Before I joined the Daughters of St. Paul, I wanted to take a trip to India. I asked for two months off of work and got it (my boss was from Kerala and was thrilled that I was so pumped to visit India). But then I changed my plans at the last minute to visit the convent.
After prayer, I realized that my travel plans were my plans, not God’s plan.
But my wanderlust has reared its head again and it probably won’t surprise you to hear that I have recently been feeling cabin fever in the convent. I have a love for adventure in my blood and anytime I can see months or years in the same location stretching out before me I begin to feel stifled, like I can’t breathe. In a world of glamorous Instagram travel pics, social media buzz around the romantic Hiddleswift whirlwind tour of the world, and loads of Catholics heading to Krakow for “Catholic Woodstock,” a nun stuck in a convent can begin to feel cabin fever. A nun like me at least. (I won’t even begin to think how I would feel if God had called me to the cloister!)
So, I recently brought these feelings to prayer and I began to reflect on the incident in Acts when Peter escapes from prison (Acts 12). Peter was captured by Herod and he is very likely going to be killed the next day. So Peter does what we all do when we are overwhelmed with grief, he sleeps. Peter is sleeping between two guards, secured by “double chains” when suddenly, “a light shone in the cell” and an angel of the Lord comes and strikes him on the arm. The angel basically says, “Hey let’s go, but first put on your shoes and your cloak, ya bum” (in a New York accent, I am pretty sure).
Peter, bleary-eyed and confused, follows the angel out of prison. It is not until they pass through the iron gate to the city and the angel disappears that Peter realizes with shock that what he is experiencing is real (despite the fact that he was released from prison by an angel before, earlier in Acts; I guess we all are slow learners).
When I first reflected on this passage, I melodramatically thought, “I am in a prison like Peter! My prison is the convent. I want to jump on a plane right now for New Delhi or Krakow!”
But as I sat with this passage and prayed, I realized that there are prisons that frighten me much more than buildings.
I am scared of growing older and not growing more mature.
I am scared of checking off bucket lists at the expense of growing in love.
I am scared of living a life that elevates choice above freedom of soul.
I am scared of becoming older, but having the soul of an immature teenager.
I am scared of lying on my death bed with regrets.
“You want to live life on your own terms,” a superior told me recently in her loving, blunt way.
We all do to some extent.
We are never satisfied with our lives because secretly, no matter how much we try to pretend it’s not true, we all expect life to coddle us, to fulfill us, to give us what we want, to be tailored to our self fulfillment. Even in the Church, we expect our parishes, our dioceses, our priests and religious, our laypeople, our apologists to conform to our ideas, our wants, our desires. Then, we want to live in community, to find relationship, but no community is ever good enough for us. There are always so many problems, so many issues that would be fixed if only other people would just follow our prescriptions for their problems.
We want to live life on our own terms.
But, as my soul screams out for freedom, I pray to listen to a deeper scream. It is a plea for true freedom. Not wanderlust, not an expansion of choices, but holiness.
So many people with all the money and the choices in the world are confined within prisons of their own immaturity, (a certain Kardashian/Swift feud comes to mind). But rich people aren’t the only ones susceptible to immaturity. We all are immature in the many ways we are not like Jesus Christ. Maturity in the Christian worldview is to become more like Christ, and this is possible through the sacraments and participating in the self-emptying dynamic of the Christian life:
[The Church] snatches [people] from the slavery of error and of idols and incorporates them in Christ so that through charity they may grow up into full maturity in Christ. (Lumen Gentium, 17)
If we draw closer to God, the God who willingly allowed himself to be nailed to wood and left to die, we find a freedom that is deeper than the fleeting now, deeper than Snapchat feuds, yachts, and million-dollar mansions. Deeper even than our good desires: our desire for love, acceptance, self-fulfillment, and happiness. By laying down our lives and our desires (good and bad) before God, we find freedom from the prisons of our egoism, our selfishness, our pride, and our desire to get our way, all the time.
From the only prison we should ever fear, from the prison of our sinfulness, set us free, Jesus.
[Editor’s Note: Take the Poll – Does your growth in faith feel stunted?]