We talked about the women coming to religious life these days. They are a diverse lot, and many come with significant life experience, and with professional and ministry background. We talked a good deal about the older vocations, women in their 40s and 50s and beyond. They may be women who entered religious life in their 20s, then left and went another direction for some decades. They come back to religious life, often with years of experience in ministry and certainly with varied life experience. Other women may be new converts, or those with little experience in spirituality, ministry or theology. These inquirers present different challenges both for discerning the vocation and for formation / integration into our communities.
We had some discussion of the phenomenon of 'retiring to the convent', in which the inquirer's notion of vocation may be less evident than their notion of life-style change and finding a place to settle for one's golden years. A sense of spirituality and service may or may not be a part of what they are seeking. Also, the financial issues for these mature inquirers special consideration. (See last week's blog post.) This is an invitation to discernment and to discovering the core identity of religious life for ourselves and for inquirers
Once women enter, it is important to find the best way of helping them integrate into our community. This involves learning our life, spirituality, vows, etc. It also involves making space in our lives for them to be a part of our world, and the women making space in their lives for the community to become their 'center of gravity.'
These women generally come as adults, and we do best when we treat them as adults and enter into a process that honors their experience, while inviting them into our community. Formation is a process for all of us, not just women who are new to community. We all become a new community.
We also discussed the question of the length of formation, particularly for older women who have experience in ministry, spirituality and even in religious life. Can we tailor their formation to meet their needs, rather than using a one size fits all program?
Finally, we discussed the question of accepting vocations when most of the community will not live to celebrate their 25th anniversary, much less their 50th. Is it fair or ethical to welcome women into a lifelong commitment if we won't be there to accompany them? We generally agreed that this should be a subject of conversation. Many women coming today know that the community is in a period of transition and that much of 'what is' is passing away. This calls for honest dialogue; we and those who join us should explore what this means for vocation and formation. We are planting seeds, and these women will take them to places beyond where we can go. In a similar way, the younger and middle-aged religious today are being called to live into a new era in religious life. No longer are we large stable communities. Instead we are smaller, more agile communities, who will experience the fragility of our smaller size, a fragility often experienced by our lay brothers and sisters.
At the end of our conversation, we checked out - many of us expressed gratitude for the opportunity to share our thoughts and feelings on this important topic. It is good to hear one another's experience and share hopes and challenges. We also appreciated the sacred space we created by coming together.
LOOKING FORWARD: we will have a planning call on June 26, 2015 7pm Central. Folks would would like to help plan, facilitate or take notes on the next quarterly call are invited to join the planning call. Message me for details.