THE first question I ever asked a religious sister was, “What kind of face-wash do you use?”
I was 14, and flabbergasted that anyone could look so luminous without make-up.
The sister in question laughingly responded that a bar of soap was the sole product of her skin-care regime.
Every nun I’ve met has looked at least 10 years younger than she actually was; the dozen or so religious sisters I’ve had the privilege of meeting and interviewing over the past two months have been no exception.
Explaining to people that I’m on a “convent crawl” through the Archdiocese of Brisbane to open up the conversation about vocation between religious orders and young women has elicited a wide range of amusing reactions.
“They still make nuns?” asked one wide-eyed Year 9 student, evidently awestruck that the veiled songstresses of the Sound of Music should escape the screen.
With equal surprise, but far less excitement, “I thought religious life had pretty much died out” seems to be the more common response.
These reactions solidify in my heart why I’m on this mission – to remind the world that a life wholly belonging to Christ, given over in joy and in love, is still a possibility.
The religious sisters that I’ve been visiting in my time working for Vocation Brisbane are far from relics.
Vibrant, generous and passionately in love with Jesus, these are ordinary, hilarious, dynamic women who have made a simple choice to live radical lives. And that’s the reality I’m excited to convey to my peers.
I know that many girls my age – even a lot of beautiful, faith-filled women – don’t see religious life as a real or viable option.
We assume, by default, that our “happily ever after” will be achieved by a flowing white dress, a spouse like St Joseph and a passel of squirming toddlers.
Until a few years ago, I operated under that assumption.
From an early age I desperately wanted to be a wife and a mother.
It wasn’t long before I became a baby-magnet and eventually a Pinterest wedding planner, dreaming of idyllic days to come; dreaming, that is, until my final year of high school, when I became sharply aware of an invitation from the Lord to open my mind up to a plan other than my own. And I freaked out.
It wasn’t that I disliked the idea of religious life. Far from it.
Nuns, when perchance I should encounter them, were gushingly extolled as paradigms of radiant beauty and holiness to every friend who would listen to me.
But when it got personal; when I began to consider the terrifying idea that perhaps even deeper than my desire to get married and have babies was an invitation to infinite Love that no-one but God could answer; it was only then that I began to realise that single and religious life could be a real possibility for me.
Two years of volunteering on the National Evangelisation Team later, I now find myself studying full-time, continuing to unveil God’s call on my own life and blessed by the opportunity to help others do so. It’s my job and my joy to talk to young women about vocation, and Convent Crawl is just one of the ways I hope to pave the way for conversation about discernment in the year to come.
Discernment doesn’t seem easy.
The process of specifying, weighing and balancing all of the conflicting calls on your heart is demanding; the awkwardness of wanting something radically different to what the world expects of you can be exhausting; the desire to perfectly fulfil “what God wants” can all too easily lead us to become caught up in worry and doubt.
But stripped back from our frantic attempts to be the answer to the question, “Quo vadis – where are you going?”, I’ve learned that discernment need be no more than allowing your heart, in quietness and in truth, fall in love with the God who is the fulfilment of every desire, and letting Him lead the rest of the way.
By Kate Gilday
Kate Gilday is a field officer for Vocation Brisbane. She is working on a project called #conventcrawl visiting religious orders around the Brisbane archdiocese.