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“Ask a Priest: Could a Non-Believer Become a Nun?”
Q: I am interested in studying religious music and religious literature. I sing opera and play classical piano. I am interested in religious music since most music composed early was based on religion. I find the contemplative life of a nun to be a beautiful thing and am thinking of the possibility of becoming a contemplative nun. I know that nuns have about five or more hours a day, and I was thinking that perhaps I could spend my work hours working on my music and releasing CDs and digital music and maybe even some videos to earn money for the convent and spread the teachings of Jesus. I believe in Jesus. I believe in his teachings on forgiveness. I think the act of prayer is a beautiful thing. The thing is, though, I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in an afterlife and am based in science and biology when it comes to death. I believe, though, that there was a historical Jesus who was worldly and wise. I am interested in reciting prayers and being in a quiet, beautiful place, transforming my prayers into songs and teaching and contemplating the messages of Jesus. Is it possible for me to become a contemplative nun even though I don’t believe in God or (what I consider) superstitious things like angels and demons? – S.K.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: It must be admitted that Ask a Priest doesn’t get many inquiries from atheists who want to become nuns, much less in the contemplative life. But then, the Holy Spirit moves as he wills.
The point of contemplative life is to focus one’s heart and mind on prayer to God. It’s not just about trying to find a quiet spot in the world. Contemplative life can be quite intense in its own way.
If you don’t believe in God, the contemplative life wouldn’t be, couldn’t be, for you. Contemplation without God is not real prayer.
In the wide sense of the word, however, contemplation can mean an activity whereby a person seeks the truth by ruminating about the world, ideas, experiences, etc. This kind of contemplation can be bridge to encountering God, who is ultimate Truth.
Indeed, your attraction to contemplative life might be a nudge from the Almighty himself. It might be worthwhile to visit a contemplative convent (such as a Carmelite community) and talk to a nun.
If you feel drawn to Jesus, you might want to delve deeper into the Gospels. He is either God or he is a fraud. Jesus can’t just be a wise man and nothing more.
Perhaps you might want to learn more about the Catholic faith. The Youth Catechism, or YouCat, can help.
A helpful overview of the Christian faith is Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis, an Anglican. You might also check out Peter Kreeft’s arguments for the existence of God. Yet another suggestion would be Father John Bartunek’s Spiritual But Not Religious.
In the meantime, your interest in religious music and literature could be a steppingstone to something higher. The beauty they reflect is but a thin ray of the beauty that radiates from God.
I hope some of this helps. Count on my prayers.
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