Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Since I literally wear my Catholic faith on my sleeve, people often ask me about religious vocations. You'd think I'd know something about that, given that I have one and that everyone around me has one and I live within a larger community whose members all have one.
I always feel clueless.
To begin with, I didn't become a nun because I had some great mystical calling. Well, I guess I actually did do that, eventually. But I certainly didn't start out that way. I simply didn't know what else to do with myself. In my day, your choices were "married" or "nun". Girls simply did not run around doing things on their own. One or two did, but there are only so many jobs at the library.
And who knows what is in someone else's heart? One of the best nuns I ever met, who inspired everyone around her and lit the flame of vocations for many other people by her example, only lasted about five years after she took her 'final' vows. She's a happily married mother of five now.
So when people ask me about vocations, I'm tempted to stick my fingers in my ears and hum, or remember that I have something on the stove, or that my meter has expired and run away. What's black and white, black and white, black and white? A nun running from someone who has asked about vocations.
My answer, for the most part is twofold:
One: read about some orders and then go for a visit and see what you think. You know, you can be a 'virtual nun' by visiting some of the orders' websites. For some people, this is enough to wipe the mystical smile of joy right off their faces. Or put it on there.
Two: What makes you think that just because you think you should be a Carmelite or a Benedictine that they want you? They might tell you to take a hike. They don't take just anyone who strolls in feeling all close to Jesus you know.
Which brings me to today's question:
Sister, I am very intrigued by the religious life, and as a married woman and mother, I sometimes feel as if I missed my calling to join a religious order. I didn't revert back to Catholicism (from a life of darkness) until after I had a child and was married...in that order. Now that I feel so close to Christ, it is as if I had my path chosen for me and even though I absolutely love my husband and my child, I sometimes yearn for the ability to join in a community of religious sisters. I am wondering if there is something out there for me, a lay person, to join that would give the same sense of community and consecration to Christ, given that I am married and have a child.
La, la, la, la tra, la, la la.....oh..what?
I don't know you. It's irresponsible for me to guess what's what. But, I'm going out on a limb here to suggest that this is what has happened: For whatever reason, you did everything backwards. It should go "Catholic", "Married", "Child". And for you it was exactly the opposite order.
And now, having discovered at last how very fabulous it is to be Catholic you feel like you want to devote all your time to your new found passion. Which is admirable. But not necessarily a calling.
Or, it could just be a simple case of "the grass is always greener."
Some people would suggest that since you are already married and have a child, that you don't have a calling. I won't suggest that. Look at St. Rita. She really wanted to be a nun her whole life. She had to wait until her husband and children died and by then the convent didn't want her. She had to have heavenly intervention, and even then the nuns in her convent tested her every second. She got the last laugh, so to speak, by getting the stigmata and becoming a saint.
So, for all I know, you're the next St. Rita.
But maybe you're more like a lay version of St. Therese the Little Flower.
St. Therese the Little Flower: wanted to me a missionary but was too sickly for the rigors of travel and missionary work.
You: want to be a nun but you're married and have a child.
St. Therese the Little Flower: devoted the life she did have to Jesus, performing every task as though it was for Jesus, Personally.
You: could do the same.
As the Wizard of Oz says, "What have they got that you haven't got?"
The nun behind the curtain says, "A support group." Pitch in with the Third Order, join the Ladies of the Catholic Charity (how I love them!), start a rosary night with friends.
No Third Order or Ladies of Charity group near you? Then you're just going to have to go it alone. Many saints have done the same. St. John of God got out of the loony bin and gathered up all the sick people and beg and borrowed mattresses and bed pans and food and medicine and cared for them on his own.
You don't have to start your own hospital, but you can volunteer to read to children, help the poor, visit people in the old folks home, take meals to people who are stuck at home, or just sort the socks at the thrift store. There is no dirth of opportunity to help those in need. We have a name for all of this in the Catholic Church: the Spiritual and Corporal works of mercy. There are seven of each. If you only did one per day, it would take you two weeks. Then you have to start over.
I hope this helps. I have something on the stove.