Tuesday, July 26, 2011
In an effort to engage young people about religious life, I wandered into Catholic Answers site on catholic forum and discussions. I was hesitant at first, hearing so much about internet problems, but I have to say I find the exposure refreshing and challenging. Refreshing because I get to interact with so many young people with all their youthful concerns ,and challenging because they really know their questions and eager to know more about their faith.
One of the threads I started in the vocation forum was “Why Are You Scared of Religious Life?” I opened the thread with this statement: “Many young people are experiencing an attraction to religious life. Now, not all attractions mean one is definitely called to be a Sister or a Nun, Priest or Brother. But many of you are scared even to try to investigate if this is really what God wants for you, or even what you yourself would want! So what are you afraid of? Not cool enough for you? Want to get married? What...? “
It was such an eye opener to read the different responses. I tried to answer their questions in an honest way drawing much from my own reflections and experience with my own religious vocation. Someone asked the question, What if I find out later that I made the wrong choice and come to regret it? My answer was:
“Marrying somebody is also risky, isn't it? You don't know if he will be faithful to you until death do you part. But if a woman loves a man she is willing to take a risk. It's the same with God. But the difference is God is ALWAYS faithful. Yes, we'll never know if we are faithful. Time will test us, but if we don't take risks, we'll never live our lives fully either. The uncertainties will always be there. But if the attraction is strong, if you're free of family and financial responsibilities, and if you have a particular Order in mind, I'd say you try and spend a good amount of time to discern with this Community. Having a spiritual director to advice you is of course ideal, but if you don't have one, just take the initial step of getting to know what attracts you.
If you find a conflict with your attractions and your present situation (family opposition, financial obligations, study, etc.) my advice is to concentrate on developing a solid prayer and sacramental life (Mass, Confession, retreats). Not all attractions to a spirituality means you are called to an Order. It might be that God is calling you to a more serious and faithful living of your Faith. Start by becoming a good, practicing Catholic. Learn your Faith, live your Faith and be involved in the Parish and Community. Give of yourself. The more you give of yourself the clearer it will be for you to recognize if you are called to becoming a Religious. Becoming a religious does not mean just doing good works, although that goes with the territory. It is primarily a call from God. It does not start with us. You can do a lot of good things in the world without becoming a Religious. If God does not call there is no religious life.
How does one know if the attraction is really coming from God and not just one’s own willful desire ? Religious discernment for me meant finding out by daring to try. One will have difficulties finding out if he or she does not dare to try. That’s because no matter what other people told me, I was always an outsider looking in. I found out by risking it all and joining a religious community. What about the things one has to give up, my books, cars, bank account, house? Religious formation is a long process. It takes a maximum of 7 to nine years to become a Sister. You can have someone look after them while in formation. It is only when you make your profession of vows (and it depends if it's simple or solemn) that you will decide what to do with your material possessions. You have plenty of time to decide and to make up your mind.
Another concern is the attraction of having a family life- wife, husband and children. This is something one has to work on with the help of grace. This issue is part of the discernment process. If married life is a strong attraction then maybe that is one’s vocation. God never calls us to the impossible. He gives the corresponding grace to answer and live religious life. If one finds this impossible , then maybe one is not called to be a religious.
What about conflicts in Community? What if I find living with the same people unbearable and boring because people don’t change? I believe that the aim of religious life is not so much to change what is around us inasmuch as to be changed ourselves for the better and be transformed in the person God made us to be. Religious life is first and foremost allowing God to change us for the better so that we can really give Him back to a world who is thirsting for Him. Disputes do happen in religious life just as in any relationship of people. Monotony is a reality because things can get to be habitual and routine. But when God becomes part of our lives, every moment of it is lived out with a purpose and difficulties are made bearable by His grace It doesn’t mean they go away but they are made bearable by the help of God. These are all sacrifices we choose to embrace for love of Him.
Religious discernment is hard. But it is uplifting to know that God does not stop calling. My intention here is to help people take the time to listen and hopefully hear the message meant just for them.