Monday, November 23, 2009

Vocations, Vocations, Vocations Part I

The Harvest is Plentiful
and the Laborers are Few

'Professionalese' has crept into religious life. The person in a monastery of nuns or a congregation of sisters who receives inquiries from those considering a vocation to religious life is called the 'vocation director'. The person who is responsible for the incorporation of new members into the community is called the 'formation director'. We tend these days not to speak in terms of novice mistresses giving training.

My community has entrusted me with both of these tasks. I can speak of firsthand experience as vocation director.

Concerning  formation
work, I have not been that fortunate since no one has entered our community since I took the job. However, I have gained some insight through my own experiences as postulant, novice and first professed while others were trying out their vocation here.

Religious vocations are rare and vocations to contemplative life even more so.  But I am convinced that there are mature woman out there who are hearing the invitation of God to come closer, to go deeper, to take the next step in the direction of their own longing. By mature I do not mean old. I mean women who have some education, who have life experience with people and with work, who have become conscious of their own motivations and behaviors and are willing to look at them honestly and with humilty. Mature women have experienced family life and relationships and know how much effort it takes to live in a 'community' whether at home, in the college dorm, in the workplace, in the parish or the neighborhood. Some have this maturity at 25 and some still lack it at 55. 

The women attracted to contemplative life are usually already women of prayer. They come wanting more prayer and deeper prayer. But often the realities of life consecrated to poverty, chastity and obedience are not what they anticipated. One sister here is fond of reminding, "When you choose, you lose." So there are losses. The women who come have already been on the spiritual journey for a long time. Often they have had ministries of service and/or prayer. But they believe God is calling them to go deeper. It only makes sense, I believe, that the going deeper will not happen without cost. And for each of us the 'cost' will differ, as we differ in life history, in personality type, in experience and in our relational ties outside community. And this last is a big factor for the considerable number of those with children who inquire about our life.

There are some misconceptions out there concerning contemplative life. Yes, it is a life centered on prayer - Mass, Liturgy of the Hours and personal prayer. But a considerable part of the day is also devoted to work - every kind of job you can think of that is required to keep any home clean, organized, repaired and financially solvent. Another misconception is that a contemplative monastery is the ideal place for a person who is having some sort of difficulty in dealing with the challenges of life outside; that the silence and solitude of monastic life is just what is necessary to keep them on an even keel. However, our life with God is lived in a community of people, people with whom we must interact on a daily basis in prayer, work, play and at the dining room table.

This is the life for the women who finds that she can do nothing else; that nothing else in her life makes sense; nothing else is possible, without her being anchored to her Beloved in silence and solitude lived within a likeminded and challenging community. Even if she finds the demands of charity, the subtle formation that takes place in community life at times vexing or painful, she perseveres. Then from somewhere (is it grace, perhaps) comes the willingness, the flexiblity, the painful stretching, the clinging to interior desire that makes it possible to take on  the commitment. From somewhere comes the assurance that the life in which everything is ordered to the will of God as expressed in the vows, the superior, and the community is worth everything. And truth be said, everything is just what it may require.

Please consider using the Prayer for Vocations at the top of the side bar
on a regular basis. It would be wonderful if you would mention our community
of Redemptoristines particularly in your prayer.
And one more thing, please tell others about the richness of
contemplative life and refer them to this blog and our website:


Sly said...

Dear Sister Hildegard,
Thank you for that post. It was educational for me and I quite enjoyed it. How many Sisters are there in your convent? How many women become nuns annually?

Have you written any books about your convent?


Jane O'Brien said...

I just celebrated my silver jubilee of vows. Like you, Hildegard, I was a "late vocation." Your post is so articulate of what the journey has been like for me, too. Thank you so very much for writing it. I turn to your blog every day or so as part of my spiritual reading!

Sr. Hildegard said...

Jane, thanks for your comment. It is good to get some ratification of my personal viewpoint. To know that you can makes use of the material makes the blogging worthwhile.

Annette, I aim to inform so thanks. There are ten, soon to be eleven nuns in our monastery. In the 45 Redemptoristine monasteries throughout the world there are about 375 nuns. Do hunt around the archived blog articles for more insight into our way of life.

Cousin Vinnie said...

I'd like you to take a look at this great orthodox and traditional Irish Catholic blog. They've just posted about a retreat to a Cistercian monastery. looks like something you could tell your readers about and maybe link to or blogroll...

In Christo,

Vin L