Saturday, 20 July 2013

Nun on the run


It was Friday evening and Father Ignatius was alone in the Parish House listening to his favorite classical music. He sat in his armchair by the fire, eyes closed, and with his hand slowly moving his index finger in the air as if holding a baton and conducting an orchestra. Just as the music reached his favorite piece of Verdi’s Aida … The Triumphal March … just then, the front doorbell rang and interrupted his grand moment of triumph.

He jumped off his chair, switched off the record player and said sotto voce, “OK … hold it there all of you … we’ll return to this piece presently …”

He opened the door to be confronted by Sister Martha.

“I’m not interrupting anything?” she asked.

“Oh … only Giuseppe Verdi …” he replied.

“Yes … I’ve heard him through the open window … he’s getting better under your leadership … mind if I come in?”

He moved aside and let her in.

“Would you like tea or coffee …” she said as she made her way towards the kitchen.

“Tea please,” replied the priest as he walked back to the living room.

Sister Martha was in her late sixties yet she was as youthful and energetic as anyone half her age. She lived at the Convent nearby with a dozen other nuns, and she taught at the local Catholic schools. She often called in on the priests at St Vincent for a chat and a cup of tea on her way home, especially on Fridays when she stayed a little late at the school.

Moments later she entered the living room carrying a tray of tea and ginger biscuits; the priest’s favorite, as she knew very well.

“Ah … I didn’t know we had ginger biscuits,” said Father Ignatius, “I didn’t find them earlier on when I looked …”

“Mrs Davenport has shown me where she hides them …” said Sister Martha pouring two cups of tea, “she told me if you’d find them you’ll finish the whole packet …”

A few minutes of silence later as they slowly sipped their tea Sister Martha was first to break the quiet.

“Ignatius … have you heard about Sister Cecilia?” she asked.

“No … I can’t say I have …” he replied, “what’s the problem …”

“I am not breaking any confidences Ignatius … she asked me to speak to you … she’s already spoken to Mother Superior today …”

“Sounds ominous …” said the priest putting his cup down.

“Well … she works at the hospital as you know … she’s a nursing assistant there … well, not to put too fine a point on it … she’s fallen in love with a young doctor there …

“She told me she doesn’t know how it happened …” continued Sister Martha, “they got attracted to each other and she feels she can no longer continue her vocation …”

“You say she spoke to Mother Superior?” asked Father Ignatius.

“Yes … today. She told her she’d been thinking about this for about a month or so … she wishes it didn’t happen but it has … she wants to leave the convent and pursue a new life with him …

“She told me that Mother Superior was very understanding and suggested that she leaves the Convent for another one down South to give her time to think …

“But Sister Cecilia doesn’t think it will help … she wants to leave her vocation altogether.”

“I see …” said the priest calmly, “and you say Cecilia asked you to speak to me …”

“Yes … she wanted your advice …”

Father Ignatius smiled weakly.

“The poor soul …” he mumbled, “what advice can I give her Martha?” he asked rhetorically.

“When we decide to take up our vocation to serve the Lord,” he continued, “we do so after a lot of soul-searching, a lot of prayers, and a lot of training. It takes years as you know Martha … this is perhaps deliberate to give us a chance to think seriously on what we’re doing and the commitment we’re undertaking …

“Yet … despite all that … it does sometimes happen as in this case, that individuals can no longer continue their vocations and wish to leave. It happened some years ago to a priest I knew well … he has left the church and is now married with a family of his own …”

“It’s terrible …” Sister Martha said quietly.

“I suppose it is …” he replied, “as a Church we frown when people break their marital vows and divorce or separate … and I suspect this is no different …

“When a priest or nun break their vows and no longer wish to continue their vocations … it is perhaps the same as couples seeking divorce …

“Yet Martha … whilst I understand what people like Cecilia or that priest I spoke of are going through … I cannot condemn them …”

The nun looked up at him with a frown.

“I cannot condemn them, Martha …” he repeated, “I agree that it is wrong to break the vows they made freely … but at the same time … who am I to stand in the way of true and genuine love … if that is what’s happened in this case. I know it was exactly what happened in the case of that priest … I knew him very well.

“He fell in love with a teacher … he shouldn’t have … but he did … He wanted to leave the Church … just like Cecilia … He confessed to me … it was heart breaking … he told me he could not go on serving as a priest.”

“What did you do?” asked Sister Martha.

“I forgave him of course …” replied Father Ignatius, “how could I possibly withhold absolution … He was repentant and he knew that he could no longer serve as a priest … even if he gave up his lover and was moved to another Parish … He knew that he would not be a good priest and that deep in his heart he’d be a fraud … He’d be serving against his will and would be cheating the Church as well as God Himself …

“Yes …” said Father Ignatius thinking back to that event in the distant past, “I forgave him and absolved him …

“When we forgive someone else, we touch his very soul with the merciful love of Jesus Christ our Lord. How could I stand in the way of such love?

“Eventually … the bishop let him go … and as I said, he’s now married with a family.”

“What do you want me to say to Cecilia?” asked Sister Martha.

“Tell her that I’ll be praying for her …” he replied, “tell her to think about what Mother Superior advised … and that I’ll be always available if she wishes to have a talk with me … How old is she?” he asked.

“Thirty … last month!”

“She’s young and no doubt very frightened …” said Father Ignatius calmly, “I believe that whatever we do … our role is not to condemn but to forgive … She is doing what she feels is right for her life …

“Our Lord forgave many sins when He walked this earth … who am I to stand in the way of true repentance?”

14 comments:

  1. Good story.
    I remember a priest once telling me that if a person has a true vocation, that if they break their vows, they are never really at home anywhere. There is a major loss.
    I believe we do need to pray for those who break their vows. We need to pray that they find healing and that they are choosing the right path. We need to pray that they really take time to pray and discern what their true vocation is. For their own sake.

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    1. Hi Colleen,

      This has been a difficult post to write. I know of 4 priests who have left the Church to get married.

      Our church now has a priest who is married and is a grandfather. He was an Anglican priest who converted to the Catholic Faith a few years ago.

      We need to pray indeed.

      God bless.

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  2. {{sigh}} Remembering to pray for vocations and to pray for our religious and priests...

    Thank you, Victor. Have a wonderful day!

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    1. I agree Hand-Maid.

      I hope you have a wonderful weekend too.

      God bless you and yours.

      Delete
  3. Beautiful posts Victor. One of my favorites.

    Breaking a vow shouldn't be taken lightly, but I agree, we should not get in the way of love and forgive.

    What is your opinion on the church allowing married men to enter the priesthood in a part-time basis?

    I know this topic brings many heated responses, but I'm just curious on your opinion on the matter.

    Blessings,

    Jose D. Pinell.

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    1. Thank you for your encouragement Jose. It is much appreciated.

      The question of married priests is, as you say, a difficult one. I guess the tradition in the Catholic Church of un-married priests goes back centuries; but is it based on Biblical teachings? Christ never said to follow Me you must be un-married. I doubt He taught His followers to abandon their families. We know that Peter was married and Christ healed his mother-in-law.

      Yes, Christ said leave everything and follow Me. But this meant leave earthly worries and earthly pursuits, like getting rich, being famous and so on. He did not mean abandon your wife and family to poverty and destitution for Me.

      Today, we have a Catholic Church with what appears to many as double standards. We have those joining the vocation as priests who vow chastity and are un-married. And we have those who join from the Anglican Church, (like the priest in our parish), who are married with children and grand-children.

      This policy will no doubt discourage some from being priests. Or encourage current priests into leaving if they fall in love. Imagine a celibate priest who falls in love, (I've known four), they ask the Church to get married and the Church says "NO" ... remember your vow. They see serving Anglican priests who are married and ... eventually ... after a lot of pain and heart-searching ... they leave the Church.

      I'm not sure what the Church should do here; but a two-way policy seems to be wrong in my view. The Church should have one policy for all priests. And ... let's say the Church one day decides that priests can marry ... what about nuns? Should they be allowed to marry too? And monks?

      What a difficult subject, Jose. At the moment, in the UK, there is a need for more vocations ... I understand the numbers of new people joining the priesthood is down. What can the Church do, besides prayers, to attract new workers to the vineyard? Allow women to be priests? And allow them to be married too? But then ... isn't this what the Anglican Church did and it resulted in their priests joining our Church?

      God bless you Jose.

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    2. I agree Victor!

      I think the church should have one policy for all priests. Celibacy, and the Vatican has said this, is not essential for the priesthood. For many centuries we had married priests, and even married Popes, but the discipline of Celibacy was enforced to purify the priesthood during a time where it was morally corrupt.

      I wonder if this discipline makes sense now? It did make sense back in those days, but is it necessary now?

      I think there is a possibility that the church will allow married men to enter the priesthood in a part time basis, as it recently did for the diaconate. Maybe the church is not ready for that change though.

      I do believe that nuns and monks should remain a religious vocation, separate from the priesthood, and as religious should remain in a celibate state.

      Blessings,

      Jose D. Pinell.

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    3. It's such a delicate and difficult question for the Church, isn't it?

      God bless you Jose.

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  4. Victor, this happened in my parish too - the previous pastor left the priesthood to marry his childhood sweetheart. I guess it's not that rare these days but I agree with Colleen's comment that there is a major loss if the person had a true vocation and that we need to pray for them (and all our priests).

    God bless :)

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    1. I agree Mary, it is a major loss when a priest leaves his vocation; and our prayers should be with them. I'm sure they don't take their decisions lightly.

      Thank you Mary for visiting me here.

      God bless you and yours.

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  5. What a beautifully compassionate post! It just shows how impossible it is to live a celibate life without a special grace, doesn't it? Human compromises to the numbers problem seem to add a further threat to an already shaky faith, I think. When Christians start rationalising like mustering politicians, they seem to lose trust in God's promises.

    It's difficult to write sensitively about such a controversial issue - you wrote a great post, Victor!

    God bless:-)

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    1. Thank you Vicky for your kind words and support.

      You're right, I suppose the Church is pushed into making compromises to counteract the shortage of priests. In the UK the Catholic Church had to accept those married Anglican priests joining our denomination because they did not agree with changes in their Church. The Anglicans, having agreed years ago to have women priests, are now debating whether women priests can or should become bishops.

      I really don't know what the solution to the problem is. I agree with you in that we need stronger Faith and better Trust in God.

      God bless you Vicky.

      (Another controversial subject will be discussed here soon).

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  6. Actually, under obedience and to test whether she was enduring a monumental temptation, Sister should go to the convent in the south. If after 6 months to a year, if she still wanted to get dispensed from her vows, she could. But, as you wrote, the vows of priests and nuns have to be taken as seriously as marriage vows, because that, in effect, is what they are. Is the love a consecrated person has for the Church of less value than the love a man and wife share? What if a spouse falls "in love" with somebody else and wants to leave to follow this new love. Isn't that the same situation as a priest or nun falling "in love" with someone? Feelings are treacherous. Vocations must be tested time and again. Always all parties must live grounded in prayer. When we stop praying, that's when we compromise our vocations.

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    1. You are so right once again, Barbara. The vows to the Church and God are as serious as those made in marriage, if not more so. However, as in marriage, sometimes these vows are broken. Yes, it is wrong, but it happens. I know of three priests in our church alone who left the Church to get married; and another priest from elsewhere.

      God bless you.

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