Working on Yourself
I’ve always been a thinker. In a situation that doesn’t go the way I wanted it to go, a fight with a sibling, or whatever it may be, I would think it over to try to determine what went wrong. How could I have reacted differently in a way that would have improved the situation? Really, what everything comes down to is love. How can I better show love to God, myself, and others? Life is a journey of situations and opportunities to see how you can love the person in front of you better each day. Putting others’ needs first even when you think you’re right and they’re wrong. Now this self-improvement and focus on love is the act of the everyday contemplative nun; it’s the basis of our Rule.
The Rule of Augustine: When St. Dominic founded the Dominican order in 1216 he started with the Rule of Augustine. St. Augustine made a rule all the way back in 397 AD that all Dominicans still use today and guess what the basis of it is? Fraternal charity. How could rules from the 300s still apply today? Because it is a rule based on the heart, not the externals. We really haven’t changed all that much have we? Our Rule is about being charitable to others and putting the needs of others first.
I am surrounded by sisters who call me to holiness, which is a true treasure. I hope you have people surrounding you who do the same. The vocation God calls us to is the one that will sanctify us. That means he gives you opportunities to grow in virtue and people who will help you get there. Whether you are a wife with kids or a cloistered nun, God has called you to your particular vocation because it is the perfect path for you to go to Heaven. It will challenge you, annoy you, and delight you but overall it is called to make you a saint. As Mother Angelica says, “We’re all called to be great saints, don’t miss the opportunity.”
In a life of silence, I am able to reflect on my weaknesses and try to improve. Most of the contemplative life is digging deep within yourself to get out that baggage and find true peace and freedom in Christ. In preparing for confession, I’ve come to the realization that many of my sins stem from pride. It’s those moments of selfishness when we don’t love the others around us as best as we should. We think of our needs instead of others’ needs, which is pride. When we confess it, we must take it as a personal challenge to do better next time. You must fill it with virtue. The opposite of pride is humility. Be careful what you pray for because if you pray for this virtue you aren’t instantaneously changed. The Lord gives you OPPORTUNITIES to exercise the virtue.
Opportunities for Growth
Sometimes it’s the sisters who get to be that improvement for us. Now, one of my fellow extern sisters, Sr. Faustina Marie, was working on making a calendar of Dominican saints and monastics to give out to people. She asked me to work on it and put the saints into the online calendar. She went back later to edit my work to make sure the fonts and sizes and everything were good to go. Something went wrong and all the edits she made weren’t saved. When she told me this I said sarcastically, “Must be because what I did was perfect.” Now Sr. Faustina is a fun-loving Polish nun with a great sense of humor, but she looked at me with a straight face and just stopped either in shock or was pondering how to react. She simply said, “That’s why you’re here.”
The depth in a simple statement. That’s why God called me to religious life — to work on my own weaknesses. It is as if she was saying, “That little pride you have, that’s gonna get you. That will get rooted right out. You’ll be working on that one.” That’s why He called each of us sisters. To work on myself. To work on becoming a saint. To become less of me and more like Him. To put on Christ to every person I encounter. To be Him. To become one with Him. To be worthy to be one with Him as His bride. Now I have (God-willing) three years until I profess vows so until then I can work on it. A contemplative is to contemplate Christ. How to be like Him in all things. How we act. How we think. How we talk. Now, I meant the comment jokingly but it makes you stop and wonder. Why do I make prideful jokes? Perhaps it goes deeper than expected. It must stem from true pride that needs to be worked on, that only the grace of God can help weed out to make me a saint or die trying. After her thought provoking statement, in good ol’ Sr. Faustina fashion, she responded jokingly to lighten the mood but somewhat serious, “Do a venia.”
VENIA: A venia is a full prostration (laying on the ground on one’s side) as reparation for a wrong committed. The rules for nuns used to be much stricter and the sisters had to do this more often. Now, we only do it to show obedience when we receive a new job for the new term, during certain times of penance such as Lent, or for a big feast day, such as the Annunciation or Christmas. It is not always to ask mercy, it is also a way of obeying or submitting to what you have been given or adoring our Lord like for Christmas.
This sister was calling me to holiness, and for that I’m grateful. She keeps teaching me daily through the little things how to better love those around me. Sometimes words are necessary or helpful like here but sometimes she shows me how to be more charitable through her silence. (There will be more on this in Part 2).
Whenever you get down on yourself for your sins, look at the cross. He did it for you. He sacrificed Himself out of love for you to take away all your sins. Run to confession. Jesus is waiting to forgive you. His mercy is waiting for you in the hands of the priest. The big stuff and the small stuff. Run. Even if it’s been since grade school. Whatever’s eating at you can be gone through the power of God’s merciful love. He loves you and is hungering for you to come back to Him. No sin is too small. His love is everlasting. God bless you.
Editor’s Note: Sister Jamie will not have internet access during Lent. She has provided me a total of four posts including this one that I will publish every other Friday starting today.
© Jamie Leatherby 2018
Photo: A picture of Sister Sr. Dominic Marie O.P., 30, in full prostration for her final profession, Summer 2017