Last December a reality series called “The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns” aired on television. Maybe the show piqued your curiosity — it did mine, and I have to admit that I had a negative opinion of it before even watching the first episode. I assumed that it would be impossible for a secular reality show to portray religious vocations with depth or truthfulness.
Sister Constance Veit
After the show’s first episode, several staff members asked me all kinds of questions about religious life. I decided that aside from the show’s actual content, if it could stimulate conversation about religious vocations — just as the church was beginning to celebrate the Year of Consecrated Life — then “The Sisterhood” might be a providential instrument of grace!
In fact, one of the five young women who appeared in the show — and who has visited our novitiate several times — joined in an online discussion. “I’m proud to represent an often hidden and misunderstood calling,” she wrote. “The conversation this show is starting is great! And I pray that God brings grace out of it for everyone who watches.”
I am not interested in critiquing “The Sisterhood,” but in continuing the conversation it started by sharing the “real” experiences and convictions of a few of the young women who recently joined our congregation. Their reflections help to illustrate the reality that God touches each of us in a deeply personal way, and that there are many paths to the religious life.
After completing an extended “come and see” with our community, a young college student who has since begun her postulancy wrote, “I learned that St. Jeanne Jugan once said, ‘In serving the aged, it is he himself whom you are serving. … They are the suffering members of Our Lord.’ I found this to be entirely true. He smiled at me from faces creased with age; he reached out to me with frail hands; he spoke from the voiceless; there was never a moment [during my visit] when I did not feel both surrounded by and a part of his love.”
A young Little Sister who began volunteering in one of our homes at age 16 recalls those days: “I loved being with the residents and the sisters and I had an increasing desire to know Jesus and to deepen my prayer life. I first learned hospitality in my family, for which I am deeply grateful, and then I continued to learn from the countless Little Sisters who have accompanied me on my journey so patiently over these years. I am now in my second year as a professed Little Sister and could not be happier!”
A moment of eucharistic adoration was a decisive moment for a couple of the discerners in “The Sisterhood.” One of our novices recalls the centrality of the Eucharist in her own discernment: “I started to go to daily Mass, but I was searching for more. The more I was in church, the more I wanted to help in the community. I helped with the youth group, prayed at local abortion clinics and worked at a homeless shelter, but I still felt that wasn’t enough.”
It was when she was asked to accompany some younger girls to a retreat at our novitiate that she unexpectedly found her vocation: “God works in mysterious ways, because the first day I was there I felt that my searching was over. A week later I visited the Little Sisters’ home in Mobile, Alabama. I didn’t want to leave, so I started volunteering on Saturdays. That turned into staying the whole weekend, every weekend. I was strongly drawn. I no longer felt the need for ‘more.’ I knew this was where God wanted me.”
As these young women witness, a vocation is the response to a call of love. “I hear something within me which moves me and I answer ‘yes,’” Pope Francis recently wrote. “The laborers for the harvest are not chosen through advertising campaigns or appeals of service and generosity, but they are ‘chosen’ and ‘sent’ by God. It is he who chooses, it is he who sends.”
The annual World Day of Consecrated Life will be celebrated nationally on Sunday, Feb. 8. On this special occasion, let’s pray for the young women of “The Sisterhood” — and for all young women and men in discernment and formation programs, including our Little Sister novices and postulants! Help us keep the conversation about consecrated life going!
Sister Constance Veit is director of vocations for the Little Sisters of the Poor in the United States.