“I feel called to be a sister, but I am not yet 18 years old. Should I follow in the footsteps Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (who entered religious life) early, or wait?”
It can be challenging to know what to do with feelings of being called to religious life when you are younger than the typical minimum age requirements to enter a community. What should you do? What is God saying to you? How could this possibly be for real?
You are not alone in feeling this way, and there is no doubt in my mind that God is calling you into deeper relationship. That is very exciting and also probably a bit scary because it can be tough to know what to do, especially because most religious communities require that a candidate for membership be at least 18 years old—and it’s also tough when your friends and classmates might not be thinking the same thing!
I am glad to hear that you are a friend of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. She is a very good companion for you during this time because she herself desired to become a Carmelite nun even though she was too young to formally enter. But Thérèse did not take “too young” as the end of the story. She followed through on the calling she felt. Writes Father James Martin, S.J. on the blog In All Things in honor of the feast day of Thérèse:
“Faced with the sad prospect of having to wait until the age of 16 to enter the monastery, an adolescent Thérèse travels to Rome with her father to petition the pope for a special dispensation to enter earlier. Her request is granted a few months later by the local bishop, and Thérèse enters the ‘Carmel’ on April 9, 1888, at age 15.”
What is important is not necessarily how Thérèse followed through on her calling but that she followed through. As we follow in the footsteps of Thérèse and other saints, we are called to take their stories to heart and prayerfully consider how their stories can illuminate our own. One of the biggest messages in Thérèse’s story is that she didn’t give up even though others would say it was impossible or foolish or childish of her to think she could be called to become a nun.
So what are some steps that you can take in order to be faithful to the calling you feel? You don’t have to petition the pope to get moving on responding to God’s call! Here are a few resources to help get you going:
• “Four steps to hearing your call” by Sister Anita Louise Lowe, O.S.B.
• “How to become a Catholic nun” by A Nun’s Life Ministry
• “Nine ways to open up God's will for you” by Father Michael Scanlan, T.O.R
So keep on the path of Saint Thérèse by pursuing your calling, praying, seeking counsel from others, and exploring how you can most fully be yourself in God.
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