Sisters are genuinely happy people, and they will tell you that religious life has given them everything they could ever hope for. They really do have it all when it comes to leading fulfilling and productive lives – meaningful work, loving relationships, a community of support, prayer that sustains them.
Sisters bring all of who they are to their communities including college degrees, professional training, and personal interests. Furthermore, a community’s commitment to a particular charism may draw forth new gifts. Sisters have “real” jobs, and they make a significant difference in the world. There are religious women serving as lawyers, lobbyists, doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, social workers, teachers, professors, musicians, massage therapists, and all aspects of ministry. Some of them work in the secular world, others within the church, or still others in the non-profit sector.
The difference between religious life, and those who live deeply spiritual lives in the world, is the desire to make a permanent commitment to God in the context of community. Religious life allows for radical commitment to the Gospel – living in solidarity with the poor, accompanying the oppressed in their daily struggles, caring for the sick, time set aside for discernment and prayer – with the support of a community who understands and shares these desires. Religious life often equates to ordinary women doing extraordinary things by God’s grace and the support of their community. Those who are called to religious life experience a deeper understanding of their call. As you live it fully, you experience tremendous growth and find many ways to use your gifts that you couldn’t possibly have imagined.
Within the context of community, sisters continue to have “normal” lives. They go to work, pay bills, shop for food, and socialize just like everyday people. Apostolic sisters, those called to lives of dedicated service in the world, have a lot of freedom to go out into the world. There is a certain intimacy within community, much like a family, as well as a variety of friendships outside of the community that includes both men and women.
Many women wonder if religious life is too constraining. Taking a vow of obedience and sharing life with other sisters may seem strange to some. Obedience in the broadest sense is all about dialogue. The word “obedience” shares the same Latin root as the word “to listen”. It does not mean being submissive, but it requires one to be flexible and honestly discern what is best for me and for the entire community.
To be obedient is to be attentive to what God is asking of me in every situation. In healthy families there will always be give and take, prayer and discernment, listening and letting go. Likewise in religious communities there are good times, challenging times, time of great joy and celebration, times of sorrow and grief. It requires humility, openness and mutual listening as to what we are being called to do. It requires that we know ourselves and our full potential and whether we are at our best.
Imagine a group of dedicated, adult women who listen and support one another, who care about each other’s needs, support a common vision, walk alongside the poor, share life together in prayer, and are committed to mutual discernment. Ask yourself, “Is this a life that would bring me joy?” What is most important in recognizing the call to a particular lifestyle is that you see it as a place where you can be your most authentic self.
Of course, none of us is perfect, and God knows that. Leading a religious life means that we’re constantly growing in our love for God and one another, constantly striving to become the person God intends us to be. God only asks us to follow him and trust that he will show us the way.