Wednesday, March 21, 2018

How Saint Philomena Found me a Husband


By Cara E. Ruegg


You often hear it said, “To Saint Philomena, God refuses nothing.” Saint John Vianney was the author of those words. He loved Philomena. Pauline Jaricot, another devotee of Philomena, who was alive during the Cure’s time and who was healed by Philomena herself, came to him one day with relics of this dear saint, and told him, “Have full confidence in this great saint; she will obtain for you all that you ask.” 

John Vianney claims he felt a love enkindled in his heart for Philomena soon as he got hold of her relics. He often referred to her as his “dear little saint”, going so far as to blame all the miracles wrought through him, on her. In fact, when he was at death’s door and the doctor’s had given up all hope of his recovery, it was through the intercession of Philomena that he was miraculously cured. (www.philomena.org/vianney.asp)

Despite all this, despite the fact so many saints and even popes have praised her to the skies, I never thought much of her. The first time I really pondered Philomena was when I was a nun in the convent. I was reading the life of Pauline Jaricot during spiritual reading and, of course, Philomena came up, but I still didn’t really stop to think much of her. Philomena followed me, though. She was a saint after my friendship and she wasn’t going to give up. After leaving the convent, I took a job as a teacher at a Catholic school and moved in with a couple women who likewise worked at the school. They were both very devoted to Philomena and claimed it was due to her prayers that they got the house they lived at, since, after a prayer to find a fully furnished house near the church, a house popped up directly across from the church, fully furnished. Yes, I admit, a bit coincidental, to say the least, but I still didn’t stop to even glance at Philomena. 

Later on that same year, I was in the kitchen probably fixing up a meal, when one of my roommates came in. This friend was highly devoted to Philomena, once telling me of a cure she wrought her after she promised to name her daughter after her (according to her, Philomena loved promises); she was so devoted, she even gave our parish priest a relic of hers and got him devoted to her too. So far, she hadn’t had much luck with me. But, anyway, she came into the kitchen to tell me about this novena she had made to Philomena, asking her to make God’s will clear to her. This friend was a bit older than me and didn’t think marriage was a probable outcome for herself. However, interestingly enough, and, if I remember correctly, very shortly after this conversation, possibly then and there in the kitchen, she got a phone call from a man she used to know. It had been a year since there had been any communication whatsoever between them. And, coincidentally, he called her on Philomena’s feast day, at the end of her novena, and wished her a “happy feast day of Philomena”. This communication, of course, progressed to an engagement and now they’re married, quite possibly all thanks to the intercession of Saint Philomena.

Still, Philomena was getting nowhere with me and it wasn’t until I found myself in a crisis of my own that I turned to her. I had been courting a man for about a year. Things were looking serious, so I declined a second year of teaching and, once school was out, went across the world to spend a couple months visiting him in his natural habitat, so to speak. He had been implying marriage. He had come to visit me multiple times. He had met my family, had even spoken to my priest about the possibility of us marrying. But, in the course of that visit, the ring, which I was expecting, did not show. In fact, everything crumbled. The PTSD symptoms I had been suffering since leaving the convent were a heavy strain on our relationship, as was the distance. Little things triggered panic attacks. I hadn’t been sleeping properly that entire year. Going to visit him only made things worse. I found myself in a new environment surrounded by people who were strangers to me, having to fake that I was happy all day long. It was exhausting and this man I was courting could not deal with the stress I brought to the table, whether it was unintentional or not. 

I returned to the States for a wedding, which just so happened to be where I had been teaching, bringing me again in close proximity to those lovely roommates of mine that were so devoted to Philomena. This wedding I witnessed only pushed the harsh realization forward that this man I was currently seeing did not truly love me. Soon enough, he officially ended things with me. I was devastated. I had loved him. He had been my best friend for that whole year. He had been my comfort and support as I readjusted to the world after having tried my vocation with a semi-contemplative order for nearly three years. I wasn’t quite sure how to function in my day-to-day without his friendship, especially since I had started dating him only three months after having left the convent.

I felt so angry. I remember sitting in the church, crying, looking at the tabernacle and telling God that I did not want a better man, that I just wanted this man, with all his flaws, even if he did not love me as much as I wanted him to; I even told Him that I was willing to settle for the little love this man did have for me. All in all, it was a pretty stupid prayer, and I am glad God, as the good parent He is, paid it no mind. 

After this break up, I had a lot of difficulty sleeping. Staying still only aggravated the immense sadness that physically made me ache all over, so I got in the habit of pacing around the house, back and forth, back and forth, saying rosaries and then taking breaks in between to cry to God and complain. It was the night of August 11th that I glanced at her, finally looked over at this saint that had been beckoning me all this time. I knelt down before her tiny statue on the table; before her I placed my broken heart. I cannot remember my exact words, but I will try to recall them to the best of my ability. 

“I am heartbroken,“ I believe I told her. “You see how sad I am! Help me! Please, if you can find me a good, holy husband within this year, I promise that I will name one of my daughters after you. And please, please heal me. I am so sad.” In that instant, I felt some relief. It wasn’t complete relief, but it was enough to be apparent. I continued this prayer for nine days. At the end of the novena, my broken heart was considerably better. 

Philomela was pretty quick at answering most of my requests. I took a job shortly after the breakup, a job that required a lot of attention and energy, two things I was lacking due to the recent break up and the depression that was still obviously there. After a couple months in the new role, I knew I couldn’t do it. I felt my inadequacy keenly and was disappointed I could not do it the justice I wanted. My head was in a fog. It was hard for me to focus, to find any ounce of drive to stay on task. But my stubbornness and loyalty kept me pushing through. It got to the point where I found myself looking down at a little image of Philomena that had a second class relic attached to it. My tears fell onto that image. “I don’t want to be here,” I told her, “but you know I can’t leave. You know I can’t take the coward’s way out. You know.” 

The next day, I awoke and found myself dizzy. This dizziness lasted until, with the push of those who worked with me, I was basically forced to admit I could no longer do my job and left. It was a humiliation, to be sure, but, looking back now, I see Philomena’s hand in allowing this evil to befall me. She probably knew the only way to get me out of the situation was to basically force me out of it. So, again, quite a quick response from her, answered the very next day I told her I wanted to leave. But the most important request of my initial prayer to her, the plea for a husband, would take her nearly till the end of the time frame I gave for her to answer. 

I recovered at home for about five or six months. In the meantime, I worked part-time as a tutor for a Catholic homeschooling mother. Funnily enough, upon finding out I was likewise Catholic, she told me how she had prayed to Saint Philomena to find her some helpers, and sure enough, I popped up at response to her ad. I remember thinking: “All makes sense now”. 

But this part-time job did not do much to satisfy my still hurting heart, especially since being around the children only made me yearn for children of my own. Probably prompted by a sense of escapism, I then decided to go to Australia. I sent in my application for a working holiday visa, prayed to Philomena, begged her for my visa to be approved. Very quickly, it was, and I was off.  I didn’t really plan the trip too thoroughly. I had a few friends out there and just hoped that they would take care of me until I could find a job. It was a bold and rash step, something I’m probably quite known for.

Australia actually helped me a lot to readjust. Of course, not completely, since it didn’t help that my ex boyfriend lived there and that I ended up moving about ten minutes away from him since that was where my connections were at. But, overall, it was there I found my independence again. I initially took a job as a door-to-door salesperson, a job that has provided me with a lot of hilarious stories, but it didn’t last long. It was around this time that a friend of mine, who had likewise tried her vocation in the same convent I had, contacted me and told me of a boy she knew that she reckoned would be a great match for me. She told me he had a decent job, was a good Catholic, and wasn’t bad looking by any means. She sent me a few blurry pictures, which I scrutinized, trying to the best of my ability to assess if I actually found him attractive or not. At this point, my ex was basically down the street and would occasionally even come to see me, and I was casually dating another Catholic man as well; both of these men, of course, could not commit, so I didn’t see any harm in adding another boy to the list. Maybe he’d prove more decisive than the other two. So, I sent my friend an image of myself and told her she could pass it on to him. 

A couple weeks passed. I started a novena to St. Joseph for a husband. Finally, this Brian guy that my friend so wanted to set me up with got in contact with me. He had apparently been dating another girl, hence the delay, but which, to my luck, didn’t pan out. From the very first phone call I came to a few conclusions; first, he was highly intelligent (though, I’ll admit, some of his ranting on ancient civilization was a bit heavy for a first phone call and, though intriguing, had me a bit bored after an hour of it); second, and most important, he was very God-centered. Throughout the conversation, he was constantly bringing God into the mix. Nothing was separated from Him. Everything came back to Him. I found it beautiful. But it wasn’t till the first Skype date, which I believe was the next day, that I really thought seriously about him. He was cute. Good Catholic man, intelligent, and cute — everything was checked off. This was the man I had been praying for.  

On Sunday, which I believe was the day my St. Joseph novena ended, I was seriously contemplating breaking things off with the other man I was kind of seeing. Brian seemed the better choice by far. This other man, charming and good-looking though he was, was certainly not as strong in his faith as Brian, which was a quality that was very important to me considering I wanted a helpmate to heaven, not a ball and chain. This young man also didn’t seem to care much for me. Brian did. Brian was making time out of his day and planning the timetable just right to be able to talk to me despite our busy schedules and the time difference; this other man hardly called me once a week. So, I sent a message to this man, and tried, in a nice way to break it off. Possibly sensing what I was up to, he told me I was everything he wanted and that he did not want me to end things. I was completely taken aback, especially considering how nonchalant he had seemed the weeks preceding this. I was also suddenly taken by intense feelings for him. I became very confused. Not sure what to do or who to choose, and also not wanting to be in any way dishonest, I told both of them of the other. They both understood, and this deterred neither of them, but one acted nonchalant about it, the other took action to win his prize. 

Brian was the one who took action. Suddenly this trip to Australia he had casually discussed over Skype became urgent. He wanted to come. But what was the date he threw at me? It wasn’t just any date. He wanted to come the week of August 11th. When he proposed that week of August, I remember just thinking how strange it was that of all the days, it would be then, a year from when I started my novena to Philomena. Still, despite the coincidence, I said no. His drive was getting on my nerves. To be fair, I actually think a bit of worldliness had penetrated me at this time, due to my job environment and also the other boy I had feelings for. I didn’t have feelings for Brian. He was the logical choice, but certainly not the emotional one. Convent days had taught me to make the right choices even when they were hard, but the world was here constantly breathing down my neck now and it was telling me: do what you feel is right. And what did I feel? I felt overwhelmed by a man who was actually serious about me, unlike nearly all the others I had dated before, who was decisive, who knew himself and what he wanted. Prideful me narrowed it down to one thing: he’s just desperate. How can he be so certain about me after a few phone calls and Skype dates? He’s probably the type to settle for any pretty Catholic girl.

A couple months into the door-to-door-sales and I found myself threatening the burn-out-stage, something I could not afford so far away from home with very limited help from my family (due to their own financial constraints), so I quit and remained unemployed for about a month. My spiritual director made time to keep in contact with me throughout the eight months in Australia; in fact, he was very much in loop with my “romantic comedy,” as my friends would call it. Of course, he wasn’t about to make the decision for me, but every time I brought up Brian he would insist I give him a proper go, saying how he sounded like a good one. I’d argue that Brian was just too similar to me; he’d listen to my point and then remind me that “opposites attract, but similarities last”. I’d say I had no emotions for Brian; and he’d remind me that oftentimes emotions follow later, and that that is the preferred since you can’t exactly discern very well when clouded by emotions. He was right and I knew it, but those emotions were still there clouding my vision and I kept hanging onto this silly strand of hope that I could change this other boy I was seeing: that I could instill in him a greater fervor for his faith and basically make him the man I ultimately wanted so that my head then could correlate with the emotions I had for him. I was being a bit of an idiot, which I knew, but anyway, luckily Philomena was as persistent as I was stubborn and she wasn’t about to give up on keeping her promise to me even if I was, at the time, standing in the way of her doing so. 

It was around this time of unemployment, that I began to get desperate to find a job. My savings were beginning to run thin, and my job search was proving unsuccessful. Most didn’t seem to want to hire somebody with a temporary visa. I began to pray to find a job. I believe it was when I was actually in the chapel, praying, that I got a message from a former teacher I worked with my convent years who lived in another part of Australia. She told me about this family from the parish there that needed a mother’s helper to help them look after their five children. I had already planned to go visit the Sisters at some point, so I decided when over there, if the offer still stood, that I’d make inquiries in person. I did and I got the offer the very day I approached the mother in need. It was shortly around this time, too, that my annoyance with Brian’s drive led to not just a “no”, but actually led to me cutting off contact. Even though the other boy I was seeing was hot and cold and still not really serious, still reluctant to make it official, I told Brian I wanted nothing to do with him, that I couldn’t see us together and that we should stop talking. He was very mature about it. He didn’t guilt trip me or argue with me. He respected me. He wanted me to be happy, and he never once tried to contact me during this time. 


This new environment was much more conducive to my gentle, nurturing, feminine side and made me feel I had a purpose. The worldly air I had been inadvertently affected by at my other job was slowly dying away. I loved spending time with the children, even if it was still bittersweet, and at times brought on that ache for my own, especially since they brought out in me the side of my personality that I actually was gratified by; they brought out the me that would’ve probably never given that other boy a chance and would’ve taken Brian in a heartbeat.   However, I was still in contact with that other boy; in fact, I now lived even nearer to him. But, with the children bringing out the “true me”, I realized all the more that this boy did not help me become the ideal woman I wanted to be, just like my former job didn’t. These children helped me and I needed a man who likewise would help me, because I knew if I wasn’t always reaching for this ideal version of myself, I would be utterly unsatisfied and miserable. Not to say that I necessarily had to be at that tip of the mountain to feel any satisfaction, just had to be in the right direction of it.

I had made my decision to end things with this man, but I didn’t act on it right away. I knew it wouldn’t work though, which did make me very sad. I cried to Our Lord about it and began a novena to His Sacred Heart, again asking for a husband among other intentions. I got sick very shortly after with the flu or at least a derivative of it. I went a week sick in bed, which made me even more depressed. It was during this time Brian came to mind and the thought: did I make a mistake? My friend had been keeping me updated on him; she was crushed that it hadn’t worked and felt very sorry for him since, according to her, he had taken it a bit hard and would spend hours after Mass praying for me.

It was around this time, still sick in bed, that I found out another girl from a nearby parish, much prettier than me in my opinion, liked him and that they were set to go on a date. Much to my surprise, I actually felt jealous. I ignored it at first, and lectured myself not to be selfish, to be happy for them both, but I started talking to him again. At first, it was just casual chit-chat and sometimes me being a bit nosey, asking about this girl. I found myself thinking romantically of him. Lying there in bed, I found myself imagining him sitting on the floor, guitar in lap, serenading me as a husband his little invalid wife. I hadn’t really had too many thoughts of this nature before. They may not have been the best to dwell on too terribly long, but they did hint to the fact something may have been blossoming. 

We skyped a few times while I was stuck in my room. At one point, when I asked about this new girl and he told me how she was nice, but that he wasn’t quite sure yet how he felt since it was still at the beginning stages, I, embarrassingly enough, broke down into tears and then told him that I thought I might like him. He was likely taken aback, but he just proceeded to comfort me. He actually laughed a little though and reminded me that, well, this was the first he was hearing from me as far as “feelings for him” went, and then said that he hardly knew this girl, whereas he loved me in a sense, not completely but, in so far as he knew me in a logical way. He was much better about being logical and acting on that logical side than I was for sure. 

So, shortly after this conversation with Brian, I met with the other young man I had been seeing. He had come back from a business trip and had planned to visit me. Despite still having feelings for him, I had suggested in a text we just be friends, but, when he asked to come see me I figured why not? especially since I thought it would finalize things. So, he came, and we had lunch with the family I was staying with. I was actually beginning to second-guess my decision seeing how he interacted with the children. Nothing so handsome to a woman as to see a man genuinely take interest in a child. Still, I knew that he ultimately wasn’t the one for me. Much to my surprise though, as we were walking around the neighborhood and I was feeling torn about what I ought to do, he told me he didn’t think it would work. Even though I had made my decision before this, the fact he likewise wanted to end things was hard on me. My feelings had yet to really go away, even though I knew what was the right thing to do, and even though I was finally beginning to think seriously of Brian. But this time I did the right thing and I ignored them for the good of both of us. He was surprised by how “unemotional” I reacted, since just weeks previously, maybe even days, I would’ve been a mess, but I wasn’t. I knew there was no future and I knew the first step to finding the right man, in my case, was letting go of the wrong one. He asked me though if there was another man in the picture. Brian came to mind, but I did not answer in the affirmative, mostly because my decision was made before then and I was still undecided about Brian, but he was right. The right man was in the picture, though it would take a while for me to see that with any certainty.   

A few weeks past. Brian and I skyped quite regularly and for quite a while, sometimes four hours at a time. We prayed together. We talked about God together. He told me he often offered his Holy Communions for me; (speaking of offering our Communions for each other, within the first few days of us meetings, I told him I offered up my Holy Communion for him, and it was, in fact, this that made such a huge impression on him and really made him fall for me), so, this was a very important practice for us and something, I believe, that really welded us together since, all the nearer were we to each other in the mystical body of Christ. 

He planned on visiting me near the end of November. He couldn’t spare long, just a couple weeks, but he was set on it. He was working an extra day to be able to afford it, costing himself sleep and adding to his stress, all for this very small chance. You may be surprised for me to deem it “small”, but, as far as I was concerned, it still was. I liked him, to be sure, but the emotional aspect was still very much lacking and I just wasn’t sure I could overcome that lack. There were at least a couple other men also interested in me. I was, by no means desperate and marriage was a huge thing. I couldn’t settle for someone I didn’t love completely in every aspect. I wanted an emotional love as well as a spiritual and logical love. Of course, I knew once I made my decision, the emotional aspect of it wouldn’t matter much anymore, since that’s always how it went with me, but I had never not had emotions there at least for a time with any of those boys I seriously considered marrying, and I didn’t think I could force it no matter how good of a man he was. I was also concerned he was too similar to me. I knew I needed someone to balance me out; someone who could tame my wild side, not someone who’d add to my fire, who was just as rash and extroverted as I was, and, much to my amusement now, I actually thought he was too much like me. I mean, his deciding on a whim to come see me and the fact he certainly could talk a lot were all reasons for me to be concerned he was too similar to me. I was very, very wrong, but we’ll get to that later.

Before allowing him to buy his ticket, I made him aware that I was still very much in doubt and that I promised nothing. He completely understood and did not in any way try to guilt-trip me or pressure me to think rationally, though I knew my overly-emotional side drove him absolutely bonkers. The days preceding his arrival had me very nervous. I was praying with tears in my eyes that God would help me love him and feel some kind of “romantic inclination” or feelings toward him. I wanted so much to love him. I turned to Our Lady and I besought the same thing from her, and then I’d proceed to say the rosary for this intention. I did not want to hurt him. I, likewise, did not want to hurt myself. 

The day he arrived, November 25th, he showed up at my door looking very sleep deprived. Funnily enough, I actually didn’t find him very attractive, and my stomach dropped the moment I saw him. He seemed much skinnier in person and really not what I was expecting. And I felt nothing. Right away, five seconds in, and the sinking feeling that this wouldn’t work already was setting in. But he was here. He had come all this way. He had spent a couple grand and had roughed a 20 or 30—some hour flight from Canada for just a smidgen of a chance. I was going to give him his chance, let him at least throw his dice on the table and try his luck no matter how steep the odds. 

We grabbed a bite to eat and then later went for a walk around the park. It was beautiful with a couple bridges and willow trees. As we walked around, he kept drawing my attention to God in nature, and in the conversation. I remember thinking to myself how this is the type of man who would lead my soul to heaven, and wishing so much that I wasn’t so incredibly weak, that I didn’t have to have such a stupid “need” for the emotional or physical side of things. Why did I have to be so shallow? But I was and I couldn’t seem to shake it. If it were just a matter of dating, sure, I knew I was willing to date him, but marry him? No, I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. 

At Mass, I was embarrassed to be seen with him. I was worried people would think we were together. I didn’t want the gossip. I didn’t want to ruin any chances with anyone else later down the road because they didn’t think I was single. I still, very much, considered myself single. When we went to the beach, and he was especially patient with me wanting all sorts of photographs, even though he was hungry, I felt the need to express my gratitude. I kissed his cheek. It felt so incredibly forced and unnatural, I wanted to cry. He was taken aback by it and incredibly happy that “heartless me” had shown him such affection. I regretted it immediately after. Sitting on a rock, outlooking the beautiful ocean, he put his arm around me and I felt so sick to my stomach, I couldn’t even finish my sandwich. I felt incredibly lonely, something I didn’t imagine I’d feel with a man’s arm around me, but I did, even lonelier than the weeks before when I was single.

On our way home from the beach, my happy facade was beginning to crumble. Brian was not like most men. He saw the details. He heard my sadness in the silence and he picked up on it immediately.

“What’s wrong?” he asked me.

“Would you be mad at me if I told you it wouldn’t work?” Tears were beginning to form in my eyes. 

“Well, it would depend on why, but, no.”

“I just, I can’t force it. I, I know that love is in the will, but I need some kind of emotions, just something. I can’t do it. I can’t marry someone if I do not truly love them. It wouldn’t be fair to them. I know I’m selfish. I know…But I can’t, I can’t…”

“You’re not selfish,” he assured me. “And you don’t need to make any decisions now. Stop pressuring yourself.”

He pulled me toward him for a hug. I was amazed by his calm demeanor, actually quite impressed, but I was not comforted. I was torn up inside. That night, I paced my room. I struggled to sleep. I think I may have gotten an hour, maybe two. My heart felt physically broken. I knew, in a sense, I must love him. There was no other way to explain it. Why else would I be so sad at the prospect of ending things if I did not at least love him in some way? But it was not the love I felt I needed it to be to marry him and until it was, I could never agree to even be his girlfriend. I wasn’t going to waste my time with a man I couldn’t marry. Maybe at 23, 24, but not 27. I wanted to settle down, get married, but get married to man I in no way felt I was settling for. In no way at all. A man I loved totally, not half-heartedly. I was not one to do things half-heartedly. It was all or nothing, and until I loved him totally, as far as I was concerned, it wasn’t there. 

The next morning, I was still terribly sad. I got up, did some chores around the house and tended to the children. When hanging laundry outside, I took time to reflect and pray, and I, of course, turned to Philomena. 

“Your time is up,” I told her, “It’s been up! If I’ve met him already, I really don’t know who he is. I just want to get married. I want to have children of my own, but I want to marry a man I love. I know, in a sense, I love Brian, but I don’t feel at peace at all about being with him. If it’s God’s will I marry him, please, Philomena, please give me peace and please make up for my human weakness; please give me some emotional feelings, not even actual physical feelings, just some sort of romantic inclination, something! But, if it’s not God’s will, help me to let him go, because I do not want to do even that.”

After this little vent to her, I went back in. There was a knock on the door. Brian came in. Upon seeing him, I suddenly found him attractive. It was very strange and no amount of blinking altered the fact that he suddenly looked quite handsome. He saw me, smiled, gave me a hug. There was peace all of a sudden. My restless spirit was calmed. 

He took me out to breakfast. Sitting there, talking to him, the thought I could see myself with him came more and more frequently to mind. I enjoyed our chat, his intelligence, his respectful manner to me. I teased him about how he was trying to get me drunk by giving me the larger portion of the cider we chose to split, and I found myself suddenly able to be myself with him, not so uptight and reserved, but really who I was naturally. 

I was still working my usual hours most days with the family, and Brian chose to help out so he could spend more time with me. That night, seeing him with the children, seeing him help me clean the house really struck a chord with me. The thought I loved him kept coming to mind. Really loved him. Deeply, completely loved him, emotionally as well as logically; my heart and head finally were on the same page. I could see him as my husband, as the father to my children. We certainly made a great team. But I still didn’t say much of anything. I was actually worried this was just a phase and wanted to wait and see how I felt the next day. 

The next day came and I still felt the same. We went to Philip Island that morning, planning to see the tiny penguins. Sitting there, across the table from him, viewing the lookout point from out the window, I told him I was ready to make things official. He looked over at me, took my hand in his, and gave a little romantic speech about how he’s enjoyed our time together and how wonderful I am, at the end of which he asked, “Will you be my girlfriend?”

I didn’t respond right away. Cara, are you sure about this? Are you sure this is the one you want to marry? Funny, really, considering it wasn’t a proposal, but for me my answer was basically an “I do” because half-hearted, as I said before, was never my way. I was ready to marry him, though, and would have then and there if able to, so I said, “Yes”. This answer brought me, for once, at a higher point than he was at. These six months previous, it had been him on the top of the mountain peak, looking down at me and wishing I’d join him; this now marked the reverse. He wasn’t at the stage where marrying me was anymore than just a probable eventual outcome. I was now higher up since I was actually ready to marry him. 

This brought with it a series of problems. Due to past relationships, some of which were strewn with dishonesty, and at the very least heartache and failure, and which led to me deeming myself not “good enough”, not “lovable enough”, I was now wrought with feelings of insecurity. I had finally allowed myself to open up my heart again. Would it be hurt once more? I didn’t know. Plenty of men had even talked marriage before to me, and what came of it? Nothing. It was all meaningless words. My recent ex had even flown across the world multiple times to see me; a sacrifice worth noting, and yet nothing came of that. I was still not loved enough to commit to. 

I felt vulnerable and Brian noticed. Initially, he was actually overwhelmed by the complete change in me. After Mass and benediction Friday night, we went out to dinner. On the drive to the restaurant, he said to me, “Look, I know you love me.”

Immediately, I took the defense. I mean, it was true, but I didn’t want to be the one to say I loved him first, even though I accidentally had blurted it out at least twice now, sometimes going so far as to say “I love” before abruptly stopping. “Why do you say that?”

“Well, you’ve nearly blurted it out three times now.”

I knew I had then been defeated. “Well, so?” 

“There’s nothing wrong with you loving me.”

We parked, went inside the restaurant. I kept expecting him to say he loved me too, but he didn’t, which made me squirm with anxiety. Once seated, we ordered our food, and I knew I had to say something for peace of soul, so I asked him, “Do you love me?”

He didn’t answer in the affirmative much to my surprise. “I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t had enough time to really process everything yet.”

Anger, sadness, all of those negative emotions came rushing over me. Before this, he had made implications of marriage. He had hinted to me making a good wife and mother. Now he was saying he didn’t know how he felt! “You came all this way to visit me. You have been fighting for this for five months, and now you don’t know if you love me?”

“I have been fighting to come see you! We don’t all move at your pace.”

“Did you love me before?”

“Yes.”

“Why not now?” I felt sick to my stomach. It seemed my previous relationship had just hit replay. Why was it that as soon as I loved someone, as soon as I wasn’t hard to get, they no longer wanted me? It just wasn’t fair! And it was true that in this instance, I was overreacting, but it was because my anxiety had been triggered. A more normal person would have probably taken this with a grain of salt, would’ve said it’s been four days and given him at least six months. I had at least given my ex five months before starting to really let my insecurities be seen and expecting an “I love you”. But it was hard to control the vulnerability and insecurities I felt. Hard to control the feeling of betrayal and immense sadness. My past did not make it easy not to feel scared.

“Well you’re different now,” he went on to say. “One moment you don’t care whether I lived or died, and now you can’t live without me; it’s a lot to process in one hit, and it wasn’t a complete love anyway.”

“Why? Because you were waiting on reciprocation?”

“Yes.”


“Well, I’m reciprocating!”

“I’m not going anywhere,” he reminded me. But this didn’t comfort me half as much as it should have and much to my annoyance I said, in an angry tone, “I love you.” I was annoyed though not because it was lacking the romantic atmosphere or wasn’t exactly the best moment for such words, nor because of my tone, but because I never wanted to be the first to say it, and now I was. But it was true. I loved him. I had opened my heart to him and I thought he should know without a doubt that I did, in fact, love him.

After saying this, I got up and dismissed myself to use the restroom. He watched with amusement as I tried to find the bathroom and went in circles a couple times. This, as he later related to me, gave him time to think and process what just happened and how he really felt.

Upon returning, I had managed to calm down just a little. I wasn’t quite in the mood to finish eating given the emotional turn of events and my inability to stomach anything, so I suggested we go home. He agreed and we left. When we got to the car, though, he didn’t open my car door, but he did stand in front of it. I was a bit uncertain of what was transpiring, and asked if he could move back a few feet so I could get to the door. 

“No, Cara, I cannot move because I love you and by “I love you” I mean a deep love.” 

Not quite sure how long it took me to process that in retrospect, but probably at least sooner than it took him. He got the car door for me, and when driving back, he told me he had time to consider things and come to the conclusion that he did, indeed, love me.

After this jump, things went very quickly. We were now pretty much at the same tip of the mountain, on the same page. My insecurities were still there, something Brian noticed, but they were not there to such an extent as they were before. We continued to spend a lot of time together. We even volunteered to take four of the five kids to the park, so that their mom could have a nap. There were a lot of moments where we could both see glimpses of how we’d work together as husband and wife, mother and father. 

On the last full day Brian was in Australia, I was really hoping he’d get to the house where I was staying early in order to spend some quality time with me. He didn’t. He talked some nonsense about getting breakfast or something, which I was annoyed about since why not take me out to breakfast? This was our last day together, after all. He showed up, asked the mom if she could spare me for a little bit. She, of course, agreed and we got in the car. For some odd reason, he pulled up into the parking lot of Civic Park in Warragul, Victoria. I wasn’t quite sure why he had taken me here, but decided not to ask questions. I thought maybe he just wanted to spend some time talking with me. So, we got out the car and I followed him up a couple stone steps to a tiny waterfall.

He took a seat by the flowing water and started talking to me very seriously about the future, bringing up marriage and the like. I was actually annoyed. I even told him so. I think I said, “If you’re going to talk marriage, you may as well put a ring on it.” And while I enjoyed the conversation, I needed to use the restroom, so I told him that I was just going to go use the restroom real quick. He got up, proceeded down the stone steps, then, suddenly spun around and got on his knee. I was completely shocked. I at first thought he was just going to ask me without a ring. I mean, when would he have found time to get one? We had spent nearly every hour of the day together. By the time we usually parted, the Jewelers would’ve been closed. 

But, to add to my shock, he got out a little black box and showed me a ring. I completely blanked. He apparently said, “Cara, will you marry me?” I don’t think I heard any of it. I could hardly register what was happening; I just saw the ring and I knew it was real, that this was real, and that this was crazy. I mean, we had just made it Facebook official literally days before; everyone would think we were insane, not that that mattered much considering it was no one’s decision but ours, nor did I really care, but it did cross my mind. However, I had known my answer since the day he asked me to be his girlfriend, and it had not changed. St. Zelie and Louis Martin were married in the course of three months. Since when does love have time restraints? So I answered, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.” Not quite sure after how many “yes”s I stopped saying “yes”, but I suppose my answer was very, very obvious. No doubts. Yes a thousand times. 

Overcome by intense lightheadedness, I told him, “I need to sit down. I’m going to faint.” 

He sat down next to me, thoroughly concerned. I looked over at him, and I said, “So, are you going to put it on my finger or not?” And he put the oversized ring on my tiny finger. I was completely overjoyed. Finally, after too many dates gone wrong to count, I had found my prince charming at twenty-seven years old. My happily ever after had begun. 

“Am I doing a good job at keeping up?” he asked.

I laughed. “Yes.”

Brian told me that that morning, he was thinking about my promise to Philomena, something I shared with him after we had made it official. He said she popped in his head, as well as the thought of marrying me, and he couldn’t come up with a good enough reason to stall. He said those “what if”s were there, maybe, but they weren’t very plausible as far as he was concerned. He figured we’d have our problems, but couldn’t see any major red flags that would actually prevent a good marriage. So, he waited until the Jewelers opened that morning, hence why he took a while to drive over to me, and bought the ring.   

After many excited phone calls to a few of my close friends, Brian suggested we go to the chapel to make a thanksgiving.

I agreed. So, we headed over to the school chapel, since we figured that would be the least likely to be locked. On our way over to the chapel, we ran into one of the Sisters I had spent my novitiate with; I excitedly told her my happy news and asked for her prayers; she was thrilled for us. 

In the empty chapel, I thanked God profusely from the bottom of my heart and I begged Him not to let me do anything that would tarnish the beautiful gift He had given me. Brian knelt beside me at the front pew and we prayed aloud, with him leading. He asked God to be at the center of our relationship and we prayed for purity and for our courtship to tend to God’s greater glory. Everything was so beautiful. My spiritual director called later on, and I told him the happy news as well. I was expecting him to be a bit shocked, but he wasn’t, probably because he had been hearing about Brian for the past few months. He was genuinely happy for me, and when I asked when he thought we should get married, he suggested a date only six months away. 

Upon returning home and discussing the date further with Father, assessing when he’d be available and so forth, I decided on July 13, 2018. I wasn’t aware of that dates importance at the time. I just chose it because it was relatively soon after Father returned from a trip abroad and I figured it would prove doable with Brian’s schedule. 

July 13, 2018 marks the 160th wedding anniversary, though, of Zelie and Louis Martin, the renown parents of St. Therese of Lisieux. One day, when in the process of doing some research for an article I was writing where I made reference to their marriage, I came across the date of their wedding and was blown away by the beautiful coincidence, or, rather, providence of it. Of all the dates for me to have chosen, that date is so significant especially since both had once desired the religious life, just as I once had, and they were parents to saints, just as I wish to one day be, and not just saints, one of the greatest saints of our time, a saint I was very connected to. 

I have so many to thank. God, of course, is first to thank, then Our Lady, St. Joseph, St. Philomena, St. Therese, and, now, I suppose Zelie and Louis Martin, all of which I am sure had a hand to play in this very fortunate outcome. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Compilation of Poetry

By Cara E. Ruegg


Here is a compilation of poetry I've written over the years, some when I was in the convent and some after I left. 

The poem below I wrote for a University assignment in the convent. It was around this time that I was struggling to let go of the thought of a child of my own. I was trying desperately to cling to the idea of my spiritual children since, as we know, all women are called to be mothers even those in the convent. The one thing that really hurt me though was the thought that while they were my spiritual children, I was not really known to them as a mother, which, though wholly natural, did hurt me. The life of a Sister requires you supernaturalize your love and, of course, with God's help you certainly can, but it is at times a great struggle when you still have a weak, human nature. 

A mother of the world. I kneel. The rain drips down the glass.
A mother of the world. Unknown.  The children outside laugh.

“Sister,” Johnny says, as he opens the door,
Brown curls, brown eyes, an elfish grin,
“Will you teach us tomorrow? Will you teach us next year?”

The door slams shut. Another year begins. 

The chapel, cold, damp. Rain still falling fast. 

A mother of the world, I am. There one year, gone the next. 
My hands, folded in prayer. They are soft and young
But soon they will be old.
Lines will carve a thousand stories into my skin.

I will not have just one or two, not five, not six, not twelve
But thousands, thousands of little souls to call my own
But still unknown
Unknown to them. 

Little Johnny was sad one day. His brown eyes wouldn’t dare
To look up at me when I asked, 
“What’s wrong?”
But when we went outside
Into a day that was dry and warm
I threw him the ball,
I asked him to play. 
He smiled. 

A mother of the world. I pray
For everyone that has or will or does exist
I press them all to my small heart
The lonely, the happy, the good and the bad
The homeless, imprisoned, the innocent, the evil
They are mine
Because they are His.

My eyes burn. I am tired. 
Papers still sit on my desk
But I am lost in prayer
Before Him
With Him

Today, I got word
Little Johnny is sick
He can’t speak
He can’t stand
He’s dying. 

I am a mother of the world. But I am here.
Little Johnny is in bed. He is quiet. 
I storm heaven. I beg my Spouse
Save Him!

But all is quiet. There is nothing.
I am alone. 
I am not with him.

The little card he wrote me
Is there on the pew.
“Thank you, Sister, for your prayers.
I wrote the seminary yesterday.
They did say ‘yes’, just like you said.
I promise, Sister, when I’m a priest
My first Mass will be for you.”

A mother of the world. A mother of this boy
Grown up.
A mother of little Johnny, lying in bed
The covers wrapped around him.
He gasps. Those hands, not yet blessed,
No oil on them yet. 
No chance to say that Mass.
He’s dying.

“I care too much, I know.
This little boy is not my own
Not like he is his mother’s
Or father’s
Or Yours, 
Oh, but God, I care so much
Still.”

The wind blows through the windows.
Rain falls upon me like blood from the hyssop.
I breathe in. I breathe out.
My lungs feel tight and swollen. 

I am a mother of the world.
I carry them all on my heart
Theirs burdens are my burdens
I stretch out my hands
To take their crosses

It is heavy. So heavy. 
But I am their mother
And I love them

I love little Johnny
Lying in his bed
Who is no longer little,
No longer that boy 
I had to remind a million times
“Be quiet. Listen.”
No longer the little boy
With freckles dancing on his nose
Who used to smile at me
When I came near
To check his work.

I love little Johnny,
Grown up
With that cassock
Folded in his drawers,
Waiting for him to recover,
To button up those buttons
And fasten the white collar.

But he doesn’t know
I’m the other mother
Sitting in the chapel
Praying, praying, praying,
Begging that God who has stolen
Both our hearts.

He doesn’t know that I know
That he is ill, that he is dying. 
He doesn’t know that I remember
The last day of Grade Five

He was standing on the cobblestones
Rubbing eyes that would not dry.
“I’m fine,” he told his buddies,
when they laughed at this boy
who was always so tough,
laughing and goofing and never caring
it seemed.

“What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.”
Muttered words. Heavy and hard.
“Nothing.”

“I don’t believe you.”
I knelt down,
Letting my habit touch
The hard stone
And hide it.

“I’ll miss you, Sister,
so much.”
Wet tears on red cheeks.
I wiped a single one and smiled.
“Do you think I’ll forget you?”
He shrugged.

“I’ll never forget you.”

A mother of the world. Remembering them all.
Caring, loving, gathering them into her arms,
And praying without their knowing.

“Dear God, 
In Your hands. In Your heart.
Your will be done, not mine, 
Not his, not his Mum’s or his Pa’s,
But Yours.”

The rain stopped its crying.
Sun shone through the window,
Touching my pale hands
That were not wet with my tears
And I knew. I knew.

He now knew in heaven. 


--------

The next poem is not directly related to me, more my thoughts on death and loss. I believe around this time my Morfa passed away. He had been suffering from alzheimer's. 


If I forget him
Will this pain cease?
If in my mind
His smile fades
And his laughter stops
Will my heart
Still remember
Will it still hurt?
If my fingers forget
Why they’re trembling
My eyes forget
Why they’re crying
And my feet forget
The grave beneath?
Will my heart
Stopping hurting
If the memories cease
And I no longer know
The name on the stone
Is my son’s?

-------

Sitting next to you
So close I can feel the warmth of your hands
I can feel the vibrations of you breathing
So close without touching

Do you miss me too?
Do you remember?

Right here, next to me
I could touch you
Hold your hand

But I forget the worlds
The lost memories that stand between us

They are there
These awful stonewalls
These taunting figures

Cracked glass
I peer into your image
I try to reach it 

I can’t.

My fingers bleed
Each time I try.

Please, don’t you remember?
Don’t you miss me too?

Sitting here beside you,
I pray for a smile,
A single glance

But I am dead to you
Buried beneath dirt
So far down my name has vanished.

You are right here
But you are not the same
You are not you

Am I me?

You cough, then look at me
Dead eyes meet mine
My face means nothing to you
You cannot recognize
The dimples, the freckles
The crooked nose

You cough; your gaze turns
And I sit here, facing the wall
Without you, beside you
So near and so far

------

This poem was written before leaving the convent. I was considering my students here.


Goodbye.
I cannot say it.
You should not know.
These words so bitter
Swallowed down a throat
That’s sore.

It’s a secret
My going
Hidden in the cracks
Can’t say it to anyone
Not even myself

The suitcase isn’t packed
Things lie in all the same places
Can I really do this?
This life I’ve known so long
What I left behind before
Is now foreign
These people that do not share my blood
I’ll miss them.

I watch you, sitting there
Freckles dancing on your nose
You do not think I’ll ever leave
You smile.

Goodbye
The words are silent
I cannot say them
You should not know

I’m supposed to disappear
Like I never was here
Another Sister to take my class
Dressed the same
Will you notice?

I take a breath
Listen to you talk
Telling me your little stories
Will you be mad if I keep silent?
Will it hurt more if I speak?

No one’s ever said goodbye
They’re just replaced
And nobody asks
Where they’ve gone

The students continue
As if nothing’s changed
This new Sister is nearly
Just the same

It seems a scandal to speak
To say ‘goodbye
I’m leaving
Don’t know where I’m going
Or if I’m making a mistake
Don’t know what I’m doing
If I’ll even really leave’

Goodbye 

Little one
I’ll miss you so much
You do not know
How much
And I can’t say
Can’t say a word
Can’t say
Goodbye

------

I put time on hold
But only in my little world
To go searching for God
See what He wills
Spoke farewell to loved ones
Packed up my old clothes
Got dressed as His bride
And lived this new life

Now, I sit and wonder
Was I wrong all along?
Were those who doubted
Really right
Can I give up it all?

But the world is not the same
Friends have married
People have changed
My world was on hold
But outside, everything has moved
Drifted and soared
Away.

And am I the same?
Will those friends I once laughed with
Will they still care?
Will I find their jokes funny
Their laughter so sweet?
Will their worldly air bore me
Now that I’ve spent so much time
Here?

I’ll have to start over
All over again
And I’m scared.


---

Ice cream and plastic cups
Sitting on your bed
And laughing

We were young
So very young
Too young to worry
About the world
What our futures held
It was so far away
Time could still wait then.

Can time wait now?
The clock keeps ticking
Numbers fly on by
Doesn’t seem so different
The world. Me. You.

But have we changed
Unnoticed?
Under our little noses
Are we really growing old?

Fingers race across the table
They dance and sway
And then they freeze

Are we wasting time
You and I
Staying young
As the world keeps moving?

I see no wrinkles on my face
No lines to tell a story
Don’t believe they’ll ever appear
You tell me do not worry.

The crossroads come closer
They stare at me with dark eyes
Can I stay in between them forever
Not choosing where my future lies?

Where will you go
And should I go there too?
What does God want
Can He be heard in the dark?

Hello?

You are not here with me
To help me decide
Long ago I left you
Far, far behind

Maybe you grew up
In the meantime
As I stayed young
And pretended time
Could not really move

Perhaps you have chosen
Your way
I would not know
You hardly write

I know it was my fault
I chose a road
You could not follow
Your health was poor
And mine was not
His bride to take
I thought I was.

But am I?

Before
A child of my own
I could give up
The excitement of something new
Something noble
Made me tread fearlessly on

But now I am here
And I wonder
Am I going the right way?

The path has become rugged
And I worry
I was never actually called

Stubborn as a mule
I kept going
Not turning around 
Even when the floods came
I said I could do this
I will do this
God is worth more than the pain
The sting of loneliness
The darkened clouds

But now I question
The other way
Have I been turning a deaf ear
To what He’s really been asking?

----

Some thoughts after leaving the convent, which show just some of my struggles.


I’ve left those cloistered walls
Those silent reveries
I’ve left the quick-lived laughter,
The calm simplicity

I’m in the world
The noise pulses through my fingers
Cars roar and music blasts
So many are talking, 
I can’t follow a line

The trees sway above me
Even here it is noisy
My thoughts are wandering
They cannot forget
All of the gossip
The silly conversations
Those stupid things
I would’ve found pointless
There.

I fall to my knees
I try to find silence
“Stop it, please stop it
Stupid little head.”

Dear God
In your presence
Amidst all this static
I kneel

My eyes have been staring
Too long at the computer
My feet have been walking
Too encircled to disappear.

Dear God
Can you still hear me
Am I still important
Even though I’ve left the habit
For this everyday outfit
Let my plain face be painted
Red lips and dark eyelashes

Do you still care
Even though I’ve gone back
To what I sacrificed before

Even though I let the plough fall
To the hard, dirt floor
And returned to that family
I had planned to leave forever?

I rest my forehead on your wounded feet
I dare not look up at your glowing face

Please, my dear God, please care
Please care as you care for your brides

I tried. 
Maybe not hard enough
Maybe not really
But I tried

I made the sacrifice for a bit
Maybe not long enough
Maybe not forever

It could be,
I failed
That I was meant
To carry on
To say ‘yes’
Instead of ‘no’

Oh, dear God, please
I beg of You
I want You
I need You

Please still care.

----
-----