Second level students presented many good questions about religious life. The following are responses to nine questions written by different sisters. Hope you enjoy reading them and there are more to come.
1. What are the good aspects of being a nun?
One of the most positive things must surely be the support you get from your community. Community members are there for you in good times and in bad.
Prayer is an essential part of our daily life. This nourishes our relationship with God which is the main reason for making this choice of life.
The example of older sisters, examples of faithfulness and good cheer, help you along the way.
For me personally, the many years of my life which I spent on the missions has given me a wonderful window on the world and an insight into other peoples and cultures and a different way of life.
Also, as I get older in religious life, I experience a deep peace. It is a peace that tells me I am in the right place and gives me a great sense of freedom with others.
2. Do nuns have to go to college?
‘College’ is a word with many meanings in terms of education. Maybe this question is about the kind of education a sister (nun) receives. The general rule is that sisters are trained to use their God given gifts for the service of others. These services, for Marist Sisters, may be nursing, social work, teaching at various levels, pastoral work at home or on missions abroad. And there are many other special talents like music, art, drama etc that individuals are encouraged to develop with appropriate training. Along the way too we develop skills that help to nurture community and ourselves, like cooking, gardening, sewing...the list goes on. It’s about living a full life as we develop and share all the gifts that God has given us.
3. What type of Charity do nuns support?
Marist Sisters, as an international congregation, have a Marist Solidarity Fund which is formed from annual contributions made by the communities in the various areas where the congregation exists. The fund is used for the following: the development of new missions; initial formation in under-developed countries; needy causes in developing countries and a variety of other needs. Some of the beneficiaries of this fund are street children in the Philippines; indigenous people in Brazil; children and adults who receive education in the Gambia, West Africa; a home for young people with special needs in Mexico and, most recently, a new mission in Papua New Guinea.
Marist Laity groups and some of the parishes where we minister collaborate with us in raising money to support these various missions. In addition, we also contribute to charitable causes in Ireland, like St. Vincent de Paul society, Trocaire, Concern, Goal, and a variety of individual requests.
4. What have you done with your life and has it been a good life?
Life as a nun is like any other life choice. It has its ups and downs. For me it has been a very fruitful life. At 85 I feel fulfilled. My life has been very varied. I worked as a second level teacher, a careers’ counsellor, and addiction counsellor with drug addicts and a chaplain to young offenders. These were my professional duties, and they were carried out in various countries. However, they do not describe my life’s work. They were merely the tools which allowed me to achieve the dream I had when I was nineteen, namely, to give my life to God.
5. Have you ever had doubts?
As a young teenager, I felt a call to become a Sister, gave my name to two Marist Sisters who were visiting my part of the country for the first time, put their address in my prayer book and forgot all about it.
Five years later, in my late teens, I felt that being a Sister was right for me. I found the address, wrote to the Sisters, knowing only that Mary, God’s Mother, was their model and guide and that they were missionary. At age twenty, on New Year’s Eve, I left home in the south of Ireland. Many years later, and after serving in many different cultures, I’m grateful I was able to make that decision in faith. Life was very challenging at times but I have never doubted the Lord’s call to belong to his Mother’s family.
6. Have you ever been in love?
Before I became a sister I fell in love several times. Then, gradually as I began to give my heart to Jesus who died for me, I realised that the pursuit of human love exclusively was not the way God was calling me. Over the years, in my life, I have had some good male friends who have enriched my life. I am always aware that Jesus is number one in my life so I never want any relationship that would interfere with that.
7. What is your daily routine?
My daily routine differs somewhat from many other sisters because I live in a community for retired sisters. Four of the eleven sisters are in their nineties and in need of assistance.
My morning begins with prayer at 7am. At 7:30 I help with breakfast and morning chores. At 8:30 the community gathers in the chapel for morning prayer, which is followed by mass at 10:00. We have mid-day prayer before lunch at 1:00pm.
In the afternoon there is time to relax, to pursue personal interests. Sometimes I visit sick or elderly parishioners or walk by the Shannon or do a little gardening. The community gathers again at 7:00pm for evening prayer and some quiet time for reflection. In the later evening I catch up on the news in the papers and on TV.
Often, there are many variations in my daily routine. We have parties to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. We’ve had quite a few parties. We also go for outings to places of interest. Some who are able enjoy a movie, a play or other entertainment in the town on occasion. And daily we have visits from some of our wonderful neighbours.
So the daily routine I experience in this community is full of life and many surprises.
8. Is it possible to give just a few years of your life to being a nun?
This is not the ideal. When a girl gets married in the Catholic Church, she is expected to live the marriage vows for her whole life – ‘until death do us part’. The vows are very sacred promises made for one’s whole life. Sometimes, it happens for health reasons that a person is not able to persevere and has to be dispensed, but the normal expectation is that one commits one’s whole life to God. In the wedding ceremony it says “in sickness and in health ‘til death do us part”. These are very solemn promises and must be taken very seriously. In the same way when a sister makes vows to God, they are very serious promises, they are for life.
9. I am a religious person and I don’t think I should be a nun. Would this be a sign that God might be calling me?
If “religious person” means that your faith in God is alive and that you are actively involved in your church community and neighbourhood, then you are living a Christian life which is common to married, single or religious life. What God is calling you to do with your life is something you can only discover yourself. It is true that we can resist God’s call. It takes courage and much searching through prayer and guidance to come to a clear decision about our lives. One thing we are sure of is that the Spirit of God is always active in our lives and, in time, a direction becomes clear. Above all keep searching. God has created each of us to do some special service. What might that be for you? Keep asking the questions. In her poem, “The Summer Day”, the poet, Mary Oliver asks:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do/ With your one wild and precious life?
Asking questions in our pursuit of understanding is a very important aspect of our lives. Second level students have asked many questions about religious life. Here we bring you answers to six of these questions written by different sisters.
1. By becoming a nun did you give up a life of your own?
Yes, I gave up a life of my own in order to become a nun. It was a free decision. I felt God wanted me to give him my life. From a young age I used to pray: ”Please show me what you want me to do in life.” I felt the answer came when I had a strong desire to become a nun.
2. Do you miss not having a husband and children?
Yes. Sometimes I do. I entered a Marist community because I felt called to religious life and as the years passed I became more and more committed to the Marist way of life. Through that experience and process of responding more deeply to the call to be Marist I have also felt the pull and the attraction to married life and family. Now and again on visits to the homes of my married family members and friends and watching their happiness surrounded by their children, I have often felt a sense of longing for what I have given up. But, I know that this is perfectly natural. Commitment to a loving relationship in marriage and family is a profoundly beautiful way of life. It calls for many of the same virtues as religious life: trust in God, perseverance, prayer, generosity, self-sacrifice, forgiveness and wrapped around all of these, LOVE. It’s all about following God’s call and staying the course. I think Robert Frost describes it well in the last lines of his poem: The Road Not Taken;
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
3. What kind of lifestyle do you live?
The vows of chastity, poverty and obedience are the core of my religious lifestyle. Living this lifestyle has brought me a lot closer to God. By poverty I mean living simply and depending more on God. By chastity I keep God number one in my heart and life and I seek to live for God alone. By obedience I seek to do what my Religious Order requires, because the work of the order is all God’s work. In other words I feel I am doing God’s will by my vow of obedience. I see life as a journey back home to God, so living these vows gives meaning and purpose to my life.
4. How did you know that life was right for you?
Knowing that religious life was right for me was something I came to see gradually. When I was 17-18 I did ask myself many questions about what I wanted to do with my life. I had companions in my Leaving Cert. year who were also asking these questions. We had many conversations about it. Sometimes we teased each other. Looking back I realize how helpful that sense of solidarity was. We were young and idealistic and life was opening up before us. I prayed often for God’s guidance. I talked to some wisdom figures – people whom I trusted and who listened to me. Gradually I began to see that giving my life to God was the greatest thing I could do. I felt at peace with myself. I believe it was that inner peace that helped me to know that I was making the right decision. So I took the first step trusting that my life was in God’s hands. And now I do know, many years later, that it was the right step.
5. How do you know for certain that God exists
I know this from study and from the millions of others who have given their lives to serve God. I know it from the beauty and magnificence of Creation. I also know it from personal experience. In prayer I have experienced God’s presence, God’s peace, God’s peace. God’s forgiveness, and God’s love.
6. What is your favourite image of God?
My favourite of God is that He is Love. Yes, God is a tremendous Lover. He loves each person with an unconditional love. I believe in God’s deep personal love for me and I seek to serve Him in religious life by reaching out to others with love. I want to witness to the world that God is alive and real because I perceive Him as a living Reality