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Ten Misconceptions About Discernment & Religious Life

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.

 

 

National Vocation Awareness Week

National Vocation Awareness Week begins today, as dioceses across the nation embrace this time to encourage young people to think of considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.

It is no accident that the week begins today, as the Church celebrates the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This feast marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.

National Vocation Awareness Week focuses on vocations to the priesthood, diaconate, and consecrated life in particular. During these days, families and the parish community are urged to nurture the faith of their children to prepare them to respond to whatever God’s call is for them. Catholics are encouraged during this week to take time to pray for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life; to reflect on our own vocation and strengthen their personal relationship with Christ; and to educate young people about the importance of silent prayer and taking the time to truly listen to God’s voice in our hearts.

More Latino Vocations

Archbishop Jose Horacio Gomez of Los Angeles

The Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has been awarded a grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation that largely underwrites a comparative cultural survey of Catholic youth in the United States.

The survey aims to identify common and distinctive cultural traits that affect the openness and ability of Catholic youth to respond to a call to a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. The Secretariat has commissioned the Center for Applied Research (CARA) at Georgetown University to conduct a national survey of never-married Catholics, ages 14 and older, to study their views about vocations and their own consideration of a vocation.

Statistical data found in two reports commissioned by the Secretariat, “The Class of 2011: Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood” and “The Profession Class of 2010: Survey of Women Religious Professing Perpetual Vows,” indicate fewer than expected religious vocations among the Hispanic and Latino Catholic population in the U.S.

Father Shawn McKnight, executive director of the Secretariat, said that Hispanics/Latinos constituted 15 percent of the ordination class and 10 percent of the religious profession class, while constituting 34 percent of the total adult Catholic population.

“There is not enough objective data to explain the reasons for their underrepresentation,”Father McKnight said.

The Secretariat seeks to identify specific reasons for their underrepresentation, to guide the efforts by dioceses and religious communities to promote vocations.

In the same reports, other cultures show a stronger representation. For example, Asians constitute four percent of the adult Catholic population in the U.S., yet 10 percent of the past year’s ordination class were Asian.This is a consistent trend over the past 15 years. In the 2010 class of women who made their religious profession of perpetual vows, 19 percent of the entire class was Asian.Further study is needed to explore why there is such a difference in representation.

The identification of cultural elements that support and challenge a culture of vocations among Asian, Latino and the general youth population would be helpful information for collaborating organizations, such as the National Religious Vocations Conference and the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors.The results of this study would also benefit those involved with the evangelization of youth, as they would indicate how the influences of culture impact the ability to reach out to all Catholic youth.

“This study will aid in the New Evangelization by serving as a helpful resource in determining emerging needs within the Church as well as assisting in the development of timely and effective responses,” said Peter Murphy, PhD, executive director of the USCCB Secretariat of Evangelization and Catechesis.

“The success of ministry among a growing number of Hispanics/Latinos requires leadership from the Hispanic/Latino community itself, especially in the priesthood and religious life,” added Father Allan Deck, former head of the USCCB Secretariat for Cultural Diversity in the Church. “This proposal is the single most important effort to find the best ways to provide the priestly leadership necessary for Hispanics/Latinos to flourish in the Church.”

Courtesy of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Signs of Encouragement for U.S. Vocations

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis, the head of the U.S. bishops’ committee on vocations, believes Catholics should be encouraged by great signs of hope for the future of the priesthood in America.

In a December 15th story by Catholic News Agency, Archbishop Carlson noted that while there remains a “great need for more seminarians” in the United States, several recent “positive trends” in seminary enrollment should “give us hope as a people of faith.”

The archbishop said that Apostolic Visitations in 2005 revealed that the vast majority of diocesan seminaries throughout the country are “healthy houses of discernment and formation,” filled with seminarians of a “very high caliber,” who bring with them “a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and talents.”

For the rest of the story, click here.

Archbishop Dolan on “Culture of Vocations”

As part of the celebration of National Vocation Awareness Week, January 9-14, 2012, The Catholic Answer magazine interviewed Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York on how to build a “culture of vocations.”

Before becoming the Archbishop of New York and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Dolan served as rector of the North American College, the seminary for Americans in Rome, from 1994 to 2001.

The entire interview is important reading, but I thought our readers would be especially interested in Archbishop Dolan’s insights as to what a “culture of vocations” looks like:

“What I mean by a culture of vocations is that when our young people grow up in a culture that encourages you to do God’s will and that affirms one in his desire to be a priest, you are going to get priests. I grew up in such a culture. I said to my teachers in grade school, ‘I think I want to be a priest,’ and they beamed and did everything possible to encourage me. My parish priest would. My folks would. My neighbors would. The parish would. I can remember as a kid–I must have been 9 or 10 years old–getting a haircut, and the barber said, ‘Hey shrimp, what do you want to be when you grow up?’ I said, ‘I want to be a priest.’ And he wasn’t even a Catholic, but he said, ‘Hey, isn’t that great?’

“Now that is the culture of vocations that we need in the Church.”

Readers are also invited to check out Archbishop Dolan’s blog, “The Gospel in the Digital Age.”

Don’t Let Uncertainty Stop You

A fear of not having all the answers is stopping many young women from seeking a beautiful vocation as a religious sister, says a Franciscan sister from Illinois in a new video.

“That’s where the fear is,” explains Sr. Michael, of the Daughters of St. Francis of Assisi. “The person is hesitating to take that next step because they don’t have all the answers. You are not going to have all the answers, until you take that next step. And then the answers will come.”

In a candid, unscripted video interview, Sr. Michael, Vicar Provincial of the congregation, provides fresh insight on overcoming reluctance in pursuing a vocation, as well as the spiritual benefits of living in a community dedicated to following Christ through the life of St. Francis.

“Let me tell you what it’s like to be in a community of sisters,” Sr. Michael explains in a surprisingly popular 10-minute video. “It’s a mystery at first because you realize that there is a spiritual bond with each one of them. . . . We all come from different parts of the world and different parts of the country. Yet we all have that bond, that common bond. . . . That bond follows us into eternity.”

The video also features an interview with the congregation’s bishop, Most Rev. Daniel R. Jenky, Bishop of Peoria, who says, ”I am very happy to say I have great admiration for the zeal of the Daughters of St. Francis of Assisi.”

The Sisters’ provincial motherhouse is in Lacon, Illinois, and the congregation has its general house in Bratislava, Slovak Republic. They have been operating St. Joseph Nursing Home in Lacon since 1964.

Demographics Is Destiny?

I recently came across this article in The Baltimore Sun entitled “Catholics look to younger students to stem priest, nun declines.” What struck me was that the profiled fifth-graders “were so unfamiliar with a nun’s habit and veil” that they referred to a nun as “the lady in the blue dress.”

Unfortunately, the author eventually trots out the usual “mainstream” explanations for the shortage of priests and religious, such as the sex scandals, the male-only priesthood, and mandatory celibacy, without going deeper.

This shortcoming was adroitly exposed by Terry Mattingly on his blog:

“One of the major problems these days is that millions of Catholic parents are no longer sure if they want their sons and daughters to surrender their lives to the church.

“This is the factor that the Sun continues to miss in its coverage of stories linked to Catholic statistics–such as struggling parishes, closing schools and, yes, the declining number of priests. A key fact: Birth rates for most white American Catholics now resemble those found in liberal Protestant churches.

“I dug into this a few years ago in a pair of Scripps Howard columns that shipped with this title: ‘Fathers, mothers and Catholic sons.’ The key interview was with the progressive Catholic academic Father Donald B. Cozzens, a former seminary vicar in Ohio and author of the influential 2000 book, The Changing Face of the Priesthood.

“The bottom line: How many Catholic young people will even considering entering religious life if this step is actively opposed by their fathers and mothers?

“In the past, when large families were the norm, it was a matter of pride to have a son enter religious life. But what if most Catholic families contain only one son?

“’When it has become normal to have two children or less, you are not going to find many parents who are encouraging a son–especially an only son–to become a priest,’ said Cozzens. ‘They want him to get married, to have grandchildren and carry on the family name.

“’So there are fewer sons and there are more mothers who are asking hard questions.’

“Grandchildren or no grandchildren? . . .

“Once again, demographics is destiny. I would also note that, especially in Catholic pews, demographics are often shaped by doctrine.”

Read the entire article here.

Sisters Promote Vocations Online

Yesterday the National Catholic Register published an interesting article entitled “Sisters Go Online to Promote Vocations,” on how communities of women religious are relying more on the Internet and social media, with some orders report a sharp rise in inquiries.

“For many women discerning religious vocations and communities seeking new members today, the Internet serves as both matchmaker and meeting place. Whereas in the past, most young women learned about religious communities from sisters in schools and other Catholic institutions, the decline in numbers of religious women has caused communities to find different ways of reaching those whom God may be calling to vowed life.

“Chief among these new practices has been use of the Internet, where communities can easily connect with possible candidates. Many, if not most, communities today have some kind of Internet presence–at minimum, a website explaining their history and charisms. Others, like the Mercy sisters, have gone even further by adding chat rooms, blogs, and Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts.”

While social networking alone isn’t enough to foster a “culture of vocations,” it’s increasingly becoming a significant part of the equation, according to a 2009 study conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA).

London Calling

Allen Hall, the Diocese of Westminster’s Seminary in London, has seen a modest increase in the number of men preparing for the priesthood in each of the past six years, according to Independent Catholic News.

In an interview published by Independent Catholic News, seminarian Damian Ryan gives all sorts of good advice to those considering the priesthood. I particularly like the way he summed it up:

“The main thing is to be courageous, relax, and  let Jesus do the work. He knows what He’s doing.”

Deception in Discernment

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.