Life after Epiphany


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If you have left religious life…

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 4.57.30 pm… do you feel a little lost, or a little alone?

Please allow me to share with you a little of my own baby steps in this area, and tell you about a wonderful service you might find helpful as you take the time and space you need to re-adjust.

When I returned to the world, even though there was a real peace in the knowledge that leaving was what He was asking of me, I still felt the weight of a very radical life change. I had moved half way around the world, had no income or means, and was completely dependent on the goodness of others for several months. I felt a little isolated, too; there just isn’t any kind of experience analogous to living and leaving religious life. It was something I need to explore and talk about in order to process it and adjust to the “new normal”, but with whom could I discuss it?

I tried to talk with family and friends. They wanted so badly to help, to comfort, to assist with the adjustment, and did what they could; yet I needed something they were not equipped to give. I needed to speak with someone who had lived something similar to what I had lived. I needed someone who on some level could understand the experience, because it was a shared experience.

“Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .””

― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Lewis knew what he was talking about!!!

Friendship is so important through life’s ups and downs, but often the type of friendship that helps most is the very type Lewis defines here. Re-connecting with a few very dear friends who had also entered and left was the very best thing that could happen to me. We lived in different timezones, but somehow we managed to organise times for Skype calls where we could enjoy each other’s company, reminisce a little and support each other through our respective adjustments. Shared experience, a great deal of gentleness with each other  and some quality time… and all of a sudden I was experiencing healing. The Lord was working through these wonderful women and drawing me closer to Himself all the while!

Then my need for this fellowship encountered an extraordinary blessing: the Leonie’s Longing ministry. Leonie’s Longing are a not-for-profit based in the United States, but with a global reach. As far as officially who they are, I’ll let their own “about” page do the talking on that. But I WILL tell you what I have experienced.

When I first contacted Leonie’s Longing I was tentative, afraid, even. I did not share particularly personal information – my heart was hurting and I needed badly to protect it. I gave only those essential facts, the bare minimum of what I needed to convey to be able to receive whatever assistance they could offer. A member of their team of volunteers responded so gently and simply. There was no pressure to respond again, but I did… after a little time had passed. I was still so afraid, so it took a little while before I was ready to reach out again and continue the conversation. Over a period of many months an occasional email went back and forth, but that was all because it was about as much as I could deal with. Each time what was offered was real support and a willing ear, accompanied by respect for my privacy and patience with my fear. Reading the various blog posts of many young women who had similar experiences to my own… but seeing it all through their eyes… was SO HELPFUL. Occasionally, even I now write the odd post here or there for their blog, in my own little effort to give back just a little bit, because I am so very grateful for the support and the sense of community I have found through them. I’d love to be able to help others in the same way… to “pay it forward”, so to speak.

So if you are looking for prayer support, for fellowship… even practical support in your area, you may find this ministry helpful like I did. May the Lord bless, comfort and provide for each of you as you adjust to life out in the world again.

Follow @LeoniesLonging on Twitter

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Leonie’s Longing Website

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After Epiphany…? Baptism!!

Isn’t it funny how, as we keep unfolding our own lives through the normal course of the passage of time, we chance across considerations that – as obvious as they seem right now – never occurred to us before? I feel like a mighty great “DUH!!!!” is echoing down the ages!

Almost two years ago, I started this blog to be my outlet as I muddled through what life after epiphany should look like.

The answer was there all along, of course. Right there in the Liturgical Calendar!! The Sunday that follows Epiphany is the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, and this is RICH in significance… so much so that I daresay that I will continue to be unfolding this for many years to come. Some initial thoughts do occur to me now, though.

1. Mission
Our Lord’s Baptism was the beginning of His public ministry. It seems fitting that a ritual associated with conversion (even though we know Our Lord was sinless and had no personal need for conversion) leads into a life that takes on a new, higher purpose. We see the same most clearly in the conversion of St Paul and his subsequent life as a missionary. I can’t help but think that it is of crucial importance that I should be considering at this time, after my own special epiphany experience, the meaning of my own Baptism some 33 years ago, and the fact that I am called by virtue of that Baptism to be a worker in the Lord’s vineyard (c.f. Christifideles Laici). My experiences in my former religious community were fitting me for a special task in His service.

2. Suffering
In Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI highlights that the premise of Baptism is the admission of sinfulness. In the Sinless One receiving Baptism, He “loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners. His inaugural gesture is an anticipation of the Cross” (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, p18). My time in formation gave me a clearer insight into what some of my personal weaknesses and tendencies towards sinfulness are. I know specifically much of what it was that Our Lord bore particularly for me down into the Jordan riverbed of Rita Simmond’s poem (c.f. Magnificat, January edition 2015, p150). I also know that to be Baptised and to share in His Sonship is to share in all aspects of His life – including His suffering and His death. Has my time in religious life, my unique experience of His love, changed the way I can follow Him on that path? One thing is for sure – if this is the path that I’m walking, I want it to bear fruit, and abundantly! Fruit that I can offer back to Him as a gift of thanksgiving.

3. Fulfillment
Sharing in His death, we know, entails sharing then in His Resurrection afterward!! Pope Benedict reminds us that Luke, in his Gospel, located the Baptism of Our Lord at the conclusion of his presentation of the Genealogy of Christ (p 10). Christ is the anointed one, the Messiah, the fulfilment of all the great prophecies. Christ is likewise the fulfilment of my deepest desires. He gives me glimpses of the future from time to time, to help support me in my own weakness. Being weaker than most, I also needed a special, prolonged time of intimacy with Him in the cloister. But that is just the promise. Christ Himself is the fulfillment. And so I need to stop looking back over my shoulder at what has been, except to remember His goodness to me and give thanks. I need to keep forging on ahead, following Him every step of the way, to that ultimate fulfilment, that eternity with Him.

Deo gratias!!


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Sonnet of Self-Dedication

Otherwise entitled: “Prayer of a Postulant.” This was written during my Postulant year – but the themes hold true even out here in lay life. Perhaps even more than at the time of writing.

– – – – –

King of the deep, Lord of the storm
Command mine raging heart be still
To ponder Your Incarnate form
To contemplate Your holy will.

Now stir me up with zeal for souls
and send me out to push the plough
To run t’ward the Eternal Goal
Then live the Everlasting Now.

Yet in my weakness, Lord, I fall
Please help me humbly stand again
Would that for love of You, my all
Be in Your service wholly spent.

Saviour, King, Beloved, Friend:
Totus Tuus, till my life’s end.

– – – – –

(A dusty sketch from October 2011)


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Sometimes I think my most intense moments are lived in my car… (JGL 6)

Ever heard that song “Woke Up in America” by Matt Maher?

That song has been a little bit of a personal theme song, given my American convent adventure…  and the fact that Australia, as an island nation, is basically a rock in the middle of the ocean (even though technically it is NOT the rock to which Matt Maher was referring!).

So many of the lyrics just truly resonate with me! I really did wake up in America for the love of God, for something bigger than myself!

Tonight as I was driving along and rocking out to the song, though, I was struck by the fact that the preposition TO could also work there… instead of FOR. I woke up in America TO the love of God: my unique encounter with Him woke me up to the reality that His particular and personal love for me is deep beyond my comprehension… I woke up to this reality in such a way that it is far more than “head knowledge” now. Somehow this has become a lived reality for me, something that finally embarked upon that massive journey from my head to my heart, covered the distance and started to take root there.

I woke up in America TO something bigger than myself. I was confronted by the dreadful extent of my own selfishness. In my pride, I was scandalised by my own weakness. But living in community has a way of opening one’s heart to love others… slowly, almost against your will at first… until one sees that there is a world out there of people who need to be loved, people for whom I could be the instrument of God’s own love. Once again, what had been head knowledge started to penetrate my rocky heart.

I guess perhaps the impact of this is lost somewhat in the telling, but I was simply overwhelmed with gratitude for the incredible gift of my time there. Sometimes I get bogged down in the grief of the loss that came with leaving my Community, and the surprising extent to which the adjustment of resettling into lay life has been so very arduous. On this particular occasion, however, I was engulfed with an awareness of what an amazing blessing had been given me.

I think back upon that time, and I realise that it was about as far from “one size fits all” formation that you could get. There were particular experiences and lessons that my peers did not receive – experiences and lessons that were gifted only to me, custom-designed for my formation and salvation. I am sure that the reverse is also true. A gift… a delightfully personal gift… one that continues to form me.

As for Matt Maher – he makes FANTASTIC driving music. I sing, I dance at the traffic lights, I drum-beat the steering wheel… I must look like a lunatic! But the whole thing is a prayer 🙂 Mostly, its just time enjoyed singing praise… but every now and then there is a moment of significance, a moment of discovery, a moment of gratitude.

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good! His love endures for ever!

– – – – – – –

NB: JGL = Journal of God’s Love
What IS the Journal of God’s Love?


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tears

2468946This past week in Australia has seen public outcry at the fact that the newly announced cabinet includes only one woman. Whilst I will plainly state my opinion that this is a cosmetic and transparently partisan complaint of little substance, given that our leadership should entirely be selected on capability and merit rather than meaningless gender quotas, I do not want to get stuck on this point. Rather, I would like to acknowledge that the vocation of woman is different to the vocation of man, and I would like to explore one aspect of this vocation of woman.

Now before the radical feminists of the world get all up in arms let me be very clear: I am NOT saying that there is not a role for women to play in leadership or government in this day and age. Absolutely not. There is overlap between the roles of women and men, but there are also characteristics of serving the Lord and building up the Church that tend to be unique to femininity and masculinity. I would envisage women as leaders to fall within the overlap, but perhaps a woman’s style of leadership might then veer into the area of what is unique to femininity.

overlappedvocationven

Fr. Gerald Vann OP, in a book that is a personal favourite of mine, Heart of Compassion: The Vocation of Woman Today, appeals to the teaching of St. Paul in the Mystical Body of Christ and its composition comprising many different parts with different roles (1 Cor 12:21). He tells us that we will not achieve the freedom and dignity of woman by trying to make her a man – and then goes on to examine some of the ways in which the differences are complimentary. His underlying thesis appears to be that the woman’s contribution is ESSENTIAL to the success of the masculine vocation, and that the masculine vocation helps to give meaning or context to the feminine vocation.

After an examination on a generic level, Fr. Vann moves to a detailed exploration of the ‘Vocation of Tears’ that I found very striking… and moving. It is of course fitting that he establishes the Blessed Mother as the exemplar of a feminine vocation well-lived… she who kept all things and pondered them in her heart.

stMarysCathedralMAR2013 021What a precious gift, that the woman is, by nature, receptive and contemplative! Pondering deeply will almost always entail some kind of personal response, and often this is one of compassion. Maternity, whether biological or spiritual, requires compassion, and the Mother of Sorrow, depicted in the pieta holding her precious Son, teaches us trust during despair and courage in the face of suffering.

“We cannot think adequately of woman’s vocation within the Mystical Body of Christ without thinking of the mystery of vicarious suffering and expiation”

~ Fr. Gerald Vann OP (p70, Heart of Compassion)

Fr. Vann further illustrates with a look at St. Monica, quiet and patient over many years weeping and crying out to the Lord on behalf of her son, St. Augustine. He tells us that St. Monica would take part in the philosophical discussions that were involved in St. Augustine’s catechetical preparation for Baptism, but emphasised that the conversion came much earlier, a movement of the Spirit in St. Augustine’s life, an answer to prayer… the fruit of tears, not words.

“We are concerned with the tears that express a deep feeling of responsibility in the sight of God, that are themselves a prayer and a sacrifice to God, and that are part of the vocation of Christian motherhood because the love of the son who causes them is in itself an aspect of the love of God. It is tears such as these that can be the channel of saving grace; it is the children of tears such as these who cannot perish.”

~ Fr. Gerald Vann OP (p72, Heart of Compassion)

Fr. Vann exhorts women to learn to pray the De Profundis, i.e. Psalm 129 (130), on behalf of humankind, and in so doing, to unite our very prayer life with the one efficacious sacrifice made by Jesus on the Cross. If we look around us, we see so many reasons to despair, so many reasons to weep. Our tears, though, are not tears of despair. Our tears are fundamentally an expression of hope, hope in the love and mercy of the Father who keeps His promise to His children.


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blowtorch

I love when word-play accidentally hits upon a truth and makes it fun.

Last night, I attended a priestly ordination in the Diocese of Parramatta. With two of my relatives (my brother, and my cousin) currently seminarians of the Diocese, it was for me an exciting glimpse into the future, at the same time as being a joyous occasion in its own right.

Please pray for the newly ordained Fr. John Paul Escarlan!

Anyway, this is all just setting the scene. My family and I were walking back to the car after the evening and somehow there was a context in our conversation for the word “asceticism” to come up.

My father made a classic, tragic “Dad Joke” and asked: “isn’t that what you mix with oxygen to make a blowtorch work?”

Dad was just trying to be funny, but actually, he was stumbling onto a deep spiritual truth about which mystics have been writing for centuries.

Enter John Cassian. He tells us that asceticism bears fruit in contemplative prayer. When we investigate contemplative prayer, even at a surface level, we come across John of the Cross and his famous poem The Living Flame of Love. We encounter Therese of Lisieux’s triumphant discovery of her love-vocation as she prays

O Luminous Beacon of Love! I know how to reach you, I have found the secret of possessing your flame…Yes, in order that Love be fully satisfied, it is necessary that it lower itself, and that it lower itself to nothingness and transform this nothingness into fire.

~ Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul

Far from being monopolized by the Carmelites, we see it in St. Catherine of Siena’s injunction to be what we should be so that we set the world on fire. We see it in Bernard of Clairvaux’s fourfold breakdown of love.

We read a very striking account of Blaise Pascal’s “night of fire” where he was gifted with an experience of contemplative prayer of which he wrote and sewed in to the lining of his coat so that he could carry that experience with him always.

Just as acetylene and oxygen fuel the fire produced by a blowtorch, so asceticism nourished by the oxygen of the Sacraments and the Word of God produce the Living Flame of God’s Love in our lives.

Nice work, Dad 🙂


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12 generous women

At this very moment, the twelve novices with whom I used to live in community are professing public vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. They are on the other side of the world from where I live, so I am unable to be present to celebrate with them. The best that I could do was to go to Mass for them earlier today, and to be up now, at this crazy hour, thinking of them, praying for them, and making a note in my blog about it to mark the occasion.

When I was a religious sister, my name was Sr. Catherine Thérèse. My patronesses were Catherine of Siena, and Thérèse of Lisieux.

One of my patronesses, St. Thérèse, wrote a stirring poem of deep significance to myself and my sisters, entitled The Melody of Saint Cecilia. I have included an extract below that I think is fitting as my sisters approach the altar today:

“Your union, spotless, chaste, shall win great souls to God
Souls that no other spouse than Christ shall seek on earth
And near His heavenly throne, when life’s hard path is trod
There you shall see them shine, in saintly joy and mirth”

Cecilia, lend to me thy melody most sweet:
How many souls would I convert to Jesus now.
I fain would die, like thee, to win them to His feet;
For him give all my tears, my blood. Oh, help me, thou!

Pray for me that I gain, on this our pilgrim way
Perfect abandonment that sweetest fruit of love.
Saint of my heart! oh, soon, bring me to endless day;
Obtain that I may fly with thee to heaven above!


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dulce et decorum est

The Poet quoth the Roman:

“Dulce et decorum est
pro patria mori”
Were “Patria” Your Kingdom,
the Truth this mayhap be
and yet, if mori happens
though not for love of You
it makes these words sheer vanity
and renders them untrue.

– – – – –

(A dusty sketch started in November 2012, completed September 2013)


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on discerning whether one is called to religious life or to marriage

The word discern comes from the Latin word discernere, meaning literally “to separate”.

The trouble is that I think many sincere young people try to look at all their options all jumbled up together and they forget that making sense of their life direction is about separating it out and looking seriously at one thing at a time.

On an online forum that I frequent, I encountered the opinion that “one should not consider dating until one has discerned whether they are called to religious life or marriage”. I have to admit – that one made me scratch my head just a little bit! I believe that the motivation behind it was sincere caution, but I think that perhaps this is just a little over-zealous?

If the idea is to separate out the options and examine one option at a time, then one is faced with a decision: Which option do I begin exploring first?This, to me, is something that is often answered quite simply by the circumstances of life. If the person has an interest in someone in particular that he or she might have met, then it would seem that the possibility of marriage is the natural option to begin with.

If one is single and there is presently not a single member of the opposite sex that stands out as particularly attractive in sight, then perhaps that person would do well to consider religious life seriously as their first option. I think its fair to say that God gets through to us oftentimes through the circumstances of our lives and He expects us to use just a little common sense in figuring out where to begin!

It may be that whichever first option was selected is actually discounted in a very short time, or it may be an exploration that takes years. Sooner or later a person has to decide upon the most likely direction in their circumstances, and follow it wholeheartedly, trusting fully that God will close any doors through which He does not want us to walk if we are generously and sincerely seeking to follow Him.

The reality is, however, that if there is not, at a given point in time, an individual to whom a person may be attracted, then it is silly to attempt to explore the possibility of marriage. Marriage is not a generic abstraction – marriage is a union between two individuals – a man and a woman. If you are called to marriage then you are called to marriage with a specific person, and that person is called to marriage with you.

I think a great many young people put themselves under pressure to figure it all out now… perhaps these young people would arrive at an awareness of God’s call sooner if they steadily and patiently examined one thing at a time and trusted God with all the rest?


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an historic day: my solidarity with his holiness, Benedict XVI, as the Church approaches interregnum

Arriving home from an evening out with friends to be told by my father that the Holy Father had resigned was a shock to say the very least… so much so that I haven’t been able to put my thoughts and emotions in order until now.

Two experiences can have a world of difference between them, and yet there can be but a single commonality between them that engenders a spirit of solidarity… I feel this way about the experience of my following God’s call not to make the vows of a religious when I consider it in the light of Benedict XVI’s decision to follow God’s call to step down from the Papacy.

A decision not to proceed with making vows, but rather to leave religious life, can be rash, or it can be prayerfully discerned after a great deal of deliberation on one’s knees. Thanks be to God, mine was the latter.  I feel convinced that in my case, my leaving was a lovingly compliant response to the direction of the Holy Spirit. In the announcement that the Holy Father made on 11 February, he indicated that much careful discernment had gone into his decision to renounce the chair and retire to a life of prayer. Certainly in the case of the Holy Father, one whom we have known to be a man of deep prayer, I cannot believe that his decision could have been anything other than a similarly loving act of obedience to the direction of the Spirit.

The Holy Father’s decision has been subject to a great deal of public scrutiny and criticism, on a massive scale. For me, the scale is very different, but within my own sphere of family, friends and acquaintances, I have likewise been subject to scrutiny and criticism. In both cases, the criticism is coming from people who don’t understand, who have no concept of the conversation with God that has transpired and led to the decision, and certainly no concept of the weight of responsibility that the decision involves, nor the emotional impact of such a decision and its aftermath.

I know what a difficult thing my own decision was. I feel blessed and supported by my Saviour and know that I could not have had the strength to follow through were it not for the grace that came with the prompting. Inspired by St. Augustine, I had long been praying “accomplish in me what You command!” Even with grace and the knowledge that I am infinitely loved by Him, this decision and the monumental changes it has involved have been the most difficult time of my life. Amidst it all has come both joy and peace… and yet at the same time it has involved much trial and suffering, and what feels like God’s absence, even though I know that is only a feeling, and that He is there with me all the time. This is a challenging time, and yet it is a time of hope and of growth. I feel quite certain that the Lord is drawing me closer to Himself… on the Cross.

Knowing what I now know through this experience, I am in AWE of the soon-to-be Emeritus Bishop of Rome, His Holiness Benedict XVI.

My decision was small potatoes by comparison. The enormity of what he has done, and the courage, obedience and love that it must have taken, along with the humility that has been exhibited in the manner of its execution… I just can’t get my head around it! We are witnessing history, and we are witnessing authentic greatness.

Many scare-mongerers have speculated in the news frenzy and on the blogosphere about potential conspiracy theories and power-plays that could be going on behind the scenes, motivating this unexpected move from the Holy Father. I guess this is to be expected, particularly from non-believers and from cynics. This act is outside the norm, even if both precedent and canonical provision exist for it. Without an understanding of, an experience of or a belief in the workings of grace, who wouldn’t think that there was more afoot than meets the eye?

Then there is the bookmaking circus – the bets on the outcome of the upcoming Conclave. Lucky for those involved that Canon Law is more lenient than it used to be!

Despite all of this, I really do believe sincerely that this is exactly what the Holy Father says it is. And I believe that, rather than interpreting these reasons that he has given us as a retreat from responsibility, what we are really witnessing is a call to deeper sacrifice, a yet weightier role. Benedict XVI is being invited up to the mountain, as the Peter of our time, to contemplate the transfigured Face of Christ, and in so doing, is interceding ceaselessly for the needs of a suffering Church as it seeks to more deeply understand the disfigured Face of Christ on the Cross. In a way perhaps chiastically, the Face of Christ does not remain disfigured, but again becomes radiant in the glorified, Resurrected Body.

If anyone feels the need to look for a deeper significance to the Holy Father’s act than that which he has explained to us himself, I would suggest that one need look no farther than the reality that the Holy Father is both a theologian and a teacher. I think it is fair to say that this is the deliberate act of an intelligent man, an act designed to have a teaching significance that will form a significant part of the Holy Father’s legacy to the faithful. His renunciation of the Chair, rather than standing in contradiction to the witness of John Paul the Great’s heroic teaching on the dignity of the elderly and the sick, rather complements it beautifully.

John Paul the Great taught us that a person’s dignity resides in the reality of who they are, not in any utilitarian value that can be placed on their capacity for output or productivity. He taught us that the sick and the elderly are people to be loved, and that loving is never a burden. These facts should be self-evident, yet our society has become blind, unable to apprehend this objective reality without guidance from one who can see. And boy, could John Paul the Great see!!

Now, Benedict XVI teaches us that humility, obedience, love and trust are necessary in the encounter with the person of Christ, and that our responsibility to live in a way that reflects these virtues extends into our senior years. Benedict XVI doesn’t get off the hook just because he’s living the last years of his life – no, massive life changes and suprising commands from God happen even when one is an octagenarian! It is still our duty, in justice to our Creator, to freely choose to obey in love. Benedict teaches us about the freedom there is in obedience. He teaches us that life is a struggle, right up until we breathe our last, but that continuing to struggle is possible, even when one is old and tired! He teaches us that courage is not simply a virtue of the young and the strong.

Most of all, the contrast between these two holy servants of God show us that holiness looks different on different people. No one person’s path to heaven is the same as that of any other.

Thanks be to God! We are living in a time of great saints!

In approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes, the Chair of St. Peter will be vacant. (To correspond with 8pm 28 Feb ROME time). Mary, Mediatrix of Graces and Mother of the Church – pray for us.