Lent can be a challenging time. We are asked to fast, pray, and give alms, and sometimes it feels like a lot to juggle. We all have our slip-ups. Maybe you accidentally ate meat on a Friday. Or you snacked on cookies and a few minutes after scarfing them down, you realized you vowed to give them up for Lent. Next you’re feeling guilty and calculating when to make up for it and counting how many days until you can eat guilt-free again. It can be tough to keep up with these tenets of the Lenten season, but we wouldn’t be doing them if it was easy. In addition, we are called to sacrifice without complaining, to try not to make the signs of our sacrifice too visible. During one of my recent retreats with the Assumption Sisters, I’ve discovered this Lent that it is okay to acknowledge the struggle and that we should balance that difficulty by finding joy.
One of the pleasant surprises about living next door to the Assumption Sisters in Newcastle is observing their unique way of life. Unique not just because they are a religious community seamlessly living among lay people, but unique even among religious orders. I didn’t know much about religious life before I joined the AMAs, but on the outside looking in, it didn’t seem like a typical convent and most of the nuns don’t wear veils or habits. The most unique characteristic of the Assumption is in their values for their rule of life. Like most orders, they follow vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. But unlike any other order in the world, they also commit to joy. Without realizing, this characteristic is what drew me to the Assumption in the first place.
Every greeting with an Assumption Sister starts with a hug and a smile even if you have never met them before. I remember passing by Sr. Marie Sophie, the Provincial, one morning in London and she ran up the steps to greet me right before she rushed off to Mass. I love speaking with Sr. Jill—she tends to hold your hands when she talks to you and you know she listens carefully to every thought you are about to share. The first time I met Sr. Cathy one early morning, she absolutely brightened the rest of my day with her demeanor. Every Sister has a way of making you feel your importance. They truly see Christ in every person they meet.
So where does their joy come from? How does a sister, who may witness tragedy and injustice in her daily ministry, spread joy unendingly? It involves devoting yourself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and meditating on His Passion. There is joy in knowing that Jesus does not suffer anymore, and that in following Him we won’t have to suffer. There is joy in knowing our sacrifices are not in vain. Jesus shows us that sacrifice becomes freedom. In taking up our cross, we are on a path to a greater joy.
Like many millennials, I’m an avid user of social media. At one point in college, I would say I was too addicted to applications like Snapchat and Instagram. So I gave up social media for Lent. Surprisingly, by the time Easter came around, it felt like a weight off my shoulders as I wasn’t constantly checking my notifications or seeing who commented on a post. Eventually, I ended up removing Snapchat and Instagram from my life for over a year. When we give up things we over indulge in, we make room for things that give us true joy. They are things we might have forgotten about, like gifts we have that we have stopped sharing. For me, this was getting in touch with drawing and writing. In my spare time, I started journaling more and writing letters to friends and family. I began drawing more doodles and designing cards, impressing myself with skills I haven’t used in ages.
Through this rediscovery, I was no longer being a slave to what I was ‘missing out’ on and I was reviving an artistic skill that brought me closer to loved ones. I was able to share my crafts and my writings in ways that sparked important conversations with friends or inspired people to also explore their gifts. In this way, I saw how God was working through me. In our liberation from material wants and desires, we can be led to a desire to let Christ shine through us.
I was reminded of this truth by this quote by St. Marie Eugenie, “As we liberate ourselves from useless words and actions, complaints, worries and worldly affairs, we make the kingdom of God present”. Often, one of the intentions of a volunteer year is to live simply. According to the Assumption, this simplicity, or detachment from worldly affairs, must then translate into living joyfully. Without a doubt, I’ve relished in countless joyful moments throughout my AMA experience as result of the liveliness and love of the Sisters who walk these moments with me.
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Myra Villas is a volunteer with Assumption Mission Associates (AMA) and a CVN Serving with Sisters Contributor. This blog series is sponsored by our VOCARE Initiative, thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.