Before I joined the Precandidacy, I was a typical teenage girl beginning to get into a lot of trouble. By the end of my freshman year at the local Catholic high school, my life was wrought with constant lying to my parents, belligerence, sneaking out at night, boy stuff, you name it. I found myself at a summer camp after my freshman year, meeting Consecrated women and Precandidates for the first time in my life. I was adamant that I would not enjoy myself, but was won over by everyone’s joy, the atmosphere of charity, and I was lured into believing that the Precandidacy was the best school option for me. Two weeks later I was in the car with my parents driving to Rhode Island.
The struggle started almost immediately. The night I made the decision that it was God’s Will for me to stay in Rhode Island for school, I broke down and sobbed uncontrollably. It was the hardest decision I had ever made in my life, to leave my family, my friends, my life as I knew it, and adopt an entirely different lifestyle in the name of God’s Will. After the summer program, I spent three days at home to pack up, and drove back to Rhode Island for good.
The guilt was almost immediate, and what a heavy load to carry as a 15 year old. I was feeling guilty for the struggle, guilty that I didn’t entirely want to be there, guilty that I missed my family and friends and life as I knew it. I felt guilty for breaking rules like absolute silence in the halls, listening to my walkman at my closet, having my guy friends write to me under girl names. But I needed these outlets, little acts of rebellion, for my own sanity, because the rules were choking me. God’s Will in my life suddenly went extreme, and I didn’t feel like I could live up to it perfectly.
There are many wonderful memories of my more-than-three years as a Precandidate. These memories consist of the friendships with wonderful girls, outings that gave us a taste of freedom, pranks and silliness that kept our spirits alive; finding a personal relationship with Christ, who I knew loved me, Eucharistic Hours, beautiful singing in the chapel, and more. But there was an underlying darkness that enveloped my heart all through these years, and it choked me a little more tightly the closer and closer I got to the “big decision,” whether I would get consecrated or not. I felt alone, lonely, confused, weighed down by harsh restrictions, like a foreigner in my own body and my own soul. I was thrust from the carefree life of a teenager (one that I thoroughly took advantage of) to a life of interior distress that would tear apart even the most mentally tough adult.
I shared none of this struggle with my parents. I put on a brave face for the weekly 30 minute conversation and shared with them joys only. I lied to them and told them that I was great. I was worried about their response: I knew that it was hard enough for them to be so far away from me, but to know that I was struggling would have worried them greatly.
I remember many a night lying in bed telling myself that if I died, it wouldn’t matter. I would rather it that way. Some nights I begged Him to take me. Looking back at those nights of despair, I am horrified to think that the weight of my life, put on me by the harsh lifestyle of the Precandidacy, caused me to sink so low.
I was kept from my closest girlfriends (we were not allowed “particular friendships”) and this resulted in immense loneliness. Only years later have we all realized that we were strangers to each other, due to the deeply-entrenched secrecy that was part of the Legion’s and Regnum Christi’s culture. We were not allowed to tell each other of our doubts, sufferings, physical and spiritual and emotional wellbeing. We were to share nothing except with our spiritual directors, who had ultimate control over our wellbeing, much to our detriment.
I was unsure of my vocation, and was scared that I was being called to the consecrated life because the thought of it turned my stomach, to be so utterly controlled for the rest of my life. But I was also scared that I wasn’t being called to the consecrated life, because I had been told for so long that it was the happiest of vocations, it was the vocation for the elite souls, that the chosen ones whom God really loved were the ones called to be consecrated. So, if I was called to the mere vocation of marriage, did that mean that He really didn’t care much for me? That I was a mere cast-off and not of much importance?
My senior year I had to take a psychological analysis for entry into the Candidacy. My spiritual director (who also happened to be my superior) told me that the results showed that I was so proud, I could rival Satan, and that I would never get over my pride. I was absolutely crushed. I believed, starting at that moment and for years to come, that I was probably a case of predestination: into damnation. I carried this burden with me for years. It haunted me and, years later, was the subject of my spiritual guidance for years with a dear and holy Capuchin priest who helped me get past all the spiritual and psychological trauma left from my PC years.
The summer Candidacy program was not long enough for my searching soul, so I lived with the consecrated women for three months, from September to November, to continue my discernment. I lived their life and shared every aspect of it (which was just like living like a PC!). I was going to get consecrated on the feast of Christ the King. I called my parents to ask their permission, since I was still only 17 years old. My father told me to give him two weeks. During those two weeks, he visited the adoration chapel every day to discern my life for me. After the two weeks he called and told me that I should take a step back for a year so that I could have more objectivity in my decision. I was overjoyed with his decision, wise and holy man! I went to tell my Director/Spiritual Director, whose response was: “Well, do you have to listen to your father?” I was appalled! This moment really opened my eyes that there was something amiss in the way I was being treated. It sounded so familiar, to the story that was often told to us PCs by consecrated members, of the “brave and holy” consecrated woman who snuck out of her parents house to get consecrated, and had still not reconciled with them, but who knew she was living God’s Will within Regnum Christi. I knew that God’s Will would not work against my father’s discernment, especially since I was bound to my parent’s decision for me at age 17! At that point, I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I packed up and left.
These are just small moments I’ve shared about my experience as a PC and Candidate. There are so many aspects of that life that culminated in a harsh, hostile, and damaging environment for most of us who experienced it. My parents trusted Regnum Christi to take care of their young daughter, to keep her safe during her formative years as a teenager. Unfortunately, for many, the psychological, emotional, and spiritual damage wrought from years as a PC has caused more damage than the “world” ever could have. I pray for healing and peace for us all.