The heart's yearning for a greater purpose in life was made to wander through my mind this evening. While reading the Forum at Catholic Answers.com a woman wrote about her searching for a religious order that took older women. Immediately I empathized with her because my own search and burning desire. From the moment I came back in full with the Church and devotion I have felt a non-stop calling for religious life, asking Jesus about it and hearing an inner voice telling me that I will be welcomed. When I was 5 I wanted to be a medicine woman or a Sister like Sister Elizabeth(the only religious woman I ever talked with). I knew I was in toddler's clothes though and needed to relearn and learn so much and time had to be spent discerning whether this burning desire was just fervor's folly or true. I also knew any competent vocation director would say wait a few years and see if you still feel the same after the newness of the moment wears off.
I searched far and wide on the web and almost all religious orders had a cut off age of 40, some even younger especially the more physically demanding ones by age 35. A rare few consider older women, very few. What a deep sadness befell me seeing that one of the few things I was ever sure about in my life was most likely found too late. This woman's response in Catholic Answers rang with that same underlying tone. She even said if she could find an order that would let her in she could somehow pay them to cover her living expenses or if they could let her in until she got too old and medically expensive to care for. I can relate. I find myself at times wishing they maybe would let me in and understanding the financial costs of taking new members who are older they would be setting themselves for possible fiscal nightmares. To just be able to spend even 10-20 years within a community of religious all focused on the same goal of serving, living, sacrificing for the glory of God would be almost heaven on earth. Then even if tossed out to a ratty old folks home those previous years would forever be etched in the soul and make the last years seem like another offering for God.
Reflecting on all this made me realize how much I honestly keep trying to bury this desire within me to not feel the disappointment of being just a little too late in life again. Forces me to focus not on the sorrow I feel but on trusting in Jesus, for if He wishes it then He will make it so. It also forces me to prevent the "what if" game that serves no good..what if I had a doctor sooner that didn't strike such fear in me over returning to organized religion? Blah-blah-blah...see the "what if's" are the past and can never serve any good in the now.
Every order requires on average 5 to 7 years before final vows are made so at my age if I was accepted within the next 10 months would make me 51 to 53. Not hard to understand the limit when looked at in stark numbers. A 20 yo would be able to give a good 50 years of active service to the order, someone my age would maybe give 20 if given the same cutoff around age 70. So yes partly it is a numbers game.
Many recommend the secular Franciscans or Carmelites and those are great when there is nothing else, but still lacks the community togetherness of living with others that cannot be replicated. Makes me wonder how many great holy women who we never got to hear from as they went through life alone, their wisdom lost? Thank God there isn't an age limit on priests!
St Gemma wished so much to be a Passionist nun but due various reasons was unable to be accepted until after her death and obvious to all she was a saint. Can't help but think if she was alive today she would be locked up on a psychward or pumped so full of medicines she most likely never would have reached the limits of love for Jesus that she did. Then again Jesus may have protected her from all that or it was why she was born when she was, so she was protected through the gift of time? Males me wonder how many holy ones in these modern times have had that very scenario happen to them? Maybe that is another reason Jesus weeps when He sees modern science again hurting His path laid out for them? So many psychwards and mental patients have such strong belief in God and are told it is wrong or are beaten into chemical submission until they conform to the secular world's view of normal thinking. I had some wonderful conversations with supposedly crazy people that would make most people seem like lazy heathens. The crazy person's only crime was they refused to acquiesce their belief in God to a human's mandate of proper levels of religious thinking other then that they displayed no other symptomatology of a mental illness.
Thus back to the question of age and why such an arbitrary cut off, is it fiscal or physical? Do they think older women are too incapable of growing and learning? Do they think older women will bring too much baggage compared to younger women? Do they think older women are just seeking a place for care in their old age, a carry-over from when women didn't have the availability of work? Do they think we have so much stain of sin on us that we will somehow pollute the order?
Not for me to know and not for me to change for it is not in my power, again only God can make the way light and the path clear if He deems it to be.