Nor will they gain freedom of mind unless they submit themselves with their whole heart for God’s sake. Run here or there, thou wilt find no rest, but in an humble subjection under the government of a superior. The imagination and changing of places have deceived many. – St. Thomas à Kempis, Imitation of Christ (I. 9)
An incredibly fascinating and insightful piece was published recently on Huffington Post titled, “Behold, the Millenial Nuns,” by Eve Fairbanks. It was one of their top posts after it was published, and I am not surprised. I still find myself thinking about it, as Fairbanks delved into the felt emptiness of this particular time in the modern world, and the awakening of many in the desire for wholeness—something some millennials are realizing demands holiness.
I never had the chance to discern religious life, since my husband and I were already married by the time we became Catholic, but I can see in our own lives how a similar mentality fueled our fervent desire for and pursuit of Truth—not to know Truth intellectually only, but to know what our response to it needed to be. We wanted to know what the Truth demanded of us, no matter how difficult it could be. It brought us to see the hard demands of family life, and at the same time desire it with all our hearts. Our longing for Truth brought us into the Catholic Church, desiring the Church in all its fullness—its teaching and doctrine, its beauty, and even its rules. We craved the Church that would dare to tell us what is true and what is false, what is wrong and what is right. We craved a liturgy that is other-worldly, even if it is intimidating at first or if, in the beginning, we do not know what everything means. We yearned for the Church that challenges every person, “Become holy. Become a saint.”
Though some think of the Church and say, “it’s too hard or unrealistic,” many come, see, and inquire, and find its people to be too ambiguous and unclear in the Church’s teaching, or lazy and messy in the liturgy of the mass. If anyone is ever turned away, it should not be because the Church is afraid to be what it is called to be and really is. Even with that said, though, hearts are turned to God; He calls people to Himself, particularly in the sacrament of the Eucharist present in every mass. Though the devil in the world tries desperately to push God out of it, people are still searching for God, and some even more so out of the abyss of meaning they find around themselves. No matter what happens in the world, God cannot be shunned from the mass, where He is truly present. People find Him there again and again, and they must respond, either with a wholehearted “yes,” to Him, or it will be a response that is essentially a “no,” for it leaves the door open for one’s own way rather than God’s; it leaves the door open for pride and disobedience. And that is one thing Fairbanks articulated in her article—that obedience can be the most difficult thing for those entering religious life. People do not want to give away their freedom, and yet it is this very thing that leads to freedom. So in this modern world in which all things, all ways of life, all opportunities, are supposedly available for the taking, we find ourselves crippled, paralyzed, and realize this is not where freedom is found. Freedom must lie in something else, or rather, in someone else.
Some people could interpret that rise in young people entering religious life or entering the Catholic Church as just a fad, that it is only a reaction to the modern world and a way to cope with it. Instead, I would like to posit that when everything is pulled out from underneath us, and we find nothing to stand on, we are forced to look at what really matters, what is really true, and what that means for how we live our lives. It is not that we found life wanting and so created something to fill our desires. Rather, we found something old that transcends our time and actually is the truth we desire. We did not create it. We simply discovered that this is what we long for. We did not create a Being or an institution according to our passions. Rather, we found the very One for whom we were created and the very Gift which He planted on earth for us to enter into. Truly, we found God.