(Though I didn’t intend this at all while writing it, this post has pretty much become the continuation of my Woman at Home series . . . I apologize for its lack of strict continuity with the previous two, but am linking it up with the rest anyway 😉 )
When I was a teenager, and when it came to considering the state of life to which God was calling me, I had strong, gripping hopes and dreams (of which I wrote about here and here some) for what I wanted to do–but an even stronger, more gripping fear of letting my soul be silent. A fear of simply listening.
I loved God and the Faith, and was trying to grow in holiness . . . but I was, nevertheless, terrified of letting my soul be calm, still and trusting enough to the point where I could let go of my desires and wait hear His voice telling me His designs for me. Because . . . that might have required me giving up everything I wanted. And that felt physically impossible for me at the time.
If I ever sensed that type of beckoning silence descending on me, whether it be in Adoration, at Mass, or in bed, wherever–I would essentially panic and chase it away. I was so immersed in this, truthfully, fear of God’s will that now I can only imagine how worn and unhappy I must have been sometimes, without even realizing it.
I desire you to be a consecrated virgin. I ask you to be a nun for My sake. Fantasies of hearing those phrases ring out clearly in my soul were paralyzing to me. I would immediately begin convincing myself; “I’ve always wanted to be a good wife and mom. That means God gave me the desire from the beginning–that means it’s my vocation.” I pretty much had my spiritual hands clapped over my spiritual ears.
So yes. Simply because I was born and raised in a faithful Catholic homeschooling family who frequented the Sacraments and wanted to be holy, didn’t mean my soul wasn’t in need of a truly profound conversion, of the continual kind.
I was almost twenty when my father made the decision that our family was going to begin attending the Traditional Latin Mass each Sunday, at a different parish forty minutes from home. He cared for how we felt about transitioning, and initiated many evening discussions about the change, but also sensed strongly that we needed to be there, and as the head of our family, he was determined to get us there.
Thank God he listened to that divine urge.
Though we would miss our former parish family, none of us were exactly opposed to the idea, even if some of us found acclimating to such a drastically different liturgy challenging at first. We began to go, and we kept going. We realized very quickly that, as a family, there was no going back. There was nothing like this anywhere. We couldn’t be anywhere but there.
It’s impossible for me to write a cohesive narrative about what all the Latin Mass has done to my soul and to my spiritual life. It’s so much larger than me, and in many ways beyond my basic comprehension. But I know, without any lurking doubt, that God knew I, personally and individually, was in sore need of the Latin Mass and the conversion it would help bring about in my soul, as a Catholic, a woman, a person.
Leaving out some details for the sake of simplicity, I can chart a basic path as to why and how it changed me, specifically in my problem of surrendering my future wholly to God’s will.
It took away my fear of interior silence. This is something, I think, I’ve overlooked until recently–but now I realize the staggering importance of it and how tremendously it helped me in my conversion. Any newcomer to the Latin Mass is struck and often disoriented (I was no exception!) by the silence of it. Apart from the entire Mass being celebrated ad orientem (facing east), where everything is directed away from oneself and towards God in adoration and sacrifice, the Canon–including the Consecration–is offered inaudibly by the priest, as it was for fifteen hundred years. At a Low Mass, hymns are optional and (in the case of our parish) usually omitted except for special feasts, so that definitely creates an atmosphere of profound quiet . . . but this interior silence isn’t concocted by a mere lack of hymns, because it also pervades High Mass where much of the Mass is chanted by the choir or by the priest, where plainchant and polyphony abound in an effort to lift the soul out of the world, in adoration of God.
I think that simply because the Latin Mass is so visibly directed towards God, and because its liturgy is filled with such ancient reverence, quiet, order, and beauty, it immediately stilled my soul. There, my soul had to be still and know that God is God. I had to look at Him. I can’t think of any other way to describe it!
It didn’t happen all at once. Rather, I believe it occurred drip by drip, grace by grace, Mass by Mass, before I halfway knew it. Our Lord eroded my stony wall, my terror of interior silence, of a steady gaze into His eyes, of vulnerably opening my hands to Him. He eroded my fears gently through the wondrous and ancient liturgy. He taught me how to be silent in His presence, and how not to be afraid of it–of Him.
The Latin Mass also increased my desire to learn, and my hunger for Truth. Maybe it was as simple as the ancient-ness of the liturgy working on me, or the fact that this liturgy was the one that the vast majority of canonized saints were enveloped in at every Mass . . . but I found myself wanting to read (devour might be a better word) works written by saints, priests, and holy thinkers who lived when Latin Mass was all there was, simply so that I could learn more about this liturgy and immerse myself more in it. This was how I fell in love with my now frequently quoted “adopted” spiritual father, Fr. Lasance, and many others.
And the Latin Mass also filled me with a real hunger to absorb and contemplate as much of the truths of the Faith as I possibly could. Again, it’s difficult to describe well. But this hunger inevitably lead to me reading traditional books about the Faith, several of which that spoke of authentic vocational discernment . . . and of simply desiring God’s will, of desiring sainthood. (I’ll quote the best extract I’ve ever found on vocational discernment at the end of this post.)
And in fact, here I can pin down the precise moment where I first realized I had been fundamentally changed by God’s grace from the person I used to be . . . when I realized that my old fears of hearing Our Lord’s voice were completely gone.
Earlier this year, I was sitting at the kitchen table, reading Chapter 11 of Fr. Pietro Leone’s The Family Under Attack. I had my highlighter in hand (almost every passage in my copy is highlighted . . . *embarrassed cough*). I was bent over the words intently, absorbing, absorbing . . .
And he embarked on a description of perfect chastity in the religious life.
“The love of one who is perfectly chaste is directed towards Christ. The Fathers of the Church considered perfect chastity as a form of spiritual marriage to Christ and as an exclusive love of Christ. As the consecration of virgins puts it: ‘The Kingdom of this earth and all worldly trappings I have valued as worthless for love of Our Lord Jesus Christ, whom I have seen, loved, believed, and preferred above all else.’ Yet there is more to perfect chastity than the bonds of affection, as Piux XII goes on to declare, for this ‘burning love for Christ’ impels the virgin to the imitation of Christ’s virtues, way of life, and self-sacrifice. In this way virgins ‘follow the Lamb wherever he goes.’ (Apoc. 14:4)
I finished reading these words. I paused (probably biting my highlighter, as I’m wont to do). I sank back into my chair, and thought–without even realizing what I was doing–, “The consecrated life is utterly, sublimely beautiful. It is True, and it is the most perfect symbol of the life to come in Heaven. If I were called to it, I would go without hesitation.”
And then I realized what I had thought . . . and I marveled at how completely unafraid my soul was. At how still it was.
It was still at the knowledge that, if God were to show me that He’d given me the vocation of perfect consecrated chastity, I would surrender my hopes and natural inclinations to the married state and go joyfully–because His will was good, and was (and is) all I should ever desire.
I had never experienced such a moment until then.
And, praise God, half a year later, He is still helping me to rest and be content in that silence of the heart.
So now I can say that, as an almost twenty-one-year-old young woman at home, I’m in finally a place of true vocational discernment. Really, a place of listening. Of being able to tell my Lord each day, “Thy will be done. Do what Thou wantest with me,” and to mean it. For the first time in my life, I feel as though I see my many faults and vices more clearly than ever, and yet truly desire to be a saint, for God’s sake, in a way I’ve never done before. I’m often silly, daily commit sins and make countless mistakes–but I want to be holy, to do God’s will, for God’s sake. My dreams and hopes for the future are no longer my property–I still have them, and yet I don’t “have” them. I realize that this is a tremendous, undeserved grace, and I pray I will never take it for granted.
The humorous thing is, if I were writing my own story, now would be the time when I reveal to the reader that I’ve discovered God has been calling me to the religious life all along . . . that He has guided me out of my childhood/teenage dreams for marriage and motherhood and made me realize that surrendering my will to His means I’m to become a consecrated religious.
I consider nothing certain apart from my desire to do His will, and am completely open to, and listening for, the call to the religious life. Still, I daily find myself–through prayer and study–becoming more sure, in that quiet and calm way that speaks of God’s presence, that it’s quite possible He does desire me to be a wife and mother. My long-held desires for that vocation still, truthfully, remain, but in a way they’ve been completely transformed. Through God’s grace, and again through no merits of my own, I only want to be married if God sees that it will best help me (and my future husband) to become a saint. I only want to be a mother if God has ordained that I am capable, with His and my husband’s help, of raising saints.
At this point, I feel as though He is equipping me for the vocation of wifehood and motherhood, and that He is asking me to be patient, trusting, and entirely open to His voice. If He ever shows me that He desires me elsewhere, I’m ready.
Because . . . it’s basically all about sainthood here, folks 🙂
So . . . in closing (finally, I know) I wanted to share a passage from Fr. Lasance’s writings that I was reading just this afternoon. I found myself wanting freshness and clarity of spirit in my discernment–and I didn’t need to look any further than these paragraphs.
If you are discerning your vocation, if you are seeking God’s will for your life, then I highly encourage you to read this, reflect on it often, and trust Our Lord completely!
God bless you!
Fr. Lasance on Discerning Your Vocation
“In the first place, direct your heart constantly toward heaven. Have but one desire, namely, to know and to do the will of God; God will then bestow His grace upon you, and you will be certain to make a wise choice. No one must count upon an extraordinary call, such as the apostles and many great saints received. Those were very special gifts of grace, which you cannot expect. But if you keep your eye and heart constantly directed toward God, He will enlighten you with His grace, will give you prudent counselors, and so ordain external circumstances that you may, if I can thus express it, be led by the hand of your guardian angel to enter the state of life God intends for you.
Truly the ways of God are wonderful and manifold. Sometimes He impresses on the heart of a young child a desire for a particular state. Consequently, later on in life there can arise no question as to making a choice, the question having already been decided. To others He signifies His will only when a choice has to be made; and these often enter with joy of spirit into a state for which they had long experienced a rooted aversion.
In the second place, keep your soul pure. A very great deal–everything, indeed–depends upon this. The brighter and more transparent is the glass of a window, the more readily do the rays of the sun penetrate into the room; but the dimmer the glass, the darker will the apartment be. The soul may be compared to glass, to a mirror, in which they are reflected. If you desire to be enlightened from on high in your choice of a state of life, keep your heart clean, preserve therein the bright light of innocence. If this light is obscured or extinguished by sin, delay not to rekindle it by means of contrition and confession.
In the third place, be diligent in prayer. From what has already been said you must plainly perceive that prayer is of the utmost importance in choosing a state of life. For, on the one hand, you seek to choose the state of life which will best promote your eternal salvation; on the other, the world, the flesh, and the devil strive to decoy you into taking the wrong road.
There are two epochs in the life of every individual when the devil lays snares for him with particular cunning. The first is when he ceases to be a child; then comes the crisis, the critical period when the result of previous training will show in the innocence and purity of the youth or maiden, or the reverse to be unhappily the case. I believe this critical period has already passed with you; I confidently hope you have successfully withstood the test and preserved your innocence.
But with yet greater cunning and force will the devil attack you either now or a few years hence when you come to choose a state of life. Should he succeed in inducing you to take the wrong road, he will expect to emerge victorious from your final, death-bed struggle. Therefore, my dear child, pray, pray! Pray for light, that the mists may disperse and the road of life stretch clearly before you; pray for strength to resist your passions whatever sacrifices it may cost you; pray simply that you may know and do the will of God.
In the fourth place, receive frequently and worthily the Sacraments of Penance and of the Altar. These Sacraments will maintain the purity of your soul, and the Giver of grace will descend into your heart with His light and strength. After each communion entreat Our Lord, with earnestness and confidence, to teach you what are the designs of His Sacred Heart in regard to you, and to strengthen you to make any sacrifice that may be necessary. And on your communion days give some time to serious reflection. Imagine that you are stretched upon your death-bed. Ask yourself if you were in that awful hour what state of life you would wish you had chosen. Would it not be a cause of bitter regret if you had acted in accordance with your own self-will . . .?
I cannot refrain from mentioning one more means for arriving at a right decision, namely, a true, filial, confiding love and devotion to Mary. On the present occasion I will only make two brief remarks in regard to this devotion. If you desire wisdom and enlightenment concerning the choice of a state of life, the surest way to obtain it is through Mary, for she is “Sedes sapientiae,” the “Seat of wisdom.” And if you wish to attain eternal salvation, the surest way to realize this is through Mary, for, as a great saint tells us, “a true servant of Mary can never be lost.”
Do not imagine that thoughts like these are suited only for a young woman who is about to enter the cloister. These reflections are not intended for this one or that one, but for all who desire to choose aright so as to ensure their eternal salvation.
As you ought to beware of rashness in choosing a state of life, so ought you to guard against over-anxiety. Do not lose heart in presence of the momentous decision. Make use of the means I have pointed out to you; look constantly toward Heaven. Keep your soul pure; be diligent in prayer; frequently approach the sacraments; practise devotion to Mary; regard her as your Mother; and look with cheerful confidence into the future. Eternal peace and joy follow the earthly struggle. The way of the cross leads to the crown of immortal joy.
–Father Francis Xavier Lasance (d. 1946) Requiescat in pace.