In this letter to a fictional young woman applying to enter the monastery, Sister addresses two temptations facing those preparing to enter religious life. Read all Vocation Letters here.
Ave + Maria
Prayerful greetings from Marbury on the feast of our patron, St. Jude! It’s been great to hear from you about how your semester is going, and how you are growing in your desire for this vocation. As you continue to discern and to prepare your heart in the months ahead, you should beware of two “preparation pitfalls.”: first, “living it up” now, “while you have the chance!” and second, trying to live according to some grim penitential idea of life in the cloister.
St. Therese of Lisieux mentions the first preparation pitfall in her Story of a Soul. During the three months between her acceptance and her entrance to the monastery, she was initially tempted not to lead a life “as well regulated as had been my custom.” It’s easy to imagine this temptation: After all, a girl might think, I’m soon going to embrace a life of total abnegation! To sacrifice everything to God in the cloister! This is my LAST CHANCE to indulge myself–I’d better eat more ice-cream NOW!
But Therese wasn’t taken in by this. “I soon understood the value of the time I was being offered. I made a resolution to give myself up more than ever to a serious and mortified life.” Did she then fall into the second preparation pitfall, and try to live according to some preconceived notion of cloistered life? You know–fast every day, sleep on jagged potsherds like St. Rose of Lima, rise every night to pray for hours, deny oneself every pleasure. Ice-cream? Unthinkable!
The Little Flower did not make that error either. “When I say mortified, this is not to give the impression that I performed acts of penance. Alas, I never made any.” Instead, she says, “My mortifications consisted in breaking my will, always so ready to impose itself on others, in holding back a reply, in rendering little services without any recognition, . . . etc., etc. It was through the practice of these nothings that I prepared myself to become the fiancée of Jesus, and I cannot express how much this waiting left me with sweet memories.”
This points to an excellent preparation for religious life: fidelity to one’s daily duty out of love for God; cheerful self-sacrifice in being kind, patient, and helpful to others; and denying oneself in little things in order to seek satisfaction not in creatures but in God. So, when the occasion arises, enjoy some ice-cream! At the same time you can tell Our Lord that He is your first love, simply by taking just a wee bit less than you want, or choosing your second favorite flavor rather than your first. Ask our Blessed Mother to help you give your heart to Jesus with increasing faithfulness during this time of discernment and expectation.
I have more I should say on that, but the bell just rang for Office—“the voice of Our Lord calling me!” You are in our thoughts and prayers. Please pray for us as well.
In Our Lady,
“Sister Mary Magistra”