Monday, 27 August 2012

Searching Singles Seeking Something Better

I write rarely about Single women who long very much for the religious life. When it comes to discerners, I am more likely to dance a tarantella on the pretensions of male discerners, if they enjoy bouts of angst-filled dating between exciting visits to monastery and seminary.

However, today I am sparing a thought for women who desire, with real longing, religious life and for men who also seriously desire either religious life or the priesthood. I am thinking especially of men and women who have "tried their vocation" with an order or seminary, who are turned away from this order or seminary, and seek admittance at another order or seminary.

When it comes to men and women who so strongly desire religious life or the priesthood that they pick themselves up after a rejection by one order or seminary to risk rejection by another order or seminary, I shut up about pretensions. I feel nothing but respect, compassion and hope for these Catholics.

It can be a terrible shock to discover that a friend has disappeared into a contemplative order to "try her vocation". The last time that happened I felt a great sense of loss, and resentment at not being told, and finally a hope that she will find acceptance and happiness in this convent.

It's not like I will never see her again, as eventually I will be able to visit once a year. And anyway, look at me. I disappeared across the ocean as a foreign spouse and my old friends and family see me only once a year.

It would be nice if you said a quick prayer for my friend right now.

I am thinking also of a young man I know--rapidly not so young--who very much desires the priesthood, has a very good character, and has been turned down again and again from the seminary. I simply do not know why this would be, unless it is because some people mistake his cheerfulness as frivolity unless they bother to get to know him better. He is trying again, sponsored by yet another bishop, so it would be nice if you prayed for him, too.

In constrast, there is another young man, again not so young, who has left his seminary after a significant period and has, not to put too fine a point on it, apostasized from Christianity to chase after a more eastern enlightenment. Although in this case it is all too obvious he did not belong in the seminary, he too needs prayers.

I have never had a strong desire for religious life, so I do not know personally how awful it is to be bounced from convent, monastery or seminary. I do know a lot about rejections, however, about firings and about break-ups, and so my heart is as wrung by someone who is asked to leave a community as it is by someone who gets broken-up with.

Because I write so much for Singles searching husbands, I thought it would be nice to think, today, about Singles searching "something better."

I realized it is controversial nowadays to call religious life "something better", but as a matter of fact the Catholic and East Orthodox traditions have long held consecrated virginity to be ontologically superior to married life. Marriage is humanity-as-usual; consecrated virginity is a sign of the Kingdom. Not everyone is called to it, just as not everyone is gifted with breathtaking beauty, or impressive powers of reasoning, or the athletic skill of an Usain Bolt. But it is nevertheless "something better" and I am full of admiration for those who, despite hearing No and No again, struggle towards the "something better," hoping one day to hear a Yes.

Lord, accept your stubborn children to religious life, or if this is not Your will, please show them more clearly and less painfully the way.


Joan of Quark said...

I tried my vocation for five and a half years, four of which were extremely happy and one and a half of which were a slow physical and mental disintegration.

I'm still not sure if I did the 'right' thing in leaving, but my life has been greatly blessed since I did, so I'm happy to chalk that one up to God's mercy.

That was nearly five years ago; I just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Most of the people I know who have left religious life have done so for sound personal reasons, even if they were slightly embarrassing ones, eg. unresolvable homosexuality, craving to get married, etc.

I think I just succumbed under an avalanche of unresolved angst, hormonal problems, exhaustion due to poor management and bad government in the community (otherwise a most sterling and orthodox religious order), and a growing desire to get the hell out of Dodge.

God is good. Impenetrable sometimes, but always good.

n.panchancha said...

Really great post! And very encouraging. Just wanted to add to the message that God certainly pours out graces, too, when people encounter obstacles in this respect despite their deep desire to become religious sisters [/brothers or priests].

I have a Dominican home parish, and one of the priests initially asked permission (prior to his ordination) to leave the Dominicans and join the Carmelites. Permission was given, and off he went to be a Carmelite. After a year discerning with his new order, however, he was told they didn't think he had a vocation with them, and he had to leave. He went back to the Dominicans. Not surprisingly, asking permission to re-join this order was, he says, the most humbling moment of his life.

Now (besides being a very involved, caring, orthodox, and holy priest for our parish) he also serves as a spiritual director for many women in our diocese discerning religious life. Apparently women who have been rejected from one or more orders often get referred to him, and I imagine it would be a great comfort to speak with someone who had gone through that process (perhaps like, for other kinds of searching singles, hearing from someone called to marriage late in life).

JRM said...

I really enjoyed this post. I spent 8 years in a religious community. I discerned out, not because I didn't feel called, but because the way things were run was unbearable! The community was falling apart. So I left, sure as can be that I would enter another community ASAP! Now I find myself 9 months later, feeling called to marriage... and I'm pretty sure this is the real thing! (not that I have found a potential husband yet)but WTH! So I'm a little nervous to get out on the dating scene, but I'd better start 'cause I'm 28! Anyway, I'd appreciate if you would consider posting about those who have "discerned out"... and give tips to those who for most of their lifetime never gave much thought at all to marriage and then suddenly BAM!

Joan of Quark said...

JRM, your post was very consoling - your summary of why you left was spot on with my own experience as well! The way things were run became unbearable and my community was falling apart too; perpetually professed sisters were leaving, and in some cases simply walking out the front door and never coming back.

I never thought about religious life till I got this sudden, dramatic and very strong call, which I obeyed, and like I say, I was happy for four years, but I'm so glad I didn't make perpetual vows.

I'm still sad about the whole thing sometimes, though.

Therese Ivers, JCL said...

Thanks for bringing this up. I think we don't mention the grief that comes when a loved friend "disappears" into the cloister. St. Therese felt this grief and went into a deep depression when her sister Pauline entered Carmel. It does affect family members and friends.

Kate P said...

I will definitely remember your friend in my prayers.

I know my (single) aunt was very upset when one of her best friends, a very musically talented young woman like her, decided to enter a religious order in the 1990s. My aunt insisted it was the post-traumatic-stress-disorder from the Los Angeles earthquakes that made her friend choose to "throw away her education" and join the order, and for a while we all felt that way. It seemed as if the order really cut her off and took away the things we sent her (like a bathrobe!).

I am happy to say that in recent times, social media has reconnected my aunt and "Sister A"--maybe the order decided there was enough transparency that they could monitor communication?--and Sister A is doing well. But it took a long time to get to that place.

Joan of Quark said...

I'm sorry to read about the grief some have experienced, including you, Seraphic, when a friend 'disappears'.

To me, this shows the lamentable lack of understanding so many good practising Catholics have of what it is to have a religious vocation. You are exactly right, Seraphic, when you point out that you made a huge global move which made you 'disappear' as well! A call to religious life is every bit as imperious - in fact, more so - and every bit as romantic, difficult, passionate and life-changing.

All religious orders are different, but the more enclosed ones actively encourage a real withdrawal from the world, especially in early formation. You MUST do this, because formation requires a total and utter remoulding of your whole self, body and soul, to prepare you for making a lifetime commitment to what is essentially an 'unnatural' life. And you can't do that if you have to spend all your free time (all five minutes of it) writing to people outside, talking to them on the phone, etc. Your real family is now the community, and they get first priority.

Personal ownership is part of this process, which is why presents get returned. If you continue to press them on the sister, you will simply embarrass her and annoy her. If she's growing into her community, she will want to have the same as everyone else, not 'something nice' just for her. Our community suffered from well-meaning but ultimately quite selfish people who would give us nice brightly coloured tights and jumpers, even though we begged over and over again for them not to, because it wasn't part of our habit!

If all this seems too weird, please remember how desperately the Church needs faithful contemplative religious women. They are the lungs of the Church - they breathe in the bad and breathe out the good. Without them, the Church would have disintegrated long ago.

Try to let go and not be selfish! I saw other vocations wrecked in my community because of selfish family members who insisted on constant visiting and used emotional blackmail to 'win' their daughters back. Some of these families were Catholic.

Seraphic said...

Well, I am very sympathetic to the needs of religious and religious communities, but I draw the line at commentators beseeching my readers not to be "selfish."

One of the standard hurts of long-term singleness is people constantly telling single people that they are "selfish."

It is perfectly natural for family and friends to miss their daughters, sisters and friends in the convent. It is up to the would-be postulant to prepare her loved ones for her entrance. (Obviously, she should not just disappear without a word!)

This is especially important now that Catholic culture has collapsed and Catholics by and large are no longer taught to revere contemplative life from infancy.

For forty years ex-nuns have been telling us with their words and actions that conventual life was unnatural, so you cannot blame Catholics for being frightened and bereft when women they care about go into a convent.

Seraphic said...

Meanwhile, Joan, I think you missed the part when I said my friend went in without telling me. That's what I meant by "disappeared." I found out from a third party. And that really, really hurts.

One thing that I should probably stress more often is that our vocations affect other people. Who we choose to marry will affect our ENTIRE FAMILY and many of our friends. If we have children, that affects our ENTIRE FAMILY and many of our friends. (Nobody asked me if I wanted to become an aunt, for example.) If we go into a contemplative convent, that affects our ENTIRE FAMILY and many of our friends.

Everyone has got to remember that Catholicism is not individualism.

Meanwhile, nine months out of the convent after eight years in a religious community is too soon to date, JRM. I hope you are in spiritual direction or therapy as a way to healthily acclimatize back into the world. Twenty-eight is not old.

Actually, I am so worried about you, I think this is post-worthy.