I could have left at any time simply by saying to the novice mistress, “I want to leave on Tuesday. Please give me permission to call my parents so they can come and get me.” Had I been decisive in my desire to leave, I would have been home the following Tuesday.
I wasn’t. My message to the novice mistress was ambivalent: “I’m not sure I should be here.” That of course opened the door for her assuring me that my place was in the convent.
The truth is that my theology was so flawed that I’d embraced the mistaken notion that God sent difficult situations, fatal illnesses, chronic pain, mental anguish to those He especially loved so as to forge them into saints. As I’ve said before in these postings, I wanted to be a saint, so I expected to suffer.
In fact, I yearned for suffering to as to achieve my goal—sainthood.
This thirst became clear the day I delivered an evening meal to a nun I both loved and respected. She had been my mentor in college. Even then she’d suffered from heart problems. When I came into her infirmary room, she carefully edged herself into a seated position. I felt overwhelmed by tenderness for her. To me, she was sanctity personified.
As she began to eat, I forgot the stricture that said novices were not to speak with professed nuns and blurted, “The reason you're so holy is because you suffer so much!”
She looked at me as if I’d spoken gibberish. “That’s foolishness, Sister Innocence.”
“It can’t be. We hear about martyrs suffering all the time. And they’re saints.” The fact seemed indisputable to me. Suffering made saints.
“Sister Innocence, suffering in and of itself is worthless.”
“But . . .”
“No ‘buts.’ It’s not the suffering. It’s how you choose to live with it if you can’t make it go away.”
“But . . .”
“Believe me suffering has no intrinsic value. Who would choose to suffer?”
“Well, I would if it'd make me a saint.”
She took my hand in hers. “Seek life, Dolores. Always seek life.”
She tired then and I left her room. Had I listened to her, I would have soon left the convent. But instead I thought that by staying—despite suffering persistent, malignant, incessant doubt—I might become like her—a living, walking, breathing saint.
I trusted the wisdom of the novice mistress. I mistrusted the words of my mentor. To compound these two mistakes, I never listened to my own wisdom. Instead, I stayed and made first vows. My posting on Saturday will be about the deep contentment of that day.