Mary Nguyen Thi Phuong Lan is a Dominican Sister of Our Lady of the Rosary in Vietnam. She studied in universities in Vietnam and the Philippines and has worked in formation in Vietnam.
Traditional Vietnamese people's customs are very close to their faith, and they still retain values like filial piety, mutual love and care, loyalty, care for the elderly and the sick, love of children, and multigenerational harmony.
But as their society grew more open, Vietnamese were able to embrace globalized communication and got in touch with the new values of the Western world. The market economy has invaded Vietnam and made them forget their traditional values. Today, Vietnamese are richer materially but poorer spiritually.
The educational system has made many serious mistakes, like focusing on the achievement of quantity over quality. This is called "achievement disease in the educational system." Parents want their children to be the best. Teachers want their students to excel to the point that they disregard quality teaching. Students want to achieve to the extent that they even resort to cheating.
Even sadder, many people, especially the young, display individualism and pragmatism. They focus only on themselves, wanting to get plenty of money, good grades, or convenient lives without working.
All these trends are even affecting religious in Vietnam today. We are pulled by pragmatic lifestyles and affected by social pressures. Some sisters might choose religious life to escape from difficulties. A congregation might seem to be a good place to have a comfortable life or improve themselves without worrying about earning a living.
Religious usually want to dedicate their life to God by serving the church and the congregation. But because we are accustomed to free lifestyles, we find it very hard to adapt to the lifestyles and rules of community life.
Some cannot get up early to attend daily Mass or sit in silence to pray and meditate on the daily Gospel. They find it difficult to accept limitations on the use of money, technology, communication devices and other familiar gadgets. So they find ways to use them without permission with the help of their family or benefactors.
In such a society, as a Dominican sister, one of my most challenging adjustments to religious life is that I always have to remind myself to be honest in word and deed — because St. Dominic's charism is truth. I continually pray to God that I can avoid temptations to cheat, pretend, or tell lies. And I pray that I can remain aware of my mission as a poor sister of Christ to serve God through the poor and abandoned, especially the street children for whom I am caring.
We're delighted to bring you this excerpt from the monthly feature "The Life", courtesy of our friends at Global Sisters Report. This month, the panelists relate what they found most difficult about religious life, both when they entered community and — for some — even now. Influences of culture, of charism, of age all play a role. Read the the perspectives on more panelists here.