News to the Family
Sr. Julie Viera, IHM is the blogger I would like to be when I grow up! Her blog, A Nun's Life at http://anunslife.org is just terrific. She is doing a tremendous service to religious life by demystifying it, publicizing its past and current achievements of service, and giving valuable information to those who are considering vowed religious life. Her question today is about family. How does one break the news of a religious vocation to the family? How does one present the determination to enter a contemplative monastic community; a cloistered monastery of nuns. Of course, this has its own particular set of issues for younger people whose families are looking forward to the achievements coming from the college education they bankrolled and parents who are eagerly awaiting the arrival of grandchildren, that great reward of their own years of hard work and sacrifice.
But my case is a bit different because when I had to present my intentions to my parents I was 55 years old, had already used that college education and then some, and had presented them with three grandsons. One would have thought that the job of being a good daughter had been fulfilled. Not so. As my mother reminded me when she expressed concern over my well-being after having had a baby, "You will always be my baby."
It is quite amazing to think that the very same fears that kept me from following through on the call to religious life when I was a teenager were still hanging around some 40 years later. A bit of background is necessary here. While I was raised in a culturally Italian household; while my parents were diligent about their two daughters being educated in the faith and receiving the sacraments; neither of them went to church, nor did the other two adults in our nuclear family. Many people find that hard to believe especially since my faith has always been so vital to me. My parents felt that religious education was good moral education but it did not go further than that. Nor were children given much leeway in our home. Expectations were high.
After public elementary school, I attended a high school where the teachers were the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood both familiar and attractive to me in the parish setting where, probably in eighth grade, the idea of becoming a sister emerged. It remained in my head and in my heart all during high school. I followed the advice of older girls headed for the convent and visited a priest they had found helpful. But when it came to telling my parents, I just could not do it. I could not muster the courage to deal with all that I knew would have to be endured. Eventually college and love stepped in and the rest is history.
At the age of 55, my three sons were well on their way; the old and very inexpensive mortgage was almost completely paid off; and the always lingering desire was blooming. Where secular institutes had refused me because I was too old, it looked like the Redemptoristine Nuns had never totally given up on old ladies. The community knew me well; a three month live-in experience confirmed what I thought was God's will for me; and the application was made. I did not approach my parents until I had been officially accepted and then only with the advice and support of a counselor and the promise of support from my sons. And this last was my salvation.
I invited my parents to come for dinner. My middle and youngest sons were to be present and they knew it was my plan to break the news. I said to my parents, "Remember how I spent last summer at the monastery. Well that was not just for a long retreat. I was testing the waters to see if I really wanted to enter the community. And now that is what I am going to do. I will finish teaching in six months and then I will enter the community for a trial period." Just what I had expected to be said 40 years before was spoken at that table. It was painful to hear the disappointment and the scolding voices. But something happened which I did not expect and it lightened my heart. I was seated at the head of the table with my parents on one side and my sons on the other. The conversation soon turned into a ping pong match between the sides and I just sat quietly while my sons respectfully did battle for me. I was so proud and happy. Finally, my middle son said to his grandparents, "We don't really understand this either but we know how much Mom has done for us and for others. She has let us do what we wanted to do. How can we not support her in this?" My parents had no answer and no understanding of the generosity and acceptance being expressed by my sons.
How did it all turn out? My sons, daughter-in-law, sister and parents came to be present at my entrance. My parents visited me in the monastery every 6 weeks or so until about three years ago when their ages became a factor. They have been comforted by seeing that I am not hidden away from them and am still part of the family although in a different way. They know, and this grows in importance with each passing year, that if they should need me I can be there for them. Since they are not "church types" they seemed quiet observers of the rituals of my first profession, all quite new to them. But gradually they have grown more and more comfortable. Now my mother closes phone calls with, "Send my love to the ladies." On the occasion of my solemn profession, my father told me, "I am glad that you have found your place."