Life after Epiphany


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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.

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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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Getting real about my confusion… (JGL 5)

So its been 4 months and 1 week since I did my Audrey Hepburn impersonation.

Have you ever watched The Nun’s Story?

**SPOILER ALERT!!**

In the closing scene Hepburn (Sr. Luke) goes into a little room near the back door of the convent in which she has lived. Changing into some simple clothes, she removes her habit and veil for the last time, revealing a mess of closely cropped hair and a combination of fear and excitement that is palpable.

Her solitude in this scene is confronting. Her goodbyes have already been said, without demonstration, without delays. She steps out the back door and it is all over.

Similarly, I went into a small room to remove my habit and veil for the last time, donning simple, comfortable clothes and partaking of a hearty meal (it was breakfast time) to prepare for the long trip  had ahead of me. Alone, in silence. Well, not really alone – the Lord was with me. I was blessed also that, when I had eaten and changed and emerged from this little room, I had companions for my journey. My novice mistress and a dear friend of mine accompanied me to the airport, helped me get organized, and stayed with me right up until the sign “Passengers only beyond this point” jumped out at me, taunting me, as I took that final step away from the life I had known.

Lets not over-dramatize this. I had not, like Hepburn’s character, lived the life for 20+ years. I had been a novice, I was in my second year of religious life, and I had not yet made vows. It is, however, quite remarkable how quickly that place and that life became my home, and how difficult it has been to let go.

When I left, I had absolute clarity  that although God had called me to live religious life for a time, that He was not calling me to make vows. That clarity was necessary, for without it I would not have been able to make the decision to leave. It was a beautiful mercy, that for that time I was able to see so clearly, for the Truth truly did make me free. I chose freely my path and did so with complete trust that the steadfast love of God would persist and that He smiled upon my desire to please Him in what I was doing. Although the FEELING of certainty is failing me these days, my intellectual capacity to choose to trust the Father who keeps His promises remains. I still trust in the clarity I was given at the time the decision was to be made and acted upon.

Nevertheless, for all that I choose to continue trusting, I still have a mess of feelings and confusion with which to contend. That disconnect between my head and my heart is causing disconcerting unease.

#1 gripe with the outside world? THERE’S NO SILENCE!! It really drives me nuts 😉

I live in a large family and it is unreasonable and uncharitable to lock myself away from them during normal living hours. I steal a few hours of silent, alone time in the wee small hours when I can, when I know its not going to make me an absolute zombie at work the next day.

But then there’s the question of how I use the little silence that I manage to procure whilst the world snores.

In the convent, the times and places of silence were designed to help me to be recollected in the Lord, to make every bit of time possible a meeting place with Him. It was prayer time!

Here? I know instinctively that I need the silence… but I get lost in my own thoughts so often and tend to run away from being alone with Him.

What am I afraid of?

I don’t want to let my intimacy with the Lord slip away into the night. My relationship with Him means everything to me. And yet even to cry out the words of Psalm 22 seems misplaced here – for it is not GOD who is doing the abandoning.

My God, my God, don’t let me abandon You! Help me to be faithful! Help me respond to Your grace!

Those times we would sit together in the chapel, and I would imagine we were walking together in the garden in the cool of the day? I long for those twilight “walks” again!

Teach me how to love You, how to abide with You, out here in the world since it seems that THIS and not the inside of a cloister is where You want me to be.

Meanwhile… I give thanks to the Lord amidst this confusion. I know that even this crazy time of being unsettled is itself a gift in the broader context of my salvation. A gift of providence from the Father who knows exactly what I need to ensure that one day I dwell with Him in Heaven.

Even in this whirlwind, I am experiencing God’s love.

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

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