The Guardian newspaper has a regular women’s feature as far as I know; furthermore they expressed an interest in nuns, some time ago. But not being a regular reader, I’m not sure whether or not the reasons for choosing this way of life have been explored in it’s columns. Not to mention the revised reasons for opting to stay. I suppose that any chosen way of life requires regular re-commitment, and even more so in an age when the idea of commitment itself has become a contested one.
On Thursday I was due to attend a Vocations Team meeting in our Killarney community; but having missed my intended train, I was faced with a 2-hour wait at Heuston for the next one. As one does in distress, I opted for coffee and made my way into the Galway Hooker. Ensconsing myself at a little corner table, I re-read the extract on American research, which I had copied out for discussion at this afternoon’s meeting. Apparently most young women who now show an interest in becoming nuns, are traditional in outlook, as suggested by their preference for wearing a habit. They also want to live, work and pray with members of their chosen community and are attracted by observing examples of this in practice. Single living has no appeal for them, nor indeed does work outside the order, even when this has an ecumenical aspect. Holding a job in a secular arena is a deterrent in their estimation of a desirable form of religious life. So are they seeking an escape from the modern day pressures and preoccupations of the workplace, as has been suggested? Personally I think that anyone joining a strictly contemplative order, without a profound sense of calling and a deep and personal love of God would not stay long, if indeed, she were admitted in the first place.
But my concern is with my own order’s ‘mixed life’. This is a term for our vocation to an active apostolic ministry, grounded in and supported by a prayer life which has a strong contemplative basis. I myself have called it a ‘mixed-up life’ at times, when the two-way tug of professional work and community prayer was almost unsustainable. Given more flexibility nowadays, this tension is less. But the contemplative aspectcan sometimes suffer, unless an early discipline has turned into a real love affair with God. (This relationship with God is not the prerogative of vowed religious alone, far from it. But the universal call to discipleship is for another discussion).
Getting back to my day job, vocation promotion and the reason for the Killarney meeting, I wonder for the umpteenth time, what it is I should be doing, saying, writing or shouting from the housetops. Maybe my paralysis in all these areas, is causing others to miss out on a life which for me and for many others, is a happy and fulfilled one, even with all the up’s and down’s of any human existence. Whether or not my current silence is due to demoralization, maybe it is still reprehensible. The thought of going public however, even for a scribbler like me, is daunting.
In the Galway Hooker after the reassuring coffee, I remember that I have not yet said Morning Prayer, something I usually do with the Gort Muire community before Mass. I therefore produce my little book; and as always when alone, and in a dithering phase, the meaning of the familiar words of the psalms confronts me afresh:
“You have made us the taunt of our neighbours;
Our enemies laugh us to scorn.”
Did God do this, or we ourselves?
“God of Hosts bring us back
Let your face shine on us and we shall be saved”
The idea of a human face shining with an interior love-light has always appealed to me. Indeed how else can I visualize God’s loving gaze, except through the light of another human face, turned lovingly in my direction? And this regard can even travel across mobile phone waves. Elizabeth was sweetly accommodating when I rang to say that I would be arriving two hours late. They would keep me lunch, she insisted. Contentedly then I read the little concluding prayer, full of more shining light:
“Lord God, true Light and Creator of light, grant that faithfully pondering
on all that is holy, we may ever live in the splendour of your presence…”
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Sr Kathleen Keane
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