Sheila’s Story, Part IV
This is one of a thirty part exposé on the Children of the Legion. This group of women, then girls, in the Regnum Christi, share their stories of abuse, neglect and the aftermath of being children in the Regnum Christi. For a complete list of stories to date, view Children of the Legion.
Like I said at the end of Part III, the cognitive dissonance was beginning to get to me. I had a lot of little sneaky things I did, as I said before — from mentally composing fanfiction during “spiritual reading,” to coming up with objections in my head to everything I learned during apostolic methodology. But I started to feel tired of fighting.
It didn’t help that we were constantly hearing about “giving 100%,” “holding nothing back from God,” “being who we were meant to be,” and so forth. I always tried to remind myself, “I am giving myself to Jesus, I’m just not giving myself to Regnum Christi,” but I started to wonder if I was deceiving myself.
Periodically we had Regnum Christi incorporations, as girls turned sixteen and were eligible to join. There were promises, symbols (a crucifix, a Bible, a card with a list of commitments), and a celebratory breakfast afterwards. At one of these, I inexplicably started sobbing uncontrollably. I felt so envious of these girls, their chance to make a serious commitment, to more forward, to do something for God, and — I have to admit — to get a lot of attention. Later, at breakfast, I joked about how I’d been bawling my eyes out because it was so beautiful. The consecrated woman at our table said, “Bet you can’t wait till it’s your turn.” My eyes dropped to my plate. “Yeah.”
As summer approached, things started to be tougher on us freshmen. Our first year, it was assumed that we were “new PC’s” and not really ready for much real responsibility. But soon we started being expected to step up to the plate. I was given the responsibility of organizing the readers during meals. I would make the schedule of readers, keep the place in the book (which varied from saints’ lives to novels, though later we heard we would no longer be allowed to have novels), and keep track of the pronunciations of difficult words. I also had to get the Regnum Christi Statutes out of the locked cupboard where they were kept and have the reader read one paragraph a night. This one paragraph at a time was all we were allowed to read. But that was a special trust for us — normal Regnum Christi members, we were told, were not allowed to read their statutes at all.
I also began to realize the reins were tightening for me. We had a rule that we had to leave the dorms in perfect condition when we went to the chapel in the morning. It was really hard to do, since we only had half an hour to shower and get ready along with making our beds and cleaning up. I had finally more-or-less mastered this skill when suddenly I was getting in trouble for it again. I would be in the middle of breakfast when I’d get a tap on my shoulder from the consecrated woman who had been inspecting. (I will call her “Mary.” She usually was very sweet and I liked her a lot.) The first time it was something minor, like a sock left out. But I was very upset and embarrassed at having to get up in front of everyone. Maybe I talked back a little. I don’t remember. I do know I cried all the way down the long hallway to the dorms.
But then it started happening every single day. Once I was sent back and nothing was out of place at all. “She must have mistaken my bed for someone else’s,” I thought, and headed back to breakfast. The next time, I went up, feeling positive I hadn’t left anything out, only to find my bed was untucked. I knew I had tucked it in. I had been making every effort to be perfect so this would stop happening. But then I suddenly realized: the consecrated woman had untucked it. She had untucked it and made me go tuck it in, as a test. I wasn’t upset that she had lied to me. I simply thought that I’d better have a perfect attitude as well as a perfect bed, and then I would pass the test. Apparently I did, because that never happened again.
But “Mary” still picked on me in other ways. It was always in a sort of apologetic tone, but the general gist was that I wasn’t quite up to snuff and I had to get my act together. The big one that bothered me the most was in the chapel. In the middle of prayers or Mass, she would zip up the aisle and hand me a note, instructing me to hold my hymnbook with both hands or to stand up straight or to follow along in the missal. There was a certain way we were supposed to “do” Mass, and I wasn’t doing it. Up till then, I had thought no one had noticed I wasn’t always following along, but now was the crackdown, and I had to comply. This, too, made me cry. I hated so muchhaving attention called to me. It was the most humiliating thing I could imagine. Soon I could barely pray anymore, for worrying what I might be doing to offend the consecrated who sat behind us.
Then came summer. We all had two weeks to go see our families — the longest I’d gotten to visit since I’d left home. (My only other visit had been two days at Thanksgiving — my family couldn’t afford to bring me home for Christmas as well.) We were warned to pray hard and to keep up with all our usual commitments, in order to avoid losing our vocations. We had to follow all our usual rules, like always wearing skirts, and we also weren’t allowed to go to movies or shows of any kind. If possible, we shouldn’t say we were required to do these things — instead we should stay that we preferred to wear skirts or that we weren’t interested in the movie. People might not understand if we told them all our rules.
I had a great time at home. I went with the goal of making my family happy, and that’s a great perspective to have. I felt closer to my mom than I ever had before, and we went to daily Mass together often. She was pregnant with my brother Joseph by this time, and I happily went maternity shopping with her.
When we got back from our home visits, it was time for the summer program. Finally, we “new PC’s” wouldn’t be the youngest people around. We were told that the summer program girls would be looking up to us, and we had to do our best. Something else happened that I didn’t expect: most of the older girls were either team leaders in the summer program or volunteers at camps around the country. Everyone who got a “destination” to go to over the summer was thrilled. Those of us who were left behind ended up having to shoulder quite a bit of work to make up for their absence, especially as the school was packed with visitors.
That was really hard on me. The one thing I hated most, at the best of times, was serving team. That was when we had to work in the kitchen during meals. I was afraid of the giant dishwasher, bored by the pots and pans, and stressed out by refilling plates. I hated having to eat in a hurry and miss out on the only chance we usually got to relax and talk. But with half the girls gone, it stopped being a once-a-week chore and started being an almost daily event. And I never knew ahead of time. I’d be on my way into lunch and get “the tap” on my shoulder, diverting me into the kitchen. It seems like a small thing now, but back then it was my personal Calvary. I often shed tears into the pots and pans while a well-meaning companion would chirp, “Smile, God loves you!”
I tried so hard. I resolved to do better. I begged God to give me a day off. I hid in the chapel in my free times and cried and cried. Finally I told Jesus that it was okay if He made me do serving team again, I was going to be okay with it and I would not complain. It was just then that I was called aside. I expected to hear I was going to serve again that night — but instead, I was given the “destination” of answering phones during the consecrated women’s retreat, at their formation center. Two girls I very much liked were coming too. It was a dream come true. And we really enjoyed our eight days of freedom. We had one consecrated woman to answer to, the director of the formation center, but she was incredibly nice, and other than that, we set our own schedule. We took care of the work happily, and we didn’t really keep silence at all. It was great.
When I came back, though, the pressure was back on. We got new assignments for spiritual directors. I was worried, because I really liked mine. She was nice and mostly let me talk about whatever I wanted to. When I got my slip of paper with the new name, it was “Sally.” She was the absolute worst I could imagine. She directed the choir, which I was in, and choir practice had become the most stressful experience of the week. She never failed to single me out in front of everyone. How in the world could I ever open up to her about my spiritual life?! It felt like my one support, my old spiritual director, was being taken away from me, and now I would have nobody who understood me or listened to me. Especially since Mary was getting transferred. Consecrated women got transferred very often, about every three years, so there were a lot of new faces.
I got used to most of it. In Mary’s place was a lady from Mexico who was pretty nice, though not so easy on us as Mary had been. But week after week went by and Sally still didn’t have time to pencil me in for spiritual direction. It was kind of a relief, since I was so frightened of her, but it was hanging over my head the whole time.
Then it was time for Spiritual Exercises, our three-day silent retreat. I was really looking forward to it. When it came around, I really got into it. I prayed hard, ignored many of the meditations because I was too busy praying about something else, and enjoyed the extra free time to wander around the grounds and think.
On the last day, I was sitting in the tiny “oratory” chapel and praying. “What do you really want of me, God?” I asked. “Can you have brought me here to lead me to something different?” It seemed then that God answered. He said, “Why would I have brought you here if I didn’t want you to be here?” It seemed absolutely clear to me that I had a vocation to Regnum Christi. I was going to join as soon as I turned sixteen, and then when I graduated I was getting consecrated. It was such a relief. No more fighting. I started laughing from pure relief and happiness, to the point that I had to leave the chapel and go outside.
As soon as I could, I got my new spiritual director to make an appointment with me so I could tell her the good news. I was finally committed to my vocation and was going to do everything right from now on.
This story is a testimony from the 49 Weeks Blog. You can see this and more stories by visiting 49 Weeks.