“Yes, but what were you doing?”, I can hear you ask. The reason I have a very good impression of what this would sound like (I believe, in terms of Thomistic Psychology, that this impression would correctly be called a phantasm that is stored in the internal sense of the imagination – but don’t quote me) is that I have very dear students at school ask me bemusedly from time to time what I spend our non-teaching hours doing. I think they have a vague notion that we must twiddle our thumbs, in between prayers, of course, and generally get bored.
Au contraire. I remarked to a fellow postulant the other day on the beautiful appearance of the grass on our property, and how – if we but had more time – we could make a lovely meditation on how it looks like wheat, and all the liturgical and mystical symbolisms associated with it. She remarked that the frank reality is that we just look at the grass (at this time of year, anyway), and say to ourselves, “Oh, grass. How nice. Now what do I have to get done next???”
The list of what we “had to get done next” was filled with many and various things. First of all, in terms of our teaching duties, we had to prepare exams, mark exams, and write report cards – and if you happened to be one of the lucky ones teaching music, you had to prepare the Year 7 and 8 girls for a performance, too. (Which, I have to say, they did extremely well and should be very proud of themselves. They have been blessed with really lovely voices and very tuned ears – which makes a music teacher’s job a pleasure!)
That wasn’t the half of it, though. Besides doing the above things for School, we have been dying a slow death by 1000 assignments. Ok, so that’s a little exaggeration and we haven’t had to bury anyone yet. And, as Dominicans, we really do like to study, and the hyperbole (which is really a sort of material fallacy – go consult the nearest Logic textbook if you’re not sure) used in this blog is merely by way of poetic license. But seriously folks, the amount of written work we postulants have churned out – not to mention the novices – in the past few months would make a library in itself.
The topics covered included a rebuttal of evolution theory, a review of key historical events leading up to the Incarnation, an in-depth proof of how the Christ of Faith is the same as the Christ of History, a contextual analysis of Virgil’s Aeneid, a portrait of a heroic Catholic of the Early Church, an oral presentation on a problem in the post-Conciliar Church, an analysis of a false religion (with appearances made by Buddhism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Islam, Anglicanism and Lutheranism – if you have trouble starting a conversation with us on the 6th of January if you happen to be coming to see the ceremony, just mention one of these religions and you’ll be stuck talking to us for hours), and a script for a history play covering 5 centuries, from 300-800 A.D. – I refer you to another blog entry for more details. Added to this was studying Latin (I have found that the time it takes to drive from school back to the Convent is sufficient for learning a whole vocabulary), Philosophy (Psychology was what we covered this term; do you know the difference between the sensed species, the intelligible form and the mental word? I certainly hope so), and learning our Gregorian for Office and how to perform the various roles during Office.
To be honest, these last two items regarding Office couldn’t really be considered work. Sister Raymond’s Music classes rocketed to the #1 spot in the popularity charts because all green-around-the-ears postulants like to play ‘let’s pretend’, especially when it comes to Office duties. I have found that playing ‘let’s pretend being Hebdomadarian’ is quite a big job, and that if you’re miming being Acolyte you’d better have something that represents candlesticks. (We found that a roll of wrapping paper and a folded-up music stand do quite well.) And it’s not very long to go now until we have to do these things for real, because it’s less than a month until the Feast of the Epiphany, when we are clothed in the Holy Habit at last and become betrothed to Our Lord!
Now, getting everything ready for that solemn occasion has been weighing on our collective minds, too, and with good reason. After all, it’s quite different from a girl in the world getting engaged. Which, I understand, is a very significant occurrence when it does happen, but the girl’s not really supposed to know it’s going to happen until it actually happens, and the amount of deliberate preparation that she goes into for the occasion usually amounts to selecting a nice dress to wear for the pleasant but otherwise unremarkable dinner-date (or so she thinks) that she is going on that night. Mind you, I wouldn’t really know, not having had the experience myself – I’m merely surmising from what other people tell me from the archives of their own life stories.
Anyway, our preparations are very, very different. We don’t just pick a nice dress out of the wardrobe; we have to get measured and fitted for the one dress we’ve been aching to put on and which we’ll be wearing for the rest of our lives. We don’t do our hair up in the most becoming way; rather, we grow it for months only to lose it in exchange for the veil which shows the world that we are spoken for by Our dear Lord Himself. We aren’t surprised by someone presenting us with a shiny ring and giving us a few seconds to decide on ‘yes’ or ‘no’; instead, we have to painstakingly make the crowns of thorns that we know we will deliberately choose to wear on the day, to show that we’re not just fair-weather fiancées. We won’t respond to a question we weren’t expecting with a spontaneous answer that we can’t really recall; on the contrary, we rehearse the ceremony over and over so that it will be as un-spontaneous as we can make it – on the outside, at least. (Only God and we will know what happens on the inside!) And while all that might sound a bit grim and forbidding, I think it’s really rather beautiful - and I know I wouldn’t swap places with the girl with the shiny ring and the pretty dress and the done-up hair for anything in the world.
So there you have it: why our preparations for the Reception of the Habit take a while! I won’t detail the other things we are doing (like moving furniture – again – we really are becoming professionals! – because the Wanganui Sisters are coming to visit; and preparing the Convent for Christmas with cooking and decoration, etc.) because you’re probably doing similar things yourselves.
May you all draw close to the Infant Jesus beside Our Lady and St Joseph in this Holy Season. We wish you all a Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year!