Archive for September 2014
Monastery to Matrimony, my memoir, might be considered a journey through modern times in the Catholic Church. My twenty years in an Illinois convent gave me a perspective not only of how convent rules and practices changed over the years, but also how the Church changed.
Midpoint in my twenty years introduced the first hope for the Church to be in step with the thinking of its people. Pope John XXIII introduced the documents of the Second Vatican Council in 1962. In his wisdom he saw how the Church needed to be open to the people it served. He recognized that nuns could better serve by coming out from behind the heavy gated walls. He urged them to return to the mission of their founders, a mission to work with the poor, the sick, the neglected, the suffering under injustices. He set in motion a refreshing new role for nuns in the institutional Church.
In the years after Pope John XXIII, his legacy dimmed with the succeeding Popes. Not all of them agreed with his foresight. Today the Vatican is underestimating the independence of the intelligent religious women of convents. They are not accepting a return to dominance by the Bishops of the Church.
With the election of Pope Francis in 2013, I have hope once again. He is not cut from the same cloth as his predecessors. First of all, his cloth is that of an Order priest, from the Society of Jesus Order, (Jesuits). He has lived a minimalist life in common with his brother religious. When elected, he immediately rejected the elaborate trappings of previous Popes in everything from his simple clothing, to his car, and living accommodations.
For the future I see a Church that is open and inclusive as evidenced on Sunday, September 15, 2014 when Pope Francis married twenty couples at St. Peters in Rome, including couples who had lived together, which is considered a sin in the Catholic Church. As he has said, “Who am I to judge.”
My friend Father Joseph Breen of Nashville, must be rejoicing at this news. He has long preached the same message of inclusiveness and never judging.
Next, I am hoping that Pope Francis will eliminate the practice of Nullification of first marriages required for a divorced person to marry a Catholic. (See my own experience in Chapter Twenty-Four of Monastery to Matrimony.)
As I wrote on my HOME PAGE, I believe curiosity is a valuable trait to cultivate. It’s a type of gymnastics for the brain. Thankfully, many people expressed a curiosity about what my life was like in the convent. If they hadn’t, I may never have written my memoir. A comment from one reader from Jacksonville Beach, FL confirmed to me that my book responded to those curiosity seekers. “My few brief, casual encounters with nuns made me curious about their lives, and your book gave me so much more insight.”
Many wise folks recognized the importance of curiosity.
“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” ― Walt Disney Company
Mr. Disney describes my life. I kept moving forward, often out of curiosity, but sometimes out of necessity. There is no point in looking backward. That’s over and done. We should live our life in the present. As for the future, my philosophy is to ASK, EXPECT, and RECEIVE. And don’t worry about the how, when, or what as you focus on the PRESENT.
In my memoir I characterize many of the rules and rituals as “archaic” during my years in the convent, though practices have changed in modern times. Today nuns are recognized as intelligent, thinking, responsible women, capable of making decisions on their own behalf.
While the prayer life in my Illinois convent is the same today, silence may be relaxed a bit, and I don’t think they are required to get on their knees to ask for a penance for accidentally breaking a dish. I doubt that anyone would break it out of frustration or anger. Today their ministries are varied, based on their interests and talents rather than strictly on the needs of the community, whether or not they are suited for it.
Many readers have asked how I could have endured the unnatural silence, the humiliating times I knelt for a penance over insignificant things, the attempt at stripping individuality and personal possessions, and the separation from family.
Though I knew nothing of the reality of living the life of a nun when I entered, I was prepared to accept whatever it entailed. I knew there would probably be sacrifices, but I lacked knowledge as to what kind of sacrifices. Praying the Divine Office several times a day in the chapel was a normal expectation. Just about every other practice was a revelation. The daily silence—even at meals—was the most difficult to understand. I could never get my curiosity satisfied in the couple of hours of recreation allowed for talking each day. If I hadn’t gone to boarding school prior to entering I doubt that I could have accepted the lack of communication with family that the convent required. Being away from home at boarding school conditioned me to some degree.
I continue to look forward and satisfy my curiosity on a daily basis. Other than during the writing of Monastery to Matrimony, which called for considerable revisiting of times past, I don’t look backward. Even the process of writing was a way of looking forward. I had a curiosity for learning the craft of writing. Today in the process of promoting the book, I am delving into the world of media—traditional and social. Mr. Disney was indeed correct when he said, “curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
Robin’s comment, “It was hard for me to put it down,” reminds me of why I pursued my dream of writing the story of my twenty years in the convent.
With many friends, business associates, and even strangers, who learned of my former life, I found a recurring curiosity about the convent. To a person, they were surprised that I would have been a nun. Guess I didn’t fit the image—maybe because they knew me as an interior designer. A litany of questions always followed: What was it like? How long were you there? And always ultimately, the tough question—Why did you leave?
Most questions were easy to answer, but the “Why did you leave?” question always left me hedging my response. It was a simple question, but it had a complex answer. One I couldn’t adequately explain in a sound bite. The answer is filled with emotions that needed to be put to rest. It called for soul searching if I was to get it right. I knew it was time for me to share my convent life experiences and address my own feelings about the occurrence that set me on the decision-making path to leave the convent. The answer would be as much for me as for others.
Thus the book was incubated.
Since the publication of Monastery to Matrimony in July, 2014, I can now legitimately say, “The answer to that one is in the book.”