By Erin Daly
“This can’t be happening. This can’t be where I’m called,” I muttered to myself and to Jesus as I stood in my room, clutching my spinning head, trying to calm myself down before heading to dinner. A few hours earlier I had arrived at the retreat house attached to the Passionist nuns’ convent near Owensboro, Kentucky for a weekend discernment retreat. I wasn’t sold on the cloister when I signed up for the retreat, but I wanted to keep an open mind, and I really, really liked the Passionist habit, so this community seemed like a good one to visit.
Within three hours of arriving, though, I noticed three things that seemed like signs that I had found my convent. The Passionist charism of living in remembrance of the Passion echoed my plans to immerse myself in Christ’s suffering this Lent, which started less than two weeks before my retreat. When I was praying vespers with the nuns I noticed passion flowers on the stained glass window behind the chapel’s crucifix; I knew what they were because just the day before, a coworker told me she was planting passion flowers this spring and showed me pictures of them. And as I was heading back to my room before dinner, I heard that the recording that was playing over the dining room speakers was a talk that I had listened to less than a week earlier.
I didn’t want to believe it. The cloister just didn’t feel like a good fit. Heck, I had only been there for three hours; that wasn’t really enough time to determine whether I had found my convent. But those signs seemed to leave little room for argument. I was supposed to be a Passionist. And I wasn’t happy about it, like I thought I should have been. My heart sank. But in the midst of my anxiety, I heard a strong yet gentle voice telling me not to be afraid. Not necessarily that the Passionists weren’t for me. Just that I shouldn’t fear. So I decided to listen. I collected myself enough to not have a nervous breakdown at dinner, and I continued my retreat.
By the time the retreat ended, those fears were a distant memory. I sat in quiet reflection a few hours before leaving on Sunday filled with a deep peace and happiness. It wasn’t a “this is my home” peace, though; it was more of a “this isn’t where I’m supposed to be but I’m so happy I came” peace. Those signs I received at the beginning of the retreat may have been from God, but they weren’t affirming a call to the cloister. They affirmed that I had visited the community right when I needed to. Because learning about Passionist spirituality gave me the insight I needed to implement one of my Lenten disciplines.
Shortly before Ash Wednesday I heard the Lord ask me to meditate every day on His Passion this Lent, and I decided to do that through a book that one of my mentors had recommended to me, “The Hours of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ” by Servant of God Luisa Piccarreta. This account of the Passion was given to Luisa by Jesus Himself with a specific vision on how to honor His Passion: not simply through heartfelt remembrance, but by living it out in our everyday lives. I didn’t quite know what that meant when I started reading.
But the Passionists get it. That’s their whole charism. They stand at the foot of the cross and intercede for others. They offer the merits of Christ’s wounds to needy souls. They unite everything they do, their work, their prayer, the small and large sacrifices that come with communal cloistered life, with the redemptive suffering of Christ, to bring souls to Him and to conform to His self-giving love. Their lives aren’t particularly difficult or full of suffering. Still, they know that even the smallest sacrifices have so much power when united to Jesus’ Passion.
Jesus wasn’t calling me to the Passionists, but I don’t doubt that He called me to their convent because He wanted me to learn from them this season. Theirs should be my mindset during Lent: not just to honor Jesus’ Passion in my memory, but to imitate it in whatever I give up or take on. If I crave coffee when I resolved to drink only water, I can see in that craving Jesus’ thirst for love on the cross. If I want to complain on social media, I can remember that Jesus stayed silent as He suffered at the hands of His executioners. I can offer these small sacrifices as a way of thanking Him and imitating His work on behalf of souls.
It’s so easy to look at Lenten plans as lifestyle fixes, like New Years resolutions. But we won’t reap their benefits unless they are done with the intention of growing in love for Christ. And I’m learning this Lentthat loving Christ means staying with Him on Calvary. It means offering everything both for and with His own suffering. Of course, this practice can extend beyond Lent. But Lent, even right in the middle of it, is a great time to start.