On July 11 this year, it will be 13 years since I made first monastic profession and 10 years since I made perpetual profession. At the end of August, it will be 15 years since I entered the monastery. The monastery now represents a significant chunk of my life, and these summer anniversaries give pause for reflection.
Not long after I entered, I had a conversation about vocation with a sister who was probably somewhere near the 60th anniversary of her profession. I recall her saying, “The reasons why I entered are not the reasons why I stay.” I couldn’t really understand what that might mean. I was entering because I had heard God very clearly call me to monastic life and I simply thought that would always be the motivation for staying. Now I can see what she meant and I realize that I had to live into the life, beyond the first heady flush of being called, to understand what the commitment of perpetual profession really means.
Is it easy? No. For me, it was very easy up to the point at which I took the final step. About six weeks after perpetual profession, which was a real high for me, I remember thinking, “I can’t believe I’ve done this! I can never go back, I really, truly have left my previous life behind. This is it and I don’t know if I did the right thing.” Over the intervening 10 years, there have been some very rocky times. It sometimes felt as if, after all the preparation for profession, the life simply boiled down to whether you turned up for community prayers and meals and occupied the rest of the time with some sort of productive activity. Not much opportunity for deepening a relationship with God in the set up. I was disappointed because the reason I felt called to monastic life was to seek God more intensively.
I was certainly helped in these challenging times by a few close sister friends who understood, from experience, that you don’t profess and cross a line into a flower-filled meadow, floating on a cloud of closeness to God. Professed life is hard and, in fact, the Rule doesn’t promise an easy ride. I could see the force of these arguments, but they didn’t stop me from keeping a suitcase packed for several years so that I could get up and go at a moment’s notice if a “final straw” moment arrived.
Something else that was helpful was confession. I don’t think there’s anything sinful about wondering whether you’ve made a right choice but sometimes, when you’re fed up, you can be sharp and impatient with people. There is a monk to whom I have several times chosen to make confession. I prefer to take an informal and reflective approach, rather than listing sins, and so we talked a bit about my vocation and whether I’d done the right thing in professing. He said, “Maybe it’s not the right life for you. You need to explore that.” It was very freeing. I did explore and, well, I’m still here! But not for the same reasons I came, which may well be the subject of my next blog.
Karen Rose, OSB
Photo: Sister Karen Rose signing her perpetual profession document, taken by Sister Nancy Bauer