“Ask a Priest: Could a Non-Believer Become a Nun?”

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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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One Comment
  1. Hi there,
    We have a lot in common I am a musician too, I am classically trained and sung opera before moving onto Jazz, I also sing hymns. The difference though is that I believe in Jesus, God, Our Lady and the Catholic Faith.

    I am not a nun but have spent some time singing with them at Church as a child. Being a nun means that you have to dedicate your life to Jesus and God and to put your will over to them. It is very hard, but those that are called to it can find happiness and peace but at other times it can be hard and can be a struggle.

    You say that you want to release CDs ? what if you could be a nun and release CD’s of your singing? what if your name and who you are was not put on the CD? that your name would just be anonymous and withheld? so no one would know who you are at all? how would you feel then?

    I am not making any judgement only asking you to look deep in side yourself. As a singer I know that a lot of singers want to be given fame and recognition is that what you are looking for? if so then being a nun is not about that at all.

    In the music world at present it is very difficult times, many musicians have to have day jobs and because of that they loose the time they once had to make the music and to perform, Is this why you want to be a nun in order to get time to do music? a nun is about prayer and sacrifice, helping the sick and poor etc. Not about fame or ego. I do not know what your thinking is so please forgive me if this is not what you feel. But I am only saying this all as a lot of musicians are desperate to get their name known.

    On the other hand if you are wishing to contribute your God given gifts to the world then that is a good thing and a kind thing that you have to offer. Perhaps on your journey towards the faith you could use your singing to sing in a choir? if you eventually join the church then the church choir, if you do not then can you join a choir that do charity concerts? (or both!)

    But to be a nun you need to go through what would be a long journey for you, you would have to go through that journey and only when you started believing in God in your heart and mind then you could join the faith and then eventually start to become a nun. So it is not impossible for you. But it is a journey that could take many years. Again it is not impossible. Perhaps start on that journey take a day at a time and see what happens, why not journey towards the church and praying and take little steps towards one day joining the faith?

    My advice to you would be simply to go to mass and listen to the mass, pray even though you do not believe, pray to Our Lady and pray the Holy Rosary each day and maybe you will be granted peace in your mind and heart as a result. The Holy Rosary is important and many Graces can be granted from praying it. You might find guidance come to you from praying. The Catholic Church welcomes people to sit in on mass even if they are not Catholic, you can sit and watch, and pray. Have a chat with the priest to tell him that you are just visiting and what you can expect etc.

    Jesus is God’s son, Jesus told us that he was God’s son if you read the bible you will find out that this man you speak of is created by God. And therefore is with God. Perhaps you have been invited to find Jesus and that he has led you to him in order to lead you to God.

    Please research Our lady of Guadalupe, you will find that science cannot explain the image of Our Lady that appeared there are so many miracles around it all. Science says a human could not have painted the image. This is correct as it was God who created it.

    Look at all the different foods we have all the vegetables, flowers that could not exist without God. Look at grass for example under a microscope it has a pattern of happy faces. Why is this? is it just chance? No its not as God knew one day humans would invent powerful microscopes : it is God’s sense of humour God is saying “hey look I invented the emoji before you! , or he is just having a laugh at our emojis”. I love that God did that.

    And sand under a microscope is amazing too, God has shown that he has created every little sand particle by making each one like a jewel.

    I know God exists, I know him. I once called out to him when a bird was in danger and I could not help it, God performed a miracle in front of my eyes nothing could have saved the bird in that way, it was impossible. It was God who answered my call. It was an invisible force that helped the bird. It was God, He is the Father .

    You speak of Angels, God created them.
    You might watch tv shows where they have made up stories about angels etc that are not true as they are fantasy stories: those types of angels do not exist.
    God’s Angels exist.

    It seems to me that Jesus is showing you his deep love for you and he is helping you. Take his help and love.

    Take Our Lord Jesus’s hand and he will lead you to his father. Pray to him and pray every day.

    You sound like a nice person and it is lovely that you wish to share music. Find ways to do this just now while you are going through your journey. Volunteer, teach others on a volunteer basis. And keep praying and in your prayers have a chat to Jesus tell him what you are thinking or struggling with. He always listens.

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