I would like to introduce one of our vocation retreaters who is discerning. Karen is eager to share her thoughts about “roadblocks” that one can sometimes meet along the way and ways to resolve them. I hope that this will speak to your heart and help you better discern your vocation. Perhaps you might be inspired to reflect in a similar manner about your journey.
Following one’s vocation isn’t always a linear path. Some may fight against it and others might encounter many roadblocks along the way. Even when we desire with all our hearts to give ourselves completely to God in the consecrated life, things don’t always work out according to our plans or time table. Leonie Martin, sister to St. Therese of Lisieux, could be an understanding companion for us on our own journeys.
While not (yet) officially recognized as a saint with a liturgical celebration on the Church’s calendar, Marie Leonie Martin might one day be considered the “patron saint of aspirants to the religious life.” She certainly encountered setbacks and disappointments in trying to follow her vocation. I’m sure Leonie’s prayers would be especially efficacious for women discerning a vocation to the contemplative life as members of her beloved Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary.
Leonie was the third of nine children born to Zelie and Louis Martin. Five girls would survive past childhood. Leonie’s four sisters all eventually entered the Carmelites. Around the time of her First Holy Communion at the age of twelve, Leonie announced that she wanted to be a Poor Clare. Two years later she wrote to her dying aunt, Sr. Marie Dosithee, VHM, to give her “a message for Heaven.” Leonie wanted her aunt to ask God to “give me a vocation to be a true religious.”
Do you recall the first stirrings of your religious vocation? It’s possible that visits to my two great aunts at the Good Shepherd Convent in Cincinnati, Ohio, may have played a part – I have a just barely perceptible memory of a sense of awe while in the convent. I think I was much more interested in being able to swim in the pool that was on the convent grounds, however. It was later, at the age of ten, that the desire first truly surfaced. When I “announced” this to my family I recall my mother defending me against my older brother’s teasing.
Unlike Leonie’s family who saw her difficult temperament and incorrigible nature as definite obstacles to religious life, it didn’t seem my family thought the idea too far-fetched in my regard. Perhaps they really believed I would just outgrow the notion. The thought didn’t go away and instead became stronger in my late teens and early twenties. I “treasured these things and pondered them in my heart” and no longer spoke to my family of this desire. My home wasn’t exactly like the Martin’s home in which religious vocations were fostered and encouraged.
Living on campus provided me a greater ease in writing to, and visiting, communities. When I finally informed my family of my decision to enter a Franciscan community in New Jersey after graduation they didn’t exactly receive the news with joy.
Leonie was twenty-three when she entered the Poor Clares in 1886. Unfortunately, poor health forced her to leave after just two months. A year later she entered the Visitation of Holy Mary. Leonie would write that “my soul’s deepest wish is the desire for intimate union with Jesus” and she asked for others to pray to St. Margaret Mary that she would become “a holy Visitandine.” After six months Leonie had to return home, unable to bear the sacrifices. This seeming failure must have been a tremendous cross for Leonie to carry – even more so when Therese left home to enter the Carmelites.
Entering the convent at the age of twenty-two was the fulfillment of my long-cherished dream and I was so very happy! I finally felt I fit in – that I was with other women who shared a common desire and love for our Lord (whereas I had felt so different from my peers at college who found toga parties and drinking binges important goals to pursue). Unfortunately, I also had to return home and can relate to Leonie’s anguish.
Leaving the Poor Clares led Leonie along a path to the Visitation. A number of years after leaving the convent, I began an earnest search to find a way to fulfill the desire God had planted in my heart so long ago. This led to visiting a couple Poor Clare monasteries, concluding, however, that they weren’t where I belonged. I decided “I am where I’m supposed to be” and settled into my life as a hospital chaplain – releasing my hold on the religious life.
About four years ago, while searching for a picture of the second joyful mystery, I came across the Visitation of Holy Mary – a community I had never heard of; a community that accepted older vocations. Once again, the longing of my heart was stirred and I wrote for information. Fear prevented me from taking the step of coming for a vocation retreat until I was challenged by the Sister with whom I had been corresponding for two years – come for a visit or let it go.
And so, I came for a visit – and then returned two more times. After my last retreat this past November I asked to be admitted to the community and began the application process.
Leonie made a retreat at the Visitation monastery in June of 1893 and afterward asked the Superior if she could return to the novitiate. The permission was granted. This time Leonie lasted two years before the “trials and struggles” became too great and her own “unsteady character” caused Leonie to, once again, leave the community.
Finally, in 1899, at the age of thirty-five, Leonie entered the Visitation convent a third time and would remain there until her death four decades later! We can imagine how her little sister, Therese, must have interceded before the throne of God – and showered down roses upon her – so that Leonie would be able to persevere in her vocation.
How many twists and turns our lives often take! Like Leonie, perhaps following your vocation has been filled with difficulties, failed attempts, and obstacles. “Somehow God will satisfy the desires of your heart” is what a superior at one of the Poor Clare monasteries wrote to me after a visit.
May we, like Leonie, find the desire for intimate union with Jesus fulfilled. May we seek her help in discerning our vocation and, if it is in the Visitation of Holy Mary, may her prayers remove any obstacles standing in our way. Even more, through her example and intercession, may we persevere in following our Lord in the way of gentleness and humility.