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The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Wichita have a list on their website of the top ten misconceptions about discernment and religious life that was one of the most perceptive and at the same time the most obvious set of points I have ever read. They likened the discernment process that a young women goes through before marrying to the discernment process a young woman goes through before choosing a community.
For example, #1: You are called to a particular Community
If you are called to Religious Life, you are called to a particular Community. When a young woman feels called to marriage, she doesn’t say, “I am called to get married. Any man will do, as long as I follow my vocation. I’ll marry the first one I meet.” Just as in marriage God has a plan for your partner, He has a plan for the right Community for you.
Example #9: How do you choose from so many Communities?
Some young women say, “But there are SOOO many religious Communities out there. I give up before I even start because I don’t know where to start.” Well, there are a lot more men in the world than religious communities. Why hasn’t this stopped women from getting married? Because it only takes ONE man, the RIGHT one. When you meet him, you stop looking. Take it one at a time and trust God to lead the right one to you, or to place him in front of you. The same applies to Convents.
All of the examples cited on this Top Ten list are equally perceptive and instructive. It really takes the mystery out of the discernment process when you liken it to choosing a spouse. If God is calling you to religious life, then He will lead you to that right community where your vocation can blossom and be fruitful.
The IHM Sisters are an IRL Affiliate Community with a Carmelite spirituality and an emphasis on Eucharistic and Marian devotion. The sisters engage in the works of Catholic education on all levels, including spiritual retreats. In union with Mary, the sisters pray for the Church, especially for the conversion of sinners and the sanctification of priests.
A discernment retreat is a prayerful visit with a religious community, perhaps for a weekend or even a week. Such a retreat is a good way to test your vocation. You can get to know the community and its charism, and consider whether God may be calling you to its way of life. Many communities hold retreats for groups for just this purpose. Or you may be able to visit them as an individual.
One of the most important outreaches of the Institute on Religious Life (“IRL“) is assisting those who are discerning religious vocations by directing them to opportunities to “come and see,” often in the context of a retreat.
The IRL provides information on retreats for men and women alike. In addition, the IRL offers online vocation retreats, consisting of daily meditations and reflections sent to you via email to help you discover your vocation in life.
Visit the IRL site today for more vocation-related resources!
Project Andrew, named for the apostle who invited his brother Simon (Peter) to come meet Jesus (see John 1:40-42), has become a popular vocation-related events for potential seminarians. While the format varies from diocese to diocese, the idea is to have young men “come and see” by spending an evening with the bishop, sharing a meal, discussion, and prayer.
The evenings encourage young men to actively seek out what God wants of them (maybe priesthood, maybe not), and then challenge them to be heroically generous in embracing and living out this vocation. In that sense, it’s about discernment, not recruitment.
Given that context, I wanted to share this article from my own archdiocesan newspaper regarding a Project Andrew event here in Kansas City. What I found to be particularly valuable was the addition of a parent component, as parents of the young men in discernment are invited to hear from parents of some current seminarians.
While the Church extols the great gift that vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life are to Catholic families, the fact is that many parents are opposed to this way of life for their children. There may be fears of “losing” their children or they may simply harbor misconceptions about the priesthood, consecrated life, or the Church in general–just the sort of things that dialogue and friendship with other parents could help resolve.
As Catechism, no. 2233 provides:
“Parents should welcome and respect with joy and thanksgiving the Lord’s call to one of their children to follow him in virginity for the sake of the Kingdom in the consecrated life or in priestly ministry.”
The following essay by Br. Gabriel Torretta, O.P., first appeared in Dominicana 60:1 (Spring 2011), 7-9, and it and was recently reprinted in its online edition. We reprint it here because of the excellent insights it provides on the subject of vocational discernment.
If you’ve ever thought about a priestly or religious vocation, perhaps this prayer has passed your lips: “God, if it’s your will that I do this, just give me a sign!” The prayer is easy, natural, and ubiquitous among those ‘discerning.’ But this little prayer may also be the single easiest way to short-circuit a vocation and leave a man dead on the waters of life.
The problem with this prayer is that it pits God’s will against mine, as two discrete entities, one of which must give way to the other. Will looks like a zero-sum game: if I win, God loses, and if I lose, God wins. The danger is that when I compete with God, whoever wins, I lose.
Moreover, the prayer assumes that God’s will is an inscrutable mystery that I must implore Him to reveal. My will bears no sure relation to God’s, and I have no way of knowing if my desires are really holy or just selfish. My desire and my will are like a mercury thermometer with all the numbers rubbed off; I could be edging toward spiritual hypothermia or burning with zeal, but I’ll never know unless God puts the numbers back on. As a result, I have to ask God to give me extraordinary signs so that I can know what to do and how to do it.
But asking for signs from God is a dangerous endeavor. More often than not, “God give me a sign” really means “God, do what I tell you,” or “Give me the kind of sign I want you to give.” Jesus himself addresses this problem in the Gospels; after a series of remarkable miracles and authoritative teachings, the disbelieving scribes and Pharisees tell Jesus, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You,” to which Jesus responds, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet” (Mt 12:38-39; cf. Mk 8:11-12, Lk 11:29). The question betrays the blindness of the questioners, because Jesus’ entire life is the sign they claim to be looking for. The Pharisees refuse to observe the reality unfolding before them and instead ask for a sign on their own terms. The honest men among the Pharisees may have asked the question in earnest, hoping that God would help them decide whether or not to follow Jesus. But their purported ardor for God’s will blinded them to the marvelous ways God was actually working in their lives.
This is the blindness of moralism. The moralist ‘discerns’ as if to wrest the secret of God’s will out of His hands by brute force; dashing from one spiritual program to another and from one vocation event to the next, he pours out novenas, rosaries, and mass intentions, begging God to reveal the mystery of his vocation. All the while the moralist ignores the actual signs God has been pouring into his heart. For God’s will is not radically opposed to my will; rather, God’s will works through mine, moving it by grace to respond to Him with a total gift of love. Jesus spoke of this to the great Dominican mystic St. Catherine of Siena after a period of spiritual darkness: “Your will is a sign to you that I am there, since I would not be within you by grace if you had an evil will” (Letter T221/G152). Formed by a life lived with God, my will can be the signpost by which God directs me where He wants me to go.
Vocation is not a shell game in which I have to outwit God and find the perfect life He has hidden among all the options in the world. Vocation is a call of love to love. God moves our hearts to love Him, to answer the one, universal call to holiness. The Christian’s task is to respond to that love concretely with the complete gift of himself. To give himself utterly, he needs the honesty, generosity, wisdom, and prudence that come from God, for which he must pray. Then, when his heart burns with a specific desire to love God with this woman, or this religious order, or in this diocese, then he decides and commits himself irrevocably into God’s hands. This is the mystery of vocation. This is the mystery of love.
Last week the editors of the National Catholic Register offered the following response to the question, “How do I know what my vocation is?” In doing so, they quote Servant of God John A. Hardon, the beloved founder of the Institute on Religious Life.
“A religious vocation is a special grace that God gives to certain persons, calling them to a life of the evangelical counsels,” wrote Jesuit Father John Hardon, whose canonization cause is under way, as chronicled at EWTN.com. “What are some typical features of a true vocation to the religious life? I would emphasize especially three: 1) a strong faith in the Catholic Church and her teaching, shown by a firm loyalty to the Vicar of Christ; 2) a love of prayer, at least the capacity for developing a desire for prayer; and 3) a readiness to give oneself to a life of sacrifice in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. . . . I believe that if every prospective candidate were to make a private retreat, even for a few days, under a competent priest, it would help immensely. The retreat could be especially geared to a person who thinks that he or she has a vocation to the religious life. Then, during the retreat, in an atmosphere of silence and prayer, ask God to enlighten one’s mind as to whether or not he is calling the person to a life of Christian perfection. This, in fact, is one of the original purposes of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: to discover and decide on one’s state of life.” Read the rest of this entry »
A new survey aims to help single Catholic women sort out what is one of the most common questions about religious life: How do I know if I’m called?
The seven-question survey, developed by Kevin Banet in cooperation with the Dominican Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in Justice, IL, plumbs one’s desires and interests to help a young woman discern whether she is called to become a sister.
“The survey offers probing, thought-provoking questions about the interests and desires of the heart,” notes Kevin Banet, a vocation promotion expert who serves religious communities. “It asks questions and then has answers, or affirmations as, ‘The zeal to live and share God’s love is something that won’t lie dormant within me,’ and ‘When I see a religious sister, I think about what it would be like for me to become a sister.’” Read the rest of this entry »
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has especially commended Vision, also known as the Catholic Religious Vocation Network, for its innovative “Vocation Match” feature to assist the discernment process. The USCCB has also praised the site for connecting visitors to dioceses, religious communities, and retreat opportunities.
Vision has several other interesting features. One feature I really like is its “Religious life timeline,” which is downloadable here.
I think the simple name of the site is most appropriate. Men and women discerning God’s personal call in their lives are invited to “come and see” (John 1:39). We need grace-filled “vision” to see the wonderful plan God has for our lives.
Or so says St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787), the founder of the Redemptorists and renowned Doctor of the Church. I heartily encourage our readers to check out his essay entitled, “The Advantages of the Religious State.” This essay is really nothing other than a profound meditation on these words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), another Doctor of the Church, concerning consecrated life:
“Is not that a holy state in which a man lives more purely, falls more rarely, rises more speedily, walks more cautiously, is bedewed with the waters of grace more frequently, rests more securely, dies more confidently, is cleansed more quickly, and rewarded more abundantly?”
These words may seem controversial–and decidedly undemocratic–to contemporary ears, as they unabashedly extol the excellence of a life completely consecrated to God. May many have ears to hear.
As we’ve now begun the Lenten journey, and have recalled our own mortality (“Remember man that you are dust . . .”), those contemplating their state of life do well to consider St. Alphonsus’ wise admonition:
“Some are deterred from entering religion by the apprehension that their abandonment of the world might be afterwards to them a source of regret. But in making choice of a state of life I would advise such persons to reflect not on the pleasures of this life, but on the hour of death, which will determine their happiness or misery for all eternity.”
For the entirety of St. Alphonsus’ essay, click here.