At 62, Catherine B totally changed her life. She left the monastery where she was a nun for 40 years and took a path of liberty. This interview is the most impressive testimony I have ever heard. It talks about the incredible courage of a woman who listened to her heart despite taboos and religious rigidity and who shows us that it is love, peace and living in the moment that bring us real happiness.
Catherine, will you tell me your story?
After more than 35 years in the monastery, I felt dead. Nothing made sense and nothing made me happy. I prayed and worked like a machine. In May 2013, I went on a spiritual retreat in a different community. After a year’s recreation, a local monk asked me, “You always tell me that you want to return to the monastery but what do you actually feel?”
What did you tell him?
It was the first time in my life that I could listen to my feelings. I felt a terrible anxiety inside as if I was returning to prison. “God wants you to be happy. Do you think going back is the right path for you?” Hearing these words I burst into tears and told him, “If I am not a nun, who am I?” And he answered, “It was a wrongly built identity. We will help you recover and then you can make a free choice.” It was a test of my existence.
What did you do then?
I took courses in a Jesuit community the next year. The abbess tried to take control of me but I resisted her. I told her, “My freedom is not for sale. I have taken responsibility for my life and I will let no one touch it. If you do not like it, I will pack my luggage and go to sleep under the bridge…”
You have built an incredible strength inside you.
Well, I still stayed in the monastery for some time but I understood that it would be too dangerous to let someone else control my life if I wanted to be really free. I decided to take my religious vows off. It has been two years since I have been working. I have found out that life is an extraordinary gift full of love and happiness. And I am falling in love now, so it is beautiful.
I love people who rejoice life.
Oscar Wilde argued that the majority of people exist but only a few live. I existed for 60 years and now I am living fully. One young boy once asked me if I felt that I had wasted 40 years of my life but I shook my head, “Not at all! What is essential in life is that one passes from merely existing to purely being and it does not matter whether it takes 20 or 50 years.”
Catherine, you have gone through an incredible transformation.
Yes, it was a true metamorphosis. I have reconciled with the past and with the fact that this was my path. There were several people I had chosen who accompanied me. Now I am open to everything and everyone, except for people who are narrow-minded. I keep the distance from them and protect my freedom.
What helped you gain such a courage?
Life! Our order reminded me of a sect. All those years we were treated like children and I had to live many bad things in the name of God. There was one evening when I said “yes” as usual and the next day I woke up, “I kept on saying yes for 38 years, today I will say no!” I have no idea what happened that night but I think it was the sparkle of life. “If you do not choose life today, you will exist, but you will be dead.”
What did you do then?
Our community was wrecked. The first abbess was mentally ill and she secluded us from the outside world (now I know that even Jesus did not isolate himself from other people.). The two others left violently and several nuns attempted to commit a suicide. Eventually, ten of us left. I wrote a letter to the abbess asking her to respect our dignity, treat us like adults and leave the recovery of our community to professionals which she had been avoiding. She was very upset but eventually let me go for a month’s recreation.
May I ask you why you joined the monastery?
I was brought up in a loving and strongly Catholic family of 10 children. From childhood, I was convinced I would be a nun but I studied medicine for four years. In one spiritual retreat in a remote place, I was overwhelmed by a surge of culpability and remorse. Thoughts like, “Why do you study medicine instead of going to a monastery? We should not let God wait. Immediately drop your studies, else you will lose your vocation” were running in my head. I gave up my dreams and deepest desires and I entered the monastery headed by the mentally ill abbess.
How was life in the monastery?
There were good times but I always saw the earth-life as sufferance redeemed by life in the paradise. I lived in two monasteries in France and spent one year in Africa. We prayed for 6 hours a day, worked in the field and infirmary, managed the facilities and I led a choir. I felt physically well because the work in the fresh air was beneficial but I was burnt-out.
It must have been very hard to leave. Were you surrounded by people who helped you?
Yes. My true friends led me to a self-reflection and told me, “Only you know what the best is for you. God wants you to be happy and he gives you a choice of the means to achieve it and he will accompany you no matter what path you choose.” What a freeing feeling! The other people gave me their solutions. I would call them “You must-you should”.
I have noticed many people who go regularly to church lack love and empathy.
If your life is tied with rules and you are haunted by remorse, love dries up. If Jesus came now, he would not ask me whether I went to Sunday mass or whether I did not eat meat on Good Friday, he would simply ask “Do you love me?” The God is in this moment and happiness is within grasp only today. Nowadays no one and nothing can make my mood bad. I do not have any problems.
You are the first person I hear say something like that.
When I left the monastery, I did not have anything. The less property I have, the more life takes care of me. I have little money, no fixed address, but I have the most important thing. I am happy.
Thank you, Catherine. I am grateful that I could have met you. I wish that you keep your joyful spirit and that your radiance of inner peace caresses all those who need it.
Recommended book: The Other God by Marion Muller Collard
Copyright: Catherine B.