Thursday, October 13, 2011

Saintly Suffering

In your comments on Tuesday’s posting, several of you expressed puzzlement as to why the convent didn’t give me permission to leave when I asked. Please let me explain: I had not taken final vows, so I didn’t need permission from the canonical representative in Rome nor from the local bishop nor from the convent prioress.
            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 doubtI 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.



  1. I had always been led to believe that Roman Catholicism teaches that suffering is holy, so I'm very pleased to read that your mentor did not think this is so, that it held no intrinsic value and advised you against holding on to this belief. I find your story so interesting. Thank you for allowing us into it, and giving us a better understanding of what leads people to choose this vocation. You're such a fine writer that it makes it a very enjoyable read, too.

  2. 'Seek life. Always seek life.'
    That is very profound. Well written, Dee. The convent is very real, your struggle is strong.

  3. Hind sight is always 20/20 isn't it? I'm back my friend. Thank you for being so patient with me and sticking with me through my hiatus. This is a great post! It truly shows your youth and innocence..

  4. I always heard "suffer it up" and believed it was what I should do. Later on in life, I questioned that and all my beliefs.

    Your mentor was so right, "always seek life", it is what I think God meant us to do.

  5. What made you think you could become a saint when such a tiny proportion of the humans that were ever born rose to sainthood? And, more importantly, WHY would you want to? So you could serve God? I believe you are serving Him with your daily life. So you could be loved? There are many people, including me, who love you now. I hope & pray you have learned to be truly happy within yourself.

  6. You know Dee, I never did get any of this kind of stuff and it is very foreign to me why people would bring on their own suffering and then to want to be a saint, want for. I was raised in the southern Baptist Church and none of their stuff made sense to me either. If any of what we were thought as children were true people would be rushing into the churches. Course they are rushing into those other churches. Oh well.

    What we have is our own wisdom which was put in us to listen to and not someone else.

    Regardless,the story remains intriguing.

  7. It saddens me to read things like that.
    Thinking you must suffer to be a saint.
    But even more sad is that you are still not alone in this thought process.
    I would have loved to give your mentor a hug as she sounded very wise.

    Thanks for popping by the blog as usual and do keep me updated on your book as it comes along!!!

  8. Dee, I must say that I was surprised to read this about you after having come to know you through our blogs. I can see that you've made a real journey, and look forward to your unveling of your story.

  9. I continue to find it interesting and inspiring to walk with you through your memoirs. Ah, what we know now and what we thought we knew in our youth.

    I think, from what I've read thus far on your wonderful blog, that your mentor would be pleased, for, when all is said and done, here you are, writing your story, sharing for others to see, and in so doing, Dee, you have done what she urged you to do. You sought life.

    Thank you.

    I have found in my own life that the times I have regretted have been the times I have not listened to my own wisdom, when I have second guessed myself.

  10. I agree with Jenn, thinking that one must suffer to be a saint might be what the Rome teaches, but it is not what the Bible teaches. A saint is simply somebody set apart, any true believer is a saint. Paul called the Corinthians saints, in his letter. Your mentor was right, yet so many think that by suffering they can work themselves into sainthood. I really enjoy your posts, yours sounds like a very interesting journey.

  11. I am so glad to have glimpsed your dear mentor, even for such a few minutes. She was so wise. I also look forward to hearing more of your journey. I do so appreciate the effort it takes to get this all down on "paper" so to speak. Thank you.

  12. "I felt overwhelmed by tenderness for her"
    In my book, that's what makes you a saint...your ablility to care so deeply for people you come in contact with.
    Looking forward to tomorrow's post.

  13. I can empathize with your youthful desire to become a saint, since, having been raised as a Catholic, you would have been made very aware of the saints of old. To a young, ambitious mind, that would have seemed the ultimate reward for a life of virtue and commitment to the Church. I do not find it odd that you linked saintliness to suffering/hardship. Whoever heard of a saint who had an easy existence? I think that Catholicism (and indeed most religions) espouses that belief. I think there was a part of you that really did earnestly want to make a success of your vocation and that is why, even though you had doubts, you found it preferable not to act on them.

  14. Wanting to be perfect in God's eyes--well, what is higher for a young girl than to be a nun and then a saint? Makes sense to me. And the saints--well, they did mostly suffer from everything I know about them, especially the female saints I have heard of (not being Catholic). In our youth we tend to take things so literally, too. Life seemed so much more black and white when I was young. And I wanted to be on the white side--LOL!

    Your mentor sounds like such a wonderful woman. You loved her and it sounds like she loved you and tried to steer you right. There are things we can be be told over and over--but until we are ready to hear or we have been forced to learn the hard way--well, it just doesn't register. Hindsight is always clearer, as they say--LOL!

    But if we took other people's word for things all the time and followed blindly, wouldn't we live like lifeless puppets? And then, how do you know who's words to follow? We may keep guidance in our pocket, but we each have to walk our own path. We each learn at our own pace. I know I have to practically be beaten over the head with things before they get through to me--LOL! But then I don't forget that knowledge. Because it is truly my own. You have learned many wondrous things in your life. Truly your very own! :):)

  15. What a tremendous boon that you went with your instincts and spoke to her! I love what she said to you and the conviction she had when she said it. No matter whether you listened then, you kept those words close to you so you would have them when you needed them later. What a gift.

  16. As I read your continuing story of life in the convent, I keep thinking about the tangled young woman you must have been. You had strong ideas of right and wrong, immersed yourself in believing you must suffer to be saintly, and even when your dear mentor gave you such wise advice, you couldn't quite let yourself believe her.

    It wasn't the right time. For whatever reason (the stars weren't quite aligned maybe!) it wasn't the clarifying "aha" moment for you, not yet. But, it was coming! I'm looking forward to the rest of the story!

  17. I read your story with interest, and I'm looking forward to the eventual result of it all.

    I also want to share my views on sufferings. I believe that the true God doesn't want us to suffer at all. To the contrary, he wants us to be happy, not only now but forever. As a loving God, he has provided a means to end all sufferings and to give us eternal life. It's through the ransom sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ. (John 3:16) He has been preparing for the accomplishment of all his wonderful purposes for us.

    While waiting for the fulfillment of his promises, we struggle to survive. And because we are living in these last days, which are critical times hard to deal with, we are often subjected to sufferings. So all mankind practically suffer, no one is exempted. And such sufferings don't make all of us saints.

    Becoming a saint or holy one is not determined by one's sufferings, nor by any man or organization. It is by virtue of God’s calling of him to joint heirship with Christ. Further, one receives sainthood or holiness by faith in the ransom sacrifice of Christ. (1 John 1:7)

    If we want to seek God's love and approval, these Scriptures give us insight: 1 John 5:3, Matthew 28:19,20, James 1:27, Matthew 7:21, 1 Timothy 2:3,4, etc.

    Happy reading and have a wonderful week!

  18. This is so powerful--to seek life. I do think struggles can make one stronger though. I just read something today that actually made me cry (which is shocking since I'm not even emotional and pregnant or anything lol). The words on the plaque said, "You can't have a diamond without friction." Interesting.