My experience has been different in other ways as well. I did not enter with a large group of young women. I wasn't that young either, comparatively. Whereas my novitiate classmate was in her early 20s when we started this journey together, I was in my early 30s. Young by today's standards still, but by no means fresh out of high school or my parents' house.
My experience has also been different in that from the very beginning, I have been connected to younger Sisters across Congregations and even across Continents. I've written before about the network of younger Sisters I am involved with called Giving Voice. I've also made a number of bloggy religious friends over the years, both women discerning or living religious life and a few Jesuits, Paulists and assorted other men living the life as well. While my primary commitment is to my own religious community and our charism of Peace calls me and guides me into the future as I follow Jesus, I would be lying if I didn't say that having this larger community of peers without borders gives me hope, sustains me, and helps me see that the Spirit is at work. As my Giving Voice T-Shirt says, I heart Religious Life and believe in its future, in no small part because of these young nun connections.
Speaking of, I'd like to point you to another reflection by a younger Sister who I've gotten to know virtually through a combination of the blog, Facebook and Giving Voice. Her name is Amanda and she is a postulant with the Dauthers of Charity. She just posted a truth-telling and future-facing blog post about Facing the Truth of who is entering religious life today. Well worth a read. Here's a teaser:
Discerners - don't be afraid to just dive in. Worry more about God's calling than the average age of a community. In the end, it doesn't matter. What matters is your joy and peace with them and their spirituality. Just follow God's call, don't worry about the rest.
Sisters - don't be ashamed of your average age. If you and your religious community are living the Gospel, young people will come. There may be less than before, but God is still calling us. And we're willing to listen to you and soak in your wisdom. Some of the best discernment advice has been from our Sisters in the retirement Villa.
Others - don't believe for a second that just because a community gets lots of young vocations, it's better. Don't get me wrong - there's nothing wrong with those communities. You can praise those communities who get lots of young vocations...but also praise those that don't. (By the way, did you know, the retention rate of postulants/novices is the same for both?) You want to encourage vocations, but by bad-mouthing the ones getting older, you're discouraging what you would actually love to see - young women following God's call. (Read the whole post)
Great wisdom from someone just beginning her path of life, love and truth with her religious community, in the company of young Sister friends within and across congregations.
Which leaves me very grateful for our 21st Century reality. Yes the world is in disarray and in great need of people working for the Gospel vision of justice and peace. But people are still answering that call, and thanks to the wonders of the internet we are able to connect virtually and yet deeply across the miles.