Life after Epiphany

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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.


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.



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?


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!

– – – – – – –

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

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A Shakespearean prankster and a stubborn Egyptian dead guy… the importance of the little choices we make

Harmless mischief, the little white lie, the throwaway hurtful comment… such little things really. Really?

Iago certainly thought so.

“An old black ram is tupping your white ewe.” Crass? Yes. But boys will be boys, right?

That is where it started. Later in Shakespeare’s play Othello, through a chain of choices that each represent only small increments of movement away from respectability, we see that that Iago has been drawn into something over which he no longer has full control. His agency has been compromised. His mischief has escalated beyond the category of harmless prank and entered the realms of the sinister… and as one watches the play unfold, one very much gets the impression that Iago is less and less free to choose a way out of his pattern of increasingly destructive behaviour – through circumstances that he himself orchestrated. The consequences of his earlier choices limit his options in later choices. Whilst his evil was not originally intended, it was still originally chosen.

choicesJumping back into the ancient text of Exodus, we see a similar scenario. Have  you ever read or listened to the passage about the famous showdown between Moses and Pharaoh, where God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and thought that something didn’t quite add up?

After all, if God was hardening Pharaoh’s heart, wasn’t He forcing his hand, limiting his freedom? Perhaps, had not Pharaoh’s heart been hardened by forces beyond his control, he would have made a more merciful and reasonable choice and allowed the Israelites to go free without the need for all of those firstborn sons to die?

Ah… but look at the passage again. God did not “interfere” by hardening Pharaoh’s heart until he had already stubbornly refused to let the Israelites go on several occasions. Each time Pharaoh chose against the good, the just, the merciful – he influenced his own future and limited his own agency. God, in hardening the heart of the Pharaoh, was simply allowing the consequences of Pharaoh’s own earlier choices to come to fruition.

WE CHANGE WHO WE ARE with EVERY choice that we make, however small.

In our choices we could be constructing for ourselves a prison of our own making, or we could be slowly getting better at identifying and selecting the good.

Never give up the struggle to choose the good in the decision you have before you in the present moment. There is ALWAYS grace in the present moment, that precious help from God, to do as He would have you do.

Be encouraged! You may have made choices you regret in the past – no matter! By consistently responding to God’s grace – fighting against the attraction to the easy-to-attain compromises and by persevering in the struggle to choose good, you will slowly but surely develop a predisposition, a habit in choosing good – virtue! Over time, doing good becomes more a reflex action – muscle memory of the will, so to speak. Now THAT is freedom!

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turn on the ignition!


A lot of us are sitting in the driveway in beautiful cars, tanks full of gas, oil in the crankshaft, fluid in the radiator… and we’re sitting there saying “I wish I could go places!”

Turn on the ignition!

Listening to a talk on “Fanning the Flame of Faith” by Alex Jones, I was struck by this remark that he made. How impotent we make ourselves!!

We are so blessed in the Catholic Church to have all we need. We have the Truth, revealed to us in the twofold deposit of faith in both Scripture and Tradition. We have the Sacraments. We have the Saints to show us how the Lord can be followed in every circumstance. We have the Blessed Mother to intercede for us to her Son. We have the Blessed Trinity dwelling within us by virtue of our Baptism… but none of us can benefit from these things or help others to benefit from them if we don’t turn on the ignition!

What is the ignition?

Well.. next time you hear one of our Protestant brothers or sisters talking about a personal relationship with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, DO NOT ROLL YOUR EYES and assume that this is buzz-word rhetoric. Our brothers and sisters in other denominations of Christianity differ with us in some very crucial ways, but on this point they are 100% correct.

You and I – each one of us – needs a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The ENCOUNTER with Christ is the spark that is ignited when the starter engine turns. The starter engine is the movement of Actual Grace – the Holy Spirit at work. Turning on the ignition, then, is surely represented in the action of begging the Lord for receptivity to grace.

The Mother General of the Community to which I used to belong once said to me that the first task of the New Evangelization is RECEPTIVITY TO GRACE. As a religious Novice, cloistered away from what one would generally consider the “mission field” of the New Evangelization, this made a profound impact on me. We need to RECEIVE from the Lord so that we can give to others. We have nothing, NOTHING, without Him. He asks us to give generously, but He first gives that we may then give to others! The life of a Novice is prayer, domestic work and prayer, study and prayer, more prayer. That prayer is less a talkative prayer and more a listening prayer. That prayer is receptivity in action. As a Novice, I was uniquely placed in the privileged position of being able to contribute authentically to the apostolate of my Community by being receptive to grace.

I often think of St. Paul, and the years that passed between his conversion and the beginning of his missionary journeys. Paul needed to be formed and strengthened in the Lord. He needed to receive before He could give.

Now, the Lord has called me away from religious life, but not before teaching me why He called me to that life in the first place. He wanted to give me something precious. The cloistered environment on the other side of the world were precisely the lengths to which He went to enable me to receive the gift He wanted to give to me. Here, out in the world again, I need to concern myself with sharing this with others. Giving myself to others is limited in its usefulness, for I am nothing and He is all. No – I want to give CHRIST to others! Paul tells us “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”

Crucial lesson from this: the receptivity cannot stop! My time in cloister is behind me now. But to live a life of effective, authentic service to His People out of love for Him, even as a lay person, requires fidelity to prayer in that inner cell that my patroness, St. Catherine of Siena, teaches us all about. Every day I need to turn on that ignition again, I need to beg the Lord for receptivity to grace and then I need to spend time in prayer with Him, receiving Him that I may share Him with others.

We can really go places. The Lord wants to take us there! So turn on the ignition and see what wonders He works in you!