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Reasons To Leave A Monastery


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I'd propose (meaning that I'm throwing it out there for discussion rather than putting a stake in the ground) that we need to make a distinction in the types of cases one will run across depending on whether or not the order respects the freedom of conscience of it's candidates.  Let me explain.

 

Case #1: If an order is honest when asked about it's practices.  If it has a reasonable admissions/discernment process before physcially entering.  If it does give candidates resources and freedom to discern and respects a candidates discernment.  If it does not push too early for any strong commitment (ie. donations of money.)  Then even if there are some issues present, the candidates aren't really being manipulated and are free to discern God's will regarding whether to stay or go. 

 

Case #2:  If an order is not honest or upfront about itself or it's practices (ie. it withholds mail, reads email, but doesn't tell you they do that, either before you get there and even maintaining the lie while there.)  If it lets people enter with no admissions or period of discernment.  If it does not respect one's freedom to discern (everything from restricting SD's to telling candidates doubts are from the devil.)  If it pushes for money early in order to get a person commited.  In things like this are happening, the candidates are being manipulated and I would not say they are truly free to discern God's will.

 

 

When I was training to be a nurse one thing was drummed into us, the need for 'informed consent'. This has to be given for every single intervention no matter how trivial. Even touching a patient to wash them. It is one reason why medical staff continuously tell patients what they are about to do. If the patient does not object then consent is considered tacit.

 

 However, there is a fine line between what is tacit and what is informed. Informed involves a detailed clear laying out of the procedure, its benefits, reasons, and, of course, any risks, IN ADVANCE.

 

I have often had the thought that there are some practices by some religious communities that would be well to be considered in the same way.

The issue is blurred because of practicality in the first place - one does not need to be told every nuance and aspect of a community before one enters, it would be time consuming, wasteful and an abuse of privacy.

In addition, being willing to give up one's will in order to practice Obedience offers opportunity for further difficulty. This is sometimes, IMO confused with having given tacit consent to just about everything/anything.

When one is a newbie, confused by conventual culture, homesick, with a miriad of contradictory emotions floating around ( e.g. joy at entry, grief at loss of family), etc, it is easy to be bamboozled into ending up tacitly agreeing to a whole raft of stuff without thinking too much about it.

 

Maximillion, very good point.  Informed consent is another very good term to go hand in hand with "freedom of conscience", because one isn't freely discerning (ie. choosing) something unless they know what it is they are choosing.  If we describe it as "freedom of discernment", then we can see it's also "freedom to do God's will."

 

As I pointed out above, I think this freedom of conscience and giving someone the ability to make informed consent is really the litmus test that should be used.  This isn't always an easy assessment to make, hence the need for "signs"  as CherieMadame mentioned (and here is one of the links you were looking for):

 

15 signs of trouble in New Orders - Phatmass thread

 

Now I do think some troubled orders play the card that "it's not practical to share every nuance of our rule beforehand."  And maybe for dining room etiquette that's fair, but for reading mail and many other things it's not, it's a canard.  For example, reading someone's mail sent through the US postal service without their consent is a federal crime.  Superiors doing this better be telling sisters & novices what they are doing!

 

The process in all these troubled orders is pretty much the same:  The shady practices are not disclosed before you enter.  Once you enter you are cut-off from outside spiritual counsel, your personal relationships are monitored (ie. mail is read, phone calls aren' private), and your internet use is severely restricted and monitored.  Then as these practices are introduced you are told you need to obey your superior and any doubts are from the devil trying to steal your vocation and any sadness is caused by your own sin and attachment to the world. 

 

This is because these groups are dysfunctional, usually with dysfunctional founders and they want to bring as many people in as possible (why they lie upfront) and then they want to control them (partially to get people to stay, but partially to make sure superiors/founders have absolute power in their new order.) 

 

So you can find groups with lots and lots of problems, but if they are giving you freedom of conscience and informed consent they probably have their hearts in the right place.  Meanwhile you can find groups that look great from the outside looking in (and most of these groups do), but if they don't give candidates the freedom to discern then it's a very dangerous situation.

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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


 

There was a thread or a pair of threads here a while ago; I'll have to search for them and maybe bump them. They were, basically, a list of universal "red flags" to look for in communities, and I think another list of questions that a candidate should ask a community before entering. They had some great information, and I do wish more discerners had access to it!

 

I think this is one of the threads you were thinking about, in this thread there is also a link to the list TradMom posted that is very helpful!

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Thank you, Kayte Postle! The list from TradMom was the one I was referring to originally, along with the list of 15 red flags that NotreDame posted above. 
 
I have a question that pertains to a lot of the experiences mentioned here. 
 
It was "easy" for me to leave, because, while unhealthy aspects certainly contributed to my leaving, the major reason I chose to leave was that I didn't have a religious vocation, plain and simple. (Of course, leaving is NOT ever an "easy" or pleasant thing to do, and I stayed longer than most in my situation would, both because I wasn't receiving adequate spiritual direction, but also because I had WANTED to be a religious for so long and wanted to subconsciously force God to make it my vocation for a while, but I say "easy" above because once you realize you don't have a religious vocation, you know you HAVE to leave and you want to follow God's will for you, even if that means stepping out in trust of Him into the scary unknown!)
 
But what about a person who DOES have an authentic religious vocation, just not with that community? 
 
Many have mentioned that they dealt with unhealthy aspects of formation that helped contribute to their leaving, whether or not they chose to leave or the decision was made for them, so this kind of thing isn't necessarily unusual in someone's departure. Particularly if a person left on not-so-good terms (not at all unusual in an unhealthy situation, sometimes even a healthier one, too, I wonder), how can they hope to start discernment with a different community, knowing that this new community might be given an inaccurate assessment of this person's suitability for religious life by the former community? Just as a boss often speaks to former employers when deciding whether or not to hire a potential candidate, would a new community want to contact the former one when deciding to accept a candidate for religious life? How could a discerner deal with that and describe their experiences in a respectful, truthful, healthy manner? I suppose honesty is always the best policy, of course--being honest about the person's own failings and faults but also the problems with what they experienced--but I just imagine a case of the new community being confused by a "he said, she said" situation. 
 
In the end, these questions are in God's hands, and if a person has an authentic religious vocation, I know He will find a way to place them into the community He's calling them to. I'm sure there are many situations where the former community wouldn't come into the equation at all, and if they did, I suppose the recommendation of the person's spiritual director would mean more than the testimony of a potentially unhealthy former community, and any new community would understand that. But I wanted to know if anyone here had any practical advice for a situation like this? You would hate to see a person's vocation be put in danger because of any kind of incomplete picture--or, in the worst case, vindictive bad mouthing--given by a previous community concerning them. 
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Just as a boss often speaks to former employers when deciding whether or not to hire a potential candidate, would a new community want to contact the former one when deciding to accept a candidate for religious life? How could a discerner deal with that and describe their experiences in a respectful, truthful, healthy manner? I suppose honesty is always the best policy, of course--being honest about the person's own failings and faults but also the problems with what they experienced--but I just imagine a case of the new community being confused by a "he said, she said" situation.

 

 

You're absolutely right CherieMadame, honesty is the best and only policy. Reciprocal trust is crucial for entering a community. We had once a visitor who wanted to enter. But when she was asked if she had been in other communities she denied - probably fearing that the sisters wouldn't accept her if that was the case. You should never ever lie about your past in other communities!

As everywhere in life, truth comes out eventually. She had been in at least 6 monasteries... Maybe your chances aren't the best if you've already been member of several different communities, but if you lie about it your chances are most certainly 0 % to be accepted.

 

You should be open and honest about your experiences with religious life. Explain what your reasons were to leave and try to be objective. Tell the facts without emotional accusations.

 

And don't underestimate the broad knowledge of superiors about other communities. Depending on which community you belonged to, a single sentence might be enough for the superior to know everything he/she needs to. (For example: I have been in community xy for x years, but I realized it was too strict/shallow/big/traditional/esoteric.... for me)

It depends a lot on what the new community thinks about your former one if they are contacting them and asking about you or not.

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how can they hope to start discernment with a different community, knowing that this new community might be given an inaccurate assessment of this person's suitability for religious life by the former community?

 

This is especially a problem for men's seminaries, where canon law requires that a new seminary get input from the previous one.  This is why it took (is taking) so long to root out all the shady stuff inside men's seminaries.  If a guy sees something he could stay quiet or transfer, but if he spoke out he risked his vocation, because the person he would be blowing the whistle on (the rector) would always be the one writing his recommendation to the next seminary. 

 

Still, I can echo what LittlePaula said.  I left and immediately went to another order.  I explained what happened and they never doubted me at all.  They are aware this kind of stuff goes on.  The rector there had visited the Legion of Christ once when he was discerning and he remarked how the place I left sounded just like the Legion.

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You're absolutely right CherieMadame, honesty is the best and only policy. Reciprocal trust is crucial for entering a community. We had once a visitor who wanted to enter. But when she was asked if she had been in other communities she denied - probably fearing that the sisters wouldn't accept her if that was the case. You should never ever lie about your past in other communities!

As everywhere in life, truth comes out eventually. She had been in at least 6 monasteries... Maybe your chances aren't the best if you've already been member of several different communities, but if you lie about it your chances are most certainly 0 % to be accepted.

 

You should be open and honest about your experiences with religious life. Explain what your reasons were to leave and try to be objective. Tell the facts without emotional accusations.

 

And don't underestimate the broad knowledge of superiors about other communities. Depending on which community you belonged to, a single sentence might be enough for the superior to know everything he/she needs to. (For example: I have been in community xy for x years, but I realized it was too strict/shallow/big/traditional/esoteric.... for me)

It depends a lot on what the new community thinks about your former one if they are contacting them and asking about you or not.

 

 

That is great advice! I think that's a great thing to keep in mind, as well, that you shouldn't underestimate the broad knowledge of superiors about other communities.

 

Going back to the original question in light of this, I must say there were also many problems in myself that made me leave. I wasn't asked to leave, but perhaps later I would have been, and as I mentioned before, if I had been in a different, more established community, I fully believe I would have been, even in my postulancy. I entered with a LOT of emotional immaturity that manifested itself in many ways. Some of that, yes, was exacerbated and caused by the intense frustration of "kicking against the goad" in experiencing unhealthy situations, but the intensity of my frustration and the specific manifestation of it was no doubt due to my own faults and issues, plus the fact that I was trying so hard to live AGAINST God's calling for me. Nowadays, I think back to those times and cringe at the person I was back then. I am not even remotely the same person, and I praise God for that. I even apologized to the community for my behavior while I was there; having overcome so many of those emotional difficulties, I never would have acted that way as I am now...and, as someone above mentioned, I'm sure they have just as many negative experiences of me as I do of them! But, you live, you learn, you grow in wisdom and change as a result; relying on God's grace and trusting in Him can bring about so many beautiful things (Romans 8:28!), and, assuming I still believed I had a religious vocation and was pursuing discernment with a different community, I'm sure they would understand that and appreciate the candid honesty of hearing about my own growth and healing. Of course, the "overarching theme" in all of this is God's will. God has amazing ways of opening up doors and letting things happen in order to let His will be done. 10 years ago I would have laughed in your face--or thrown up, haha!--if you had shown me where I'd be today! But I am so happy and secure now in the haven of God's will; I know I wouldn't be the blissfully happy, emotionally healthy, God-centered woman I am today without my experiences in the convent, both the positive AND negative ones.

 

So, I reiterate, as I tend to do, that if a person is discerning a religious vocation, don't be afraid. No matter what you go through, God can use it for good. Even if you end up leaving, your time there is never wasted.

 

Thank you both for posting these! This situation was very much my own. I had entered myself with a lot of emotional immaturity and other interior issues that eventually came out and disabled me from living the life the way I should have. I was asked to leave and the reason why I didn't leave myself is because I had wanted to stay and persevere but Our Lord had other plans. As much as that experience has left me with not good memories, Our Lord permitted such things to let me see myself the way I am; to grow in self-knowledge and thankfully also, humility. He used this experience to bring me to where I am today in my spiritual life. The growth I have experienced this past year especially has been tremendous and it has all been His grace. Because of the state I was in after being gone from the Monastery I couldn't see then what was going to happen with my life and there was a lot of dark moments but He was always there upholding me with His grace to be able to come out of that situation with greater trust and virtue.

 

The Monastery I had entered also was not a fit for me. I actually did not feel at home there or at peace but He permitted me to go ahead; knowing that I would come back to Him. I have noticed Divine Protection in my life as well, especially since having been back "in the world." I always held on to the hope that this was indeed my vocation, speaking of Carmel, and I think this was the light in the darkness for me. I saw it ahead of me, but I had no direction at the time as to where and how this would come about, but I held on to the faith that He Who permits all things will also will remove the obstacles that are in the way.

 

I was not comfortable sharing what had happened in the previous community with another community when I started discerning again, but experience showed that you really do need to be open, if not there is a good chance that the same things might happen to you again. This didn't sit well with me. I had visited a community for a week, the place where I am entering next month, and when I was there I had such an interior peace and joy and just sensed that this was where I needed to be. I knew at that point that I needed to do and say what was necessary to Reverend Mother if I was going to have a chance at entering here. His grace was urging me on and I prayed the whole time that I would say everything right. I was open to Mother and it was a humbling experience but one also that I think she appreciated. She listened very intently and was very open to letting me enter. I really don't think this would have happened if I were to cover anything up. It would have been wrong. I left the speak room after this visit and was very much at peace.

 

I know it is very hard to leave, whether by choice or told to leave, so I really understand some of the things people go through after this. I have learned so much, about myself and more about who Our Lord is, and He really does plan to use every experience for our good if we let Him. Its so important to be faithful and true to what you know Our Lord has put in your heart.

Edited by VeniJesuAmorMi
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It was "easy" for me to leave, because, while unhealthy aspects certainly contributed to my leaving, the major reason I chose to leave was that I didn't have a religious vocation, plain and simple. ... and I stayed longer than most in my situation would, both because I wasn't receiving adequate spiritual direction, but also because I had WANTED to be a religious for so long and wanted to subconsciously force God to make it my vocation for a while,

 

>>> the major reason I chose to leave was that I didn't have a religious vocation, plain and simple.

 

You'll find troubled orders like these will have a higher proportion of people entering who ultimately don't feel they have vocations.  This is because these places generally don't help you discern (the place you went didn't even let you have a spiritual director, so discernment obviously wasn't a priority.)  They can also be overzealous in recruiting and pretty careless in accepting people.

 

>>> and I stayed longer than most in my situation would, both because I wasn't receiving adequate spiritual direction

 

Again speaking from my experience, even if you get SD inside one of these troubled orders, the SD isn't likely to be too helpful in discerning.  Also, people rarely leave these places because they "discerned they didn't have a vocation."  If you've been at one of these places you know what I mean. 

 

>>> also because I had WANTED to be a religious for so long and wanted to subconsciously force God to make it my vocation for a while

 

This is another reason why people stay.   Not wanting to fail is another.  Then there are all sorts of mind games these orders might play to manipulate someone.  Again, this is where good SD and discernment would help people before and after entering, but the places you really need are the places you are least likely to get it.

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This is especially a problem for men's seminaries, where canon law requires that a new seminary get input from the previous one.  This is why it took (is taking) so long to root out all the shady stuff inside men's seminaries.  If a guy sees something he could stay quiet or transfer, but if he spoke out he risked his vocation, because the person he would be blowing the whistle on (the rector) would always be the one writing his recommendation to the next seminary. 

 

Still, I can echo what LittlePaula said.  I left and immediately went to another order.  I explained what happened and they never doubted me at all.  They are aware this kind of stuff goes on.  The rector there had visited the Legion of Christ once when he was discerning and he remarked how the place I left sounded just like the Legion.

 

This has been an interesting thread. I had a freind who was in seminary at a problamatic time and left because of some strange things going on. Then applied to go back got seminary many years after there was a new rector and many things had improved. He was not given a good recommendation from the former rector but it was well known of the problems that existed at that time. He ended up not returning to seminary and does really see that that was God will.  It is really a life of faith and trust especially that God can use frail sinful individuals to accomplish his will. Even if someone in authority say has a biased against someone and that because of their bias one is prevented from entering/ re-entering a seminary or convent/monastary God's will is not throwted and it will eventually happen in his time and his way if it is will. God often works within the ordinary circumstances of everday life.   

I'm often reminded of what St. Therese has talked about God would not give us desires that could in no way come to fruition, he doesn't set out to It's frustrate us. It's important to continue to grow in ones relationship with Christ and His Church staying close to the sacraments. Being open and honest with Him in prayer and if possible a spiritual director is very helpful to help discern what really are the true desires and longing of ones heart adn not just certain attachement.

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In the end, these questions are in God's hands, and if a person has an authentic religious vocation, I know He will find a way to place them into the community He's calling them to. I'm sure there are many situations where the former community wouldn't come into the equation at all, and if they did, I suppose the recommendation of the person's spiritual director would mean more than the testimony of a potentially unhealthy former community, and any new community would understand that. But I wanted to know if anyone here had any practical advice for a situation like this? You would hate to see a person's vocation be put in danger because of any kind of incomplete picture--or, in the worst case, vindictive bad mouthing--given by a previous community concerning them. 

 

I have practical advice in this regard - the one community I am particularly close to knows all, or at least most, of the icky bits of my previous experience ... I expected to be "burnt" in discernment again and wanted to have it over with as soon as possible, and so I presented myself warts and all as quickly as I could, the better to be rejected faster. I was not rejected though. I think if I had to describe this one community I would say... in dealing with each other and in the apostolate ... they seem to have a lot of what I guess I would call "humanity." I think that's the word I want.

 

Anyway ... I visited several times over the years and was once rather close to applying. I asked about what would be required from my former community and they said that it was usual to have one recommendation from a superior and one from another sister at the former place.

 

Now, I have once before asked for a recommendation for a job thing, it was a church-related position and so I thought it would be helpful to have a recommendation from the convent; so I asked, but for reasons that were not disclosed to me it was refused. It had been a couple years, so maybe it was a question of time passed.  Nevermind, I got a different job.  And when I found out about this  need for me to have recommendations to enter again it did not cause me upset or anxiety. Perhaps if I asked for this purpose a recommendation letter would be forthcoming, perhaps not. Perhaps this community, having gotten to know me over the years, would allow my application to be other than "usual." Perhaps not. . I did not apply after all, but  not because of any worry about what my former community might say - although they could say a lot. I am at peace about it because if for

nothing but purely selfish reasons I have no interest in doing anything but God's will in the matter -- so I guess I would leave the arrangements to Him if the moment ever came.

 

But yes -- honesty. It is brutal, but when we are truly ourselves and truly welcomed all the same there is nothing more healing than that.

 

 

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I did not apply after all, but  not because of any worry about what my former community might say - although they could say a lot. I am at peace about it because if for

nothing but purely selfish reasons I have no interest in doing anything but God's will in the matter -- so I guess I would leave the arrangements to Him if the moment ever came.

 

Very beautiful sentiments, and something to always keep in mind. God is a loving Father, He is always taking care of us. If it's His will, He'll make it happen. Often we can get caught up in our part and forget about the fact that, in reality, it's all about HIM.

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People have mentioned that part of the reason they left is that it wasn't the right fit. I myself would cite this as part of the reason why I left the community I was  in. I left during postulancy and wasn't there all that long but it wasn't the right for many reasons. They are a wonderful orthodox community and I could in conscience recommend this community.  It seems to me that one is not called to the concept of religious life and that any community will do and you just have to make it work. It seems that talking with friends who have been in religious life and in a community that wasn't the right fit stayed longer than may have been prudent trying to make it work because of the sense of believeing that they had a vocation and should be able to make it work. One of these friends spent 2 1/2 years in a community and then finally with the help of good spiritual direction came to realize that it wasn't necessarily that they didn't have a vocation to religious life but it just wasn't to that community. They left,  worked for a few years and ended up entering a different community and has had experienced such joy and peace in her vocation that she had not had before. She, God willing, will be making her final vows next year.  People seem to do this with marriage as well. They beleive they have a vocation to marriage and just kind of pick someone and settle. We're not called to just a concept there is deeper reality going on here.

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Hischild,

 

Thank You for sharing.  Several of us have entered religious life more than once and have experienced similar things as you.  I always felt guilty and no longer worthy of God's love after leaving and actually sometimes still do feel that way. 

 

The story I like most is the one that is told of a monk.  Every night, before bed, he would kneel and pray, telling God that "tomorrow I leave the Monastery."  Then every morning at Mass he would tell God, "with your grace, I will stay just one more day."  And that is how he persevered till death.  He could only take it ONE day at a time and every night he thought of leaving.

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