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Reasons To Leave A Monastery


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First of all, I've gotta clarify one thing: This is not about criticizing persons, communities or orders. It is about collecting some reasons to leave religious life. When I was discerning entering a monastery, I searched the web for reports about people who left. I wanted to know what their reasons were and if that could happen to me. So my one and only intention here is to help those who are in the process of discerning.

 

In my book three important reasons are:

 

1. Having entered too young and unexperienced. Although I know sisters who entered very young and unexperienced, I would never recommend to join a community with less than 21 years of life and 3 years of working experience. Someone told me before, that wanting a career could become an issue. I didn't believe it. I still don't think that I want a great career, but having no working experience at all was in the end a reason to leave. I just felt that I needed that experience before I could make a life-long commitment.

 

2. Not having an appropriate formation during the noviciate. Novices do need a lot of time and attention. It's a bit similar to having kids. The first year after birth is very arduous and laborious. That's why you really need a master of novices who isn't occupied with all sorts of other obligations. Without a proper formation you won't have the basis you need to continue.

 

3. Being alone after a long gap. If it is possible in any way you shouldn't enter alone. It helps very much to have someone by your side, who experiences the same things as new. Especially if you enter a convent that hasn't had novices for some years, you just need support. Communities without novices tend to forget what it's like to be new to the hole monastic world. It's like grown-ups tend to forget for the most part what it was like to be a kid. That makes it very hard to understand each other and to help the new ones in the needed way.

 

A little less important reasons are:

 

4. Not liking the church - the place where community gathers to pray. You might think you'll get used to the architecture and inner decoration, but if you really didn't like it the first time you saw it - you might still not like it after 10 years...

 

5. Having chosen a community that is too small or too big. There are pros and cons for each of them - small communities and large communities. It probably isn't easy to know beforehand which one suits you better, but you should think about it. I thought a big community would be better for me since I was afraid a small community would mean to be too close to each other without the possibility to get out of the way of someone. But as it turned out a big community just wasn't enough like a family for me. It was more like living with colleagues.

 

May God bless all of you, who are discerning a religious life!

 

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Friar John Paul, this thread is about the experiences of people who have left monastic life.  I don't know whether you have had the experience of leaving a religious community but I don't think it is

Very interesting thread! I was a postulant and will share some experiences I’ve had, in hopes it will be of service. In advance, forgive me please if I am verbose.   I’ve been in three communiti

Dear Sr. Madeleine Marie:   I have read this thread carefully, and maybe I missed it.  If your community was specifically mentioned in this thread please hit the report button and we (mods) will cor

From my own experience: abusive formation staff / leadership. This includes all forms of abuse, emotional, spiritual, sexual, etc. It was a huge problem at the seminary I went to, and I've heard of religious communities where it's a big problem there too. Mind you, I'm not talking about the 1980's, I just got out of the seminary I went to in 2010, and I have a friend who got burned by a community in the last couple months. It happens too often, where communities take advantage of people who want to practice a rule of obedience, and can become extremely problematic in short order.

Edited by arfink
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It is IMO too simplistic to imagine that once having called one to the cloister that God wants that for ever for you. I think Beatitude sums it up, all other considerations pale into insignificance if one realises in the continuing journey of discernment that one is no longer called to that particular community/life.

Of course, abuse of any description would automatically lead me to question the validity of my being in that community (though it may not totally rule out staying).

 

Maybe for discerners it is hard to think that one's fiat is not a final act......

Any VD would tell you that in fact we need to maintain the spirit of that moment of fiat (Vows/Consecration), but part of that maintenance is a daily, sometimes (!) hourly repetition of our uniting our Will with His.

Our discernment is and has to be an ongoing process, in the cloister or out of it.

Does God change His mind? No, never. But He does know what will bring us to salvation and that path is not in my experience as linear as we would like to think.

 

I knew without a shadow of a doubt He wanted me in the Cloister. I was not sure until I was back in the world that He wanted me to leave. Praise Him for exclaustration.

Praise the wisdom of the Church for permitting this breathing space where I was able to come to a deeper understanding of my own desires and align them with His. I did not want to leave the community. It took every inch of will I posses for me to walk away from what was a very happy, contented and peaceful experience.

It was a much bigger challenge for me to be in the world (still is).

 

 

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This is an interesting question and I'd love to read more about people's experiences feeling called strongly enough to enter formation, then later feeling called to leave.  I'll share mine...

 

I don't think everyone is called to ask the question "what is my vocation".  Many good Catholics never have any doubt feeling called to marriage.  I also don't think that being called to discern automatically means that you have a vocation - otherwise what's the point of discernment.  I do believe that entering religious life or seminary can play a role in answering that question, be it a "yes" or a "no".  Yet in practice I don't think we get that level of clarity when we are going through the process ourselves and I wonder whether we can ever on earth be completely sure about what was happening in our heads and hearts.  There is always a degree of faith on our part when making decisions of this kind.

 

I was briefly in religious life.  I had had the question of a vocation very much on my mind and conscience  for a number of years.  I receved very poor advice on discernment during that time - especially from the group I ultimately joined and I think the decision to join that group was a very poor one.  I left when I witnessed some of the things Arfink alluded to above.  I sought out advice from another order (a good one luckily and stayed with them a short while), learned about proper discernment, and later 'in the world' discerned that I did not have a vocation.

 

So was I called to discern a vocation or was it just guilt or immaturity putting the vocation idea in my head when I was younger?  Was I "called" to enter or was it just a rash, irresponsible decision on my part?  Was I "called" to leave or was I just being prudent when I realized how crazy the group was? 

 

One thing that is certain is that after many years, I have confidence I am not called to be a priest.  As for what happened in between, I have no idea.

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I had two very different experiences with two different communities during postulancy.

 

In community A, it was great.  I was with the community for 9 months.  I was first an aspirant for 3, then a postulant for 6.  It was one of the most difficult decisions that I made to choose to leave, but it was a well thought out and carefully discerned decision.

 

The one that helped the most was the postulancy directress (which changed about 3 months into postlulancy .. a grace of God!).  I had for months had this unease in me.  I couldn't explain it exactly, but at about the 4.5 month mark, I met with her, and she asked if she could share her opinion as to what was happening.  It was the best thing in the world -- because she ended up voicing a list of things that I had already seen, but didn't piece together.

 

At that exact moment I *knew* I needed to leave ... and I remember her saying (almost shockingly) "I'm not telling you to leave!" and my saying "I know ... but I know I need to."  Then it became a question of how and when.

 

To this day I am so thankful ... the directress didn't say "you're not a fit" yet helped me see what I already saw.

 

-------------------------------------------------

 

So in summary (and I'm not sure that I flat out said this), I would consider discerning leaving a monastery if there is a constant unease in the heart.  Yes -- there are times that the unease may set in if there are negative external stuff happening trying to convince you that this is not the right place (think -- St. Therese's experience right before vows).  What I am talking about is a constant, day-in-day-out struggle that just doesn't let up.

 

It doesn't mean that the person doesn't belong in Religious Life, it just may mean that the person doesn't belong in that particular community.  And with proper examination those reasons *do* become evident. (I could list my reasons for leaving this first community -- but they are reasons that apply specifically to my vocation, not everyone's vocation).

 

Finally to give an example of one of the reasons why I left community A:  I had felt as though I did not have a vocation to a monastery ... i.e. to a cloister.  The community I entered was contemplative-active, with the balance strongly on the contemplative side.  I felt that, for me, the balance was too much towards the contemplative.  *BUT* again -- this reason may not be the same factor for someone called to a cloister (ex: the sister that entered with me had precisely been looking for a community that was heavily contemplative with some apostolate, and it was a very good fit for her).

 

 

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First of all, I've gotta clarify one thing: This is not about criticizing persons, communities or orders. It is about collecting some reasons to leave religious life. When I was discerning entering a monastery, I searched the web for reports about people who left. I wanted to know what their reasons were and if that could happen to me. So my one and only intention here is to help those who are in the process of discerning.

 

In my book three important reasons are:

 

1. Having entered too young and unexperienced. Although I know sisters who entered very young and unexperienced, I would never recommend to join a community with less than 21 years of life and 3 years of working experience. Someone told me before, that wanting a career could become an issue. I didn't believe it. I still don't think that I want a great career, but having no working experience at all was in the end a reason to leave. I just felt that I needed that experience before I could make a life-long commitment.

 

2. Not having an appropriate formation during the noviciate. Novices do need a lot of time and attention. It's a bit similar to having kids. The first year after birth is very arduous and laborious. That's why you really need a master of novices who isn't occupied with all sorts of other obligations. Without a proper formation you won't have the basis you need to continue.

 

3. Being alone after a long gap. If it is possible in any way you shouldn't enter alone. It helps very much to have someone by your side, who experiences the same things as new. Especially if you enter a convent that hasn't had novices for some years, you just need support. Communities without novices tend to forget what it's like to be new to the hole monastic world. It's like grown-ups tend to forget for the most part what it was like to be a kid. That makes it very hard to understand each other and to help the new ones in the needed way.

 

A little less important reasons are:

 

4. Not liking the church - the place where community gathers to pray. You might think you'll get used to the architecture and inner decoration, but if you really didn't like it the first time you saw it - you might still not like it after 10 years...

 

5. Having chosen a community that is too small or too big. There are pros and cons for each of them - small communities and large communities. It probably isn't easy to know beforehand which one suits you better, but you should think about it. I thought a big community would be better for me since I was afraid a small community would mean to be too close to each other without the possibility to get out of the way of someone. But as it turned out a big community just wasn't enough like a family for me. It was more like living with colleagues.

 

May God bless all of you, who are discerning a religious life!

 

Ave Maria!

 

I would not say those reasons, in themselves, are valid reasons to leave. Perhaps they may contribute, in part, to a spiritual director advising you to leave, but even if one were to be suffering from all of the above, a spiritual director could advise otherwise.

 

1. Having entered too young and unexperienced...

Many saints and doctors of the church teach the opposite and even warn of the dangers of thinking that way. There are some exceptions, but it should definitely not be the norm.

 

As for the others, it seems that if God is calling one to a community, He provides the graces to persevere through these crosses. God will confirm leaving only through your spiritual director, and not through your own will. Ave Maria!

 

Mary, Mother of Vocations, pray for us!

 

In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary,

 

fra John Paul

 

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1. Having entered too young and unexperienced...

Many saints and doctors of the church teach the opposite and even warn of the dangers of thinking that way. There are some exceptions, but it should definitely not be the norm.

 

As for the others, it seems that if God is calling one to a community, He provides the graces to persevere through these crosses. God will confirm leaving only through your spiritual director, and not through your own will. Ave Maria!

 

At what age someone is fit to enter is something that should be decided on a case by case basis.  Hopefully a community would help gauge one's maturity, but there are communities out there that routinely throw caution (and prudence) to the wind and allow anyone to enter regardless of their maturity or preparation. 

 

As for "God will confirm leaving only through your spiritual director"...  Wow.  Says who?

 

 

 I know you and I have different perspectives about this and I've often cautioned against taking the words of the saints as literal teachings in the modern world because there is a major cultural difference between the maturity of a sixteen year old in the 1600s and one in the 2000s. 

 

Yes, taking a quote from a saint literally, out of context, and making it an absolute is dangerous.  Literal, out of context interpretation should be for protestants and cults, not catholics.

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Ave Maria!

 

I would not say those reasons, in themselves, are valid reasons to leave. Perhaps they may contribute, in part, to a spiritual director advising you to leave, but even if one were to be suffering from all of the above, a spiritual director could advise otherwise.

 

1. Having entered too young and unexperienced...

Many saints and doctors of the church teach the opposite and even warn of the dangers of thinking that way. There are some exceptions, but it should definitely not be the norm.

 

As for the others, it seems that if God is calling one to a community, He provides the graces to persevere through these crosses. God will confirm leaving only through your spiritual director, and not through your own will. Ave Maria!

 

Mary, Mother of Vocations, pray for us!

 

In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary,

 

fra John Paul

 

 

Fra. John Paul:

 

I will also chime in with Sr. Marie.  The reasons listed by LittlePaula are her reasons ... and are quite valid reasons depending on the person.

 

To say that they are not valid reasons to leave is somewhat insensitive to those who have left.

 

I am also going to dare say that the statement "God will confirm leaving only through your spiritual director" is incorrect.  Why?

a) sometimes you do not have a spiritual director, especially at the beginning of the formation process (or -- you don't have consistent access to him/her)

b) sometimes you are asked to leave by a community.  That is still a case where you do need to leave.

c) sometimes it becomes quite evident that you *have* to leave, through prayer and proper discernment.

 

Finally, if a person is in a community that is not completely healthy, the person may be assigned a spiritual director from within the community.  That can be a bad influence ... and is a case where God may work things in such a way that everything in that person may be telling them to leave and God gives him/her the grace to act.  I normally do not suggest that someone "ignores" the advice of a spiritual director, but again, I can't discard needing to do so and that in some circumstances may be a valid thing to do.  Normally -- you listen closely to a spiritual director, but especially in the circumstance where a director is a member of the same religious community/family there can be a serious conflict of interest.

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Finally, if a person is in a community that is not completely healthy, the person may be assigned a spiritual director from within the community. (...)  Normally -- you listen closely to a spiritual director, but especially in the circumstance where a director is a member of the same religious community/family there can be a serious conflict of interest.

 

Yes.  Thank you!

 

Many communities that have issues have limited members to SD's only from within the community (be it sisters from the same community or priests from the male branch of the community.)  

 

In some communities it has a less than innocent motivation (ie. the Legion of Christ being the most famous and obvious.)

 

For men in formation this is very nearly, if not actually a violation of Canon Law, but there are communities that get away with it. 

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I think it is pretty clear in canon law.

But when I was with a community my immediate superior gave me direction ... which, these women were knowledgeable and I'm pretty sure had a fairly good grip on canon law ...

so I think it must have been a misunderstanding about what "direction" consisted of.  i thought she was my spiritual director but maybe it was supposed to be "correction."  But we DID do spiritual direction things ... meh. idk. sometimes I think, oh you're a moron to think that. But then I think ... it was a monthly one on one meeting called "direction" where we talked about my spiritual life. Even to a savvy person that would seem like spiritual direction. I don't know ... maybe I "missed" something along the way ... I was a really confused postulant.

Edited by Lilllabettt
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I think it is pretty clear in canon law.

But when I was with a community my immediate superior gave me direction ... which, these women were knowledgeable and I'm pretty sure had a fairly good grip on canon law ...

so I think it must have been a misunderstanding about what "direction" consisted of.  i thought she was my spiritual director but maybe it was supposed to be "correction."  But we DID do spiritual direction things ... meh. idk. I was a really confused postulant.

 

 

This is the portion of Canon Law I was referring to.   It says students are free to approach priests approved by the bishop, but who does the approving for seminarians in formation with an order?  

 

That's why it's not completely clear to me. Is there other stuff you are referring to?  Please let me know.  I looked at the parts specifically on religious formation and didn't see direction mentioned.

 

From: http://www.intratext.com/IXT/ENG0017/_PV.HTM

 

Can. 239 §1 I(...)

§2 In every seminary there is to be at least one spiritual director, though the students are also free to approach other priests who have been deputed to this work by the Bishop.

Can. 240 §1 Besides ordinary confessors, other confessors are to come regularly to the seminary; while maintaining seminary discipline, the students are always to be free to approach any confessor, whether inside or outside the seminary.

§2 In deciding about the admission of students to orders, or their dismissal from the seminary, the vote of the spiritual director and the confessors may never be sought.

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I know when I was in a community as a postulant, we were strongly encouraged NOT to have an outside director (which I thought was odd, and I was not convinced was 'legal' under canon law.)  We were also told we HAD to use one confessor (and we were not allowed to ask for anyone else, which again, I thought was not legal, and frankly odd... the guy was holy, but he was also almost totally deaf!).  We were also specifically that the superiors would be given the graces to direct us... and that others, even holy others, would not have those graces.

Frankly... I didn't see that to be the case in real life.  I think they were good and holy ladies, but I don't think they had a direct line to the Holy Spirit, and I think sometimes they made some SERIOUS mistakes.  Not so much with me, but with some of the others.  Of course, I left fairly early, too...... partly for that reason.

 

 

And...

 

I've heard of MANY communities where people are told they MUST use the novice mistress, or prioress, as their director.  I've also heard of communities that tell people they CANNOT use the same people as it is forbidden under canon law.

It would be nice if someone could give us some straight answers....?

 

And, I've heard the terms internal and external form used... and I think I know what they mean, but I always think it makes sense to define the terms.....because then we are all sure we know what we are talking about.  Is external forum the 'molding' that takes place in the customs/manners/'style' of the sister/brother/seminarian for their new life as opposed to the spiritual direction/'care of the soul' aspect of the same person's growth toward God?  Is that and classic 'spiritual direction' what is meant by internal forum?

 

I think there ARE a lot of communities that get those two mushed into one role... and it is a BAD idea....

 

For those of you who are or have been in religious life or seminary, or anything comparable, or if you know others who are/have been, are those two roles generally kept separate, and if not, did you experience problems/benefits from that?

 

NOTE:  I'm deliberately phrasing the above question in this way because I want people to be able to respond without REPEAT, WITHOUT feeling they need to talk about their own personal experience.....

 

Again, I'm not talking about what the ideal is, but what the lived-reality is.....

Edited by AnneLine
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