Meditations by Matthew (Matt) Wenke, Counsellor
Catholic Charities District Director
Allegany and Cattaraugus (N.Y.) Counties
In training for Permanent Deacon
(our Sr. Frances Marie's father!)
(Click to read)
So, your daughter wants to be a WHAT?!!!!!!!!
The Enduring Process of Letting Go
So, your daughter wants to be a WHAT?!!!!!!!!By Matt Wenke
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
August 3, 2014, (One week after our daughter’s entrance).
Your Loved One has entered Religious Life…
The Enduring Process of Letting Go
Your Loved One has entered Religious Life…
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.
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!
January 3, 2017