Monday, 11 November 2013

An Utterly Awesome Option

Okay, I was Single for a really long time, and none of my crush objects fell for me in high school, so even when I was nineteen I hated people asking me if I had ever considered being a nun. I felt extremely cheesed off, as if what these people, arms entwined around the waists of spouses or partners in at least minor sexual sins, were saying was, "Listen, we all know you'll never get a man, so why not just give up now?"

HOWEVER I am just back from a weekend spent visiting an enclosed order of nuns, and I would be really furious with everyone, including my teenage self, who spoke, thought or acted like nun life is second-rate, were I not so blissed out from being around such beauty from Friday Vespers until after Saturday Vespers.

B.A. and I were at the abbey to see a blogger-pal, once known online as Boeciana, take her final vows as a Benedictine and to sneak a peak at our other blogger-pal Berenike, who disappeared behind the big wooden doors a year ago without so much as a party or a "toodle-oo!" Lots of other people wanted to see them, too, so forty or so ordinary non-professed types crowded into the people's tiny transept in the abbey church.

The abbey church is set up so that ordinary non-nun layfolk can access the church by an outside door. We sit in this aforementioned transept, and so look at the altar sideways. The altar is on a platform in the sanctuary, which priests can get to by going through the gate in the low black altar rail in the people's transept. The sanctuary is divided from the nave, which is enclosed and thus just for the nuns, by a tall screen of ornate black metal bars. This tall screen has gates, too. The nuns process into the nave through big wooden doors to the convent. The priests can't go into the nave. They give communion from the sanctuary.

Essentially, we were all in an inverted L shape, with a place in the church assigned to everyone according to our state in life. The priest or priests and any altar server can see the nuns, but the public can see them only if we cleverly snaffle the pews on the far left of the mini-transept, and then we can see them only as they come through the convent doors. They then disappear somewhere out of view of the transept, and the most beautiful Gregorian chant you have ever heard in your puff rings out from the nave.

Women who have a hankering to be priests could be cured, I think, if they attended the Office or Mass in this Benedictine convent because, my goodness gracious me, talk about "women's active participation." Whew! Obviously, one has to pay attention when the priest or bishop is speaking and to the Canon, but when the nuns sing, it is like a visitation of angels.

Naturally the Benedictines at this abbey all wear proper Benedictine habit of black robes and white wimples, with black veils on the professed nuns, and white veils on the novices. They have brown leather belts and black slippers. Most of them wear glasses and look about nineteen, unless they are over 60, in which case they look perhaps 45. And also at this Abbey, even thought it is not an Old Rite sort of place, all the Offices and Mass and the Professions are in Latin. (We the people are provided with programs with both Latin and English.) The nuns are all taught how to sing, and sing they do with the sweetness and clarity of silver bells. It is their principal job, after all.

The Profession, i.e. the Sister who used to be Boeciana taking her final vows, was more beautiful, holy, dignified and joyful than any wedding I have ever seen in my life. Really, I am on the brink of floods of tears thinking about it now. The gates of the sanctuary were opened, and the Bishop sang (not too well, but you know how it is): "Veni, filia, audi me, timorem Domini docebo te." (Come, daughter, listen to me, and I will teach you fear of the Lord.)

And then the most beautiful female voice I had ever heard, sang the Latin for "Now with all my heart I follow You; it is You I fear, and Your face I long to see. Oh Lord, do not disappoint me; deal with me gently and according to the greatness of your Mercy."

And then there there came into the sanctuary a tall, slim nun with glasses, a white veil and a lit candle, with two nuns with black veils as attendants, looking expectantly at the bishop. Her song was so plaintive that I was surprised that, when the Bishop asked her (in Latin) if she wanted to be "more intimately consecrated to God by the bond of the monastic profession," her "Volo" was so strong and confident. Indeed, it was almost droll. I remembered then that this particular nun had gone to Oxford and later got a doctorate in history.

Her spoken responses and vows were clear and confident; her sung prayers were super-feminine--really, it was a devastating combination. And then there was the Rite of Consecration of Virgins, which most definitely emphasized that virginity is beautiful and not a burden or a joke, and the sister-who-was-Boeciana lay down flat on her face like a priest being ordained while everyone except the Protestant guests sang the Litany of the Saints.

Now at that moment, my happiness for the Sister-who-once-was-Boeciana, who was radiant and had been smiling with pure joy, was shot through a bit with regret for Seraphic-who-used-to-be-a-virgin-herself. Fortunately, I didn't cease to be one until the first time I was married, although I made out like a bandit, alas, alas, nobody told me it was wrong, etc. However, it still seems all a bit of a shame and a waste, especially as I never had any children, and it would have been a lot better to have been where the sister-who-was-once-Boeciana was lying now. Obviously the older and more worldly I got, the less of a good fit I was for a Benedictine convent, but that is entirely my own fault. Fortunately, Benedict Ambrose was right beside me, so I wasn't too sad. If you end up a divorced-and-annulled sardonic storyteller like me, a nice husband like Benedict Ambrose is an amazing gift displaying the great mercy and generosity of God. I really have no right to complain for myself ever again.

So I was not overwhelmed with regret, just a tiny bit ticked off that nobody told me or, at least, that nobody outside of a book every told me that a traditional Benedictine profession is more beautiful than a wedding, and that every Catholic teenage girl should at least visit a cloistered community of Catholic nuns to see if she is attracted to their life. Heaven knows how many women long for men's love only because we are told over and over again that there is nothing better than that in this whole world, except maybe the love of children. Meanwhile, there was a child in the transept being noisy and naughty throughout the Mass and Profession, a wonderful reminder that marriage and children are not without headaches. Indeed, some young mother or father didn't get to see as much as she or he wished, for the howls disappeared outdoors--in the rain.

How it rained! And how cold was the visitors' hallway! There the priests, monks, marrieds and singles stood around eating a buffet lunch and waiting for it to be time for the "Festive Recreation." The Benedictine nuns, being cloistered, were having their own lunch in the mysterious depths of the convent, and didn't make an appearance until after 2 PM. At some point the doors to the visitors' half of the "Large Parlour" were opened, and I caught sight of some jolly nuns waving and smiling at me from behind the grille--not mesh like a confession grille, but tall, gilt-painted bars set into a waist-height wooden wall, sort of like at an old fashioned bank. So I zipped in and tried to catch the eye of white-veiled Berenike and, failing, chatted with Sister Mary D--, who had read my "The Flyer's Ring" and possibly even "The Bodis Riper," gracious.

Eventually the other people of the world crowded in, and we sat and watched the Festive Recreation through the bars. The sisters read us poetry and comic monologues, sang songs and played instruments. And when the little show was over, there was a rush to the grille, as if two lots of iron filings flying to the sides of a magnet, and a long line of nuns chatted eagerly with an eager crowd of world. The nuns all looked very well and happy. I can't decide, though, if this is because they always look like that, or because seeing such a big crowd of old friends and new people was a hilarious treat. Still, the nun-who-was-once-Boeciana has been there for about six years, and she was obviously eager to promise to spend the rest of her life there, so I suspect they usually look like that.

Such hand-shakings, and face-kissings, and news-exchangings! After all our travels, I was feeling very tired, so eventually I just sat and gazed at my two nun friends, especially Berenike, whom I love so much, and at other visiting friends, whom I see so rarely. The two sisters were allowed to stay as long as they liked, so we got to see and talk to them until shortly before Vespers, when off they flew.

And then some of us visitors left, but many of us stayed for Vespers and, for Benedict Ambrose and I, last glances (for now) at our friends and to hear the nuns sing so beautifully. This time, I recognized the other sisters, too, and recollected little bits of information I had got from them. One of the younger sisters had not gone to university, but had entered at age 19. An older one had entered 12 years ago, after working as a secretary. Another young one had, I think, gone to the University of Saint Andrews and entered after graduation. I wished I had asked more of them what they had done before they entered, so that I could tell all of you.

For here comes the pitch. I love B.A. and I like being married, and I have a pretty easy life because B.A. is so generous and easy-going. But I recognize that it is a very worldly life, especially because we haven't been given any children to sacrifice for. We don't make a lot of money, so we don't have worldly hobbies: our wild vacation paradises are Kraków and Rome where we spend a goodly amount of time in churches, as you can imagine. We both feel lucky that we managed to meet each other, and this was literally because Boeciana and Berenike read my blog and became my friends, which is to say, the intercession of the sort of women who become nuns. We know perfectly well that we are not as good as the most God-centred of our friends, and we are very lucky that they like us so much.

I think it would be awesome if more young women had the encouragement to at least VISIT a community of cloistered nuns. Everybody in the universe encourages you to do this or that to attract a husband, but the best husband any woman could ever have is the Man who is wedded to us, the Church. And all you have to do to attract this Man, is to pray to Him and strive to do His will. And if you think you would enjoy a life of praising Him and living with women who think the same way you do--not to mention living in a beautiful place where the ugliness of modern life can't get you--then I encourage you to follow up on this feeling in a concrete, active way.


MCN Hobbs said...

Congratulations to Boeciana!

I've been vaguely fascinated by nuns since I was a little girl because of the Sound of Music, as I always felt very mush like Maria.

Did you hear the cast of the new Sound of Music went to go visit a convent in New Jersey? I wonder if it had an impact on them or if was just a LCWR-ish place...

It's only six months since I've officially become a Catholic, so I'm waiting for some of the zeal of the newly received to wear off before I make serious life decisions either way.

Seraphic said...

Why? Strike while the iron's hot, I say. Convert zeal is great and nobody lets you make permanent vows to anything without some SERIOUS thought, time and prayer.

Thank heavens for converts! Boeciana is a convert, and my Seminarian Pretend Son is a convert. I think converts see a lot of stuff we cradles either miss or are inoculated against.

What I don't like about "The Sound of Music" is that the nuns are mostly old and comic, and being the next Baroness Von Trapp is presented as being WAY better. And Maria comes back from her honeymoon all subdued and wise and well-behaved like she now sees the error of her free-spirited ways. (A big contrast to young nuns who, in my experience, giggle quite a lot.) Not to make the best the enemy of the good here, of course.

Sheila said...

I can't even go to things like this because I get too overwhelmed with the might-have-beens. I *did* know about religious life when I was in high school -- I read A Right to be Merry, which I would recommend to anybody -- but instead of discerning with a thousand-year-old order with experience and credentials, I went with a new and bad one. When things didn't work out very well, they adamantly told me to go get married, which I did, and of course I am happy and it all worked out .... but still I wonder, what if I had discerned with the Poor Clares like I originally wanted to? Would they have accepted me where New Bad Order didn't? Or would they at least have given me some sense of closure and contentment instead of the "oh I'm not good enough for Jesus" complex I got?

Sigh, sigh. Being a nun would be lovely. So much less drama. Getting to sit through a Mass without being climbed on or beating a swift retreat to the vestibule would be so nice. And yet, I think through the winding road I went through, I *did* find my true vocation, so no regrets. Still, I sob through professions of any kind, and never got to go to those of my two sisters-in-law. A third one is going into the convent now, my goodness! Religious life certainly is alive and well after all!

Seraphic is right. Go visit a convent while you're still single. Pick a good one. Don't think of it as a sacrifice -- think of it as a judicious choice between very good things. Of course to receive a good thing (like quiet prayer time) you have to sacrifice other good things (like the babies who interrupt prayer time) so the question is just what goods you want the most.

Seraphic said...

There's a lovely part of the Solemn Prayer of Consecration that goes like this (in the English translation): "No prohibition has diminished the honour of matrimony, and your first blessing remains upon its holy union, but You have granted that nevertheless there should be some souls who, guided by your Providence, renounce the chaste bond of marriage." It's as if all the celibates in the church--the bishop, the visiting priests, abbots and monks, and all the nuns--are being very careful not to trample all over marriage while "Holy virginity has acknowledged its Author, and, rivalling the integrity of the angels, has consecrated itself to the bridal chamber of him who is the Spouse of perpetual virginity just as he is the Son of perpetual virginity."

You are so right about picking a GOOD order to visit. I would advise that girls prick up their ears when they hear people whose spirituality they respect (or share) praising this particular community or that. The names of some communities in the UK and the USA get repeated over and over, especially in terms of the YOUNG women they are attracting.

MichelleMarie said...

It kind of makes me sad to read about other people's regrets regarding their vocations. How about instead of the "what-ifs", we trust God's all-encompassing providence? You are both exactly where God wants you to be. And I, being very very single, am I also exactly where I'm supposed to be. God in His infinite wisdom has steered me, us, exactly to the place in our lives where we are. He didn't want either of you to be sisters, He wanted you to be married, and His will was and is being done!

So how about we all accept our own states in life, still seeing the merits of the other states but without that wistful grass is greener mentality?

Nzie said...

For any Seraphic readers looking for info, I'd suggest liking Imagine Sisters on Facebook. It's run by nuns and they often share things from various orders and have been working on a film to encourage vocations.

We went to a Carmelite profession once. It was interesting. My parents encouraged me to consider a religious calling. I don't feel particularly called to it right now, but I have not ruled it out. At this point, however, I have a lot of student debt I'd have to take care of. Some orders can handle it (such as ones that run businesses) but others can't.

I have a friend who's a sister, and my mom works with a publishing order. My experience around nuns is that a good order or convent has joyful sisters.

Rose said...

When I read In This House of Brede about five years ago, I remember finishing it and thinking to myself, "If there were even the slightest chance that I was being called to the religious life, I would feel it now." The fact is, up until I was about eight or so I would tell people I was going to be a nun when I grew up, but that was primarily because of my mom constantly telling me, "You're going to grow up to be a nun in France and then I will come visit you."

The fact is, as beautiful as the religious life is, I feel called to be married. Sadly, it's probably a bit simpler to find the right order to join than it is to find the right man to marry! I would love to attend a profession someday though - it sounds amazing.

Seraphic said...

MichelleMarie, we're not really sad. What we have here are two married women showing respect to religious life. We think it's really beautiful, and we hope younger women will get a chance to at least see what religious life is like. Marriage (or, really, sex'n'romance) is pushed at girls all our lives, and it would be nice if there was more balance.

Jo said...

Nzie, you are so right about student debt. Even some of the more traditional orders, when hosting open houses, information sessions and such, don't seem to understand the enormity of it for some people. I once was chatting with the vocation director of an order who was convinced at first sight that I was 'perfect' for their community until I explained my student loans...I don't know if this was just obliviousness or the slight disingenuousness that some vocation directors sometimes make a habit of. Obviously debt is to be avoided if possible, but I'm really not a fan of forcefully encouraging people to get all their seriously discerning done before going off to [usually expensive] university. Vocations are not universally assigned by God at age 19.

It's less rare than people think for low-to-middle class students, especially at private universities in America, to finish college with debt they may be paying off until age 40, not even considering law or medical school. What if they don't hear the call until after college? Should they be doomed to a life of penance and prayer while permanently barred from a vocation they earnestly desire? I've always been somewhat perplexed about the age-limits imposed by female religious communities. I've witnessed plenty of older men become deacons and priests after a long secular career or the death of a spouse-why are some female religious communities so much more restrictive? (I've heard the usual reasoning that there's a certain point at which is 'too far gone' for someone to integrate into community life...but that's never quite made sense to me-there's no upper age limit for marriage, for instance). We always hear stories of widows in ages past becoming nuns, but that's less possible now with the changes in life expectancy far surpassing the cutoff age for religious communities. I'm curious if some communities might become more open to making exceptions for women to enter their communities later due to the burdens of student debt if the vocations seem genuine. Centuries ago, there were many cases where girls from poor families were encouraged to enter religious life because it ensured stability and the satisfaction of basic material, seriously discerning religious life can seem pointless to the most indebted who may be decades away from paying off their loans.

Seraphic said...

There are so many different orders. Some will take older women, including widows. Some take only younger women, meaning women under 40. Some orders are looking for career women with technical knowledge, and some orders aren't.

Once upon a time, women were expected to bring a DOWRY with them to the convent. I once met a non-cloistered teaching nun who said she got her teaching diploma and began to teach so she could earn the money for her dowry, only to be told by the order that she didn't need a money dowry--her teaching certificate was enough! And, indeed, as hers was a teaching order, she was most definitely the kind of young woman they were looking for.

My thinking on vocation is that God calls you when He calls you, but you have to be open to His call, whatever it might be. This can be super-painful when He doesn't call you (or you don't hear the call) until you are, like I was, 37 or so. But I really do think the first stage of vocation is a sincere wish to follow a certain way of life, and unless you are properly introduced to them all, you are going just to want to get a boyfriend "like everyone else" and think this is " a vocation."

I think an age-limit might be a good way to encourage young women to make up their minds at the beginning of their adult lives, when they have the most to give. I don't know if we can get any madder at the most attractive orders for wanting young women than we get at the most attractive men (e.g. the 20-somethings) for also wanting younger women.

And, indeed, a very nice group of active-in-the-world nuns asked me to think about joining them when I was 33 or so, and another nice group of nuns, elderly contemplative Dominicans out in British Columbia, actually wrote me a letter to invite me to their order, bless them, when I was 35 or 36. But, like the majority of young women (I suspect), I did not want to spend the rest of my life as "the youngest one", taking care of all the rest until I was the last woman standing. My personal charism is more with helping those younger than me than older, and indeed B.A. himself is a trifle younger than me!

Seraphic said...

But this does not address the problem of debt. That is indeed a very real problem.

I suppose one solution would be to live at home and work very hard to clear the loan, so that one would be free to join an order.

I see on their website that the Nashville Dominicans note that sometimes women do not consider the religious life before they are 28 or 29. When I talked to them, I was 35. They said they'd be interested in talking to me if I had not been previously married. I I were 24 and previously married, okay. Or if I were 35 and never married, okay. But 35 and previously married---noooo. But take heart that the Nashville Dominicans were open to at least considering a 35 year old.

My guess is that a competent vocations director would talk with a 20-something college grad about how she might have a relationship with the community while she cleared her debt.

Seraphic said...

And I have just looked, and the upper age limit for my friends' wonderful order is 40!

Jam said...

I don't have debt so I can't talk but -- I've seen fundraisers for people with vocations and debt; the Knights of Columbus give grants, I believe (check your local parishes, I know my dad's chapter does this for sons/daughters of members as well as local people generally); there is at least one organization dedicated to the work of paying off debt to free up vocations. So if you are accepted to an order (with all the discernment work that would go before), it seems not impossible to at least mitigate some of that debt; and so discernment probably shouldn't wait for the debt to be cleared. But as I say, I can't talk.

I visited the convent you're describing, Auntie, a few years ago, and approached the gate with butterflies in my stomach, not only because I was sort of wandering around in a foreign place hoping I knew where I was going, but also because I was half expecting to be struck with a Call or some sort of magnetic draw while I was there. But I wasn't; granted it was only two and a half days.

I feel the same sort of sadness about doing one of those set discernment retreats as I do about signing up for a dating website; which I think just means I'm self-centered and prideful. But since the retreat is both more palatable and more in my power I guess I should get over myself.

Trying to be sensible said...

Seraphic, thank you for sharing such a beautiful moment! Your piece has made me think more about the religious life in a positive light than I have for a long time--mostly because I've become so jaded by the scrupulous types who are always pushing it as "the higher life" and telling us that marriage is for wimps and those whose cupidity requires a safe outlet. So it's really refreshing to hear someone who is married talk about the beauty of the religious life...

Nzie said...

I know the Daughters of St. Paul cut off at 30. That makes me sad, because I'll be 28 next spring and they're an order I could see myself in. I have heard that they do have to handle student loans; the fact that they do have a business helps, but I'm in law school -- that means A LOT of debt I'd feel bad about foisting on them. Or think of a teaching order - no way would they be able to pay it back. The likelihood of my getting a job where I can pay the loan back in 2-3 years is exceedingly low.

On the other hand, I do feel God's led me to where I am, so if I'm supposed to be with an order before I can pay the debt off, he'll make a way for it to happen, or he'll send me to an order after I've paid it off. Trust in God, trust in God, trust in God... something I say to myself about the job search as well.

Girl with the yellow hat said...

For anyone (male or female) that is considering a religious vocation but needs to put it on hold due to student debt, look up this group.
I met one of the consultants at a meeting of the Catholic Medical Association in California two weeks ago. They seem awesome and organized:)

Laika said...

I wanted to be a nun when I was small, mainly after reading about St. Therese, but I am not considering it now, because I would be an absolutely rubbish nun :D.
Seriously, after talking to me for about 5 minutes, anyone would laugh at the possibility.
(I am also extremely fond of good-looking men.)
Nuns are awesome, though.

Heather in Toronto said...

Nzie, I know a bunch of Daughters of St Paul and they are indeed awesome. If you do see yourselves inclined to their mission, get to know them anyway! If it's meant to be, then as long as you already have a relationship with them by the time your "expiry date" comes up, it can still happen. I know this, because a friend whom I met when she was in her novitiate had been getting close to the age "cutoff" during her discernment and they made an exception for her to enter later. She's since made her perpetual profession.

The reason I stopped discerning with them was not because I passed my expiry date, but because we came to a mutual decision that I didn't in fact have a call to their community life. (But I still identify with their mission, hang out with them, do some casual part time stuff for them, etc.)

Jo said...

Jam, the issue with all of those 'fund for vocations' causes (and I hesitate to call it an 'issue,' because they are wonderful and very needed efforts and are helping a lot of young people get into religious life faster) is that they are only able to support a very limited applicant pool, and even then, you usually have to already have been at least provisionally 'accepted' into a community in order to participate. 'Living at home and working hard' while receiving assistance from these programs might be a plausible path for some with moderate debt, but for those who have upwards of $50, $100, or even $200,000 in loans after graduate or professional school (pretty common for med students), religious life is usually confined to a distant fantasy.

I guess I'm more trying to channel the inevitable guilt of those who've worked hard at their professional formation and had to rely on loans and constantly face parishes and diocesan programs pointedly asking the young and relatively fresh-faced unmarrieds, "Have you ever considered religious life?" It's not that we've never thought about a religious vocation, but practically speaking, it will never be a plausible reality that we could aspire to (we're just thankful for the ability to pay our bills each month and the opportunity to go to Mass!). This is why lay apostolates like CL and Opus Dei are becoming increasingly important, especially to young working people. Of course I've had the fortune of understanding professional life as a vocation of sorts, but usually when the idea of 'vocation' is bandied about at the average parish, it's still almost exclusively focused on priests and religious. Our modern world needs priests and religious, of course, but I think there are a *HUGE* number of young people in parishes who are being left out of the 'vocation' discussion because the concept of 'vocation,' despite JPII's emphasis on the 'universal call to holiness,' is still seen as only something clergy or consecrated people have to worry about.

Midwest Miss said...

I was raised at a monastery and remember thinking, at the tender age of 5 or so, how lovely it would be if only I could be a nun and have children.
So for a long while I just thought how lovely it would be to go to a monastery after my children were raised, should I outlive my husband, or to keep an open heart to something like Rafael Ayau.

But last month friends and I took a trip to another monastery, and for the first time I thought, "You know, I could be happy here." I don't feel called, I don't have any intent to quit my job and become a novice...but it's comforting, that quiet thought. That this path could be fulfilling, too.

Seraphic said...

Oh, Jam! That sounds a bit lonely, you and your butterflies. I hope it wasn't raining.

A huge part of the attraction for me, at this abbey, was the fact that I have friends in it, and we have mutual friends, etc. Women from my church community in Edinburgh often travel down to make retreats there--it's like "our" abbey. So in my case (speaking as a married woman, of course, so it is very unlikely I'll ever be on the sisters's side of the grilles) there are strong concrete, historical circumstances and personal ties.

I can't really imagine rushing across the world to go to a convent full of complete strangers--although I did consider it when I called up the Nashville Dominicans when I was 35 and living in Boston. I think "Call" is really more likely to happen among friends. Certainly when I met B.A., it was a natural extension of my blogging and meeting B.A.'s friends online and over Skype, etc.

Seraphic said...

Incidentally, I am horrified by all this student debt. Why on earth would anyone take on SO MUCH DEBT when it turns you into a wage slave until you are over 30 or even 40?

Have we all collectively gone insane? Personally I am furious at the college/university culture. Everyone gets mad at bankers, but the universities seem increasingly like a pyramid scheme in which only a tiny number of carefully connected graduate students actually get decent jobs and therefore "win". Undergrad tuition and boarding at Boston College was $40,000 a year seven years ago; my lay professors lived very well indeed. One lived in a mansion in Chestnut Hill; I was staggered by the luxury.

What really kills me is that girls will rack up $100,000 in student loans and then get married, have children and, naturally, want to stay at home with their children. What a hideous mortgaging of the future!

Julia said...

This has been such a fascinating discussion!

I went to a school founded by Josephite nuns (an Australian order founded by St Mary MacKillop and Fr Julian Tennyson Woods). I think two nuns remained in the convent, and we students never had much to do with them. I don't remember vocations ever being discussed with us. The Sisters of St Joseph have become very liberal, and as far as I know, they don't attract many women anymore.

I'm grateful that I'm an Australian studying in Australia. I don't think our student debts are so debilitating. We get interest-free loans from the government, and the repayments are taken out of our tax once we earn over a certain amount per year. I'm pretty sure the government straight-up pays some of the tuition too without expecting repayments. We can get discounts on remaining debt if we make voluntary repayments over a certain amount too (that might change soon though). And then many postgraduate courses are totally free as well. I feel terrible for North Americans who have large student debts. $100K? That makes me want to weep.

HappyToBeHere said...

As Julia says, Australians are very blessed, because if we enter the convent it means we never earn above the 'now-you-have-to-pay-us-back' threshold, and hence we essentially have no student debt.

In the case of other countries, though ... I have one encouraging story :) A dear friend from the USA wanted to join a convent in Texas, and there was only seven weeks between her being accepted and the date for her to enter, and in that time had to raise over $US40,000 to clear her student debt. And she did. She just prayed, and God provided that money in extraordinary ways. I saw her a few weeks into this fundraising period and it was like someone had cracked an egg of peace on her forehead, and total trust and joy had oozed and dribbled down over her face. She was radiant.

If it's God's will, then he will pick up the bill, as someone said once. Or, as a priest said to my brother, after my brother had exclaimed that 32million Euros was a lot of money (the priest had spent it recently in serving his parish), "A lot of money? Not to God."

(I write the above and yet at the same time my parents have been in dire financial straits for many years, so I know that while God provides we can also sometimes feel as if we are banging our head against a very solid wall. But anyway ... that is the tension of trying to live for heaven while still on earth.)

Jo said...

Not to drag this thread on forever, but at least in my experience in the US, the social capital for successful careers is still largely only available through participation in university life, and despite the burgeoning landscape of 'state' schools (which are becoming increasingly less 'state-funded' each year as tax allocations decrease), private schools still command a lot of this power/influence/however you'd like to couch the concept (e.g., hot spots for big-name companies to recruit from). Not ti say success can't come in other ways, but it is much less straight-forward.

As for the 'school debt-before-marriage' phenomenon: there is no guarantee about if/when/how theoretical future husband might appear, but there is a sure guarantee that there will be rent, bills, etc. to pay. It is considerably easier to survive without a husband than without a job, and college, regardless of expense, remains a surer guarantor of that than other paths, on average.

Seraphic said...

What I hear you saying is that Americans HAVE to go into debt now, sometimes to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, in order to become employable in future, i.e. to eat and have shelter, paying back the loans, presumably with interest, and of course taxes, too. This doesn't suggest to me that the USA is the "home of the free" anymore. You're paying protection money to the banks and the universities just to get a decent job.

Well, all the more reason for parents to make sure that their daughters know that there is a way out of all this, in which they can serve our Lord in a beautiful way, and it is to bypass the college system to embrace religious life, debt-free, where they WILL be given opportunities to learn for the joy of learning and to teach others. The Tennessee Dominicans, for example, are a teaching order, and so receive the education needed to teach Catholic children. Both Benedictine and Dominican nuns (and probably other orders) spend their lives not just in work and prayer but in reading and learning.

Of course, most American girls won't feel drawn to religious life--and how could they, as the 24/7 message of pop culture is that women MUST be sexually attractive to men OR rich OR both? But if it were presented positively to them, and they saw how beautiful and happy the conventual life, then more of them might embrace it. This would mean more happy women, more women challenging the myths that enslave and degrade women (and men, too), and more completely dedicated Catholic teachers who actually believe the Catholic faith in its entirety.

Meanwhile, I have a university education, and I am very glad I have it, and none of it was a waste (even at BC, for those years fuelled my writing), but I didn't have to go into huge debt for it, thank God, my parents, the Canadian university system, and the Canadian lack of class distinction based on what uni you went to. McGill, U of T, Western, Simon Fraser: all state funded, all good reputations, and nobody thinks McGill or Queens grads belong to some super-class over those who went to Laurentian or York.

Sheila said...

Sadly, you are quite right, Seraphic. It's not the home of the free anymore. My parents paid a lot of my tuition and my scholarship paid the rest... so now I am saddled with my *husband's* massive debt. And even with a masters degree, he still can't get a job in his field! Pretty much everyone I know my age is in debt and underemployed.

To add insult to injury, we have to pay social security tax every month. I don't understand why, but we still pay thousands a year toward it even though we're too poor to have to pay income tax. That goes to fund older people's retirement, but it's well known that by the time I am old, it won't be there. We are supposed to save for retirement ourselves -- which is impossible, of course, because we pay it all in social security!

Sigh. I understand why orders wouldn't want to take this on, and why they don't want to take middle-aged people on and end up being a free retirement for them. But it is hard ... poverty can definitely stand in the way of a vocation. :(

I am sorry I came across as regretful -- a better word would be wistful. The way I feel when someone else gets a doctorate (where's my doctorate?) or has a baby girl (where's MY baby girl?). It's I guess the feeling St. Therese had when she wanted to choose "everything!" I feel wistful that I can't enjoy every vocation. I wouldn't give mine up for the world, though.

My best advice for avoiding the "bad" orders is to find someone who already discerned there, and is back home again. Ask them if the congregation treated them with respect even after finding out they were not going to be "of use," and if they still like and respect the order even though it turned out not to be for them. They can give you a more honest view.

Therese Ivers, JCL said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences at the Profession. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall with you all. Ever since I read In This House of Brede, I have been wanting to attend a Benedictine Profession with the Consecration of Virgins. All of the Consecrations I have been to thus far, including my own, have been of Virgins in the world.

I am also glad you picked up on what the Prayer of Consecration says about marriage. Consecrated virgins- whether religious or secular- are bound to pray for the married and it is expected that people in both vocations give each other a good example and encouragement.

Seraphic said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it!