An unusual habit

Nuns wait for the Pope Benedict XVI, Sunday Aug. 21, 2011. The Pontiff arrived in Madrid for a four-day visit on the occasion of the Catholic Church's World Youth Day. (AP Photo/Arturo Rodriguez)
Nuns wait for the Pope Benedict XVI, Sunday Aug. 21, 2011. The Pontiff arrived in Madrid for a four-day visit on the occasion of the Catholic Church's World Youth Day. (AP Photo/Arturo Rodriguez)
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A growing number of young women are giving up their partners, their careers, their homes and all of their worldly possessions.

Not to jet off with a backpack to travel the globe, discovering different cultures and helping AIDs orphans and earthquake survivors along the way.

But rather, to cut themselves off from the only world they have ever known.

In their twenties and thirties, when their peers are forging their career paths, getting married and planning families, they are deciding to go down a very different path. They are choosing to become nuns.

More of the women who decide to eschew everything for life in a convent each year are now well under 40. In 2006, they made up 42 per cent of nuns in training. Now it’s 70 per cent.

A BBC One documentary, Young Nuns, looked into the trend this week. It followed the progress of two young women hoping to sign up for a life of piety and prayer.

The cameramen followed several women as they made their decisions – and found most were actively seeking a radically and distinctively different lifestyle. One of them had been a model and said she had long felt the glamorous world she inhabited left her feeling unfulfilled and asking: Is that it?

For me, that rang alarm bells.

Surely this increase should be a reflection of a national strengthening in our Christian faith. Yet it comes at a time when church congregations are falling – and society is sinking ever deeper into a mire of malcontent...

If it is a true, deep, religious commitment turning these women’s faces towards God, then I’m glad they found their Hallelujah moment and the very best of luck to them and I hope they don’t change their minds when the maternal clock starts ticking.

But I fear this move to a life of piety- by women too young to have even discovered who they really are and what they truly want - might actually be based on a deep-seated dissatisfaction with the way their lives are panning out.

We live in a society where expectations are set impossibly high. Young people are growing up in a culture which leads them to believe they SHOULD feel utterly fulfilled, satisfied and happy all of the time, when the reality is, it’s probably only going to be that way some of the time.

The nun’s vows of poverty, chastity and obedience are the antithesis of everything young women are encouraged to be. Climb every career mountain, girl; ford every stream. Follow every rainbow, until you find your dream job, man, detached country cottage with a Poggenpohl kitchen.

I know numerous women who flit from this to that, constantly searching for the all-elusive fulfilment.

It’s easy to see why some unhappy butterfly girls might think the answer is to close the door on all of that. The convent door being the firmest one of all.