A joyfully Franciscan view of Catholic life, inspired by St. Clare (Santa Chiara) of Assisi!

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Chiara Offreduccio (St. Clare) was born in 1194. It is said that when her mother had Chiara in her womb, an angel appeared to her and said, "your child will be a light that will illuminate the world!" Hence, her mother named the child Chiara, which means "light. As G.K. Chesterton put it, St. Clare was a romantic figure just like Juliet was. However, instead of running away from her family in order to be with an earthly man, Clare gave up everything and ran away from her family for the love of her Savior!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Where I Stand With My Discernment

Hello, everyone! I wanted to take a minute to thank everyone who has made comments for doing so! I didn’t realize that I had the “publish comments” feature, so I didn’t even realize that anyone had made any! Thank you all so much for your kind encouragement.

Since I promised to put at least some personal experiences on this blog, I’ve decided to take a break from the Benedictine Blessings tonight and tell you all a little bit about where I stand vocation wise.

“Discernment” is an extremely funny and often very frustrating thing, or so I learned. The process is very often not logical at all- seldom does a person say to herself, “well, I’m into liturgy, I love to say my rosary, and I am a quiet person, therefore I should think about becoming a nun.” While that might happen in some cases, my experience is more like a quote from In This House of Brede- “it’s as though Jesus points his finger and says “I’ll pick you.”

I’ll try to couch this as best as I can, but when I initially felt drawn to religious life, I was walking to another one of my classes last Spring when the thought of religious life randomly “popped” into my head. It then became this nagging feeling that suddenly took ahold of me, and lo and behold, all I could think about was the prospect of religious life. I will admit that during this initial stage, I did a lot of “fantasizing”- I pictured myself in a long beautiful flowing habit sitting quietly in some garden with the birds chirping around me doing some embroidery every now and then, which was to suffice as my “labora” for the day. As my spiritual director later put it, this was outright fantasizing and couldn’t be farther from the reality of nuns putting in hard labor. Nonetheless, such unrealistic fantasizing is usually normal for a person in the initial stages of discernment. What was interesting was that my thoughts weren’t really directed towards any particular community- I was just drawn to the general idea of religious life and figured God would lead me to the place where I was meant to be.

The nagging feeling continued for the rest of the school year, and I was scared to death about this possible calling. After all, before these thoughts popped into my head, I thought I had it all figured out- I would become an accountant and some day marry my amazing boyfriend. Now with this constant feeling of being called, I was completely confused. It wasn’t as if I had chosen to think about these things, but rather these constant thoughts had completely taken over me.

After I went home for the summer, the constant thoughts completely ceased- for a time. Then one day, I was at the hairstylists and one of the other ladies there was talking about how she went out driving one day and gotten lost down some backroad which led to a beautiful monastery of nuns which, according to her, “looked like something out of the middle ages.” Well, anything that resembles medieval times sounds pretty good to me and did a little research as soon as I got home and found http://www.poor-clares.org/, the website of the monastery in question. How interesting! The Poor Clares! When I was a kid, I had written a play about St. Clare, so there was that initial interest there. After “falling in love” with this community’s website, as you can guess, the nagging thoughts came back again.

Now, all this time I had kept all of these thoughts hidden from my parents. The only people that I told was my spiritual director and my wonderful boyfriend. One day during the summer, I secretly drove up to the Bethlehem Poor Clare monastery and my expectations were confirmed- it really did look like a medieval gem. That summer, I devoured all information about the Franciscans and especially the Poor Clares- this blog being the result of that blossoming love for the Seraphic Order.

Now during that summer of discernment, it was as though God had placed new lenses over my eyes- I began to see my entire world differently. At my job, I was both saddened and confused about the way my co-workers seemed to place their happiness in fancy houses, designer clothing, and BMWs. There is so much more to life! I began to see God’s love in the little things in life…whether it be a beautiful red bird or a song on the radio. I really didn’t have any desire other than to go to Holy Mass and be with the Blessed Sacrament. At this point, my “calling” wasn’t a nagging so much as a longing- a longing to give Everything to Him!

I eventually told my parents about my desire to become a nun in a few years. All the while, my boyfriend was so constant, so loving, so very patient! I eventually returned to school in the fall, and I began to take action. I began to write letters to the Lady Abbess of the Bethlehem Poor Clare monastery, began speaking with a wonderful Franciscan Friar, and even visited a community of active/contemplative Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.

All throughout the semester, the nagging feeling returned. I would hear God saying to me, “Chiara, give yourself completely to me!” Sometimes, for weeks at a time, I would interpret that call to mean “Chiara, you should enter the Poor Clares.” Then, for weeks at a time, that voice would stop calling- or so I thought. You see, for reasons I care not to disclose, I didn’t have a very high opinion of marriage at the time- I thought it was a common, base, vocation with a lower-case “v” and that a person wasn’t “giving everything up for God” by choosing marriage. How foolish I was not to realize that the feeling of being called to marriage isn’t something that a person necessarily chooses- it’s God who makes the choice to speak to you!

As I mentioned in one of my recent posts, I met with Mother Clare from Bethlehem Poor Clare Monastery in person and let her know about all of my feelings. I will keep that conversation private, but the very next day after I met with her, all of my ardent desire to become a Poor Clare mysteriously and completely evaporated. Indeed, I had a wonderful discussion with her and she really didn’t steer me in one direction or the other- I just didn’t feel the call to become a Poor Clare anymore.

Furthermore, during the past month God has kept dropping me signs about how there need to be people out in the world who support the monasteries. I realized that being in love with contemplative life and having a great love for these beautiful monks and nuns doesn’t mean that I myself should become one! My true desire was to work to let others in the world know that there are monks and nuns in monasteries that have dedicated their lives to loving them through prayer. I hope that this blog helps to light one tiny candle in that direction.

I also came to realize that my boyfriend was a person who has given all the love he can towards me. Once again, I began to have nagging feelings of being called- only this time it was the feeling of being drawn to Christ through this other individual. Thus far, I’ve been very much at peace with this idea and know that loving this person will need just as much love from me as I could give as a Poor Clare. Moreover, I learned that I can still embrace the life of St. Clare, which is why after hearing today’s Gospel I’ve decided to begin the process towards becoming a Franciscan Third Order Secular.

Thus, that is an overview of where I stand at the moment. I am a person who loves these wonderful nuns with all my heart, but I tend to think that I can better love my Sisters outside the cloister rather than inside.


Anonymous Philip said...

Thanks for the wonderful reflections. It takes courage to share so much about yourself publicly--thanks for letting us hear the story of your discernment.

11:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, too, was well on the path to becoming a cloistered nun, and then my husband appeared and swept me away from that path. All that studying and praying paid off, but not quite how I imagined. My husband was Lutheran, but over the 8 years of our happy marriage, he has become convinced that the Catholic Church has the fullness of truth, and he has converted. So *that's* where all the prayers ended up! God draws straight with crooked lines, even if we are the ones making them crooked.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Chiara said...

Thanks for sharing that, anonymous!

Indeed, Christ is the Ultimate Bridegroom, but sometimes he sends us people in our life that are quite hard to pass up. Sometimes I feel guilty for having made my decision to marry this guy, because I'm afraid that I'm not "going all the way." However, I really think it's a matter of how God wants us to love- whether we can give our love best in a monastery, where we love dozens of imperfect women, or love in a family in which we love an imperfect husband and children. It's been a very tough decision, especially given my interest in cloisters, but ultimately, I think it's what's right. Aside from my future vocation as a wife and mother, I will also have the vocation of being the voice of these wonderful monasteries to the outside world. Thank you all for your support in helping me to fulfill that vocation!

- Chiara :-)

6:05 PM  
Anonymous Claudia said...

Dear Chiara,
Ave Maria!
What a beautiful name you have - my daughter has the name Bernadette Mary Clare. :)

I am writing to you because when I was 19 I wanted to be a Poor Clare Collettine more than anything in this world...

I even went so far as to enter the cloister - but sadly, due to an illness I had at the time, I had to leave.
I had gotten Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in a very bad way, and that combined with the rigors of monastic life, didn't leave me any option but to leave and try to get well.

It was SO HARD for me to leave that beautiful place...
The complete peace and joy that was in every minute of my day!

Shortly after leaving the cloister, I went to buy a small used car to get me to and fro the many doctors appointments that were being scheduled. My husband sold me my car!
At the time I truly thought I would return to the cloister - but it is not what Our Lord had in store for me.

I am now married with four beautiful children and my 13 year old has plans to become a nun.
She spends many weekends with the Carmelite Sisters and has had her vocation since she was 4 years old!
Her sister Bernadette wants to follow suit - but we shall see!

I have a son, 4 (almost 5) named Francis -- I call him Francesco after our Holy Father Saint Francis...not to mention that I'm Italian. ;-)

My youngest is 2 and his name is Sean Paul named after our beloved Holy Father.

I had the most awesome experience of meeting with Pope John Paul II about three months before I entered the monastery. My friend, a priest from my diocese, took me to a general audience in St. Peter's Square. Never did I imagine I would get to speak with the Holy Father personally. As he approached, Father yelled out, "Your Holiness, can you give a special blessing to my friend who will be entering the Poor Clares?"
He looked up and smiled at me - and grabbed my hand in his. He asked me why I wanted to be a Poor Clare and talked to me about all kinds of things regarding my vocation. He held me tight and I remember I felt how strong of a man he was. He placed his forehead against mine, with his hands on my shoulders....I could hear his prayers for me and feel his breath as he prayed. My hands were holding his arms beneath his cassock and I can remember thinking that it was as if I was already in heaven....I'll never forget that day for as long as I live.
I hope you don't mind me sharing it with you.

Chiara, believe it or not, a vocation CAN be lost! There comes a point in discernment where you really DO know...but maybe out of fear, you don't act. Does that make sense? I knew some really great guys -- but I don't know - there is just something so beautiful about the Franciscan charism.
There are no words to describe it!

I have been through many hardships in my marriage - and it has been a struggle. Sometimes I feel like maybe I was meant to have these beautiful children - but I don't always feel that I necessarily am good at being married. I know God gives me the grace to do what is needed for my family - and I try my best to respond to that grace - but still, I feel often as though I fall short.
My husband when I met him was a born again - he was raised to absolutely ABHOR Catholics....and here I was, an Italian Catholic girl just out of the convent!
Yet today, my husband is a devout Catholic as is his brother, mother, grandmother and several other family members...so God does indeed work in mysterious ways!

I saw the picture here in your blog of the Poor Clare and big tears welled up in my eyes....
How I love these women - and believe me, Chiara, these are REAL WOMEN....
I only wish more women in the secular world could have this kind of strength, determination, courage and the ability to live life with such complete trust, simplicity and most importantly, JOY!

If you would ever like to write - feel free to contact me at my web site!

God Bless You and I will be remembering you in my prayers, especially during the rosary with my children.


11:00 PM  
Blogger Mhari said...

Chiara thank you so much for your comment on my blog, when I read it I thought, "great... she's going to say that she had thought about entering an 'active' order, and then realised that God was calling her to be a contemplative, and she'll be telling me to take courage and follow God however hard it is..."

I think that actually nothing is so radical and beautiful as becoming a contemplative... except doing God's will. I really feel that God worked through you in reminding me of that. Thank you.

I still don't know what His will is for me, and I might visit St Cecilias, but actually, I think I'll be going to New York this September, and I'm so happy about that.

may He give you His peace!


3:04 PM  
Anonymous Byrana said...

Chiara, thank you for sharing your love of Our Lord with us. I to have felt all my life that I had a calling to the contemplative life. But as a young woman, on the advice of our priest, I entered a missionary order. He seemed to feel that "my personality was more suited to contact with people". Needless to say it was a disaster and I was back home very soon, not even finishing my postulancy. I have gone on to marry and have a wonderful son, but my heart is really still in the cloister. Be very sure of God's will for you, as well as your own inclinations before you make a final choice. Once you have responsibilities in the world it is very hard to revisit your dream. Many blessings to you.

4:35 PM  

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