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Saturday, August 15, 2009


This evening I read an article about a young woman (28 years old) entering religious life, and I paid close attention as it seems she ALSO owned a home at the time she made her decision.

It's a good article and I agree with much of what is said, but I have to comment because she sets out some premises that were true in HER discernment...but certainly aren't for all of us, maybe not even most. I'm not a statistician so I can't be any more specific than who are be the judge.

The article, "South Carolina woman readies for joy in religious life" gives a synopsis of Virginia Cotter's discernment, which I'm certain was a lot more difficult than such an article makes it appear. I'm going to take a couple excerpts of the article (linked above) and explain what I find problematic about what is portrayed, for I fear some may be mislead by some of what is quoted, perhaps out of complete context.

After two years of contemplating a religious vocation, Virginia Cotter thought she was finally ready to visit some orders for a closer look. When she arrived at the Sisters of Life convent in New York last year, she was in for a shock.

“Most women, and certainly girls, would be shocked at the joy that they will experience with a visit,” Cotter said. “I was on cloud nine for a week after I first visited. I could not believe the genuine joy there; all of these sisters just, like, beam.”

The first problem I have with this article is the author's comment that Ms. Cotter was "in for a shock", and then Ms. Cotter's own statement that people would be shocked at the experience of a visit. She describes the joy of the Sisters, so I have to ask...why was this a shock? Or was this quote just taken out of context and she intended a wider audience, directed towards those who have a stereotypical idea of a dour, sour frown-and-ruler-bearing nun?

The second problem in this sentence, though is, also from her own expression, for I (personally) did not experience a huge "joy" upon my visit...not ANY of the three I visited this summer. (That is not to say the SISTERS weren't joyous...they WERE! ALL OF THEM!) Nor was I on "cloud nine" while there or afterwards. I'm glad this was her experience, but the way this article was written makes this seem a bit broad and seems to indicate that everyone would experience the same thing.

I disagree, and I doubt that Ms. Cotter would intend to convey that idea. My guess is that she has more to say on this and given the venue, probably couldn't, or did and it was cut.

She...has advice for any young men or women who think they may be hearing the small voice of God calling them.

“I would say you need to be open to what God’s plan is for you. Consider your options, not just assuming automatically that he wants you to marry and have a family. The thing is, nothing bad comes from discernment,” she said.

I totally agree! Yes, discernment is agonizing, and painful, but it leads to a greater good and we'll never know what we are called to be unless we pass through this particular cross.

“They are not pushy in the least. They will never come to you, so any decision is absolutely yours. Even if you do not enter an order, you will come away having seen the beauty of religious communities and will have gained more clarity about what God wants for you,” she said.

She also suggested staying close to the sacraments and preparing to see overwhelming joy in a religious vocation.

I agree with some of this, too. No, the communities you'll visit aren't pushy. They are as interested as you are in finding God's will for you. If they can serve in any way in that regard, they will do so. You are NOT wasting their time if you go to visit and find that their charism, their way of life, or their spirituality is not for you. (if they ARE pushy, that's a huge red flag and a sign you should step away!)

I also agree that you (we!) should stay close to the sacraments, but that doesn't just go for those in discernment, but for all of us. It's just that we who are discerning may need that grace even more than those who already know where they are called.

A caveat, though, and I don't mean to nitpick at all. I know what Ms. Cotter is getting at, although I'm not sure everyone would. She said, "You will have gained more clarity about what God wants for you."

Well...maybe. But that wasn't my experience, and I was surprised to learn, that wasn't the experience of a LOT of Sisters!

I think that one of the things that was damaging to me was all the articles I read and advice I heard even from others in discernment who had found their communities, even some Sisters I knew who said that I'd obtain clarity upon my visit.

So it was that I was set up to "expect" something. I knew what a clear "yes" would be, I knew what a "no" would be, and that "I don't know" would mean it wasn't for me, but learn anyway.

No. That WASN'T my exprience. It was a solid yes-no-yes-no-yes-no-idon'tknow-no-no-no-yes-yes-yes-oGodwhenwillthisendandwhencanIgohome-no-yesmaybe-idontknow-yes-no-yes.....

You get the picture.

I'm not going to discuss anything of my own personal "feelings" or "impressions" or anything further of my own discernment, but let me just say....don't take the stuff you read to heart. What someone else experiences may NOT be what you experience. There may be some who seem to "sail" on through and the next thing you know, they're professed. Then there are those who get "nuthin'" and enter religious life just because they have no reason NOT to. (That's for the stoics out there). There are those who enter because once they visited they "felt at home". There are those who needed signs...and got them. And there are those who didn't discern, just never considered anything else once they sensed they were called, and they went into the closest religious community to their home. (And some of these later left that original community and entered into's actually very common.) this article and those like it, take what you can from it, but don't be discouraged if you don't have the same experience. When you go, you might not be "overwhelmed with joy", and in fact, you might even be outright bored. But that's not what you're there to discern. Take it as it comes. Be open to what God is asking and forget about what other people have to say about it.

The only one who knows you is God, and He'll give you what you need when you need it. He'll help you when you need it, and He'll push you when you need it. And if you don't need all won't be provided.

Me? I'm still discerning. God isn't done with me yet, nor is His Mother, who has made that very clear, too.

I owe an email to a community and should set about writing it. Where it will go, I don't know. But it ain't over 'till it's over, no matter what sentiments I do or don't have.

Please pray for everyone in discernment.


Elizabeth Mahlou said...

It is so helpful to know that not knowing and sometimes (often) seeing only a muddy response is common and okay, that when we truly need to know, then we will. Otherwise, we are going to be allowed a lot of independence, perhaps even more than we would like.

Austringer said...

Adoro, I think your first problem, as you put it, probably was meant for a wider audience -- "most women and certainly girls" was how she put it, and I am sure that is true. Let's face it, there are powerful and very negative stereotypes out there. Some may be based on some people's past experience with Sisters in their education: I had nuns for teachers in grade school, and with maybe one or two exceptions they were NOT joyous at all. However, this was at a time when religious orders were going through much upheaval, and vocations to the religious life were plummeting. So, these nuns were old nuns who were well past retirement age. No wonder they weren't joyous...
Adoro, do you ever go out to visit the sisters at the Carmelite monastery in Lake Elmo? No those sisters are so full of joy! It comes forth so clearly in their beautiful voices.

Adoro said...

Elizabeth ~ Exactly!

Austringer ~ I've heard the same thing from people who were taught by Sisters, although my mother remembers those she knew of being joyous as well as strict.

But my question was less about the stereotypes than Ms. Cotter's own shock...if she didn't think they'd be full of joy, why did she choose to visit that community? I suspect that she was trying to say a lot in a little space, probably said more and it was probably cut from the final edit of the article.

Further, let me be comment about my own joy was just that....MY OWN. The sisters I visited, all 3 communities, were INDEED very joyous in their Vocations and yes, that radiated. But I was NOT on cloud nine and didn't experience this "overwhelming joy" upon my visit that so many seem to publish in their own experiences.

That's my point, and I apologize I was not more clear.

I am not Carmelite although I have been out to the abbey in Lake Elmo. But their charism doesn't draw me no matter how full of joy they are.