When God Calls a Woman to the Consecrated Life
Mother Assumpta Long on Divine Courtship
ANN ARBOR, Michigan, FEB. 13, 2004 (Zenit) - Each woman who is destined to be the bride of Christ as a religious sister has her own love story to tell.
So says Mother Assumpta Long, superior and one of the four founders of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.
After many years in the religious life and witnessing a more than tenfold growth of the Sisters of Mary over the last seven years, Mother Assumpta has seen God's ongoing "courtship" with her fellow sisters, novices and those discerning their vocations.
She shared her thoughts on the challenges those women face in answering his call.
Q: How do vocation prospects today differ from, say, a generation ago?
Mother Assumpta: In past generations most young women entered the convent straight from high school or perhaps after a few years of college. Presently it seems that more discern God's invitation to become a consecrated religious after obtaining a degree and spending a few years in the work force.
God operates mysteriously in his own time with each soul; there is no "typical" timeline.
To one young woman he gives the grace of knowing she is destined to be his bride while in school, permitting her to give the gift of her youth and innocence at a young age; whereas to another, he gently pulls on the strings of her heart after she has sought to make her way in a career, realizing that no matter what riches, professional success or fulfillment the world may offer, she will never be truly fulfilled until she gives herself completely to him.
In our community we have young women from both ends of this spectrum and all along the middle.
It is an amazing realization for a woman that the personal qualities, gifts, talents and experiences God has bestowed upon her are actually gifts for her to utilize in her new family, the religious community. Every young woman who enters religious life is a priceless gift and she touches and affects the community uniquely and irrevocably.
It is amazing how uniquely he calls a woman to be entirely his; while there are several general characteristics which seem to point to a religious vocation -- such as love of the Church, liturgy and sacraments, devotion to Mary, love of Eucharistic adoration, etc. -- the love stories between God and the souls he chooses for his own are as unique as each individual religious.
One thing is constant: God's immense gift of love fills the heart and floods it with all the graces necessary to echo the fiat of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Annunciation: "Be it done unto me according to thy word."
The Church as a wise mother gives young women who are considering religious consecration a precious gift: the time of novitiate. Youth are generous, enthusiastic and fervent, but sometimes the initial enthusiasm can wane and it becomes apparent that the road to holiness lies along another path.
In the novitiate, a young woman can test her vocation by living the life day in and day out. She has time to pray and to listen to God's voice. Aside from discernment, this time is also invaluable in filling any gaps in an individual's religious formation, for example, the catechism, Scripture, theology, etc.
At the end of the novitiate, the young woman is free to make vows or return to the secular life. There should be no stigma if a young woman decides to leave the community, if she deems that God has created her for another vocation than religious life. She should be commended for having given it her best effort.
Q: Amid rising secularism in North America, what is it that most attracts women to a religious vocation today?
Mother Assumpta: Young people are unwavering in their desire for truth, real love and authenticity. Amidst all of the glitter, toys and noise the world holds as "must-haves," youth intuitively know that they are merely trifles, and want the real thing -- God.
Women often remark that they seek to join communities that have a communal prayer life, including daily Mass, common recitation of the Divine Office and the rosary.
In our community's experience, our particular emphasis on devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist and to Mary, the Mother of God, often attracts young women who want to make a daily Eucharistic holy hour as we do. We also make the St. Louis de Montfort Marian Consecration, which especially attracted several sisters.
Other elements young women have told me that they look for are fidelity to the Holy Father and the magisterium of the Church, the witness of a religious habit and balanced community life of prayer, study, work and play -- a family in which true fraternal charity is manifest, with all of its joys and challenges.
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