The Enduring Process of Letting Go

Article by Matt Wenke, father of Sr. Frances Marie, CP

Nearly two and a half years have gone by since our daughter, Nora, now known as Sister Frances Marie, entered the cloister of the Passionist nuns in Whitesville, Kentucky.  As I have described before, letting go and supporting her answering God’s call was a bitter-sweet  experience, marked by a mixture of awe, joy, lonesomeness and a painful tenderness about her leaving the nest and her everyday physical presence with us.

There are still moments of missing her presence in our home and in our everyday communications, but our God is still a God of consolations!  Sister Frances Marie is still accessible.  We are permitted to write to her at any time, and we often do.  She is allowed to write to us, monthly, and for special occasions such as our birthdays, Mothers Day and Fathers Day and on major holidays.  We speak on the phone four or five times per year.  Best of all, the Sisters generously and graciously welcome us at the monastery twice per year for three day visits with very liberal visiting times for us to be with our daughter, granddaughter or sister. These “visits” are an unearthly delight; a joyful reunion, punctuated by her prayer times (to which we are invited and in which we love to participate!)  In participating, we get a sense of her everyday life and of the prayerful harmony of the monastery and Frances Marie’s new lifestyle and vocation.

The monastery and grounds are lovely, clean and well maintained.  During each visit we meet the Sisters as a group in the parlor for twenty minutes to a half hour to “touch base” with them.  This is an absolute pleasure as Frances Marie’s sisters have become like family to us.  Our concerns and burdens are theirs and theirs are ours.  Our lives may be parallel in some ways due to distance, but we are still journeying with the Sisters, spiritually!  To meet the sisters in the parlor is to meet a group of very happy, joyful, and even playful women of all ages.  There are no “sour grapes” among them.  They are all witty and funny as well as seriously prayerful, reflective and wise.

During our visits we also meet and re-connect with the families of the other Sisters.  This is indescribable in its value and comfort for us!  These families have also struggled with mixed feelings in reaction to their daughter’s call to leave the world and embrace the unique calling of the cloister and its contemplative prayerful mission.  We compare notes as to our experiences of appreciation for our daughters’ choice and growing understanding of the meaning of their call and its powerful witness of faith for our struggling world.  We feel proud of them and take great comfort in their serene happiness and peace about their calling. 

On our most recent visit, at New Years 2017, another father and I reflected how we frequently cried while waiting for our daughters to enter the cloister and yet, simultaneously experienced a moving awe and profound wonder at the privileged calling they had received.  If we only think of ourselves this could easily turn to self-pity and simple self-centered mourning about parting from our daughters.  However, if we think of our daughters’ happiness and freedom to make choices for their lives, of course we want to be supportive.  I wouldn’t be choosing my future son-in-law or daughter-in-law if my child married.  Neither would I have wanted or allowed my parents to make choices for me.  Remembering this aids in the “letting go” process.  This reflection also helps us not to do needless speculating that our daughters might have chosen more culturally accepted vocations such as being a doctor, lawyer, teacher, nurse, etc.  Yes, they might have done so, but miraculously, God is calling them to this unique kind of service.

Dear, dear loved ones of women and men in discernment about religious life, please support them as they discern God’s Will for them!  You will, yourself, receive signature gifts and graces if you carry the cross with them and accompany and encourage them on their journey.  Sister Frances Marie’s order’s special charism is to Jesus and Mary in the Passion.  Spiritually, I walk with my daughter on the road to Calvary, though she walks further up on the Way of the Cross; closest to Jesus.  I follow behind and offer help and support as needed.  She prays seven times a day, and more, with the Sisters.  I contemplate this and find comfort in knowing that she is always “home,” praying for the world and all of its intentions.

Sometimes, it’s a comfort to reflect on the brevity of this life.  Before we know it, we will all be reunited in the Heavenly Kingdom.  Saint Therese, Mother Teresa and other saints reflected often on the shortness of this life and on how recognition of this helped them to accept and endure and even to embrace the “temporary” burdens of this life.  With age and grace and wisdom we learn that what seems to be a burden at its start can end up being seen as a very valuable “gift” or privilege!  A loved one’s calling to religious life may at first seem like a death and one may surely even grieve for awhile, but, with prayer, reflection open-mindedness and dialogue one can come to see what used to be merely painful as an extraordinary opportunity for grace and redemption. 

During my recent visit I shared with my daughter the comfort I receive when I reflect that our paths, though different, lead to the same Heavenly home.  While our paths have the illusion of diverging in this world, in the end (eternity) we will meet again under the same roof, in our Heavenly home!

Remember the line in the Bible about being willing to give up parents, children, etc. for Jesus’ sake and for the sake of the Gospel?  Well, it came to me as Nora entered the cloister that this time Jesus was saying these words directly to me!  Is He saying it to you, right now?  How will you respond?  Will you think of Jesus and His Kingdom or will you just think of yourself and what might be some challenging lonesomeness and letting go?

Don’t take this as “preaching”.  The feelings you are having, if they are like mine, are normal.  This “ultimate gift” requested of you is truly painful and challenging but we must keep our eyes fixed on the big picture… Jesus and His Kingdom and His generous call to us to religious life ourselves, or to support someone else who is bravely answering the call.  Will we lighten the weight of the cross or add to it?

May God bless you and give you courage, deep, deep love and charity as you work this out.  May you receive and experience the unequaled joy of sacrifice and generosity to give all, even “your own” to Jesus.  You will receive a hundredfold.  Jesus does keep ALL of His promises!

With Love, 
Matthew Wenke     
January 3, 2017