Matters Of The Heart

All my friends are getting married

Actually, that’s not quite true. My friends of my own age have, as a general rule been married for years. Even the ones who got married ‘later’ seem to have been on that train for awhile.

They have toddlers, some even primary school aged kids.

My friends that I actually spend time with (the friends who aren’t changing nappies and attempting unsuccessfully to sleep through the night) are younger than I, and all seem reasonably secure in the knowledge that they will meet someone, marry and have children.

I felt the same way until I was about 20, that I was on the marriage train. Then something happened. I met some religious (initially religious men in the form of Jesuits) and saw that there was an alternative (obviously not within the Society of Jesus mind you), and I’ve been fighting internally ever since.

Now and again, I feel a pull to do something about what might seem from the outside a lack of direction. The truth is, I don’t feel called to the single life, and while it seems a valid option for some; and my cat would thank me to maintain my current state; it doesn’t feel quite right.

I have a rather difficult-to-discern sense that there is something else.

Some might call it the hound of heaven, others a calling, others an inkling without a name.

So. My response is usually to take a two-day foray into internet dating, update my profile so that I look somewhat presentable, exchange a few messages with nice men and then panic….

The panic comes from the ambivalence I feel toward dating. My heart isn’t in it. If any dates result, I usually find myself nonplussed, unmoved, even when meeting lovely people.

My duplicitous mind then finds itself googling religious orders, calling up my nun friends, and watching YouTube clips of altruistic sisters working with children in Africa and Latin America.

And it feels like I am cheating somehow, so I take down my profile on the dating site (or, put it on pause) and go about the motions.

Things got more serious in 2010 when I attended the Canonisation of Mary MacKillop in Rome.

I remember a very clear sense of dread and unworthiness as I climbed up the scaffold where the press gallery had been haphazardly constructed.

I had my camera, notebook and Vatican Press Pass, and I felt like everyone in the world deserved to be there more than I. And yet, I pushed through and began to pray.

Had I been wrong all this time, assuming I would go the way of most Catholic girls and simply marry?

Why had I wasted my teens and twenties dating when it seemed to be going nowhere, and when there was always this anxiety in the pit of my stomach that I couldn’t name.

Was that feeling God, or my conscience?

Was I being called to something else?

And why would I be called? Broken that I am.

So I started taking some tentative steps.

I attended retreats of orders that didn’t attract me because the orders that did were no longer taking people.

I met religious.

I shared with some of them.

I met at least five older women religious who could not have been less supportive.

I spoke to religious with stylish glasses, lipstick, and then paradoxically others with full white habits with rosary beads dangling at their side.

I met religious in jeans and others in floral shirts with simple crosses on their lapels. I chatted with others in brown skirts who radiated joy and charisma.

I stayed in their communities.

I was told by one bishop to be very careful not to join the sisters of the perpetual discernment.

I took a year off from my job to try religious life in another country, and within three months, was dating for the first time in years.

I ended up dating a man who felt called to the priesthood of course, because I can’t find some normal guy.

And so it goes until now.

The other day I caught up with one of my favourite nuns. She’s a member of an order who is no longer actively promoting vocations, and yet she herself still carries the honeymoon-period joy of a young sister, recently professed.

‘Why are the girls all going overseas to join religious life?’ she asked me.

But I think that one is for another blog.

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