#Discernment Essential: Ongoing Conversion

The Conversion of Saint Paul (Murillo)

The Conversion of Saint Paul (Murillo)

In a recent post, I wondered if this blog has emphasized enough the spiritual groundwork that we need to live in a spirit of discernment. I was especially thinking of the challenge of living in ongoing conversion as a discernment essential.

Do we really need “ongoing conversion”? We tend to think about conversion as a big event, something that happens when we become baptized, or make a huge change in our lives. But we need conversion in daily life, too, because no matter how dedicated we are to follow Christ, there are always very real obstacles to our union with him: temptations of this world and from other people, temptations from the devil, and, perhaps most confusing, temptations from within us—which are the effects of original sin. No temptation is more powerful than Christ’s grace at work in us, but when we give any of them attention, we start to let them drown out Christ’s invitations. Whether it’s a particular temptation, a moment of weakness, or a situation that leads us to sin, when we are no longer attentive to living God’s universal will of avoiding sin, our discernment becomes extremely difficult.

When he began his public life, Jesus invited everyone to conversion—the holy and the sinners. Conversion is a turning towards God, away from ourselves. This process is described beautifully by Jesus in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), and there is a short commentary on this parable in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which has a nice section on Conversion, Repentance, and Penance in the Article that treats the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Penance). I especially found #s1427-1439 helpful with regard to ongoing conversion.

The Pauline Family received a special invitation to live in ongoing conversion. In a time of great doubt for our Founder Blessed James Alberione, Jesus appeared to him and confirmed him in the Pauline vocation and spirituality that he was beginning in the Pauline Family. Jesus told him, “Do not be afraid. I am with you. From here,” and Jesus pointed to the tabernacle, “I will enlighten. Live with a penitent heart.”

The Founder gave these words to us; they are a concrete expression of how we are called to live our vocation as Paulines. If you enter a Pauline chapel any where around the world (and we are in over 50 countries), you will find these words there, in some form.

Our Founder wrote an account of this event at least twice in Italian, and they were not “word for word.” In particular, that last phrase has been translated several way into English:

“Live with a penitent heart.”

“Be sorry for sin.”

“Live in continual conversion.”

What I love about all three phrases is that they all express ongoing, daily conversion as essential to our life and mission in Christ, in our obedience to the Father’s will. How would you describe Christ’s call in your life to ongoing conversion?

You may also wish to check out this Litany of Ongoing Conversionwhich offers insights into how we might need to convert!

Wonderful Resource for Discerners Available Again!

I’m delighted to announce that the best resource that I know of for learning and understanding in-depth the spiritual art of discernment is once again available!

DiscernmentRupnik

Discernment: Acquiring the Heart of God by Jesuit priest Marko Ivan Rupnik is back in print!

So many people have been requesting this marvelous book that our editorial team  were able to put it back into print. Discernment: Acquiring the Heart of God is the most complete, all-in-one guide to learning how to discern God’s invitations in our lives that I have found. (Other books are very, very good, but I have found nothing so complete, in one small—but densely packed!— volume.) In addition, this superb book is a wonderful guide to the spiritual life.

This book has been so valued that, even though it only went out of print early this year, amazon sellers were selling individual used copies for over $50 each.

Contents include:

  • Discernment as relationship with God.
  • Understanding temptation.
  • How to surrender to Christ.
  • Practicing discernment.
  • Discernment one’s vocation.
  • Discernment in community.

If you have been enjoying this blog, but are interested in going deeper into the spiritual life and the practice of discernment, you certainly want to consider reading this book.

Prayer To Surrender to Love

After last week’s very personal post about my journey to greater trust in the Lord, I thought I would share this prayer of surrender from my journal.

By Artotem [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Prayer To Surrender to Love

Loving God, You know me intimately:

my fears,

my inability to trust You,

my grasping for those things over which I have no control,

my blindness to the reality of Your love and Your presence,

my stubbornness in never trusting the experience of Your love that You continuously shower on me.

I am a mess of contradictions: I want to witness to You,  while emotionally I am locked into overwhelming fear.

In Your time, in Your way, free me!

Let Your Presence fill my prison until its bars burst open

Let Your Love give wings to my desperate heart

Let Your Gentleness soothe my ego’s frantic efforts to control

Let Your Truth root my fluttering doubts

Let Your Light show my faltering feet the Way

Let Your Banquet nourish my weakness into Life

Let Your Faithfulness encompass and embrace me until…

     I am transformed from a being bound by Fear

          into a being transformed by Love. 

Jesus Master, my Way, my Truth, and my Life, I trust in You!

* * *

These are some classic, beautiful prayers of surrender and trust in  the Lord by some of the saints:

Suscipe by St. Ignatius of Loyola

Prayer of Abandon by Bl. Charles de Foucald

An Act of Oblation by St. Francis de Sales

Photo by Artotem [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

#Discernment Essential: Ongoing Conversion (or Letting God Break Through—a Sister’s Ongoing Conversion Story)

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The view from my outdoor “prayer nook” during my 8 day retreat

I was gifted with a beautiful annual retreat in July, and I also felt very privileged to carry all your intentions “with me” on the retreat. You continue to be in my prayers.

One of the challenges in discerning God’s will for our lives is making sure that we are open to his will. I came face to face with my own resistance to God’s invitation to me during this retreat.

* * *

For a long time, I’ve known that the Lord has been inviting me to trust him more. And I have been working at it and praying about it. I even thought I was growing in trust. But I wasn’t really wholehearted in my efforts or my prayers because, to be honest, his invitation scared me.

For many years, I have trusted the Lord in many ways and about many things. But for some time now, the Lord’s invitation to me has been to go deeper, to entrust to him everything, even those things that I have been holding back. And that has just seemed too hard. So in the past few years I’d prayed about it superficially, occasionally asked for the gift of greater trust and greater fortitude, but mostly…ignored it. I think I allowed fear to harden my heart.

God is unfailingly good, understanding, tender, gentle, and patient with me. Instead of forcing the issue, or giving up on me, he simply continued to work in my life in other ways. But the invitation was there, waiting…and he knew it and I gradually grew more and more aware of it. I started realizing that, when I wasn’t trusting the Lord with these things in my life, I would try to control them instead. (As if I could! ) I was reminded of the New Serenity Prayer that Father James Martin, SJ, wrote a few years back. Sometimes the only form of control I had was to worry about them.

During retreat God allowed me to experience a moment of extreme weakness. Perhaps he did it so that I would remember anew how very weak and fragile I am. It was very uncomfortable to recognize my littleness and fragility in the light of my efforts to control everything around me. But I think I needed this discomfort for my eyes to be opened, and God allowed it for this reason. None of the situations I was worried about were in my control. Wouldn’t it make more sense to entrust them to the God whom I have to come to know as tender, loving, gentle, and faithful—the God who could do something about them? Who probably already was doing something about them?

IMAG0883At a most beautiful moment in prayer, one in which I was simply pouring out my heart to God, God gave me the gift of being able to make that act of trust right then and there. With that act of trust came a great sense of peace and a sense of being loved by the Lord.

Of course, my act of trust was not, is not, a one-time act. It’s ongoing. My trust in the Lord can be renewed every day, every hour, and—in very difficult situations—every minute, if need be.

* * *

In coming back to this blog, I wonder if I have emphasized enough how important it is to be truly open to God’s will for us, an openness which requires living in ongoing conversion! I can make every effort to discern God’s will, but if I’m not listening, if I’m not open, or if I allow fear, grief,  pain, anger, or anything else to blind me, I can completely miss the loving invitation that God is holding out to me in this very moment.

Since I’ve returned to my daily life, I’ve been blessed to renew my trust in my Beloved Master many times. This is one of my favorite acts of trust, found in the journal of Blessed James Alberione. I encourage you to entrust yourself to the Lord frequently on your discernment journey:

I trust in You, Sacred Heart of my Master!

If I enter religious life, do I waste the “gifts” God has given me?

Slide2Another question from a reader:

I am currently in the process of discerning a call to the religious life. However, of late, I am experiencing a deep-seated struggle over what feels like a “locking away” of my gifts.

I have been an actor, writer and poet since I was a child, and I am passionate about music and the arts, theatre in particular. The thought of being unable to do these things, or at least participate in them fully, is painful to me, but I cannot decide if these are legitimate obstacles to a religious vocation, or merely commitment fears.

I thought I might put the question to you, as a writer and communicator. Did you ever struggle in this way with your discernment? Can you offer any insights that might help me in my attempt to be more sure of what it is God is calling me to?                                                                                 – L

Dear L.,

You have raised an excellent question that I’ve heard before and which I certainly understand. When I first entered the convent, I naively thought I was giving up writing altogether. It was a difficult choice, a letting go of a cherished dream. I never imagined that I would go back to writing and eventually become a published author as a Daughter of Saint Paul. Of course, I was too young to be sure that I wanted to be a writer, or even that I could be. But I’ve never regretted choosing to be a sister over writing, even when I thought I would never write again. Following Christ in God’s call to me was and is more important to me than anything else.

Here a couple of insights that I’ve received as I’ve lived religious life as a writer:

  • I have discovered that, whether I’m “assigned” to writing or not, I love our Pauline mission, which is an even deeper call. I didn’t enter the Daughters of Saint Paul to write or to “do” anything else. I entered to become a bride of Christ, an apostle, and a saint (insofar as God works in me). I entered religious life to become a better lover of God and of souls.
  • Living religious life calls forth a deep level of creativity—both life in community and in the mission. Religious life is a very demanding lifestyle, and calls us to use all our gifts, even gifts that we don’t know we have! (For example, I had no idea that I could be a good teacher until I started giving conferences and workshops as an author.)
  • One time, when I was asked to give up a form of writing that was really hard for me, I discovered that I’m most passionate about my writing because of how it allows me to live the Pauline mission. Writing is one way—an important way—that I live my Pauline vocation.
  • Even now, there are times when I’ve wanted to go in a particular direction (with writing) or write a particular project and, in obedience, I’ve had to let go of what I thought was best. I’ll probably never stop writing entirely…but with the demands of our ministry, it’s not always possible to write when, how, and what I’d like to. For example, right now I’m assigned to Pauline Digital, which is wonderful, but also a sacrifice because it means:
    • Most of the writing I do now is “short form,” which isn’t my preferred (or best) form. But I am getting better at it, I hope!
    • I have to “squeeze in” the time to write any new books in free moments, so instead of taking a year to write, now a book will take 2.5 years to write
    • Much of the time I’m not writing at all but focused on collaborating in projects in which I am doing other kinds of work, such as editing, technical, managerial, etc. All of this, however, feeds my writing.
  • When we are truly committed to our art, it grows and develops over time, and our needs and desires as an artist also change over time. I truly believe that God uses my desires, and blesses my obedience as a religious, even when obeying means greater sacrifice. If your state in life changes, you may discover that the very gifts that you brought to the theater arts will be called upon in another way. Or, you might be surprised as I was, and discover that God is giving you a new opportunity to use your gifts for theater, poetry, or music…

I would definitely suggest talking to a sister from the community you are discerning with. Find out if some of the sisters work in the arts, even in an adapted way. (But don’t decide to enter based on the fact that you would only be doing a particular ministry, unless the sisters assure you that this is the case. In our community—as in many others—we are called to obedience especially in our apostolic assignments.) This will give you more information that you need to discern this particular question. 

Also, you may want to look more closely at a community in which the arts has an important role in their ministry. There are a lot of communities where the arts are important to the sisters’ lives and mission (including my own, the Daughters of St. Paul). Music is important to many communities, including contemplative communities.

Finally, have you brought this specific question/fear to Jesus in prayer, and really laid out to him your hopes, your dreams, your fears, and your desire to do his will?  Don’t be afraid to entrust your questions and fears to him. Sometimes when we are really wrestling with something, we forget to bring it to him. Jesus will give you the light—and strength and desire—which you need to discern and respond to God’s call for you.

Whatever you discern his call to be, I encourage you to follow him in the vocation he gives you. You will not be disappointed!  May God bless you in your discernment journey. 

Mary as Model of #Discernment, Vocation & Mission

The devotion to Mary, Queen of the Apostles, is one of the oldest devotions to Mary in the Church. One of our sisters recently let me know about a youtube video of the song, Queen of Apostles, composed and sung by Nancy Krebs, which beautifully offers reflections and prayers about two key events in Mary’s life associated with this particular title of Mary.

A key in discerning and living our vocation is devotion to Mary. Devotion to Mary as our Queen of Apostles is more than asking Mary to help us discover and carry out the mission God has entrusted to us. It also means entrusting ourselves and our spiritual journey to her. It means imitating Mary in how she shared her Son with the world, taking on her attitudes of humility, of receptivity to God (especially her docility to the Holy Spirit),  her obedience to God’s Word, and her union with her Son in his mission. If we entrust every effort that we make and everyone whom we seek to serve to Mary’s motherly care, all our efforts will be blessed.

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve, on her blog Thomas for Today, posted an introductory reflection on this ancient devotion: Mary and the Holy Spirit.

#Discerning in Every Day Life: We are in God’s hands as he shapes us

Photo: Sr. Mary Emmanuel Alves, FSP. © Daughters of St. Paul

Photo: Sr. Mary Emmanuel Alves, FSP. © Daughters of St. Paul

Then the word of the Lord came to me:
“O house of Israel,
can I not do with you as this potter has done? says the Lord.
Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

I love this morning’s reading from Jeremiah 18:1-6. It fits so well with the themes of my prayer this week: creativity, being open to the Lord working in me and through me, and allowing the Lord to take the lead in all the aspects of my life: spiritually,  in my relationships, in my efforts to communicate, in the apostolate of sharing the Word.

As the fruit of my recent annual retreat, I’ve been praying for the grace to live in the present moment. It’s so easy for me to get lost in my plans and to forget that it’s God’s plan that I want to be living fully. It’s not really possible for me to discern God’s will, however, if I am not living in the present moment, taking one day, one hour, one minute at a time. Because God speaks to us and works in us in the present moment.

Our Blessed Mother Mary was an expert in living in the present moment. While I was in Rome for the Apostolic Mysticism Seminar, several of the speakers–all Pauline priests–spoke of how Mary was completely docile to the work of the Holy Spirit. We know this simply by her response at the Annunciation.

The conclusion of my every meditation this week has been prayer to Mary, specifically asking her for the grace of this openness and availability to God, not just in the big occasions of my life, but at every moment. So I pray to her with my favorite title, calling on her as my Mother and Queen, the Queen of every apostle, to teach me how to be aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and to be receptive to his nudges, his whispers, his inner direction.

Mary, Queen of Apostles, pray for us!

Mary, Queen of Apostles, pray for us!

A final note: Summer has become a bit of a chaotic time for me to fit in regular posts. Responses to the last couple of questions about vocational discernment are almost lined up and ready to post. I also have been reflecting/praying/living some profound moments of discernment in every day life, which I hope to share with you soon. Thank you for your patience with me, as my posting schedule has become a bit irregular.

Send Me Your Intentions & I Will Pray for You on My Retreat

Forest Path2

Retreats are wonderful, mysterious journeys where we allow the Divine Master to lead us…even when we don’t know where He is leading us!

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve blogged, and partly that’s because I was preparing to be away for two weeks. This Monday, July 11th, I will begin my annual eight-day retreat. (Some day I need to tweet a retreat…wouldn’t that be awesome to follow a nun’s progress on an eight-day retreat? Retreats are such mysterious and amazing encounters with the Lord. Maybe next year.)

So I will be offline for another two weeks, but I’d like to bring you with me. Send me your specific intentions–or even just send me your name–and I will bring your individual intentions to the Lord while I’m on retreat.

Inspiring Vocation Story from a Daughter of Saint Paul

I’m delighted to share with you this lovely vocation story of Sr. Maria Kim, FSP, who recently made her perpetual profession in the Daughters of Saint Paul. Not only is she very open about the steps of her discernment, but there are “tips” and feedback from other young women who  witnessed Sr. Maria Kim’s perpetual profession while discerning religious life.

As you enjoy her inspiring story, pray for young people discerning their vocations, that they may have the same openness and joy to Christ’s call of love.

“I can’t discern consecrated life because I don’t want to be tied down”

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When I took a poll to discover what prevents readers from considering religious life or priesthood, I was surprised by some of the results. I was especially surprised to see that over 1/3 of those who answered felt unworthy, and so I immediately addressed that in this blog post. I also addressed some of the issues regarding family (about 9% were concerned either about family responsibilities, or the disapproval of family members if they seriously considered religious life or priesthood).

Another obstacle that came up repeatedly (13%) was the fear of commitment (“I can’t be tied down”).

Fear of Commitment
Making a commitment is perhaps harder today than ever before. With massive technological and cultural changes that continue to sweep over our lives, constantly changing the ways we think and do things, combined with a hectic pace of everyday life that makes it difficult to reflect and process our experience, the future seems to be ever-shifting, insecure, and unstable. How can we possibly commit to something in such a shifting environment? Won’t we need to adapt in order to survive?

Commitment might seem like tying ourselves to a tornado, which can ultimately end in our destruction.

But commitment is not tying ourselves to something that is unstable. Commitment is, ultimately, to a person. To ourselves, to another, or, in the case of one’s religious or priestly vocation, to God. In a world that is endlessly changing, God is the Steady, Faithful One whose love we can always count on.

Truly committing allows us to deepen and to grow
in ways that we cannot before we commit.

I had a personal taste of this during my years as a temporary professed sister. The Church only allows religious to profess their first vows as temporary vows—usually for one year at a time. This is to give the religious the opportunity to really experience the life before making a definitive commitment. In our community, the period of temporary profession lasts from five to six years. I remember vividly during the last years of my temporary vows how I felt something was missing. I longed to go deeper, but because every year I discerned whether to renew my vows, I felt I was starting over every year. When I was finally blessed to be able to make my perpetual profession, I deeply rejoiced. And afterwards, I could feel my commitment, my relationship with the Lord as a religious sister, deepen and strengthen in a way that was not possible as a temporary professed. To fully embrace my vocation, I needed to make a lifelong commitment.

Perhaps fear of commitment is really another way of admitting that we cannot yet trust ourselves: we’ve been so busy adapting and responding to our changing world, we do not yet have a deep sense of ourselves and what we truly want. What will we do in ten years if our desires change? What if we grow tired of the life we are living and want to try or do something new?

Just because we make a vocational commitment doesn’t mean that all the doubts and struggles disappear. And making a vocational commitment doesn’t mean we stop changing and growing, but we do so within the gift of our commitment.

Photo: Sr. Mary Emmanuel Alves, FSP. © Daughters of St. Paul

Photo: Sr. Mary Emmanuel Alves, FSP  © Daughters of St. Paul

Limits and Freedom
There is a paradox within the creative life that may be helpful here. Most of the time, artists are seen as “free spirits” who rebel against boundaries and limits. And there is a lot of truth to that. Gifted with seeing reality shaped by their special relationship with truth and beauty, artists are often free of conventional restrictions.

At the same time, art is only created within the boundaries of a specific art form. The boundaries of an art form restrict the artist in a very real sense—and it’s in that very specificity of the restriction that often elicits the greatest creative expressions. Think of the sonnet. One of the most structured of poetic form, the sonnet has precise rules. Yet some of the most beautiful and timeless poetry are sonnets. Pushed to their limits by the sonnet’s rules, poets have been brilliantly creative and expressive. (If you have any doubts, read William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. I have my favorites, but each one is an exquisite masterpiece.)

How many of us have witnessed the “flowering” of a married couple into parents when their first child is born? And yet, their lives are now defined by taking care of an infant, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Our society often views vocational commitments as a restriction of a person’s freedom. But if we truly believe that love is the fulfillment of the human person, then our true vocation—which is when we will give ourselves the most fully in love—is the gift that will give us the greatest freedom.

Our true vocation is not a burden or a restriction,
but a gift and a path to love, joy, and freedom.

Everyone has times when they feel burdened by the challenges of their vocation. It is then that we need to rely on the gift of commitment to strengthen us. First, the power of the commitment encourages us to persevere. It also allows us to discern: what is the essence of our commitment, and what are the nonessential “trappings” that I have added “on top of” that commitment”? Are we perhaps being called to change or let go of some of these nonessentials? How is God calling me now to live my vocation in all its fullness?

* * *

One last thought for those who are fearful of a possible commitment. In discerning a priestly or religious vocation, we aren’t yet making a commitment, but simply trying to discover how God is calling us. The future is impossible to predict. While it is possible that we will make a commitment that we will someday have regrets about, it is also possible that the same commitment will become a source of great joy, strength, and fulfillment. Wouldn’t it be sad if the fear of commitment would prevent us from discovering the deep joy and fulfillment of living God’s call to us?