Life in a religious order isn’t easy. No one will ever tell you that. But is it worth it? Oh, yes!
Religious life does require a certain level of health to begin with. They don’t want an aspirant who will only demand service of the community and not give any service. You need to be able to contribute: wash the dishes, read in Chapel, work in the garden, clean the bathrooms, do the laundry. You don’t need to be an Olympic athlete. You need to pull your weight. This is only fair.
I was in a contemplative Benedictine monastery for two and a half years. My health was not the best. I would faint nearly every day. I was still healthy enough to continue. It was my choice to leave, before I took vows, and it had nothing to do with my health. Nuns are the happiest people I’ve ever seen. I was happy, too.
I found religious life to be tiring. We were always busy, as the horarium posted above shows, although we didn’t have a ‘free hour’ and our ‘recreation’ was often communal work in the garden or chopping fruit and vegetables for the kitchen, simply because it had to be done. Three hours for recreation and free time every day seems an awful lot. Recreation periods aren’t like recreation at home. It is recreation in community and you are expected to socialise with the other nuns- and remembering to socialise equally, not just with particular friends. Many nuns are glad on Fridays (and Wednesdays in Lent and Advent) when there is no community recreation. Finally, a time to get things done! And you don’t have to chat with old Mother Mary X who doesn’t believe that nuns should discuss their employment (chores in the monastery), their past lives, their interests, anything personal, anything secular or anything religious. Now imagine having that conversation about the weather every day for an hour.
In the novitiate we were supposed to do two hours lectio divina every day and it was a rare day that you could carve out enough small blocks of time to make two hours. We never, ever had two consecutive hours free to do whatever. Our horarium provided for eight hours rest, if we were on our beds half an hour after Compline and up two minutes before Nocturns. My novice mistress pointed out that the Book of Customs said ‘Rest’ not ‘Sleep.’ Then there was also an hour, twice a week, in the night taking our turn at Adoration.
Even though our time was so full the Office was never a chore. We were for 5.5hours a day in chapel (not counting Night Adoration) and every single time it was like an oasis. It wasn’t unusual to see nuns in the Chapel outside of these times, as well.
You mention that the monastery requires medical tests. Couldn’t you trust your Prioress to assess the results of your health inspections and then decide for herself if you are strong enough?
There is a story of the desert fathers where a very faithful brother was found not to have even completed all the strokes of a single letter in a sentence when the bell rang and he obediently put down his pen and hurried to the Chapel. I suppose most nuns have done this. You have to get used to putting one task down without complaining, to attend Office.
St Teresa of Avila said that when she entered the convent it felt as though a lion were breaking all her bones.
There is a story about St Mary of Egypt who lived a life of sin then went into the desert to live a life of penance. She found the first seventeen years very hard, the next seventeen less so. She later told her story to a monk who found her in the wilderness, not long before she died. A Poor Clare nun summed up the story this way. “The first seventeen years are the hardest. Go for it.” We used to encourage each other with this in the novitiate.
You will never know unless you try it. If you try it, what’s the worst that can happen? Would you be happy the rest of your life if you said ‘No’ to a call from God?