Somebody encouraged me to post this, so here goes. Please pardon any clumsiness on my part, this is written off-the-cuff before I lose nerve and hit Delete.
Back in 2003, I stayed for a week with the Missionaries of Charity sisters in Vienna, Austria, sharing in their prayer and work. Since then I've been involved with them off-and-on, always with the thought in my mind of someday, maybe, possibly, joining. In November of last year, I made a formal visit to their postulant house in NYC, and have since been accepted to the order.
A few details on the Missionaries of Charity, for those of you who may not know much about them: they are a Catholic religious order, founded in India by Mother Teresa, in the 1950s; they have since spread throughout the world. Their convents are located in the slums, among the poor they serve. In America, they run soup kitchens, food and clothing banks, homes for battered women, emergency shelters, AIDS hospices, after-school programs. At Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, they prepare meals and take them to shut-ins. There is no glory to the life, and they ask for none. There is no hidden agenda. It is simply and purely a life of service to the poor and to Christ.
As a sister, my day would begin at 4:40. I would get up, dress in the dark and straighten my pallet, then go to the chapel for an hour of prayer. From there I would go to do in-house chores (rag and bucket, no mops), then return to the chapel for Mass, beginning a day-long rhythm of prayer and work that is essential to the life of the Missionaries of Charity. My only "day off" would be Thursday, and even that is a day set aside for deeper prayer, confession, and spiritual direction. I would own nothing - even my two habits (one for washing, one for wearing) would be mine to use, but not mine to own. I would be transferred to a new convent every couple of years to avoid attachments to places or people - even that comfort of "belonging" in a place would not be mine to claim. What matters is the work, done the same for all; what matters is the Lord in whose name it is done. It may sound harsh or extreme; but it is what I feel called to. To that complete freedom to serve God and neighbor, nothing held back for myself.
Of course, the saying is that nothing easily had is worth having. That is true here as well. During college I borrowed a considerable amount in student loans, and while I have made good progress in paying them off, I have a large debt remaining. I cannot enter the order until it is paid in full. Until two months ago, I was certain that I could pay off my debt by myself. Maybe it would take a few years, but I could do it by age 35 (the oldest I can be to enter the order). It turns out that my debt is twice what I thought it was; I can't pay it off in time. I wanted to - I did not want to turn and ask for help. But it seems that now I have to. Anything - advice, prayers, whatever - any of you can give will be much appreciated! I know I am not the first in this situation, if any of you have experience with this or know of places I can turn to, please let me know.
(Permit me to add here that in the normal course of things, I am doing well. I volunteer, as I can, at the Baltimore convent and am involved with the Lay Missionaries of Charity. I have two jobs and a good place to live; I am not rich but neither am I desperate for money. I simply do not make enough to pay off my loans in time.)
What I can offer in exchange is my prayers, and also my participation in the work of the Missionaries of Charity. During their daily hour of Adoration, the sisters keep a number of candles lit on the altar; one of them is lit as a prayer for all of their benefactors throughout the world. To that general prayer, I would add my specific prayer for you. It is not much - but it is what I can give in return.
My thanks to all of you who have read through this - God bless you and your families in this Advent season.