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Reasons To Leave A Monastery


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Alot of the things you mentioned are subjective.  They are wrong and they might mean it's not the right place for you, but just by themself I don't think they'd be objectively wrong per se.  However, a few things you mentioned are objectively wrong and problematic.

 

These two things are the kind of things you can't blame on people's personal faults.  They seem very imprudent.  I could see these two practices being very dangerous combined together... letting people running from a bad situation enter religious life, then denying them any sort of counsel or direction?

  • Being expected to overcome my spiritual struggles and issues alone through prayer. Seeking the help of anyone including the novice mistress was frowned upon, because they saw it as dependence on man over God. We had once-a-month meetings with the novice mistress but this was more to fulfill a routine.
  • The way they accepted practically anyone and everyone into the formation program, but weeded them out later. One girl was dismissed one month after her first vows. It was extremely difficult trying to live with girls who did not have the purest of intentions in entering (for example, trying to escape a troubled home or being unable to find a job, or having become too old for marriage).

This is a violation of internal/external forum, which is a big red flag and which lillabet posted on earlier in the thread:

  • Not having the choice of a spiritual director - the novice mistress was the only professed sister you were technically allowed to talk to you about your issues/struggles

So all the other stuff... I'd say that's up to you to discern.  However, these three things above, especially the lack of decent spiritual direction... those are troubling.   Just my 2 cents.

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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

Hi Peteysunshine...........Welcome to Phatmass VS.  I thought your post was interesting.  Much of what you said happens in both active and monastic life here in the USA too.  It is very common to have huge celebrations for superiors on their feast days, much food on major solemnities and Vocation Order is a BIG thing.  Those who enter first, if even a few days earlier, are considered "older in vocation" and can look down on the newest in the door.  It is a great way to learn humility when you are the last one to enter or are in the newest group.  Some of the things you wrote I had never encountered, but after having experienced many years of religious life (both apostolic and  monastic) there is nothing that surprises me, and almost nothing I wouldn't believe.   

 

Little Paula is right.  You will definitely know for sure if you are to leave that particular order.  As a young sister in a community, I was going back and forth for a few years.  Someone told me that when it is right for me to leave, I will know and there will be no more doubts.  I prayed and prayed.  One day, I woke up and knew what I was to do.

 

I am very surprised that someone was dismissed a month after first profession.  I wonder why she was permitted to profess vows. 

 

Thank You for sharing.  There are no perfect religious communities, because there are no perfect people.  Keep praying.

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And... I have a good friend who joined one of the orders a year or so ago, and his first year as a postulant was spent living in a regular community, but pretty much with freedom to come and go at pleasure, he had money for his use, he was allowed to visit home several times, came and visited Mr. AL and me several times.   He could call us on his cell phone.   He could go on long, solitary walks.  He also spent time in classes, in doing ministry with the Community, and in praying with them and getttnig to know them.   During the summer, he entered into his novitiate year.  He is much more restricted, no cell phone, no money, but he and his brother novices still can go out and have an afternoon on the town occasionally, so to speak.  He can occasionally send out an email.   He has some free time each day!   He is learning, he is growing, but he is being treated like a human being!   After his first vows, he'll be able to go home... and will have much more freedom once again when he starts living out his religious life (God willing!)    I don't think this is the case with most of the middle-of-the-road and certainly not with the more traditional women's communities.

 

Another factor people have mentioned to me was ability/inability to continue healthy relationships with family and friends outside the community.  

And people have talked about restrictions on reading materials... only being allowed to read certain books, or certain types of books.  In some cases, just during formation; in other cases, a permanent restriction.  Again, was this a factor for anyone?  

 

 

 

 

I don't know about "most" middle of the road communities ... the one community I am closest to,  I would describe them as "middle of the road" and they do allow their postulants, in particular, more freedom.  They are allowed to keep cell phones, ipods, have money and are even encouraged to work at  part time jobs  during postulancy. They go home for a few days on the holidays (or a few days after the holidays if they are religious holidays). One of the postulants served as a bridesmaid in her best friend's wedding.   Now during novitiate it is more restrictive. But even professed Sisters have up to a month of home visit time each year. And I'm friends with a couple of them on facebook.

 

They do have rules. They have a habit, they have an adoration hour. But it is less restrictive. For example, one time I was there, a postulant came in the community room and sat on the floor. I kept waiting for her to get corrected but then a novice sat down there with her and they started singing. so much for that. That was not something I would have done as a postulant.  We sat in chairs and we were not even supposed to cross our ankles. 

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I think that perhaps the face of religious life is changing - very slowly and not everywhere.  This can make it very difficult for those of us who think of religious life per se as it once was and find it very difficult to change that thinking.  I went through a struggle with myself - "Where is the problem - is it me and my thinking or is it religious life".  Nowadays I think there is a place for all.  A place for religious life as it has long and traditionally been and a place when it is changing or has changed.  It is up to those discerning to decide to which they might be called.

Certainly, where there is more freedom allowed, the onus is more on the person and their own freedom to make decisions re exterior type matters; whereas once upon a time exterior change was a requirement ("the mould" or "change of manners" as known) and freedom of personal decision on exterior type behaviour really curtailed and changed usually by mandatory force of "The Rule", while one's interior life can always remain free and under all and any circumstances - and this (interior freedom and related choices and behaviour) is where, I think, spiritual direction at any time is very important including in religious life.  Also, I think the freedom to choose one's own director outside one's religious community included.

Certainly, where exterior behaviour was ruled and guarded, at times interior attitudes were anything but praiseworthy.  This, of course, can happen too where the way of life is not so ruled and guarded.

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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!).

 

This was my experience, only slightly different. The Sisters regularly went to only their chaplain for confession, but their Constitutions state you can ask for any outside confessor (and I think maybe an outside confessor was actually preferred, per the Constitutions? I can't remember that part exactly, but I know it clearly stated your ability to ask for an outside confessor.) The chaplain wasn't part of the community, but he lived with the Sisters (separate from the convent) and was a huge part of their daily lives, so you can understand WHY a Sister might have preferred an outside confessor. However, this was strongly discouraged...if you asked for an outside confessor, you were looked upon as a "black sheep," that something was wrong with you, that you were being disobedient, etc. So even though your request was granted, it was done very begrudgingly, and you suffered for it. A Sister might happily endure the suffering for the sake of doing what she feels is right, but I think it's obvious that those in authority should not begrudge the Sister's request, especially since it is so clearly stated in the Constitutions.

 

Also, a superior was appointed as spiritual director. Is this expressly forbidden anywhere, specifically for religious Sisters? My memory doesn't serve me well. Even if it's not, it seems to always be listed as a "red flag" for discerners, so why does it happen SO often? Certain communities, including my own, should have known better, so it makes me wonder why they implemented it that way.

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The appropriate canon to refer to is this one: (concerning the governance of institutes)

 

Can. 630 §1. Superiors are to recognize the due freedom of their members regarding the sacrament of penance and direction of conscience, without prejudice, however, to the discipline of the institute.

§2. According to the norm of proper law, superiors are to be concerned that suitable confessors are available to the members, to whom the members can confess frequently.

§3. In monasteries of nuns, in houses of formation, and in more numerous lay communities, there are to be ordinary confessors approved by the local ordinary after consultation with the community; nevertheless, there is no obligation to approach them.

§4. Superiors are not to hear the confessions of subjects unless the members request it on their own initiative.

§5. Members are to approach superiors with trust, to whom they can freely and on their own initiative open their minds. Superiors, however, are forbidden to induce the members in any way to make a manifestation of conscience to them.

 

 

Also, a superior was appointed as spiritual director. Is this expressly forbidden anywhere, specifically for religious Sisters? My memory doesn't serve me well. Even if it's not, it seems to always be listed as a "red flag" for discerners, so why does it happen SO often? Certain communities, including my own, should have known better, so it makes me wonder why they implemented it that way.

 

Your answer is in the above canon law littlepaula shared.

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Thank you to all of you who added feedback... keep it coming!
 
Beyond the whole question of what is technically legal under canon law, one of the things I have noticed in women who leave is that many of them just found the structure and lifestyle restricting.  Granted, most thought they knew what they were getting into... and they wanted it, most of them.... but there is a difference between WANTING something and finding out that when it is tried, it just ISN'T a good fit.  And I think that can sometimes take some time to get in focus.  It's hard to know whether once one is under vows and living in the main community (be it an active ministry or just as a professed nun or priest/brother in a cloister) will work in the long term.  Sometimes even someone who WANTS that lifestyle finds out that the structure just doesn't work in supporting their prayer life and/or ministry.  That was certainly the case for me.... I saw the others relaxing into the lifestyle, and I was getting tenser and tenser and tenser.  And less and less able to pray.   Finally, working with my postulant mistress (because I couldn't talk to anyone else.....) I realized that was a sign I wasn't meant to be there... and I have never regretted that decision.  (and there were other factors as well...)
[...]
Another factor people have mentioned to me was ability/inability to continue healthy relationships with family and friends outside the community.  Was this an issue for any of you, or a factor in anyone who left?
 
And people have talked about restrictions on reading materials... only being allowed to read certain books, or certain types of books.  In some cases, just during formation; in other cases, a permanent restriction.  Again, was this a factor for anyone?  
 
Again, we are NOT trying to bad-mouth any communities... just tring to see what factors lead religious and/or seminarians, etc. to decide that they need to leave....

 
 
Im just realizing that my contributions to this thread are a little bit stupid because in my case I did not decide I needed to leave ... others did ...  I think the phrase I overheard them use was "she has got to go!"  :)  But it was a good decision even though I did not make it. It was not a good fit, even though I would never have admitted it.  

 

I think one of the major things was the mail ... read going out and coming in ... at one point a letter from my family was "held back" from me, because the contents were deemed too upsetting. And it was an upsetting, rather abusive letter. But I did not like my mail being held back. And then sometimes I would write something, it would get read and then be sent back to me unmailed; I needed to rewrite it because I made a spelling error. Or phrased something in an unsisterly way. My parents used to tell us this fairly tale over and over :  http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/salt.html#rushes    ... which if your read it, the clincher is "I love you like meat loves salt." That was a little ritual my brothers and sister and I had with our parents, we'd tell each other that. Well I wrote that at the end of a letter to my parents  and they made me take it out! Because it was unsisterly to make jokes about love, love being a very serious and sacred thing. I didn't protest, I did as told. But it made me sad.

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Your answer is in the above canon law littlepaula shared.

 

Thank you, I did look for it in this thread, but I must have accidentally passed over it.

That makes my question all the more pertinent, then, though: why does it happen SO often? Certain communities, including my own, should have known better. So why do they even try? I don't mean to attribute bad motives to a community, but I can't understand why they would do something that is so expressly forbidden. I suppose that is a bit off topic, though.

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Hi, all,

 

I'm not avoiding this thread... jsut have a bunch of stuff going on in my world today (my husband is having some medical tests) and I want to think & pray about my response a bit.  

 

I think the sharing that is going on is a wonderful thing.... and the questions that are being asked.  

 

We are being loving, respectful... and honest.  Rather like Mary at the incarnation.... and I think good things will come of this.  I promise to get back in a day or so if not before... and in meantime, I am praying.... for all of us, for all those we are thinking of as we read this thread......    

 

May we all be transformed in His love...

 

Now you all keep on asking questions & sharing!

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Oh one quick response... to something several people have said to me off-Phatmass and CherieMadame brought up directly.....

 

is it possible that sometimes the superiors don't think they ARE doing anything wrong?  

Could they not realize that some of what is being done is in violation (or just skirting a violation) of those canons?  

 

Several people have pointed out that they specifically asked about some element like confessors or spiritual direction... and found the situation was very different from what the superior had indicated before they entered... and that the superior seemed genuinely puzzled by their questions.   I know we were told we would be able to correspond with our spiritual directors, and that any mail from spiritual directors that was marked 'spiritual direction' could NOT be opened by superiors... but that sometimes it was.  With an apology... but STILL.....    and that some of us were told that we would be able to stay in contact with a director, but once inside, were told, 'well, Sister, that really isn't our way... you need to wean yourself off that.'

 

I really do think that the superior in this case absolutely thought what she was doing was legit and totally inconformity with Church regs and the customs of the community.....

 

And just last evening I was watching a very beautiful video on the Trappists at New Melleray (it's on their website, and I may start a thread for it, because it is worth a talking about.....) -- and they mentioned that they are strictly cloistered... and I am pretty sure they use internal confessors and directors.  Maybe, NotreDame, you are sort-of right about it being a cloistered vs non-cloistered thing vs a men's-women's thing in part... but I do think the rules tend to be more stringent on the women.  I think partly because 'it's always been that way' in and out of religious life... 

 

And... obviously it is IMPOSSIBLE for religious women to be each other's confessors... so by definition there will always have to be one or more priests available for religious women to use as confessors.... but this isn't true within a monastery of men.  There will always be SOME variety available... beause you wouldn't just have one or two men as priests in a monastery of men.  By definition, the women's opportunities will be restricted, and be only those who would be 'acceptable' to the superiors.   And I don't know what if anything could be done to resolve THAT problem.....

 

Anyway, must run now.... but will probably have a bit more to say in response to a few of the EXCELLENT posts above!

 

And... my husband's tests look good, so thanks for any prayers that just went up for him!

 

Pray for us!

 

 

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This is a really interesting thread -- everyone has a lot of good insights.  Much of what people have shared about reasons why they left the convent resonates with me, having experienced similar situations.  In these months since I came back home, I've devoted a fair amount of thought to trying to distinguish what went wrong because of my character defects, and what was perhaps wrong about the way the community did things.  I have a tendency to blame everything on myself, but I've come to realize that there were some things that were perhaps not as good as they should have been.

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Arg! Just wrote a reply and lost it! Let me try to say it again really quick, as I have to go

 

Thank you, I did look for it in this thread, but I must have accidentally passed over it.

That makes my question all the more pertinent, then, though: why does it happen SO often? Certain communities, including my own, should have known better. So why do they even try? I don't mean to attribute bad motives to a community, but I can't understand why they would do something that is so expressly forbidden. I suppose that is a bit off topic, though.

 

This is a really good point.... I was once talking to seminarian about this and has was really shocked about the internal eternal forum getting mixed, as we've been discussing in this thread, saying it was a red flag, etc. But as many here have stated, and which I know from talking to people who have been in religious life myself, this frequently happens in women's communities... The thing is, as has been stated, Canon Law is much more clear on this for seminarians.

 

I think as AnneLine just termed it, what many women religious are doing is more "just skirting" a violation of Canon Law, because it isn't the most clear.

 

The appropriate canon to refer to is this one: (concerning the governance of institutes)

 

Can. 630 §1. Superiors are to recognize the due freedom of their members regarding the sacrament of penance and direction of conscience, without prejudice, however, to the discipline of the institute.

§2. According to the norm of proper law, superiors are to be concerned that suitable confessors are available to the members, to whom the members can confess frequently.

§3. In monasteries of nuns, in houses of formation, and in more numerous lay communities, there are to be ordinary confessors approved by the local ordinary after consultation with the community; nevertheless, there is no obligation to approach them.

§4. Superiors are not to hear the confessions of subjects unless the members request it on their own initiative.

§5. Members are to approach superiors with trust, to whom they can freely and on their own initiative open their minds. Superiors, however, are forbidden to induce the members in any way to make a manifestation of conscience to them.

 

 

I highlighted in red what would refer to women superiors, because the other highlighted part refers to Confessors/priests.

 

Some questions I'm wondering...

 

Does spiritual direction = manifestation of conscience? Can we define what a "manifestation of conscience" exactly is? Isn't this what takes place when one goes to Confession?

 

I've always thought of the "internal forum" as including more than just manifesting one's conscience, but also everything going on in one's interior life that one would discuss with a spiritual director.

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internal forum is basically a manifestation of conscience. Whatever is learned by someone in the internal forum (manifestations of conscience) cannot be revealed by them or acted upon in the external forum.

 

When someone is your superior and is responsible for the decision about whether you will continue,  or choosing what classes you will take, or what house you will be sent to, or even what chores you get assigned --- all of it in the external forum... its not appropriate to have that person be the person to whom you divulge your conscience. Because the conscience is a sacred thing and people do not have a right to know it just because they are in a position of authority.

 

this is what I was told by a spiritual director I had immediately after I came out.

 

 


Some questions I'm wondering...

 

Does spiritual direction = manifestation of conscience? Can we define what a "manifestation of conscience" exactly is? Isn't this what takes place when one goes to Confession?

 

I've always thought of the "internal forum" as including more than just manifesting one's conscience, but also everything going on in one's interior life that one would discuss with a spiritual director.

 

I think Lillabett might have answered your question above.  Thought I'm not an expert by any means, I'd add that I  think SD under normal circumstances definitely involves the conscience.  Confession can be as simple as listing sins.  SD is where you'd talk about how you feel (consolation vs desolation) what you think are spiritual trials that you might be suffering through, how to deal with them personally, specific temptations you are facing, etc.  SD is also where you might talk about your discernment.  How the heck would you do that with a superior?  It just wouldn't be appropriate.

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ANNELINE:  Maybe, NotreDame, you are sort-of right about it being a cloistered vs non-cloistered thing vs a men's-women's thing in part...

 

That's not really my opinion so much as a hypothesis.  After thinking about it some more though, if I had to put money on it, I'd say it's because more men's orders have guys in seminaries and seminaries have this more clearly defined in Canon Law and therefore most seminarians are aware of it.  This awareness probably spills over into men's monasteries as well.  Again, just a guess.

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