Six myths about becoming a nun
The author with two members of her community, Sister Michele Denton, I.H.M. and novice Jane Aseltyne. (Courtesy of the I.H.M. Sisters of Monroe, Michigan.)
"Me, a nun? But there’s no one my age . . . but I always wanted to be an engineer . . . but I’m going to feel alone.” But nothing! Today’s sisters are a dynamic group of educated, creative, community-oriented women who are a breath of fresh air to religious life and to the church and world. Let’s look at some of the common reasons young women give for dismissing the idea of becoming a sister or nun—and why they don’t necessarily hold up.
1. “But most sisters are old.”
Think again! We stand on the shoulders not of “old” sisters but of sisters whose wisdom, faithfulness, and experience are leaven for the new ways that God is calling us to live and serve as women religious. While every congregation has elderly sisters—that’s not a big surprise given that the U.S. population is aging—there are in fact many younger sisters in congregations across the country and the world. One of the great gifts religious life has to offer, and to model for the rest of the world, is an intergenerational community that values the energy and new ideas of the young and reverences the perspective and insight of elders.
2. “But I don’t see any younger sisters.”
Don’t be discouraged—they really do exist! One reason you don’t see many young sisters is that we are spread across hundreds of congregations. Thanks to the internet, however, we are able to network with one another and support and encourage one another. A perfect example is giving-voice.org, a network of women religious who are in their 20s, 30s, 40s from across many congregations and ways of living religious life. They offer conferences, workshops, newsletters, forums, and a variety of ways to stay connected.
Another is that we look, talk, pray, minister, and live in a variety of roles, not necessarily in the classic ways we’ve been known in the past. For example, we are in mission in many different areas of the church and world, not only in ministries where you might expect to see nuns, such as classroom teaching or parish life. In addition, most of us in apostolic religious life do not wear habits that visually distinguish us from other laywomen. Take another look around. You’ll be surprised by what you find!
3. “But I’ll be forced to give up my snaps and tweets.”
Really? Far from abandoning social media and networking sites, the Catholic Church encourages women and men religious to promote the gospel by using Facebook, Instagram, and whatever else the digital world can dish up. It may not be the way you are used to interacting with the online community, but, like everything else in life, moving into religious life reorders things. That can be terrifying, yes, but it is also the thing that sets us free to engage wholly in our lives as sisters and nuns.
Today’s sisters rely on blogging, tweeting, checking in, updating their status, and posting in their circles in order to communicate with their sisters, coworkers, and loved ones as well as minister effectively in a digital age. While each religious community has its own policies and practices regarding social media, it’s definitely part of almost every religious community from cloister to monastery to mission.
4. “But I’ve been around the block a few times.”
Younger women today come to religious life with more years of life experience than in the past. Many have been in serious relationships, had careers, seen the rough edges of life, and more. While some of their concerns are the same as their older sisters in religious life, others are new or have greater urgency. What if I’m not a virgin? What if I have a tattoo? What if I did some things in my life that I’m not proud of? What if I ever questioned my faith?
These questions are not easy, and each community may respond to these kinds of issues differently. But the upshot is that today’s younger sisters are women who have tangled with the tough questions of life and emerged with a few bumps and bruises. No one is perfect, and human imperfection is no reason to dismiss the idea of religious life. You never know how God will use your experiences to be a source of consolation or healing for another or a new expression of a congregation’s enduring charism.
5. “But my family and friends will totally freak out.”
You’ve got a point there, but the good news here is that you can make it through those tough conversations (read: bombshells) and deal with the misunderstandings and growing pains.
Friends and family care about you and want the best for you. Their questions and comments, not to mention “casual” introductions to a potential mate, are ways that people sometimes try to make sense of what your calling means in your life and how it will affect the relationship that they are used to having with you.
Remember that just as God is nudging you along in your exploration of religious life, God is also at work in the lives of your family and friends. That may not make things go smoothly, but it’s also not the end of the world—or your vocation. Many family and friends become a lot more comfortable with your decision once they get to know the community you plan on joining and perhaps rethink some of the ideas they may have had about religious life.
6. “But I’ll be left alone to turn off the lights.”
Religious life always has been and will continue to be a gift of the Holy Spirit. We operate not on the world’s electrical system but on the Holy Spirit’s power grid! So leave that issue to God and—to quote Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day”—focus instead on how you are going to use this one “wild and precious” life you have been given to be a source of life and of hope in the world.
Becoming a nun or religious sister is truly a fabulous adventure and requires an open heart and a spirit of daring to dream and risking all on behalf of love of God and mission with God’s people. Do you feel your heart burning within you? Take a chance! This life is worth exploring!
A version of this article originally appeared in VISION 2013.
Related article: VocationNetwork.org,“11 myths about religious life.”
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