I wish adolescent women weren't soooo in love with the drama of it all. What is it about teenage brains that makes so many of us speak in tabloid headlines? "Annie and Avi BROKE UP!" "Sue got a C in BIOLOGY!" "Sally's parents drove her to the convent AND SHE CRIED ALL THE WAY!"
There must be a way to channel all this adolescent drama into something worthwhile--like compositions, or paintings, or anything, anything but gossip and meltdowns.
Adolescence seems to last a very long time nowadays, and I cringe whenever go to Yahoo to access my email because the Yahoo News headlines address me as if I were thirteen. "Instant Karma to Boy who Hit Blind Kid" is one of the current ones. At least with print news, the headlines last only one day. I am not thirteen, but I am easily excited, which is a fault, and I don't like it pandered to.
When I was a teenager, young women in Canada did not have the option of growing, exciting, new (or old and stubborn) tradition-loving religious orders. The religious orders really seemed down for the count in the 1980s. Joining one seemed almost unthinkable. If you enjoyed spending all your time with elderly women--unusual in an 18 year old--or you weren't embarrassed by all the New Age stuff they seemed to enjoy--unusual in a well-catechized Catholic--then one of us might have thought it was for her. However, the only girl my age I know who attempted the life did so in a self-flagellating way, rumoured to be because she had despaired of ever getting married. Hence, "Sally's parents drove her to the convent AND SHE CRIED ALL THE WAY!"
Well, no wonder. Last one to die, please turn out the lights.
However, since 1990 there has been a a religious life miracle, and all kinds of young women are running away to convents, not out of a sense of despair but out of a sense of having found something really good.
These do not include the girls I know who talked it up as undergrads, presumably as a way of creating drama and interest around themselves. I knew two girls who yakked and yakked about how they were going to become nuns, and I was not at all surprised when they didn't. The women I know best who did become nuns went with a minimum of fuss and fanfare.
What I would love to encourage is more young women visiting religious communities "just to see", bringing perhaps a sympathetic friend, who might also like "just to see." Cloistered convents don't, of course, let you in and out like a jack-in-the-box, but they have guest houses and they are happy to meet with women who might appreciate their life. I've noticed from my visits to the Benedictines at Ryde that the nuns are happy to meet with each other's married friends, too. Really, there's quite a holiday atmosphere at such times, and Benedictines do have a tradition of hospitality.
But the only way to do this respectfully and fruitfully is without drama. There is so much nonsense built around women's religious life--as if it were "throwing your life away" or making a huge, nasty, painful sacrifice. Currently I am reading a depressing novel called One Day, and its heroine spends years working in a bad Mexican restaurant in London, hating every moment. Okay, that's what I call throwing one's life away. The nuns I know live happy fruitful lives, singing, praying, studying, doing housework, harvesting apples and keeping bees.
Naturally there is a sacrifice involved for women who join religious orders. There's sacrifice involved when you get married too--although you may not notice this as much until after you've been married for awhile. Any commitment involves sacrifice. Meanwhile, I have seen two nuns take vows and they did not look scared or solemn or self-sacrificing or teary. They looked blissfully happy. So so much for DRAMA.
Wise teenagers go to check out colleges and universities before they apply to them. They at least look them up on the internet and read reviews. And nobody makes a big deal out of this. ("OMG! Sally's going to WESTERN this weekend!!!!") It would be fantastic if Sally could go visit the Benedictines--a splendid career option, if you ask me---with as little fuss. ("What you doing this weekend, Sally?" "Ah, Sue and I thought we'd go stay with the sisters down at Appley Rise for the weekend, see what it's all about, you know?" "Oh, that's cool. Beats hanging around the house all day." "That's what we thought.")
I know the world tells us we are absolutely nothing without a man in our bed, but the world is a big liar, as we know from the Gospel of Saint John. So it would be a great, good, counter-cultural act to look up growing religious orders on the internet (i.e. those with twenty-somethings in them), grab a sympathetic pal, and write asking for permission to visit for a few days or a weekend. Just to see.
No drama allowed. If you think your nearest and dearest will make a huge fuss, just tell them you're going on retreat to think about your future. Which you are.
Welcome once again, Phatmass! Welcome also to the Dominicans!
P.S. I'm too old, cranky and cradle Catholic to be romantic about religious life. I just think the Benedictines of Saint Cecila's Abbey are lovely women and their Rule very beautiful. Oh, and I don't think religious life is necessarily the happiest life (if such things can be measured). I believe, because the Church teaches this, that it is the best way of life.
Oh, and Sister Mary Catherine OP and any other religious are perfectly welcome to excerpt and link to this post on their websites! :-D
P.S. 2 Back again after having a think about the "happiest life." Living a "happy life" depends a lot on circumstances beyond one's immediate control, but also on oneself and the people one chooses to live among. Just because you're happy with one man, doesn't mean you'd be happy with another, and if one religious order makes you unhappy, this doesn't mean they all would.
Having read an awful lot of Bernard Lonergan, SJ, I take feeling very happy and grateful to God as an indication that you are on the right path: vocation entails a "falling in love." When I first arrived at the Historical House, I was very happy, and when I visited Saint Cecilia's Abbey with my husband (and later by myself), I was happy there, too.