Almost twenty years ago, I realized that I had felt called to religious life, but I didn't have the self love and courage to pursue it as a young woman. I have always been a procrastinator, and after I had my marriage dissolved, it took me almost ten years to begin the annulment process. Once I started, my advocate encouraged me to think about religious life, even though I had a child and was thinking of adopting another as a single parent. The one thing in my world I was sure about was that I loved parenting special needs children. The notion of living the consecrated life AND raising children with challenges at the same time was difficult to wrap my mind around, but I chose to do it.
Most religious communities and congregations have an age ceiling of 35 with a maximum of 45 in some. Good health is usually required as well, because the Church is supporting her religious and that is costly enough without pre-existing conditions (sounds like insurance companies) that could be a burden on Mother Church's finances. Some religious don't want women who are overweight for that very reason.
My situation went far beyond the traditional. I had children with different kinds of disabilities, one my birth daughter with a developmental handicap and the other I adopted knowing there might be issues we possibly needed to attempt to heal. But I felt that was part of God's call for me, since the Church no longer had a network of orphanages (institutions which weren't perfect, but I feel got a bum rap in many instances) and my opinion of foster care was and is that it's inadequate.I wanted to consecrate my parenting. I think that is part of a vocation for the Twenty First Century. I became aware of secular institutes and embarked on a search for one that fit.
I began to explore secular institutes. That wasn't as "easy" as it sounded. Many of them had the same restrictions that communities had. In addition, they were spread all over the country and I would have had difficulty meeting their requirements. For years, I associated with the Good Shepherd Sisters in their Companion program. That was a secular consecration with the Charism of St. Mary Euphrasia, which is a BEAUTIFUL charism. It still holds a special place in my heart. But there were issues with that way of life, more liberal than I, disagreements over the nature of the consecration for Companion of Jesus the Good Shepherd. I asked for their permission to leave and seek a way of life that was more traditional, but still allowed me to live in my own milieu. The Cliff Notes version on that one is that it didn't work out either with another emerging charism at the time.
Finally, with much trepidation, I decided that I cannot be alone in my desire and calling. I chose to start a private association of the faithful, the Oblate Sisters of Mary Magdalene. This is a group of women who in their lives have gone about "...seeking the Living among the dead." If I were a country singer, I'd say "Looking for Love in all the Wrong Places". We are ordinary, secular women, just like the Magdalen, who dearly love and serve Our Lord and who do as Jesus directed her, to go out and share the Good News of the Living Christ in our world, of our world and for our world. We take care of family members who need special care. We assist in feeding and clothing the needy. We simply work at jobs others consider "mundane", but we bring the Love of Jesus Christ in all we do. We endeavor to make every positive moment of everyday a prayer, an offering to The Most High God of Our Fathers.
We wear common dress, have an horarium that we follow and we wear habits in opportunities of community, like our meetings and retreats. We do all we can to live as a cohesive unit, although we live miles apart. We love and support each other. I have presented our way of life to the chancery of my diocese. While we are not operating under the authority of my bishop, we are an acknowledged private association of the faithful, and they are waiting to see the fruit we reap, which I feel will be as beautiful as it is bountiful. We are just waiting for the Holy Spirit to direct us and our spiritual director is Our Holy Mother.
I am 58 and have recently begun to finish a college degree that I was too immature to pursue 40 years ago. I love it. The future is so bright, I need shades. My life has just begun. Aging is a wonderful thing. To paraphrase Judge Judy, wisdom is a gift from God to compensate us for getting older. I am LOVING this getting older business. I have never been so happy in my life and I have never been so savvy as to recognize what I am gaining. Life as we age only gets better.... and clearer!****