By: Sr. Clare Hunter
In spite of the fact that I was very close to sisters growing up, and loved them dearly, admired their lives, and found them to be the happiest women I knew, my heart raced in panic at the idea of joining the convent. I had many fears, reasons and excuses, but the idea would not go away, and, in spite of myself, I kept moving closer to saying “yes” to God, and joined the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist. When asked why I became a sister, I have my answers, but honestly, it is inexplicable. Yes, there are ways of articulating a vocation journey, but in the end: “You have not chosen me; I have chosen you and appointed you to bear fruit” (Jn 15:16), is about all you need to know about a call to religious life.
The idea of commitment is hard for all of us, but I do see where a life of chastity, poverty and obedience in our pragmatic, sexualized and materialistic culture just doesn’t make sense. As the reality of having a religious vocation sunk in, the constant battle of excitement and fear raged within my heart. Finally, through God’s grace, I held my breath and jumped in, of course with the comfort of knowing that nine years of formation and discernment would either prove or disprove my objections to God’s call. Clearly, 21 years later….
Working with countless women discerning a religious vocation, or giving vocation talks, or randomly answering questions in a grocery line, I have had the pleasure of fielding comments and excuses, some my very own. The short answer to all of them is usually: “Well, when you die and face Jesus Christ, and He asks you why you did not answer His call, you will have to have a pretty good reason to say one of the following!”
- I could never wear the same thing every day! I still remember asking Sr. Catherine Mary if she missed wearing jeans. She thought for a second, and said “No.” I was certain she was lying and it was a trap to get me to consider being a sister. Turns out, I never think about it, and it does save the stress of knowing what to wear. More importantly, the humbling and amazing experiences and conversations I have had because my habit has been a witness of God, of the Catholic Church and of the mystery of religious life, far surpass any human materialistic desire for “normal clothes.”
- I would die without make-up! No, actually, you won’t. Furthermore, don’t you think sisters usually look younger than their age? It is the secret “Nun-glow” cream we all get!
- I could never wake up that early every day! When I entered the convent, it still had not occurred to me that all adults have to wake up early, or that parents never sleep. Honestly, it is doable, and I know many people who wake up a lot earlier than I do.
- I want to have children. You had better want to have children. As women, we are designed to bear children, and it is the most precious gift bestowed by God. It is a sacrifice. And as with all sacrifices, there is a grace from God to live a full and fruitful life with a gift for spiritual maternity. Each day, I am moved by an experience of being a “mom,” with many of the same joys and sorrows I hear echoed from women raising children.
- I want to get married. Again, you should want to be married. Created in God’s image, we are built physically, emotionally and spiritually to a complement relationship with another — specifically, with a man. As Christ reminds us, this will not happen for some women for various reasons, and some will be asked to sacrifice this for the kingdom of heaven. We are all called to a spousal commitment that entails total self-gift and sacrifice. This is very true of marriage, as it is true of religious life. Of course in religious life, you do get a perfect husband. And thus far, no one has ever died from not having sex.
- I could never be obedient to someone. Well, then you have a problem. We are not talking about servile, abusive or “go get my slippers” obedience. In our Baptism, we are called to imitate Jesus, the obedient Son of the Father. We are all called to obedience to God, His Commandments and to those who are given authority to uphold His teachings. We are called to a maturity in relationships that will include obedience to what is right and good, whether between husbands and wives, parents and children or religious superiors and the sisters. We can trust that this line of authority, rooted in God, will protect us from evil and from our own foolish ways.
- I could never pray all day. Well, all of us should have a life that is offered to God, and should pray throughout the day. Most sisters are actually not in a chapel, or church, all day praying. Most of us have active apostolates, or jobs, and we have set times of the day to attend Mass and pray together and privately. The truth is, we are very privileged to have a life that enables us to build prayer time into our daily schedule, yet, it is still a struggle to know how to pray, to desire prayer and to be faithful to this commitment. As far as I can tell and have been told, this struggle never ends.
- I could not live without my cell phone. A newer excuse. Um, that is really bad if this is in your top ten excuses. You have a problem.
- I could never live with lots of women. First of all, convent and community sizes vary. You might be with dozens, or two or three others. Regardless, the reality that religious life is based on communal living and a spousal dedication to each sister is a very powerful mystery of our faith. Created in the image of a Trinity of Persons, of a “community of persons,” it appears that community living is integral to our holiness and imaging of God. If our earthly lives are the preparation for eternal life in communion with the Body of Christ, then we had better work on our ability to live in communion, with a spouse, religious sisters or quite frankly, everyone.
- My parents said they don’t want me to be a sister. Tragically, I have heard this too often. I would hate to be that parent who has to answer to God! Granted, parents should want the best for their children, but it is senseless to think that true happiness would not be in line with God’s Will. A call to religious life, and priesthood, is supernatural, as in, not natural to our human inclinations. When this thought and desire persists, it is a sign that it must be explored. Yes, many have “explored” and have discerned that they were not called to religious life, but the process of discerning was integral to the next step God had in mind. Please, parents, do not be the obstacle to this vocation, it is hard and frightening enough without your disapproval. And to those women whose parents say such things, follow your heart, and trust God. Your “yes” and sacrifice might be the means for more miracles in your family than you can imagine!