Thursday, June 24, 2021

The "late vocation"

It's amusing to research "late vocations." A late vocation is what occurs to you when you are in your forties or well beyond, and you think gosh, the idea of life consecrated to God, maybe even in a contemplative cloistered setting, seems wonderful. Women especially can peek, through the internet, at monasteries near and far, and observe much the same pictures. Lovely young women in leafy settings revel in medieval garb and charming farm work; and there is prayer, prayer, prayer, candles and quiet, singing and flowers. Their faces are radiant. They wear a crown of roses on their day of solemn profession. 

Yet the helpful websites softly emphasize. Young women who are interested ... for women between 18 and 35 ... 40, tops ... young women who think the Lord may be calling them ... young women. A good article at Aletia from some years ago tactfully explains the issue to a reader who questioned why a man may become a priest at any time in life, but a woman is usually barred from a convent essentially at menopause. Of course there are exceptions. Many seminaries set age limits for men too. For men or women the logic is similar.  

There are many practical and economic reasons for the age limits that many communities put into practice. Yes, health reasons can be one of them. Some communities will not take a woman with children at all, no matter how old her children are.

A large reason for the age factor is that the older we are the more set in our ways we become, making the transition to communal life more difficult, especially when we may find ourselves taking orders from superiors who are 20 years our junior. We’re so used to living on our own terms and having things the way we want them that obedience and conformity become issues… like obedience and acceptance of community-set age limits. *ahem* 

I love that "*ahem*" at the end. Wanting to walk into a community exempt from one of its first rules at the outset does not perhaps bode well. 

Of course it's precisely the rural cloisters filled with sweet holy girls that look as if they would be a veritable rocket ship to God. Which leads me to reflect, there must be something very profound in the fact of young women entering these places. The vocation is a marriage, to Christ. The young women look radiant because they are living with their beloved spouse, forsaking all others. A woman in her fifties who didn't think about a vocation at twenty now tends to think, like the reader questioning Aletia, "I have so much left to give and now I have time." She is thinking of a rational decision, of personal enrichment, of a kind of career move. And of God, too. Well and good. The writer at Aletia assures her, "First off, don't let your eligibility to enter a religious community determine your usefulness to the Church." But it's not the same as the young girl trembling with mystified joy, sitting before an image of Jesus and her voice-over to the YouTube film saying, "Jesus, if you're asking me to marry you, the answer is yes."   

The woman in her fifties, far from being crazy to get engaged to Jesus, might only just be realizing for how many years she has thought only of herself. Now that sounds like a neurotic little truism, worthy of Bette Davis at her most tear-streaked and penitent. But it's true. How many minutes of each hour even, never mind one's own affairs that legitimately require attention, how many minutes of each hour do we spend gnashing our teeth at annoying people? Or, in our imagination, righteously launching thunderbolts of painful justice at the world and politicians? And now you want to think differently? -- now you mope after the cloister? Well and good. The young girl with the glossy thick brown hair who is contemplating marrying God, is not necessarily a better person than you, but her mind has already been filled with different matters most of her short life. Ahem, it's called a vocation. 

That's another thing. When she enters a monastery her head will go on being filled with different matters most of the time, because she will pray five or six hours a day or more. She is still not a better person than you, and you are no less loved and desired by God. But in her fifties she will be, by her experience, as different from you, as you are from her now. Or think of this small point. If you were to walk in and still only encounter her in her twenties, because the traditional convents are attracting her age group, -- you would for example have to deal with her cooking, right? Ahem.  

Perhaps the wistful musing about late vocations, among men or women, is a sort of fruitfulness in itself. Who would dream that there are more important things in life than what we dwell upon -- our eternal work, leisure, entertainment, sports, the state of the world, travel? In their lives as religious, men and women dwell on daily prayer, the Mass and the Divine Office.  I believe it's true that if one goes so far as to seek a spiritual director's advice about it, assuming one has gone so wildly far as to get a spiritual director, one is told, test the vocation by going to daily Mass for a start. It's as abrupt a commitment as the potential commitment to someone else's cooking, which would eventually follow.   

And God bless the Internet. The wistful musing about a late vocation can fructify simply through the learning available at dozens of monasteries which keep an online presence, even as the cloistered souls within may have nothing to do with it. You may understand in five minutes, No, I need to be in the world with my children and grandchildren. The writer at Aletia said, the world needs grandmas and grandpas. But at least through fruitful, cloistered portals, one may still learn. Here is a beautiful expression of what prayer is, from a Poor Clare community near me: 

For many persons the day ends when they retire at midnight. As Poor Clares, our day begins when we rise at midnight. The first of the canonical hours of the Divine Office is chanted at midnight while the world around is sleeping or perhaps sinning. Sin loves the cover of night. Prayer goes out into the backstreets of the night to seek out sinners and reclaim them. The night Office is a torch held in the hands of the Poor Clare as her love goes looking down the lanes of the world for the lost, the straying, the despairing, the suffering, the dying. From this first hour of the morning, this stream of love and prayer flows out and consecrates all the hours of the day, beginning on earth the work of eternity.

Sometimes I do go to bed near midnight, especially when I have worked the closing shift and don't get home to settle in and relax a bit until around 10 pm. So when I turn on WFMT's Through the Night program to go to sleep to, I think of the Poor Clares, daughters of 13th-century Italy, scarcely fifteen minutes away in the suburban woods. They are just picking up the torch of the Office, to go looking with love down the lanes of the world for the lost, the straying, the sinning. 

This is a glorious thing for the world to be aware of. This, you know, is reality, beyond panics and politics and vaccines and Great Resets. The newest order that I have come across is the splendidly named Sisters Adorers of the Royal Heart of Jesus Christ Sovereign Priest. These are serenely blue-cloaked sisters attached to the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. They don't seem to keep, quite yet, the very rigorous schedule of the Poor Clares, only starting to pray Lauds at 6:45 am. Still. The theme is similar. 

Lauds is chanted recto-tono. It is the quintessential office of praise; all creatures unite with man to praise the Creator, as in the canticle sung by the three children in the furnace. At the end of Lauds, the sisters stay in the chapel for an hour of silent meditation. According to the words of Dom Guéranger, prayer is for every man the first of goods, his light, his food, his very life.

Yes, yes, they are all young. As is fitting. But now you see, even though you may be middle aged -- you know

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for stopping by ...

Escape hatch

Pardon a repeat of Feb. 2019, won't you? Warning! I've recently found out Blogger might be about to go the way of the dinosaurs. Sp...