I’m currently working on a Monasticism unit for my students, that we will start in the new year, and it struck me how little exposure lay Catholics have to the life of a religious in general. I am sure many can still recall being taught by nuns, but I never was and really cannot recall even meeting one growing up. Then when I went to the Religious Conference in LA a few years ago, I ran in to many, and even sat beside one during one of the talks. It was of course easy to spot them out, they were dressed very, very differently than everyone else. Not being familiar with them, I was uncomfortable, I didn’t know how to address them, or really what to say. They seemed so foreign to me.
Going over my notes on Monasticism this year, I realized that monks and nuns should be celebrated because of their choice to live differently. They have renounced the world for the love of God. If the world desires and honours wealth, the religious desires and loves poverty. The world desires private property, while the religious strives to live in common, owning nothing. These are countercultural ideas, foreign, and to non Catholics and even some Catholics, completely idiotic. Who would choose to live their lives this way?
In many ways I am glad that I have to teach about monasticism and to expose the students to such a countercultural idea. When we do not understand something, we can be fearful or uncomfortable when encountering that which we do not understand. Even though, I myself, have become comfortable seeing religious –we now have a couple nuns teaching in our diocese again & many nuns and monks have been visiting our schools– I can still see that some of the girls are nervous when meeting a nun. This is why it is important to keep exposing them to the life of the religious, to inform them about what life in a religious community is actually like, and to put to rest many of the myths surrounding the lives of nuns and monks that they get from the secular world.
It is a shame that too many Catholics, are fearful that their son or daughter might become a priest or religious. If we find ourselves feeling this way we need to read history, go to a monastery or covenant, read the lives of the saints. Once we understand the vocation of the priests and religious we no longer fear it, but celebrate it.