So, your daughter wants to be a WHAT?!!!
Article by Matt Wenke, father of Sr. Frances Marie, CP
When other men’s daughters might have expressed an interest in the convent or the cloister, I wouldn’t have questioned it at all. I would have been respectful of their choice and genuinely happy for them. “What a noble and beautiful vocation!” or “What a meaningful life with a holy purpose!” I, no doubt, would have thought.
When I heard of my own daughter’s interest in the cloister, my immediate thought was, “Oh my gosh, I hope you get a vacation… how often can you come home to visit?!!!” Isn’t this sad… that my first thought wasn’t just about Nora’s vocational fulfillment and spiritual well being? My initial thought was about the fact that I might be missing my daughter’s presence in my home and her gentle, delightful company.
The reason I had these thoughts is that I did know some things about the cloister. I’d read Saint Therese’s autobiography, “Story of a Soul”, with its description of her entrance into the cloister and having to say goodbye to her grieving father and sister, Celine. I’ve always had a hard time with goodbyes, so even then, when I was in my twenties, I could hardly imagine saying goodbye to my family and homeland to embrace religious life, largely away from those I’d been closest to and loved, dearly.
As time went on, I observed Nora’s spiritual confidence and serenity in her vocational choice as she first visited the Passionist nuns for a week-long “Come and see” discernment in November-December of 2013 and her three month “Aspirancy Visit” from February to May of 2014. Before February, I’d been dreading that goodbye to my only daughter. I will never forget my pain and dread of parting as months led up to that tender February day.
While waiting and praying through that time, I asked myself… “Should I try to make her stay?” Should I “guilt trip” her into worrying about my grief and sadness, as some of my more sentimental family members might have done? I pondered the selfishness of that and the manipulation and misuse of power and control dynamics which that might have represented. I thought of guilt feelings I would have if I looked at my daughter, entrapped by my selfishness and knew that, due to my selfishness, she was trapped into a life she wasn’t choosing for herself, just to placate me and/or relieve herself of unearned guilt and/or unhealthy desire to please selfish others in her life.
The thought of that horrified me! Especially, since I’d considered religious life for years, myself. I wondered how I might have felt if someone had emotionally entrapped me from making a free choice about my vocation and lifestyle. I know that I might have come to resent that person and to grieve for what I thought I should have pursued in order to answer our loving Lord’s attractive calling.
I looked at my daughter. A pure soul. A deeply spiritual young woman, wanting to discern God’s call for her, freely. She has the desire to conform herself to God’s Will that I have prayed for, for all of my children, whether God’s call be to the single life, marriage, lay ministry or consecrated religious life. To be authentic followers, we have to be open to all choices, not just for ourselves, but for all of those we love and for all of God’s children.
When Nora came home from her three month aspirancy visit to Kentucky, she never fully returned. Her body was home, but her spirit belonged to a cloistered convent in Kentucky. She loved us the same and “adjusted” to being home. However, she reminded me after a day or two that this was “no longer her life”. She assured me that “I don’t have a life here, anymore.” “I need to be going about God’s work for me, and it isn’t here, anymore.” She didn’t say this, meanly. It was just a statement of fact. I was shocked and, I will admit, somewhat tender about her words… but, deep down, I knew the truth of them. From that moment, I began to prepare myself for a more final parting to take place at the end of July, 2014, when Nora began her year-long postulancy. At the end of that time, if she still feels called to the cloister, she will never return home to Olean, New York.
Nora’s words to me reminded me of Jesus’ words to his Mom and Dad, (Mary and Joseph) at the finding in the temple… “Did you not know that I must be about my father’s business?” Certainly, his words cut them a little… but they had to “know” the deep spiritual truth of them. Like Jesus, Nora obediently followed the plan… to be with us until the end of July. However, she had spoken the words. This visit was temporary. We must not mistake that. She had to be about her Heavenly Father’s business, later in the Summer.
From May 22nd until July 26th, when we returned to Kentucky, I prayed for courage and faith and love to let my daughter go. I prayed to have the courage and love to give back to God, she whom He’d only loaned to us for nearly nineteen years, my only daughter. God gave His Son for me. Could I place back in His loving arms the beautiful daughter He had created?!
I won’t lie to you or pretend to be a strong, courageous man. I cried and cried countless times as I looked at my beloved daughter, praying the rosary beside me each night, and tears came to me as I looked at her, across the room at Morning prayer or during our recitation of the Angelus, many days at Noon. I memorized the sound of her voice and really concentrated that she was asleep at night, safe in her own room, in my house, under my roof. Not one day of her two month visit did I take her presence for granted. Like before her aspirancy visit, I treasured the time with my daughter.
Because of her vocational choice, I did a lot of reflection on the contemplative lifestyle… giving all to God and focusing on Him and His sorrowful mother, around the clock. I contemplated the peace and deep meaning and power of that lifestyle. While I still dreaded saying goodbye to Nora, I could understand her excitement and joy and even envy it, at noisy times of chaos at home or at work! I surmised that some spiritual part of me will join her in her new home and that her prayers in the cloister will be united with ours at home or at Mass as is known as the “Communion of Saints”. Dear God, give us courage, comfort and deep love as we live this out!
Well, the 27th of July came. The Gospel reading was perfect for that day… about finding a precious pearl and buying the field, in order to hide and later possess that valuable pearl or “treasure”. Nora had found her love for the Lord and desire to give all to Him and to be totally possessed by Him! My daughter is a singular treasure who needs to be in a place worthy of the treasure which she is! This “pearl” will be joined to the string of precious pearls, which is the Sisters. She will be balanced and placed in just the right place to further enhance the beauty of Jesus’ chain of pearls who are already there, in the cloister. Each pearl is unique. One is not more beautiful than another. Yet, they all add to the beauty and completeness of the chain!
I contemplated and contemplated that reading. I observed with joy and wonder and awe Nora’s radiant joy upon returning to the cloister. Nothing bad for her could bring her this visible joy and peace and ecstasy she seemed to be experiencing! I prayed more and more for courage and joy in me, as well. Guess what…. God gave them to me! I was shocked on the morning of Nora’s entrance, that her joy and love were infectious. I couldn’t think about myself. I could only think about my daughter’s joyful, unselfish, pure and FREE decision to enter cloistered religious life… and to give ALL to God! What is sad about that? Nothing! My daughter entered the cloister with my smiles and my blessing and my glorifying God…. For calling my dear daughter. She belongs to Him! So do you and me!
What about you?
Are you thinking of joining?
Is your daughter/granddaughter or other loved one thinking of joining the sisters or embracing a religious vocation?
Are you encouraging free choices of vocations or are you just protecting your own sentimental feelings or dread of tender moments of sacrifice?
I challenge you to give up all. My wife’s frequent words keep coming back to me. “God will not be out-done in generosity!”
Don’t be ashamed of your sadness, tenderness and hurt. These are normal feelings as we have a lifetime of love for our daughters, granddaughters, sisters and friends! Celebrate that love, but don’t spoil it by having it be an obstacle to your loved one’s free choice.
Pray for courage and love and generosity. It will take all of these. As our parish priest reminded us… we’re not giving up our daughter, we’re just learning to hold her in a new way!”
Don’t deprive yourself of a chance to sacrifice. Don’t deprive God of His Beloved Bride… your loved one!
Be assured of my prayers for you, whether you are the aspiring nun or her family and/or loved ones.
May God bless you all. May God’s Will be done unto and by all of us…for only with conformity to the Will of God will we know peace and love and contentment in this life as well as in the next!
Matthew R. Wenke
Father of Nora Wenke, postulant at Passionist nuns, St. Joseph’s Monastery, Whitesville, KY.
August 3, 2014, (One week after our daughter’s entrance).