I think I insisted I accompany her, so she took me out of the car and set me upon the shoulder of the road, making sure I was right next to the car.

Mom admonished me to remain where I was while she picked flowers. She didn't want me to go with her for fear I would tumble down the slope and into the river. She didn't want me to move away from my spot for fear I would wander into traffic; and I understood these things. I was actually a very obedient child and when Mom said, "Stay there and don't move!" I knew she meant it!

But what Mom didn't realize is that she had set me on top of a very large ant hill. This is something I had seen immediately, but thought maybe she knew best. I protested weakly, but Mom's gaze was already on the wildflowers in the ditch, so I thought maybe it wouldn't be a problem.

Not so.

It wasn't long before the ants revolted, protesting the compression of their tunnels and their compadres, and streamed out of the top of the hill with shock and awe. I saw them coming, and knowing all about ants in Illinois, I yelled for Mom, just looking for permission to move.

All I wanted was to be taken from that ant hill. Mom ignored me; she was picking pretty flowers.

I began to hate those flowers.

The ants were swarming up my legs, having no shame. They covered my sandaled feet, they were climbing up my legs. But Mom said that moving from that spot was dangerous and I might be killed if I did; so I remained, rooted, in spite of the torture. I only screamed all the louder.

Mom was oblivious.

Finally she returned, saw the fury of the ants, heard my desperate cries, and quickly removed me from the massive anthill. I don't think I have, to this day, ever seen one like it. She brushed the ants off of me, she set the flowers aside, and she apologized, deeply, from the bottom of her heart. My torture was hers.

She saw how much I trusted her and had remained there, in perfect obedience to her word, in spite of what I'd suffered. I have no doubt that Mom felt horrible about it. She knew that I'd remained in that spot both out of trust and obedience, and by those faithful acts, I'd suffered greatly. They weren't fire ants, but it didn't matter...those things ATTACKED and for a tiny child, that attack is terrible!

Trust Is Important

Lately, the topic of trust has become paramount. A couple months ago, it came up with my meeting with my spiritual director (as I knew it would), and I began praying hard about it.

Many times, I've written about trust in God, and the necessity for that trust. The same week as that meeting, Fr. Corapi spoke in great depth on trust in God, and how the rejection of that trust is rejection of God Himself. It is a denial of the Holy Spirit. His words struck me to my very soul.
It seems, on the surface, that I am a "trusting" person. Wrong.

I really am not. I always reserve something to myself. I have secrets I've never been able to speak. They are too deep, too dark, too horrific. They are between me n' God. Only He knows.

But since then, some of those secrets came to the surface in prayer, as I asked Him about my inability to trust Him.

Many memories came to the forefront. Things I wish I could forget.

When I was in 10th grade, I was on the gymnastics team, and we'd all bought corsages for our mothers, or boutonnieres for our fathers. I remember lining up with the team that night and stepping out, raising my arms in the customary greeting, then stepping back into formation, proud to be there, even though I knew Mom hadn't arrived. I continued to anxiously search the doorways and the stands, hoping she would appear, knowing what was going on: she knew she was supposed to be present for Parents' night, but didn't know she'd be given a gift in the beginning.

I knew, because of that, that she was at home trying to force my brother to come to the meet. She was on a "family unity" kick, and spent far more time arguing for him to do stuff no one else cared about than to get to where she was supposed to be, and invited to be.

Indeed, that's what happened. As our team lined up on the white line of the Floor in front of the bleachers, each team member was called by name. We were to go forward to take the corsage or boutonniere, and then meet our parent/s in this yearly ritual.

As I dreaded, my name was called. Knowing Mom wasn't there, I still went forward, not knowing what else to do, and I took the corsage from my coach, standing in place, searching the bleachers for Mom...even knowing she wasn't there.

I'll never forget the silence.

The silence of my team. The silence of all the parents present, staring at me, staring away from me, wondering where my Mom was and why she wasn't there.

I nodded to my coach after a few moments and returned to the line, standing at attention, holding the wilting flower behind my back, grateful, for once, for that militant pose.

It hid my shame.

The Meet was well underway by the time Mom finally appeared. I had to keep up appearances, and although I'd never before wanted to so place a symbol under my feet and trample it until it was unrecognizable, I broke from my team, walked up into the bleachers, and gave Mom the corsage, and then gave her a hug for appearances alone while I smiled with gritted teeth, "This is for you, you missed EVERYTHING."

She'd even missed my event.

The other parents in the bleachers, I could see, were looking away, pretending not to notice our humiliation. They even covered their corsages. It was obvious.

I returned to my team, and to my competetion. Not that I had anything left to give to anyone.

When I remember that evening, I can't remember it without crying. For indeed, I was later to learn, Mom was so late due to a power struggle with my brother, trying to force him to come to my gymnastics meet. She was so intent to win a battle that didn't matter that I was the one who lost.


Trust is important.

I've often wondered about why I don't trust God, why I struggle so much to give everything to Him, but in looking at my life, it's obvious.

Trust is counterintuitive.

I don't blame my Mom in the early years, and in fact, I remember the anthill-incident with great humor. I fully believe she is a natural contemplative for she has always had the ability to lose herself in the natural beauty of...anything. It wasn't until she was overcome by bipolar that things really got out of control.

During our teenage years my brother and I "lost" our parents. First we lost Dad, but of course, he'd never really been there. Mom was the anchor. And when she succombed to bipolar, we lost our own moorings.

One day during Adoration, I was musing on how she was completely unrecognizable during those terrible years. I remember lots of smiles, lots of love during our childhood, and also discipline. She was a mother...what else to expect? But during our teenage years, when we most needed guidance, when we most needed stability...Mom was a totally different person. We never knew WHAT to expect. There was nothing but anger and instability.

For years I've said we had a rough time growing up, but we were never abused. Yet, yes, we were. Emotionally.

Please don't blame Mom. Yes, I know that's something Stockholm Syndrome victims say. But I MEAN it...because Mom didn't know she was doing it, and if she did, she'd be devastated. I'd prefer she never know. My brother agrees...we've talked about it.

As far as Dad's all about absence.

Profound Advice

A few years ago, I went to Confession, in one my rare face-to-face Confessions. I don't even remember what I confessed, but I remember it had something to do with my family, and getting along with them. This priest, I could see, had no idea what to say. He paused, and I remember wiping tears. Finally he said, "God is your Father. Mary is your Mother."

For years now, I've considered that advice. But it's not enough. It doesn't erase what has been done, although it has helped in many ways.

We come back to the need to trust: how do we learn, again, to trust?

God asks us to have the faith of little children, but I don't think I can ever be a child again. I know too much, I've experienced too much...I've sinned too much.

I can only reach upward with hooded eyes and a stiff neck, with an expectation of the next "blow", the next betrayal. I remember the moist remnants of kisses planted by my Mom just before or just after she did something insane. I remember hiding in the darkness, wondering what to do, not knowing what was going to fly through the air next.

I remember my brother coming into my room, tired of dodging fine china, making his bed on the floor, asking me to wake him up in time to go to work. I remember the odd sense of harboring him, when normally I would be pushing him out of my space. This time, he was a victim, like me. We were terrified. Together, but apart, for we didn't even really trust each other.

We were two children, surviving, wanting to flee, and only recently, my brother apologized for leaving me alone when he went to college. There was nothing to forgive; I fled, too, as soon as I could.


So often, the topic of vocations comes up, and I wonder how many are still shuddering in hidden rooms, much like my brother and I? How many of us can hear God calling, but associate that call with the unjust punishment meted out by those we were supposed to be able to trust?

We form our understanding of God through our parents, our understanding of God, and experience of holiness directly through them. As it should be.

But what happens when things go wrong?

Then what?

It is no wonder that we hear God call, and we flee.

The other day, I heard someone say, "Where do you go when you are in trouble? To your mother."

No. I don't. I go to anyone BUT my mother.

Yes, I think mothers are wonderful. I love the theological importance of motherhood. I love my mother, and I love our Blessed Mother.

But go to her without reserve? I can't fathom the idea. It's alien to me. I stare at mothers and daughters in wonder.

Go to our Father, without reserve? No, thank you. I tried that a few times, too.

How does anyone learn to trust God when those who are supposed to model God have been lost themselves? But I have to will I ever learn to trust God, when I can't even come close to trusting those who were supposed to reveal Him to me?

Alone on the Anthill

Sometimes, I feel like I'm a helpless child again, standing on an anthill, this time on the freeway, screaming for help while the ants swarm angrily. And there's no one to answer my cries because this time, I have to get myself off this anthill if only I can figure out which way to step.

And maybe if I could stop screaming long enough, or maybe if the cars would stop honking, or the river rapids would be quiet, maybe then I could hear the voice of my Father finally getting through, telling me which way to go. Because eventually, I have to learn trust.

But for now, tonight...I just wish the ants would stop swarming.

An Email I Received from a Reader....

I received an email from a reader and she gave me permission to post it, although I have removed all identifying information. (Emphases in bold added by me during editing)

Hi Adoro,

I am a faithful reader of your blog.

I really, really liked your recent post. You hit on a great point that the real experts are very cautious with their advice. I asked a priest I know for help once when I was having a hard time spiritually, and he wouldn't help me at all besides to tell me to talk to my SD. :)

I also have another little story that you can add to your "inappropriate advice" collection. One time I was talking to a man I didn't know very well (though I did know he was a very faithful Catholic), and I mentioned that I was discerning religious life, probably on the contemplative side. He replied that I am too social for that life and that it would be too hard for me! [YIKES! TALK TO ANYONE DISCERNING THE CONTEMPLATIVE LIFE AND THEY'LL TELL YOU PEOPLE SAID THAT TO THEM, TOO!]

In your post you focused on how inappropriate and unhelpful this un-asked-for advice is, but you didn't mention how damaging it can be for someone at a fragile stage of discernment. Thankfully I handled his comment well-enough at the time, but if it had come just a few months earlier, I would have been thrown completely off-track. As is, I still desperately needed the reassurance of a good friend when, a week or so later, I shyly mentioned to him what this other man had told me. My friend was shocked and said that I shouldn't give the comment any credance at all. That's what real friends are there for -- support, not critique.

This friend does give me advice, but he has the right to give me advice, and I am confident that his advice always comes from God. It's always exactly what I need to hear at that precise moment.

Anyway, sorry for the length of this email, but I wanted to share my own experience with this type of advice. It can be so harmful. ~ A reader

Thank you, dear reader, for sharing your heart with us. It also helps me to hear such stories because it tells me I'm not alone in this experience. I also think your own willingness to share will be helpful to others out there who may mean well and don't realize that no matter how good their intentions, their words can be outright destructive. It's one thing for me to sit here on my blog and tell people that this is a common experience. It's another thing entirely to be able to share with them the words of another person who has experienced the "dark side" of discernment.

This reader gave an example of a harmful comment and explained why it was so harmful. Did the person who made the comment intend to destroy her? Certainly not! But one can see that at a fragile moment, that kind of a remark can actually chase someone away from a Vocation. It also displays a a very common myth about the contemplative life, and I have also been told similar things by thoughtless and uninformed people, even recently as they learned I'd be visiting a couple contemplative communities this summer.

There is a really ignorant idea running rampant both in and out of Catholic circles that contemplative nuns and monks are maladjusted introverts who can't function in society, ergo anyone with a personality would not be able to survive such a life.

My friends, get that idea out of your head IMMEDIATELY and stop telling people that! The contemplatives I've known are far more social than YOU are! And in fact, they HAVE to be! They have to function in society, a very small society, which can be much more destructive than living in a small town. Do you think that people stop being human when they enter a monastery?

If they don't have a sense of humor and an ability to relate to people in a very social way, they won't survive very long. This means they have to be willing to put up with small annoyances (that become large in close quarters), different temperments that don't change, conflicting personalities, etc...and overcome that. Most introverts I know CAN'T do that. (Of course, there ARE also introverts in a monastery, but they are well-adjusted introverts!)

So, there you have it. This is just some of the stuff that happens and why it's awful. Oh, and I should mention that as one commenter pointed out in my previous post, it happens to people who are dating, too. A couple meets and before they're done with their first date their family and friends have arranged the wedding and bought plane tickets for the honeymoon, decorated the baby's room and made arrangments for the "soon to be grandparents" to visit as soon as possible.

Here's what I've learned from being on the wrong end of this experience:

1. Discerners are always wrong
2. If discerners are actually right and know what they are doing, see #1
3. Never give advice unless specifically requested to do so. Ever. (Yes, I'm guilty, too!)
4. Advice is cheap.
5. No matter what any of us does with the best of intentions, we're still going to mess it up. That's why God is in charge and when the questions are deep and broad and important, He's the ONLY voice that matters. And our voice isn't His.

I'm sure there's more "rules" on this end but I think I'll end this post now. I've already gone overkill on this topic.

Thanks again to my "Guest Blogger" tonight! :-)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Everyone's an Expert

Disclaimer: I'm about to be brutally honest but there's an apology at the end.And my own advice for you, for which as you see, I'm entitled. I'm still sorry. Please forgive me.

Cornering the Professional

It's a plague in our society, and one we ALL face, if from different perspectives.

Imagine this: you go to a summer barbecue and while you're catching up with a friend you haven't seen in awhile, you overhear a conversation a few feet away. Out of the corner of your eye you see the person being accosted is looking around desperately for a way to make a quick exit. And you notice this because you yourself have worn that same mask of polite listening while your mind has been working overtime to both listen so as to respond with gentility and yet somehow find a way to be "busy" immediately.

What's going on?

Well, the interlocutor has just found out the deer-in-the-headlights guy is a doctor and she wants some advice on a growth on the back of her neck, or maybe about her husband's club foot or her daughter's "womanly problems" (and said daughter is on the far side of the nearby picnic table wearing an expression of horror as she realizes her mother is divulging very sensitive and private information to someone with whom she now must socialize).

In fact, when she meets that doctor, to whom her mother is going to learn is single and available, she knows that doctor is going to be thinking, “Honey, you’re nice but I know WAY too much about your vagina and don’t want to live my life hearing about it from your mother!

But he’ll shake your hand politely as you blush because you BOTH know what’s really going on and you BOTH forgive each other if not your mother in that moment. And maybe you end up getting married and raising a family together in spite of all that improper personal information.

Oh, yes. We've all seen it happen, if not with the Disney ending, and we've all been on the wrong end of that scenario, (maybe not exactly, I hope!) Perhaps we've even been the offending party. (And really, I HOPE NOT and sorry guys, but that is REALLY what some mothers will do!)

Now, in that particular scenario, it is legitimate experts who are being questioned and asked to give free advice. If you're a doctor, a lawyer, a police officer, an insurance broker or agent, insurance claims adjuster, or nurse (among other careers!) you're reading this and nodding along, because YOU'VE been the one trying to flee the conversation more times than you can count! In your personal life, you hear more intimate permissionless details about more people and their problems than you do in a single day at the office! Continue nodding....I know this is true. If you're NOT nodding, then you were hired only yesterday. Read this post again in a week.

In our society, expertise is highly valued, as it should be, and to be fair, most people DO respect the fact that these professionals are entitled to time off. They do NOT need to be accosted at church events, random barbecues, cotillions, quinceaneros, picnics, or while waiting in line at the grocery store. They knew, going into their fields, that their area of expertise was going to subject them to people without boundaries, but they are still human and even the greatest of experts among us need some time off before they burn out and people die because they are so stressed from never having time to be a human being that they start making bad decisions and amputate the head instead of the appendix. Or in court, maybe they'll defend a divorce instead of a murder (although there's not much difference.)

Armchair Quarterbacks

The funny thing is, though, that with all this advice-asking going around, there are also a lot of people who are sudden "experts" in any given category that simply has their interest. If Mr. Offensive Interlocultor actually got an answer from a lawyer on a complicated legal issue when accosting the poor guy at a social event, he suddenly becomes a legal expert and will pass on his incomplete advice to someone with any kind of a related issue. And thus, his unprofessional "advice" is actually quite distorted for even HE didn't get a complete answer and in fact, selectively ignored the very REAL advice of the attorney trying to get away from him, to hire his own counsel so that the case could be evaluated accurately and resolved appropriately.

Oh, yes, we all know people who fit into this category as well.

When it comes to people who are in very serious need, though, amazingly the default of most people is to limit their OWN advice and to direct that person to a competent authority for their problem. They might have names of people with whom they've had good experiences, proper professional offices or organizations and the like. They realize, even if they are usually from the advice-giver category that some things are still too big for them and in their sincere good will, they know someone else is better qualified. I find it very interesting that in these cases, those people take a step back and become champion supporters and for once, hold their tongues and ask, "what does your doctor say?" or "what does your lawyer say?" before they hop into presumption-of-personal-expert mode and start advising away.

(Flannery O'Connor might disagree with the above paragraph, but I'm trying to assume the best of people.)

I think if I were to study sociology, I'd do a dissertation on this particular social behavior encompassed in this post.

Of course, as you might expect, I have another point to make.

Vocational Experts Without a License

All of the above goes out the window or is entirely reversed in the case of vocational discernment.

If a man or woman reveals that they are discerning a religious vocation, or priesthood, even if they've done a great deal of research, have a spiritual director, a discernment group, etc., suddenly everyone OUTSIDE of those groups becomes a self-appointed expert.

Suddenly, the person or people who know the MOST about the topic are relegated to the intellectual and spiritual equivalent of an infant. People who know NOTHING about what the discerner has been through or what OFFICIAL advice they have been given and which they are faithfully following take them "under their wings" and immediately start firing off completely unneeded or even illogical advice about what they should do, where they should go, what they should be doing, the pitfalls, and even try to DICTATE specific communities or seminaries to them!

This type of advice also assumes the person's spiritual advisor or group must be fully incompetent or the person in question would already be a priest, professed religious, or 20 years married.

My dear readers, I know this for two reasons: I've experienced it repeatedly and because I blog about it, I've gotten emails and Facebook messages from other people experiencing the SAME DANG THING!

It's a PLAGUE I tell you! A plague!

What's really annoying is that many of the advice-givers will impart their lack of wisdom while pointing out smugly that "God speaks through people who know and love you!" so as to shut down any possibility that we can turn down their “obviously-perfect” expertise about something they've never actually discerned for themselves.

We who are discerning are also aware that most of our self-appointed prophets aren't actually privy to the Divine Processions, and if they were, they wouldn't all be giving advice that directly conflicts with that of everyone else and that of our own Spiritual Directors or those of similar privileged status.

I really find this to be fascinating, and really can't explain it without more study, and maybe something scientific (as opposed to pure experience/observation).

Why IS it, exactly, that, outside of the discernment of vocation, people are ASKING advice, but when it comes to this topic, they are ALL experts?

Why IS it that when a woman says she is considering religious life everyone has a favorite CARMELITE monastery?

Why is it that when she says she likes the Dominicans everyone assumes she's never heard of the Nashville Dominicans (Dominican Sisters of St. Cecelia) or their offshoot, the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist? Where do you think she got her first interest in the Dominicans (given this culture)? And why can’t they understand that the fact she knows about them, she is not discerning them any longer for specific reasons?

Or of course, when she says she's discerned some Order or Congregation, the unsolicited "expert", without batting an eye, immediately begins to discuss how she should prepare to enter the local Carmelite monastery and she herself would be willing to accompany her and will arrange the entrance Mass?

Why is it that even when the discerner says God is leading her to visit a particular convent, everyone STILL suggests she check out 10 other of their favorite communities, and the first on their list is a Carmelite cloister, perhaps the one in India?

Seriously. I wish I was kidding.

 The second to the favorite Carmelites are the Franciscan communities, which often, people who recommend them don't even know whether they wear habits or not, or what their apostolate is or whether or not they are faithful to the Magisterium of have their own brand of "Catholicism".

These "experts" usually don't know the first thing about what they're recommending.

I'm sorry, but it's true. I’ve experienced nearly ALL of the above. What I haven’t, other discerners who have contacted me HAVE.

We’re not angry!!!! Please note and read on! 

We’re just exhausted from the battle to stay true to the course we’re on while fending off the improper course and timeline YOU think we’re supposed to be following.

The reality is, we suspect, is that unsolicited "experts" actually are taking an opportunity to give their own view, perhaps because they never properly discerned their OWN vocation and are trying to live vicariously through those who are. Maybe they just want to feel needed. Maybe giving advice is something they do every minute of every day and they aren't aware they're doing it.

The one thing I do find to be constant is that those who give advice DO HONESTLY CARE and unfortunately, they're also very sensitive sorts who take it personally when someone doesn't seem to want or need their advice. They will feel very hurt for a very long time if their advice isn't followed or accepted without question.

And actually, that's what makes these recent blog posts so hard. Because I KNOW that in outright refusing and even condemning unsolicited advice, I am unintentionally offending people I have no desire to offend.

But I'm not a rug and am tired of feeling like one. If that offends some people, so be it.

Discernment is hard enough without having to go around feeling like we have to defend and justify our actions, lack of actions, feelings or lack of feelings, decisions or lack of decisions at every single turn.

I feel I have to speak up on behalf of myself and EVERYONE in discernment because we're tired of being offended ourselves by people who don't seem to think that we can possibly interpret God's will for us without them. And yes, often unsolicited advice is outright offensive. And no, we don't tell you this because we love you, too, and know that your intentions are good and that you don't mean any offense either!

Again...if you've been strong enough to read this far, please know, we love you, we respect you, we thank you for your prayers and support. But please, please, please, stop telling us inane things like "stop trying so hard!" or "go to this monastery" or "give up your dog now so you don't have to find someone later" or "My niece entered X abbey, and she's happy so you would be too". And dear God, if I hear one more time of the rumor that I am delaying because I'm looking for "the prettiest habit" I think I might puke. Really; I don't care about fashion NOW, what makes you think I care about religious fashions? (Except for the habit thing; I do desire to wear a habit for I have discerned it is important. That has no bearing on what others discern...only me.)

We have certain people to whom we are listening. We have certain people who know more details, respect us enough to know we're trying as hard as we need to, and who have assured us that our agony isn't a type that needs comfort, for it is a purifying agony that a vacation with our dog or cat or a ski trip out West won't cure (especially in July when Aspen is devoid of useful snow). * dust-gathering skis...*

One more point: the people I know who are legitimate experts in things RARELY offer their advice without being asked, and if they do so, they do so cautiously and with a disclaimer. There are a few people in my life who are not in my designated set of advisors and to whom I will listen because they are "experts" who cautiously advance their advice, and are humble enough to realize I might ignore them (and that it's not personal!). In their advice, they encourage me to go to my SD, they encourage me to ignore them if their advice conflicts with anything "official", etc.

Please be gentle with people who are discerning their Vocations. If you are privileged enough to hear them express to you, through a blog or personally, that they have been or are going through a rough time, please do not minimize the experience, don’t “poo-poo” it, don’t try to “fix” it in any way.

They know where to go.

Especially in the case of “blog revelation”, know that unless you know this person directly, you probably don’t have the right to offer any advice at all. And if you DO know them personally and they haven't asked you directly for advice...well...then you're not one of the few. Sorry. Again: nothing personal. They love you. Be assured of that. 

To my friend-readers who know me personally, know that I love you and thank you with every fibre of my being and if it weren't for your PRAYERS or physical support (watching my dog, my house, driving me to the airport and picking me up, paying my mortgage for 2 months, taking my Adoration hour on the Saturdays I'm gone, etc), I wouldn't be able to focus so much on God's voice that HAS to come out of the fray.

This post is not personal. It’s not directed at anyone. And in fact, it was written on behalf of all souls, everywhere, who are discerning Vocations and have been the hapless recipients of well intentioned people who would be horrified if they knew the angst they were causing with their own “advice”.

I apologize to all my readers and my friends, whether you read this now or will find out about it in the future. I hope my honesty isn’t hurtful for anyone.
May the peace of Christ be with you, always. And please continue to support Vocations to the priesthood and religious life! Remember advice is is only hard labor that really expresses love.

Jesus made that VERY plain to us all when He suffered His Passion and died on the Cross for us. If that's not hard labor, I don't know what is!

As I recall, Jesus didn't give advice from the Cross...he was too busy living it as an example to the rest of us.

Now...go overwhelm your parish Vocations Committee  with offers to drive people to the airport, watch pets, pay debts, etc etc etc that applies to legitimate need. Prayers and ACTION make Vocations happen. Not advice.

God bless you all, and again...thank you.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Adoro's Monastic Adventure Continued

God (and several generous human beings working for and with Him) has given me six weeks this summer to focus on discerning whether or not I have a Vocation to religious life.

As you know, so far no questions have been answered. Which, really, is fine, as my spiritual director assures me.

I worry because I'm not getting younger. Others think I should jump off a pecipice just because I'm not married, and others want me to be a nun or a sister because they have a romantic idea of monastic life (which is no more romantic than married life, actually.) And still others fall into other categories in their bet-taking as to what they think I should be doing and why.

So really, it is those few voices, who are the chosen designates, who are keeping me on track both to keep me from being too discouraged and to keep me from making a hasty decision much like a person who runs a red light and is flattened by a semi just because the guy behind them beeps in impatience.

We've all passed such accidents, haven't we?

This Thursday I'm going to make another pass at monastic life, this one really intense. The Cistercians of Common Observance pray 7 times per day in community, work in silence, study in silence, and seek God in solitude while living in community. It is their practice to rise at 3:40 am in order to begin praying Lauds at 4 am, so that while you sleep you can rest assured that people are praying...for you.

I'll be driving to this monastery, only a few hours away, and this week I received the instructions as to what to wear, what to bring, what not to bring and whatnot.

The process for even VISITING this community has been quite the experience! We've been in contact for months, I was required to read a book, "The Cistercian Way" by Andre Louf, and I now learn I have to bring it with me.

Unfortunately, I don't own it. I got it from the library, and as it was an order from another library system, it took them 3 weeks to get it to me. Thankfully I have a friend who is sending me his copy and hopefully it will be here in time!

The communities I just visited didn't require much for the visit: only an open heart to hear God. Certainly I'm sure other contact is required, but that was fulfilled long before my plane ticket was purchased.

The Cistercians, on the other hand, sent me a form for a recommendation to be completed by my Pastor or Spiritual Director and believe you me, they were asking some heavy questions! I wondered why they wanted this just for a "come and see" type of visit where I would not be admitted to the enclosure, but so be it. I turned over the form, and my SD filled it out and sent it on.

I also had to write an autobiography, and the one I wrote on my blog or for grad school wasn't appropriate as those had the wrong focus. In addition to the actual story of my life, they wanted a self-assement of strengths and weaknesses.

All of this has been completed and sent, and in response, Sister sent me a list of instructions. I am to bring a Bible, a rosary, The Cistercian Way, the Liturgy of the Hours, toiletries, clothing proper to the outdoors and weather, and nothing else that logic doesn't dictate. I am asked to leave all other media at home (no problem! I don't have it anyway!)

I've been told I'll meet with her, the Prioress and the Novice Director, and alll will have read all correspondance between Sister and I, including my autobiography and reference from my SD, and they will keep it all in strict confidance. Comforting.

I feel like I'm under a microscope and I haven't felt like this since my law enforcement background. I'm still waiting to be told I have to meet with a background investigator from the CIA before my arrival at the monastery.

In speaking with others who also considered the Cistercians, they found the process so off-putting that they never continued and thus never visited. The Sister with whom I have been "speaking" explained that in the past they required the autobiography and recommendation with an application for entrance to the Order, they now require it at a 3 day visit.

By the way, they also define the 3 days; it wasn't by my request. They asked me to plan for five days, to include 3 full days there, 1 day for arrival and a day for travel home, and this, of course makes sense. I believe the monastery has hermitages for private retreatants and this kind of a schedule likely helps them keep things running at a proper pace during their busy guest season.

I wonder if my perseverance through this arduous application-to-visit process is maybe not as big of a deal for me because I've been through intense background investigations in the past? Both police and fire put me through my paces, sending me to intense physicals, psychologicals, physical tests, personal interviews, etc. I've been fingerprinted multiple times, my family and friends interviewed, my hometowns visited, employment records searched, etc etc etc. By comparison, this process is NOTHING!

It still seems invasive, yet I'm wi
lling to undergo it because something about the Cistercian Order has gotten my attention, has made me consider things more deeply, and that means I have to go.

So now, armed with my slight monastic experiences in an active community, a day and a half with my beloved Dominicans, now I prepare for the silence of an ancient Rule, one of austerity and early rising, something so contrary to my very being that it MUST be of God. Why? Because the idea of ME going there is totally insane.

Closing comments for obvious reasons. Thank you.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Answers to Many Questions

For some time, I've been taking note of the search engine questions that bring people to my blog. Oddly enough, they often happen upon posts that have absolutely NOTHING to do with their question. Sometimes it IS the right post, but perhaps I didn't address their particular question there.

And so, I've decided, maybe it's time to post some of the answers to the questions people are putting into the search engines, for many people are looking for similiar things. I have written about MOST of the following in the past so this post is to give the short answer. You may need to do more research to find a more complete answer to your question.

Can I go to Communion if I skipped Mass? No. If you intentionally skipped Sunday Mass, then you have committed a mortal (grave) sin and you need to go to Sacramental Confession before you receive Communion again. Additionally, if you skip Daily Mass and just show up for Communion, you should not receive. The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist are in the Mass for a reason and you need ALL of it to prepare to receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. (You can read the entire post on this and get a more complete answer here.)

Do I have to go to Confession in order to receive Communion? If you have committed grave sin, then you are required to go to Confession before you can receive Communion. However, you can still ATTEND Mass, and you SHOULD, but if you haven't been able to get to Confession, DO NOT RECEIVE HOLY COMMUNION! No one cares if you remain in your pew, so don't commit sacrilege out of a misplaced sense of self-consciousness.

If I'm not Catholic, can I receive Communion in a Catholic Church? No. This is not to make you feel "left out", but rather, to protect the integrity of our beliefs AND your differing beliefs. We believe that the bread and wine truly become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ during the Consecration. When we go forward to receive Holy Communion, we are declaring in our very actions and intentions that we are free from grave sin, that we believe everything the Church teaches, and that we KNOW what we are receiving. When we say "Amen", we are stating verbally that WE BELIEVE THIS IS JESUS CHRIST!

If you are not Catholic, then you clearly don't believe what we believe, so why would you want to publicly lie and say that you do have that belief? And in fact, if you have done research and DO share that belief...then what is stopping you from becoming Catholic? You can enter an RCIA class and through a time of prayer and education, be received into the Church. (FYI: You can also attend RCIA classes if you're just trying to learn more about the Church and aren't sure if you want to be Catholic or not. Attending classes isn't a committment to convert!)

Can I have coffee before Mass? As long as you finish your coffee one hour before Holy Communion. Water and medicine do not break the fast, but coffee does.

Can I have gum at Mass? No. Gum does not fall under the category of "water and medicine" and so breaks the fast. Some people who should know better have said that gum "isn't food", however Canon Law 919 specifies that ONLY water and medicine are allowed. It doesn't say "anything that isn't food". If your gum can legitimately be considered to be medicine then maybe you can have it, although I wouldn't consider "nicotine gum" be some something you couldn't survive without for an hour or so. Don't be a wuss. Sacrifice is good for you!

Now...if you are not intending to receive Holy Communion, it is considered to be disrespectful to have coffee and gum at Mass. Please refrain and have those things AFTER Mass. Thank you.

"Not attending Mass because I'm being ignored" ~ You know, a lot of people seem to cite this as a reason not to attend Mass. In typing it in a search engine, I don't know if the question is being posed by someone looking for a way to overcome this objection, or if they themselves think they're being ignored and they're looking to justify not attending Mass. So! Here's the answer, and I'm going to make it VERY easy:

Mass is NOT about you! It's about GOD! If YOU are "being ignored", then Praise God! It means that everyone there knows that Mass is the time to worship God, and in so doing, to be present at the Sacrifice of Our Lord! So take the hint, take your focus off of yourself and spend an hour focusing on your Creator who loves you so much He DIED for you! What MORE could you possibly WANT???

"Distracted in prayer" ~ OK, this one is harder and I don't really have an answer. It's something with which we ALL struggle. But, don't be too hard on yourself. If you get distracted, just try to bring your attention back to God. In making that attempt, it is an act of love. If you're going through a period of dryness and you're having trouble praying, or maybe you have ADHD and can't make it through a rosary, then simply pray ONE Hail Mary. Or ONE Our Father. Or even a short prayer to Jesus to help you! Even if the only thing you can pray is "Jesus, I love you!", guess what...that's a prayer! Does it solve distraction? No. But perseverance does. Keep praying!

Patron Saint of Prostitutes ~ The posts I wrote on that remain among my most popular. So....there are 2 Patron Saints of Prostitutes: St. Nicholas (yes, "Santa Clause") Why? Because he saved two girls from being sold into prostitution by their father. This is also among the reason he's also a Patron Saint of children. The OTHER Patron Saint of Prostitutes is St. Mary of Egypt, because she had been a prostitute, reformed, and, well....achieved the heights of holiness which the Church acknowledged by declaring her a Saint!

And for those who are looking for a Saint that ENDORSES prostitution: there isn't one. Saints don't endorse sin, and no, none of us has the authority to decide what is or isn't a sin. Prostitution is a horrible evil in this fallen world and it CANNOT be justified. I hope that answers your question.

Rinsing Saurkraut: Yes, you have to rinse saurkraut. I found that out by looking it up on a cooking website.

Oppression of Women in the Bible : It's a common myth advanced by the feminist regimes that the Bible is oppressive to women. The reality is that although the Bible IS a patriarchal book, it's a very HUMAN book and naturally the patriarchal society is going to be quite apparent. Making the Bible into one with inclusive language is a really stupid attempt to change a fact of history. Secondly, Christianity was actually FREEING to women, who were, in those times, considered to be PROPERTY. Christ gave them the freedom to do something different. It was radical. No, He did not establish them as priests, for if He wanted to do that, He would have made his Mother a priest. Instead, Jesus emphasized the importance of women in salvation history. Now, if you're going to cite Paul's blustery stuff about women, go take a look at history and take this in the proper context. Much of what he was saying he was saying TO women who were finally receiving an education, and didn't know how to behave in an educational setting. He had to teach them manners! Which is completely reasonable, for even in our society teachers have to lay ground rules for the order of their classrooms, whether we are there as adults or children. Are YOU oppressed? Neither were they.

Did Vatican II do away with Latin? No. If you read the Vatican II Document on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (which, as you notice, is a Latin title), you'll see that the only changes called for were a permission to use the vernacular in the readings, an addition of more scripture readings, and Latin/Gregorian Chant were to remain the norm in all the other parts of the Mass.

Note also that every document issued by the Church has a Latin title, and the ONLY language of the Code of Canon Law is....Latin. The few translations out there include the Latin because Latin is more precise and anyone versed in the Law must also look to the usage of Latin since the vernacular translations are often inaccurate and can change the original meaning of the law.

Feast Day of Our Lady of Perpetual Help: June 27 :-)

Does God give us more than we can bear? Yes, He does. And He does it so that we can learn to rely on HIM and not ourselves.

Well, there's at least some of the questions. I hope the answers are helpful to someone!

Know that the answers may not be complete, I'm happy to answer anything else that I can or clarify something, and I'm certain my readers would join in as well if someone posts a question below. As always, don't rely on blogs for the perfect answers. If you are really seeking especially theological answers, then go to the proper sources: Sacred Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Documents of Vatican I, Vatican II, Council of Trent (yes, they are ALL relevant!), etc.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

StoryTime With Adoro: Criminal Law

It's been awhile since I told a "story". People seem to like my stories, even if they don't comment. They ask for them. And, by the way, I don't make these things up. If it's fictional, I say so up front.

Tonight's StoryTime comes as a result of two independent and unrelated inspriations. The first is Anita Moore's post at V for Victory! on the utter ridiculousness, amusement, irritants, and head-shaking she experiences (or has experienced) in Criminal Law. As, at one time I aspired to be a Criminal Attorney, and of course, saw the field from a different perspective, the following is my take in relation to her post:

Amusement: everybody who gets pulled over for drunk driving had "a couple of beers." Everybody who gets caught with marijuana last smoked the stuff "two weeks ago."

~ Anita Moore

Back in my very short time as a cop, I had to work on Thanksgiving. We had early snow that year (technically normal for Minnesota) and the roads, especially at "rural" corners, were covered in snow. It was common knowledge which bars/restaurants were having "parties" that night, and so we patrolled those areas heavily, as well as taking time to cruise our respective assigned zones.

That evening I remember confronting a guy named "Zack" (as we shall call him) outside of Champp's, a local sports bar chain. (I'm not sure if it's national as I'm too lazy to check.) Zack was drunk and was starting fights. But he didn't want to fight me and every time I found it necessary to get in his face and yell at him, he immediately calmed down and became malleable to direction. It helped that at the time he was in handcuffs.

As I recall, we let him go after charging him with Disorderly Conduct, because, in fact, by his willingness to cooperate with me he proved that he actually could take care of himself in spite of his lightweight "couple beers", and some of his friends were a bit wiser than he and desired to get him out of there. So we left and headed to the southern end of the large metro suburb. As we approached a hard left turn in one of the more "remote" heavily wooded neighborhoods, knowing the roads and turn were icy, I had no problem slowing and keeping the Squad under control. Yet it didn't surprise me to see a sedan stuck on that curve, and it surprised me less that there were four guys somewhere around 21 or 22 years of age sitting in that car.

(Mind you...I was 22 years old at the time myself. And yes, wearing a badge and carrying a gun and the authority of the law.)

As I approached the car, I noted they had their windows open and quite jovially greeted us with the air of innocence that belongs only to the guilty. These guys were really really friendly, the sort you'd want to meet any time of the day, and they were working hard to project that image.

I knew immediately they'd been drinking. (As if the car that welded to the ditch could have been suffering anything less!)

Of course, it's not illegal to be tipsy and sitting in the backseat of a ditch-encrusted car. As I joined in their overly-friendly banter, I shone my flashlight through the car, looking for evidence that the guys were still drinking. But my main focus was whether the driver had been drinking. (The fact the car was THAT FAR into the ditch was pretty damning evidence, but not enough for an arrest!)

The driver, too, was very happy to see us and as the peanut gallery in the back seat assured us that a tow had been called already, he showed us his cell phone to prove it, obviously in hopes we would move on.

Clearly they were operating off of the paradigm of "helpful cop" that would move on and ignore the obvious reality that not a single other car had managed to go off that road, and if so, they had managed to not be THAT stuck.

So I played the game, which wasn't hard. After all, I was their age! I knew what I would have been doing if I was still in Winona (although my friends were wise enough to take a cab!)

We talked a little about the weather, the slippery roads, the fact it was Thanksgiving and how our meals had been, etc. And then I "randomly" sprung the key question on the chatty guy in the back seat.

My question was focused on him because he was the obvious spokesperson for the group. I was sure he was the one telling the other guys "what to do". Yeah, I had friends like him, too, and knew that "that guy" was usually wrong, especially when there was trouble. And that made "that guy" the weak link. He had the pinache to think I was wrapped around his finger.

He was wrong.

Me to Chatty Guy in the Backseat: So you guys, how was the party at Champps tonight?"

Chatty-self-appointed-spokesman-guy in the backseat: It was great, there were TONS of people there!

I let him go on for awhile, nodding and smiling in seeming approval.

Then I said to the cringing and strangely silent driver who had long put his cell phone away, "Sir, will you step out of the car, please?"

The driver immediately opened the door, deer-in-the-headlights, and told me as he did so that he'd only had "a couple".

In appraising the position of his car and the proportionate support of his passengers, I wondered, "A couple kegs or a couple bottles of hard liquor?"

Well, let's just say this guy failed his field sobriety test and subsequently blew something over .20. At the time, MN was .10. And because our backup officers were vigilant and quietly circled around while I was "chatting up" the passengers, he was the one to spot the Open Bottle violations in the back seat.

Yup, it was a successful night.

Tonight, a local News Station, KARE11 , had a special on the Mounted Police in Minneapolis. (Not online as of this writing)

When I was in Law Enforcement Skills, I wanted to be one of them. At the time, I'm not sure that Minneapolis had Mounted Patrol, but St. Paul did and I aspired to be one of them. To me, it was the pefect place for me: I wanted to be a cop, and I loved horses and KNEW I could ride.

As it was, it wasn't until after I had left law enforcement that I finally came into contact with the Mounted Patrol, and given the story on the news tonight, I feel I have to write about it.

The story focused on their very necessary crowd control in Downtown at bar close.

Having been there, yes, I agree it's the PERFECT place, and they do a great job! There are a great number of people out there who don't realize the value of horses in crowd control and law enforcement, so I was happy to see this story, the officers, and of course, the well-trained horses that are ready for everything!

My own experience with the Mounted Police was also as a "drunk" (of which I'm still very embarassed!) However, I wasn't causing a fight. I'd left a bar, I was with friends, and in fact, I went TOWARD the officer, introduced myself,and we had a great and coherent conversation while we "talked shop" and I patted the horse.

As my friends and I left, I realized that in walking away from law enforcement, I was also walking away from the other part of that dream I'd held dear for a long time. I had loved the idea of serious law enforcement combined with horses, and of course, the PR that went with it. It was the Farm Girl in the City, and there is more beyond that.

But it wasn't to be.

Although I long mourned my exodus of that dream, I value my experience in law enforcement and am grateful especially to those officers who hold the position I STILL, in some ways, lament.

Tonight in watching the news, I wondered if maybe the Police have a program for volunteers to come in and assist with the horses. Maybe there is and maybe I should look into that. I love horses, I don't have a lot of time, but as they noted, grooming horses is calming, working with horses is calming, and having had THAT experience, well, I miss it and wish I had somewhere to go for that kind of "therapy". As it is, the programs I know about for retired horses and neglected horses are so far out of the way or require a time committment that that simply doesn't work with my schedule. did I go from snarky cop stories to lamenting my love for horses?

I never said my blog would be organized OR predictable. Just sayin'

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Kissing the Cross

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the convent; I got laryngitis. Actually, it hit me in the parlor while meeting with one of the Mothers just after my arrival. I'd been sick before I left and thought I was over it, but no, apparently not. And oddly enough, I didn't have a sore throat, I felt fine, just had a cough which wasn't even, at least initially, that bad!

Yes, yes, break out the jokes about how it was God's way of telling me to "shut up and listen", which really was an unnecessary message as I LOVED all the silences and sought them out whenever I could. As it was, though, that was the joke of the week with the Sisters and I was in on propagating it!

I think though, that God used it to impart to me a very different message. Not the harsh "shut up" but rather, a lesson in the Cross, in surrender, and embracing suffering.


The Novitiate at the convent had in their refrectory a relic of the True Cross, which I was invited to kiss while Mother K. was giving me the tour. At the time although my laryngitis hadn't fully manifested, I knew it was there and wasn't looking good. So my initial prayer as I kissed the Cross was that Our Lord, in His Mercy, would stave off this particular illness. I knew that the Sisters would be asking me questions, that I would have questions, and of course, I was mortified by the idea that upon my arrival in the convent I was sick! This was one of my nightmares!

I later learned there was another relic of the True Cross in a little shrine near the chapel, this one in a more ornate reliquary with a lit candle near it, and I often visited both relics and kissed them during my time there.

Yet it was on that first day and the following that, because of my unexpected and seeminly illogical illness, coupled with the grace of being able to kiss the Cross that made me meditate on that action, Our Lord's suffering...and what it meant.

A Kiss

What is a kiss but a sign of sincere love? It is intimate, it is intentional, it is physical, a motion that begins interiorly and is expressed exteriorly.

In kissing the relic of the True Cross, upon which Jesus hung in His act of Redemption, my kiss was intended to be an act of true love and devotion for Him, and in that, a recognition of His own love for me. I did not intend to be a Judas, offering a kiss in exchange for the blood money already held.

Later, in the chapel while I had some time to really meditate, I first spent some time praying that I wouldn't lose my voice, that God would remove this particular cross so that my week of discernment would be done in health and not this very inconvenient illness. And of course, my prayer was interrupted with a coughing jag. And even then I lamented my condition and begged even harder to be delivered from my suffering.

That's when it hit me; I had just kissed the Cross.

In contrition for my presumption, I gazed upon the crucifix that adorned the altar and took in our Savior twisted and contorted in torment, realizing that this is what He calls me to do as well. It is impossible to be united with Jesus without also being subject to suffering.

To kiss the Cross means that we love the Cross and we love Our Lord who died for us. To kiss the Cross is to love suffering. It is to love humility and mortification. The greatest act of love is imitation, therefore if we truly love Jesus, we must be willing to imitate Him...even unto His suffering and death.

My prayer then, was both arrogant and a betrayal. I kissed the Cross and asked for comfort. I made an act of love and then denied it by refusing to be conformed to the One I profess to love. Who am I to question the will of God, who cannot be taken by surprise and who KNEW I would suffer this illness through my retreat? I knew I should see it as a gift helping me to be more united to Him, and not an irritation that separated us.

It is my own actions, my own unwillingness to surrender to God's will that separates me from Him. Not a mere illness.

In fact, it was that illness that brought me face-to-face with Him and reminded me of the value and necessity of the Cross and the real meaning of love.

Upon this realization, I bowed my head, knowing God was with me, and said to Him, "Thy will be done. Not mine. Yours." In that moment, I embraced my suffering, which, as I've written, was not limited to the physical but became a spiritual struggle that never abated for a single moment.

From then on, each time I kissed the relics of the Cross, I made an act of surrender, resolving in my love of Jesus to also love the Cross and everything that comes with it. To embrace my sufferings if not in joy, then at least in acceptance and docility.

We are not given Crosses in order to chase us away from God, but rather to conform us more perfectly to Him, for we cannot find Him unless we are willing to be subject to His Passion.

We have to ask ourselves, each time we make the Sign of the we mean what we pray? Do we understand what we are doing and how it must change us? Are we willing to imitate Christ only if it is comfortable to do so?

When we kiss the Cross, is our action a betrayal or a true act of devotion and love for Jesus?

On Advice

I'm sure this post will ruffle some feathers, but so be it. I feel like I ought to give an explanation as to why, in my previous post, I specifically asked that any advice be withheld, and why I closed comments so quickly.

The fact is that my request was very directly ignored and no, I'm not a bit surprised. I had only hoped that perhaps the limit I set (with what I thought was humorous enough and bright enough to garner attention) would be respected a little bit longer for the benefit of those who have experienced this to tell their own stories.

The blogosphere is filled with all sorts of people writing with all sorts of intentions, and because we writers put stuff out there, it often inspires well-meaning souls to offer advice where no advice is needed or wanted. I'll admit that I usually just ignore useless advice, realizing the good intention of the writer and the sincere good will.

A lot of people see a certain "distress" and of course, quite naturally want to jump in and "help", probably without realizing that no help is really needed. Yet, THEY have a need to reach out anyway, and they fulfill that need of theirs by commenting.

Sometimes those comments are not about the person towards whom they are directing the comments. I've often commented on blogs and even with a note of advice, realizing as I hit the submit button that what I just said is advice I needed for myself. Whether it was useful to anyone else? Who knows?

In any case, I can tell you that being on the receiving end of advice has made me curb my own comments on others' blogs or web sites.

The Importance of Restricting Advice to a Few

The fact is that right now I am in a very fragile point in my discernment and the fact that I'm writing about it should not be taken by readers as an invitation to give advice. I wrote about what I was going through during my visits, and those who have done the same thing, I am learning, have also EXPERIENCED the same thing. And unfortunately, presumptive advice from people who have no idea what they're going through and want to "fix" the situation.

I know this because some of them have contacted me to say so. But here's the funny thing: NOT A SINGLE ONE has offered me any advice. Why? Because they know better than to do so. They, having often been victims of unsolicited advice at the hands of well-intentioned but clueless people realize that the best response is a simple "I went through that, too." Not to wax pop-psychology all over the place but validation DOES have its place.

Know that what I've put on my blog is not everything. There is a great deal more happening which I am NOT going to discuss in an open forum, and even have some difficulty in discussing with the people on the "short list". THOSE very few people are the ONLY ones qualified to give me advice.

Yes, I said "QUALIFIED" and I mean it. They know the details which are not now nor never will be public. We've spoken directly in verbal form. They know me personally and...they've been through this themselves, at least to some degree. The people who are qualified to give me advice are those who ironically, keep their advice at a minimum, don't incorrectly analyze me, and don't minimize the experience by making offbeat and illogical suggestions.

And when they do give advice, they don't presume anything in the process. They realize the key thing in discernment: it is a very intense personal discussion with Our Lord, and the job of my spiritual director and friends on that list is to help me hear Him more clearly.

Dangers of Unsolicited Advice:

The problem is that everyone wants to offer a suggestion which I guarantee you won't be proper and which they WOULD NOT offer if they knew all the details.

And the other half of that: the unsolicited advice might be completely contrary to what I know I need to do, have been told to do, and the wrong advice might stick in my head and distract me, cause doubts, second-guessing, etc.

In the end, such "advice" backfires and causes greater problems. It doesn't solve anything. I don't need anyone here to solve anything for me. It's not the JOB of any of my readers to solve anything for me.

Perhaps, then, you may be asking WHY I post what I do, if not for advice?

I post it on behalf of others who are also discerning. And it seems that every time I consider deleting a post or just taking the whole blog down, someone sends me an email to express that they are in a similar boat and what I'm writing helps them to realize they're not crazy, they're not alone, and others go through the same thing. And it is those emails that keep me going, too. Because in reading them, I realize that I'm not crazy, I'm not alone, and others are going through the same thing.

I do hope that what I write also helps others to better understand the people in their life who might be discerning their own Vocations. I hope it helps people to realize that it's NOT an easy process, nor should it be. Nothing worthwhile or real is easy.

Mother Assumpta of the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, a few years ago at a conference said, "You have to suffer for what you love." It was true about the topic in that conference, and it's true about discerning God's will. If we love God, we have to suffer in and with that love, and through that love. We can only find Him if we pass through the Cross.

Discernment is a road to Calvary. I am reminded of Jesus' own terrible walk up that hill, and recall the advice given to Him as He was crucified: "Come down from that cross!"

He didn't get good advice either, did He? And if He had taken that advice...where would ANY of us be?

Jesus listened to the voice of the Father, and acted in the will of the Father, even though everyone around Him had something else to say about it, all of it wrong, because they, also, didn't have all the facts, and didn't understand even those that they DID have!

So to those of you who live to give advice, please understand that it is for my spiritual good to ask you to stand down and stay your hands. You may think you have the perfect thing to say, and maybe you do, but please respect the fact that, unless I state otherwise, I need to focus on the advice coming from those who have all the facts and know me the best.

Thank you, and God bless you.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"Those Who Know Cannot Explain. Those Who Don't Cannot Understand"

Remember "No Fear" shirts? The Mall of America used to have a "No Fear" store and I loved that place! It's where I found and purchased a t-shirt with the title phrase of this post. I wish I still had it.

I'd wear it every day just so I could point to it every time someone asks me a question about how my trip went and what my decision is.

Of course, everyone is assuming that I will enter religious life, and they can't seem to understand why I really can't discuss my retreat very much. So in order to perhaps explain a little, this post will answer some of that, only so that I can be left in peace and the curious among you can move on as well.

"Everyone Says..."

Everyone says that when you find where you belong you'll "know" it with every fibre of your being. Everyone I've spoken with found their convent or monastery or abbey or even seminary that way. They explain how they arrived and just knew it was Home.

And yes, that's beautiful, and for some it turns out to be a temporary home, for others, permanent. But it was clear that God wanted them there, and when they describe this experience, their eyes shine, even if they aren't at that particular place anymore.

I didn't approach my visit with an expectation of that, but rather just tried to stay open to what the Holy Spirit was desiring for me. I had two main questions, hoping to settle at least one of them:

1. Is God calling me to religious life?

2. If so, is this home?

Even though I've been writing about this for a long time, whether or not God is calling me to this has never been a settled question. It has been a mere reasonable suspicion, something I needed to find out before making any other life decisions. Everything for the rest of my life flows from an answer to that very big question.

The ten days of my discernment retreat with the two communities did not answer either question. I did not experience a single moment of actual "peace" that everyone describes. What I did experience was an interior agony of questions without answers.

I've written of the practical experience in the convent and the brief visit at the monastery outside of the enclosure, and yes, it was a good experience. I'm glad I went. I have no doubt that I was SUPPOSED to go, God was present, He spoke to me in many many ways and I was grateful for every moment with Him.


Jesus revealed His own agony and suffering in totally new ways to me while I was there, and I will write a little about that in another post. He was with me completely, every bloody step, and sometimes hauling me along when I was ready to drop in my tracks.

Last Sunday and Monday, even part of Tuesday, I was on the edge of tears almost every single moment, so spiritually exhausted I wasn't sure I could carry on any further. Were it not for God's very real grace, I wouldn't have been able to continue on.

I've never experienced that kind of complete and total exhaustion. Some of it was due to the very regimented schedule. The fact that the schedule tired me surprised me, especially given the kind of work I've done juxtaposed with the simplicity of the work in the convent and all the quiet time in the chapel. It didn't seem to me that it would be possible to be so tired!

Yet I can't say I really slept that well there. The bed was uncomfortable, the pillow was industrial plastic, I wasn't adapted to the hours of sleep and waking, etc etc. Sleeping well wile travelling is a rarity for most people I think.

Put all this together along with the constant spiritual struggle, the very intense discernment I was experiencing and,'s pretty obvious a human being can only experience so much before collapse.

While I was with the Sisters of Charity, I didn't speak of this struggle. I couldn't. They were wonderful to me, offered great advice, and their clear invites to join them were sincere. I did tell Sr. H., my "Guardian Angel" that I still wasn't even sure I had a vocation at all, and she said nothing, probably knowing from her own years of experience how difficult it really is.

It actually caused a certain kind of interior agony when the General Superior told me in our meeting on my last day that she'd welcome my entrance, and another dear Mother came into the bakery on the morning that I left. She extended her own personal invitation and told me that if I wanted it, they had a place there for me. Now, this dear dear lady is one of the foundresses who suffered much for this American congregation, and even though she is bent over with osteoporosis, even though she can't look anyone directly in the face, I never saw her without a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye. She even went into the kitchen to help the novices clean the dishes a few times!

Not knowing where I'm called, what I'm supposed to be doing, and yet receiving these invitations tore my heart in two and contributed even more to the intensity. And yet, I was joyful in the knowledge that they were so willing to give me a chance and welcome me into their home and community. And, especially given that I'm 35 and so many communities have shut their doors to me, well, it was especially meaningful to know that this door remains open.

I did receive an explanation on my weariness from Sr. MC when I visited the Dominican Monastery, and discussed it even further this morning when I met with my spiritual director. It is actually a great comfort to know that everyone experiences that and, in essence, I'm completely normal! This kind of intense discernment is very, very wearing on every level, and EVERYONE "crashes" at some point. I certainly did.


It's a bit frustrating that everyone in my life is asking me if my experience at the convent is "something I think I might want to do." Many people think the experience is akin to a job. It's not.

They can't understand why I can't give an answer. They can't understand why I can't really discuss it. They don't understand the intensity or the interior agony that is discernment. They can't understand; many people who are married never actually "discerned" marriage! (Oy, but that's a different topic and one I'm not going to touch!)

It really is a very lonely place to be, and yet, it's FILLED with God. Anything that causes this much suffering HAS to be a great gift.

But it's not something that can be revealed. I have my very short list of people who are privy to what's going on, and the cool thing about them is that they've been there and know what this is like, which means I don't have to describe very much.

I can talk to them and not have to explain why it's so hard. I can allude to the agonizing week I've had and don't have to define any specifics. They know that what goes on between a soul and God doesn't have words in any language. And yet, those who have been through this trial know it so well that they won't even ASK for an explanation.

A Personal Request to my readers:

People often read such posts and in their good will, find it hard to overcome the temptation to offer advice. Please don't try to offer me advice. As I said, the list of people privy to what's really going on is very very short and I NEED to keep it that way. I do not write of this struggle by way of a request for advice, and too much advice is overwhelming and often presumptuous. (I mean no offense by that!)

I considered closing comments up front, but there may be readers who want to share their own experiences. So, maybe I can say this: If you are tempted to want to offer advice or "fix me" in some way...duct tape your fingers to your chair or your desk or anything that keeps you away from the keyboard. Please and Thank You! :-)

If you have your own experience to share, or a practical question, random free association having nothing to do with anything (spam will be association is OK...), etc....comment away! :-)

My hope is that this post satisfies those who are on the edge of their seat expecting the climax of some epic movie. Might as well settle in...the end is NOT near! I hope it also causes those who have been holding their breath at the announcement of my Profession to breathe again. I'd prefer that no one suffer on my account!

I will continue to write of my discernment and where it goes, as long as God wills. But for now I have a great deal to think and pray about and much to consider that I'd prefer never to discuss in an open forum.

Please continue praying for me, and all those in discernment, INCLUDING especially those who have entered religious life and haven't taken solemn vows. They are ALL in formation and without prayers, they'll never make it. (Pray for those who HAVE taken vows, too, they still need lots of help!).

The Nuns, Sisters, Brothers, Monks, Friars that you write to for prayers need prayers too. Never forget that. Pray for them without ceasing. They pray for you.

*** Comments are now closed. I posted a very simple request in bright red bold colors and it was subsequently ignored. ****