November 6, 2008

Entering Religious Life

One of the immediate trials for most who enter religious life is a crisis of expectation. It's not exactly as you thought it would be. I think this is because religious life, even in our time of greater openness and contact with the world, remains somewhat opaque to outsiders. This is compounded by the insistence of so many religious on the invisibility of religious life, e.g. going about in secular clothes, etc. Because of this, I think a lot of us got our idea of religious life from books and movies--books that might be have been written hundreds of years ago, and movies that might be more romance than reality. I know that for me, my expectations of religious life prior to my entrance were formed mostly by the Lives of St. Francis by Thomas of Celano and Thomas Merton's The Sign of Jonas, all filtered through the trials and tribulations of the beautiful Sr. Luke (that is, Audrey Hepburn) in The Nun's Story.

It's embarrassing to say all this, but I think it's a reality for a lot of us. So as soon as someone enters a religious community, there is often an intense culture shock or existential crisis of expectations. (Admittedly, some of this is due to the unfortunate bourgeois and decadent state of much of mainstream religious life here in the United States.) Sometimes this shock at the real vs. expected religious life is so bad that a new brother will leave within 24 hours.

I went through this, and continue to do so on some level. And I don't think I'm an unusual case in this regard. I once asked a spiritual director about it, complaining that the spiritual trials and crosses of my religious life were entirely other than those I expected to have. He told me that this was, in fact, an expression of God's mercy. If we were allowed the carry the crosses we imagine ourselves bearing, or would like to carry, it would be too much an occasion for vainglory. So, in his mercy, God gives us crosses that we would not want, and are unglamorous and not even interesting.

I imagine that in our world of sitcom families and so-called "romantic comedies," a lot of this is applicable, mutatis mutandis, to married people as well.

I'm thinking about this stuff this morning because today is the funeral of my first vocation director, the friar who handled my application for my first go at religious life, when I spent 18 months in the formation program of the Friars of the Leonine Union (the OFM.)


for narnia said...

very beautiful sharing, Fr. C! i offer my prayers for you and your first vocation director. i'm glad that you gave religious life another try after the first time. it's a blessing that you have joined the Capuchin community, too! the Capuchins are a very special community! i, too, entered religious life (Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) which was a teaching order, right after graduating high school. i really didn't have any expectations, but didn't last long there (only about two weeks.) anyway, it was after i left that i really started getting involved in parish life; became a member of the Secular order of St. Francis; really got to know St. Francis of Assisi and St. Therese of Lisieux through reading books about them; met some Capuchin friars and also the Franciscan friars & sisters of the Atonement at Graymoor. i've been content for the most part as a working single person who has been involved in different ministries (mostly in parishes.) sometimes i wonder if i'm fulfilling God's will and sometimes get a feeling of restlessness, but i guess this is normal? i think that in a way (no matter what our state in life is) that we will always be a little restless because, as the saying goes: "our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord." (i don't remember where this comes from, but it makes sense. maybe it's natural to be searching a little bit, because i think that this keeps us growing in our faith and keeps us on the path that leads to God.
tara t

Anonymous said...

Beautiful you've got me hooked on watching the rest of the movie. I was on youtube all evening last night and will continue this afternooon. I've always been an Audrey Hepburn fan, but I'm ashamed to say I've never seen this film!

Brother Charles said...

thanks for a little more of your story! It's funny but for me too I was never really a "parishioner" until after my first experience of religious life.

It's a wonderful movie, isn't it? I think, however, that it was viewed suspiciously by Catholics when it came out because some of Sr. Luke's sufferings seem meaningless and unredeemeed, and because (spoiler alert!) she leaves in the end. One friar told me that the film delayed his vocation because he was worried he would never see his family again.

for narnia said...

hi again, Fr. C!
i've never seen the movie, "The Nun's Story, either. i think that i will try to watch it when i can. i watched part of the clip that you posted and you got me hooked, too! :) thanks! see you tomorrow!
tara t