Choosing your life *and* following a calling

One of my favorite publications lately is The Lily, the Washington Post’s publication for women. They run stories on national politics, women’s health, and pop culture, as well as personal narratives and comics!

One story stood out to me from The Lily this week:

The unexpected life of a millennial nun

The Catholic church seems to be one of the most patriarchal institutions there is. With reports of abuse by the clergy and conservative, and even restrictive views on women’s health, the church seems like the last choice for young women who care about social justice.

But some women my age have chosen just that. The article talks about Tracy Kemme, a 33-year-old Sister of Charity. It turns out that the stereotype of the secluded nun doesn’t capture what nuns look like and do today. Nuns have careers in the community such as dietician, historic housing preservation expert, hospital ethics member, and minister.

It also makes sense that the religious life offers women in my generation something that is missing in the outer world. To put it bleakly, in recent years, I have often felt the same way as millennial women who chose to become a nun: that the world doesn’t offer anything for me to hold on to. Religion isn’t an escape or rejection, but an embrace of life. It seems contradictory, but I can see how choosing “chastity opens one up to love more; that poverty recognizes common ground; and that obedience signifies deep listening.” Nuns are rejecting a traditional lifestyle but embracing the world at the same time.

Nonetheless, being a nun IS unusual. People are going to ask and wonder why women would forego so many possibilities to choose the religious life.

“There is something scary about women who congregate together, something scary about women who don’t live some kind of idealized American womanhood,” says Sister Mary Therese Perez, 36, of the horror nun genre.

This story resonated with me because I feel the same. I think married, single and religious life are all callings. I don’t feel devoted to religion, but the lifestyle of a nun does appeal to me. I care about social justice and helping others, and I don’t fear being lonely.

“I had learned that religious life wasn’t magic,” Kemme wrote this past summer. “[I]t wouldn’t save me from loneliness, anxiety or self-scrutiny. It wasn’t perfect; living with women from different generations and backgrounds was challenging and even painful at times. It wasn’t an escape; ministry with the suffering can be exhausting and heartbreaking.”

How does one prepare for that kind of life? There’s so much training and preparation to become a nun. But at the heart of it, being a nun is having “[a] sense of adventure or willingness to say ‘yes’ to a life that’s going to have twists and turns and lots of unknowns,” she says. “They’re really courageous people who are willing to challenge the status quo.”

I think we can embrace that in our life no matter what ‘calling” we choose.  Let’s keep challenging the status quo, choosing life, and engaging in the world.

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