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Is Religious Life Repulsive?

January 18, AD 2014 33 Comments

Religious LifeThe vows of religious life are repulsive, at least according to an article Br. Justin Hannegan recently wrote in Crisis Magazine provokingly titled: Sacrificing Religious Life on the Altar of Egalitarianism.

He writes:

All forms of religious life, at their very core, consist of three vows—poverty, chastity, and obedience—and each of these vows is repulsive … No one has an innate desire to uproot three of life’s greatest goods.  Such a desire would be mere perversion.

Br. Justin’s argument is that vocations directors need to leave behind the language of desire when talking about vocation. He argues:

The prevailing opinion amongst those who talk and write about discernment is that God calls men and women to religious life by placing an innate desire for religious life in their hearts.  If you have no such desire, it is unlikely that you are called. This advice, although it looks harmless on the surface, ends up thwarting religious vocations. 

My first thought upon reading this article was this guy is on to something. When I was discerning, I listened to a lot of people talk about discernment and give their vocation stories and the one story that spoke most to me was a talk that Fr. Stan Fortuna, CFR gave at a conference in the Bay Area. In it, he described his reaction to God’s call to religious life by shaking his fist at heaven and yelling, “Nooooooo!”

Nowadays, telling most young people, “If you are not attracted to religious life then it is not for you” is just not the right advice. Unless you have lived a life of radical virtue in today’s culture, chances are you are not going to feel a natural desire to the religious life. Young people will be more likely to feel an infatuation that flees when confronted with reality or simply feel repelled from it on every level. I do differ with Br. Justin in that, despite this reality, I still think talking to young people about desire is important.

The Language of Desire in Discernment

We are beings of desire and we cannot discount them. They reveal deep spiritual realities. St. Ignatius discerned his vocation through very careful attention to his desires and he taught that key is ordering our desires. The Christian life is about following Jesus who perfectly ordered his human desires to the Father’s will.

However, these days, young people must dig deeply to unearth a radical desire for holiness that is strong enough to combat the many temptations against living religious life. But we cannot discount the power of the desire for holiness once it is unearthed and ordered.

We also should not leave behind the language of desire for one of “effectiveness.” To encourage young people to take up the religious life because it is a more “effective” way to holiness, as Br. Justin seems to encourage, is a quick path to Pelagianism. Religious life is not about attaining holiness efficiently, it is about living our human desire and love for God in a special way. Our life cannot be lived without love; otherwise, the vows will indeed become repulsive and masochistic. The vows are desirable but only insofar as they bring us closer in love to Christ who lived them and in that religious find solace and true joy.

Is Religious Life Objectively Superior?

In his article, Br Justin points to the “objective superiority” of the religious life as something that should be unabashedly pointed out to young people discerning

I agree that religious do have a special call. It is not something to be apologetic about. Religious are not special in and of themselves, but the call is special. Why is it special? Because the life, more than married life, imitates the life of Jesus and foretells the kingdom of God.

However, I would like to point out two things. Br. Justin quotes Vita Consecrata, the papal document in which Blessed John Paul II writes: “This is why Christian tradition has always spoken of the objective superiority of the consecrated life.” The Latin phrase in the document for “superiority” is praestantia and it can be translated as “excellence” and is translated that way in the Italian version of the document. I think this is a better translation.

Unfortunately, for many years Catholic faithful believed that the religious vocation was “superior” to the lay vocation. If one didn’t become a religious then sanctity and holiness was not for them. Br. Justin is correct in challenging the pendulum swing that now tells people it doesn’t matter. However he misses the key issue of calling.

Generally, we can speak of the consecrated life as “more excellent” than any other way of life precisely because it imitates Jesus and foretells the kingdom of God, and the way of life to which we all are called. However, on an individual level, we cannot speak of an objective excellence in the call to religious life. Religious life is not the objectively more excellent way of life for everyone. The vocation that God calls a person to is “objectively superior” to any other way of life because God has called that person to holiness through that particular vocation. I do not think we should shy away from emphasizing the special call that is a religious vocation, but it must be done with care and nuance.

– – –

In the end, Br Justin’s article seems to be a call to go back to the past but I respectfully respond with a call to go forward with balance. Our numbers will never be the same as they were in the “good ol’ days” and it is cause for some lament but we have also grown as a Church and as religious. But along with Br. Justin I do see some things that could change in the current approach to religious vocations. So, I join him in his forthright and frank challenge for change and conversation about the way we speak about religious vocations– for the sake of the Church and the sake of young people who need help in hearing God’s call.

About the Author:

Sr. Theresa Noble is a novice, aka nun in training, with a religious congregation of sisters in the US. She left her job in California with eBay to follow God four years ago. She currently lives in a convent in Boston where she prays, evangelizes, bakes bread and blogs at Pursued by Truth (http://pursuedbytruth.blogspot.com/).
  • Tim Glemkowski

    This is so, so, so good. Brava Theresa! The whole praesentia bit, inspired! Thorough! Well-researched and articulated! Much respect.

    • Sr. Theresa Noble

      Oh I can’t take credit for that, I have an excellent novice formator 🙂

      Thank you for the lovely comment Tim, I enjoyed your article on vocations and am glad we are all discussing these things. These conversations are important!

  • SisterRose

    Religious ARE lay people. Also I do not think religious life is “more excellent”. It is distinctive but using these qualifiers for religious life is misleading. We are called to discipleship and humility and authenticity over any excellence or special status. Let us use the expressions of Pope Francis whose universal “pastorality” beckons all of us to a closer following of Jesus who teaches us with his poverty, chastity and obedience, the counterpoints to the world’s goals of exploiting people for money, sex and power.

    • Sr. Theresa Noble

      I believe that the important distinction to make is not that religious are “more excellent” but the way of life is in a sense “more excellent” due to its closeness to the way of life that Jesus lived and because it foretells the eternal life that all humans are called to. And in this I am echoing the words of John Paul II…. I do not think it is necessary to downplay this truth in order to live a life of discipleship and humility that eschew forms of clericalism and other such abhorrent abuses of this truth that have occurred.

      • SisterRose

        Just to clarify then, you believe it is a “truth,” an objective truth, that religious life is “more excellent” than other forms of Christian life? Or is this fervor speaking?

        “Excellent” is a tricky word indeed. I do not strive for excellence. I cannot. I do not have the will to be an “excellent” person. Perfection is an impossible word as well. Every day i strive for authenticity, to follow Christ more closely in our Pauline way of living and loving. That’s all I got. I am unable to use words that make religious life “better” than other ways to follow Christ. We used to study “The States of Perfection” but the Church no longer uses these categories. If anything, because we dedicate our lives to the closer following of Jesus in the service of God and others, we are called to greater accountability, more responsibility to be who we say we are.

        There is so much opportunity for giving and loving in religious life, as there are in other ways of life. There is a line in the Ignazio Silone’s 1937 novel “Bread and Wine” where the protagonist, a young man, walks through a church. He passes a statue of a saint and says (something like) “I have no desire to be a statue on an altar if this is what being a saint, striving to be a saint, means.”

      • Sr. Theresa Noble

        Sr Rose, I am not speaking from my own opinion but in union with the Tradition of the Church and specifically John Paul II in Vita Consecrata when I say that. The excellence of religious life has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with Jesus and the fact that he lived in the same way. He is the source of its excellence.

        The excellence of religious life does not mean that a religious is personally more excellent or superior than others. Many of my friends who have been called to married life are much better people than I am. I am unworthy, weak and pretty much the last person I think Jesus should call. But that does not mean that he would not choose the least likely person to glorify him through a way of living that is closer to the way of life that he chose. In fact, I think he likes to do that in order to show that religious life is not about us but about him.

        Maybe the people God calls to religious life are just the weak people he knows need the extra time and TLC with him in their spiritual life in order to become holy! Who knows… God’s ways are mysterious. But I do continue to defend the excellence of the way of life, because in that I am not defending myself but the way that Jesus lived.

        For more on my view on this, you can see my response to Cui Pertinebet….

      • SisterRose

        At the end of the day, does it matter? This is my question. There are so many wars, people dying, children starving, so much injustice. Pope Francis tells us – everyone – every day, in one way or the other, to “remember the poor”. So the consideration of whether religious life is more excellent that other ways of life, well, takes up a lot of precious time and I don’t see how a debate about it changes anything. I want to keep going, one foot in front of the other with my sisters, following Jesus as authentically as I can. Bless you!

      • Sr. Theresa Noble

        Sr Rose, Whether something is or is not true is not the same as whether it matters, you are correct in that. In the end, I respect that it may not matter to you but that does not mean that the subject is of no consequence, particularly to young men and women who are discerning a vocation and trying to follow Jesus as best they can.

      • SisterRose

        Thank you for your responses. When you get a chance, you might want to expand more about why these distinctions matter for those discerning religious life. Yes, times have changed since I discerned and entered the congregation. But “excellence” and “perfection” never came into my discernment (and even when these came up during formation they never really enhanced my understanding of religious life, never mind motivate me to stay). Loving and serving God and others are what motivated me. Ask any old nun and she’ll tell you, with rare exception, that this is why she entered. Maybe those were simpler times. Bless you!

      • Sr. Theresa Noble

        Thanks Sr Rose, I am thinking about writing a followup to expand but that depends on time and inspiration! In the meantime, I think I will just respond to you and wrap up my views on this by pointing out that we are all different and God speaks to our hearts uniquely. Motivations for entering religious life are influenced by gender, background, personality, etc. You may be right that excellence is not the first word most people relate to when in discernment. But I do think that the radical nature of the vows, (which is related to their excellence), does attract young people to religious life, so in that way I think this discussion is helpful to some. Peace to you!

  • Cui Pertinebit

    It’s easy for me to say (being a monk), but “praecellentia” does mean “excellence” – in the sense that “excellence” means “superior.” In modern English all kinds of superlatives are used to indicate what would have once been a simple adjective. Thus, “awesome,” “radical,” “amazing,” all mean “pretty good” as opposed to “inspiring awe,” “fundamentally uprooting a previous paradigm” and “it boggles the mind.” Similarly, “excellent” means “cool!” nowadays, but excellence literally describes something that “excels” – i.e., goes higher or further. So, superiority *is* the definition of excellence. “Praecellentia,” likewise, means “surpassing” or “preeminent.” It does not mean “excellent” in the simple sense of “really good,” and so “excellence” is certainly not a better translation, if by “excellence” we just mean “really goodness.” That prefix, “prae,” is used to indicate something that stands out. Hence “pre”-eminent, “pre”-sident, “pre”-late, respectively meaning the thing that towers “over,” the man that sits “higher” than or the cleric that is placed “over” others. For what it’s worth, I have a Master’s degree in Greek and Latin, so my knowledge of the word and its usage is not negligible.

    The matter is easily settled by reading the Patristic works on marriage and on virginity. St. John Chrysostom says that “As heaven is higher than earth and angels are higher than men, so celibacy is higher than marriage.” St. Augustine and the other fathers frequently point out that a distinguishing glory of celibacy, is that celibacy is better than a good thing (marriage), whereas marriage is better only than a bad thing (fornication). In fact, the Fathers of the Church emphasize that sexual procreation is actually imposed on mankind as part of the curse after the fall… not that procreation is inherently evil (just as Adam tilling the ground and eating by the sweat of his brow, and Eve longing for her husband are not evils), but that it is something less than the ideal good for which we were intended, and is a direct result of the fall. Sometimes this leads them to make quite strong statements, such as where St. John Chrysostom says that “wherever marriage is, there is death, there is the curse.” They viewed the purpose of marriage as being threefold: 1) preserving mankind until Christ could come to redeem us; 2) acting as a curb upon fornication; 3) binding man and woman together for the edification of the family. Celibacy, however, they viewed as an unqualified good and the normative life of the New Covenant and Kingdom of Heaven. How?

    Read St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom, in their treatises on Virginity. There is no doubt about the Tradition. Long story short, we all know that it is the Church’s Tradition that, in Baptism a man is brought into the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven will conquer all on the Last Day, but we also know that the Church is the Kingdom of Heaven here and now, and that those who are baptized have the Kingdom of God within them. Well, Christ taught clearly that “in the Resurrection they are neither married nor given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven.” Christians already live within one foot in the Resurrection and the Kingdom of Heaven (through union with Christ in Baptism and the Sacramental life of the Church); thus it had always been taught that marriage (or, at least, sexual procreation in marriage) more properly belongs to the natural world and the Old Covenant (as discussed above), but that Christians, who have been translated into the Kingdom, should embrace the celibacy which is typical of the angels and the kingdom of heaven as its *normative* life. Still, this is a counsel, not a command, and the blessing on marriage has not been revoked.

    From all this, it becomes clear that Virginity is objectively considered higher than the married state, and more natural to the Christian as a citizen of heaven. And if we think about what the Church teaches on Original Sin and how it is transmitted, and how the Church has always considered Mary’s Virginity to be a mark of purity (whereas if sex were entirely unproblematic it would not be an issue), and how the Book of the Apocalypse describes the 144,000 “who have not defiled themselves with women,” we get the idea: marriage is allowed, but is tied to the fall and to Earth; celibacy is the new life of the Kingdom of Heaven, the life we all live at the Second Resurrection (Doomsday) and which the faithful are encouraged to pursue now in the First Resurrection (Baptism) if they have the courage and the will.

    He is right to say that the Church should simply put this forward. This is what all the Fathers did in their treatises on virginity – tell the faithful how superior it was to marriage and dare them to pursue it – and many of the saints speak of how this call to sacrifice for the sake of ascending higher and closer to God was a motivating factor for them. The Fathers speak of the passages in Scripture, where Christ mentions the thirty, fifty and hundred-fold rewards; they said that the thirty-fold reward belonged to faithful marriage; the fifty-fold to those persevering in celibacy after the untimely death of a first spouse; the hundredfold reward applied to those who always kept their virginity. If marriage and virginity are on the same level and have the same rewards, why would any healthy person give up the pleasures of the marriage bed and the consolations of family life? The faithful should be encouraged to pursue religious life by being told of its excellence, its superiority, when lived rightly, when compared to the normal life of the world.

    Religious should be very mindful, however, that they get no credit for being “superior” people just because their lifestyle is objectively superior, when lived rightly. Rather, they should remember that only by living religious life well, could they be said to be superior… and a part of living religious life well, is cultivating a knowledge of one’s own humility and unworthiness of the religious life and its graces, and placing others before one’s self. Moreover, they should be kept humble, in part, by remembering that those who take on the higher standard of religious life, are also judged by its higher standard. A monk who does “fine” in monastic life, will certainly be placed far below even those married people who struggled and fell into sin more than he did. This is because he has wasted special graces and neglected to make good use of voluntary mortification, whereas the married people walked the thorny path of increased cares and labours that come upon them involuntarily. So, no religious should think that he is guaranteed a “superior” status now or in the next life, simply because his path is superior. Rather, he should take heed and know that, unless he truly applies himself to the love of God, he will certainly fall far, far behind others.

    • Sr. Theresa Noble

      Brother in Christ, Thank you for all of this very interesting background information. Although we disagree about the best translation for the Latin, I think we both agree in John Paul II’s point that religious life finds its high degree of excellence in its closeness to the life of Jesus.

      I do think we part ways with this sentence: “Rather, [religious] should remember that only by living religious life well, could they be said to be superior” Religious life as a way of life can be said to be superior to other ways of life because it was the life that Jesus lived. However, I do not think it leads to people who are “superior”; this is precisely the problem that has occurred over the years, the degradation of the married life in preference to religious life.

      I don’t believe holiness is or should be a comparative business, between different persons and even between a choice of a vocation in our own life. (Hence the example of St Therese showing her sister a thimble full and a glass full and asking her, “Which is fuller?”) Religious life is an invitation of God that we are called to respond to in complete freedom. I don’t believe there is freedom in a choice between one way of life that will clearly lead to a lower degree of holiness and another that will not. I don’t believe God works this way. He is not limited in grace; I don’t think he metes out grace according to the path we take. There are certainly more opportunities for grace and holiness in religious life, hence its excellence. However, God can help any person attain full holiness who follows him with a sincere heart, even if, in weakness they decline an invitation to religious life. This is the generous God I have experienced in my discernment and this is the God who continues to attract me to continue down this path.

      • Cui Pertinebit

        I’m glad you pointed that out; I totally agree with you. I meant to say “…be said to be living in a superior way.” I said “superior people” in the line above, and must have accidentally repeated those words. So, thank you: of course religious are not superior people just by virtue of being religious. I was trying to say that the religious life is an objectively superior life, and religious should remember that only by cultivating humility and putting others before themselves, do they actually live that superior lifestyle well. When a religious lives his lifestyle poorly, as I said, he actually will come out far behind others in the Judgment.

        It is true that nobody is superior to another in human dignity; but the Church certainly teaches us that we receiver higher or lower places and degrees of glory in the next life, based on our merit. Certainly one lifestyle is not a guarantee of a greater place in the next life, and many religious will go to hell, or wind up at the bottom of the barrel in heaven. But the Church does teach that the highest possible rewards and merit are to be found in the religious life, and that all the saints embraced celibacy at some point, and/or martyrdom. That is the meaning of the 144,000 virgins in heaven who follow the Lamb “wherever He goes.” St. Ambrose taught the nuns in Milan, that this meant there would be certain things in the next world, that only virgins/celibates would experience with the Lord. It’s also a big part of the reason for priestly celibacy; it was decided that those who wanted to serve the Lord should be willing to live the highest kind of life.

        If religious become consumed with pride over things like this, as I say, things actually turn out far worse for them. But you really should read the Patristic treatises on virginity! Every nun should read the encouraging words that St. Ambrose wrote for them! So many of the great monks and nuns in history have been inspired to the religious life precisely by things like this! Who wouldn’t want to follow the Lamb “whithersoever He goeth?” Who wouldn’t want to strive for the highest life, the highest merit, so that he could be as close to Christ as possible for all eternity?

        And for male religious I can say that these ideas are very important. Men like a challenge. Men like excellence. Men like knowing that they are pushing themselves to the max. Men also find the idea of celibacy much more daunting… not only because men tend to be more physically wired for sexual activity, but because men struggle with the idea that celibacy is effeminate or emasculating. I can’t tell you how often even faithful Catholic men will make some kind of comment, to the effect that I don’t need a certain pair of things on my anatomy; I always surprise them by saying, “I need them more than you do!” If we don’t present religious life in ways that men understand, we will probably suffer from a lack of mens’ vocations, and most of the ones we have will probably not be very healthy men.

        As I say, this is one way the Church traditionally did encourage such vocations, especially for men, and it’s probably why it appealed to Brother Justin Hannegan! Using such traditional ideas, who says our vocations will never be what they were in the good old days? At the very least, we can’t treat the Church’s constant tradition from ages past as though it was “all of a sudden forbidden outright, or even considered harmful” (as Pope Benedict XVI said).

        It seems dangerous to me, therefore, to speak of the Church “growing up.” The Apostles, Fathers, Doctors and Saints have always witnessed to the depth and the height and the breadth of the Church’s wisdom and sanctity through time. In fact, the Church can never change the Tradition or doctrines that they have passed down to us, because they are perfect and heavenly and admit of no improvement. Too often the trend is to condemn the “harshness” of the past, as though it were wrong, and rather than finding ways that truly express the *same* teachings more effectively for modern times, as Pope John XXIII had wanted to do, we wind up denying the Tradition to seem more acceptable to the world. But Jesus said the Cross was a scandal. The world would hate us and what we stand for, just as it hates Him. We should try to reach people, but we should never be embarrassed of the Tradition, nor speak as though it were wrong or immature.

        And, as I say, especially in the case of men, we need to be aware that they are built for toughness and challenge. If we make the Church too “nice,” with equal praise and outcomes for everybody, their sense of the Church being an emasculating and un-serious place will only increase. The liturgical texts for female saints speak of them becoming manly, like men; St. Theresa of Avila said that she wanted her nuns manly. Virtue, the Christian life, is a term that means “manly strength.” We are all creatures and so we are all naturally feminine in relation to God. But we become like God, the High Father from whom every fatherhood derives its name, in the Christian life. Thus, we all need to grow in manliness. The Church should be a manly place!

        Finally, I don’t want to get into an argument over a simple word, so the last I’ll say about praecellentia is this: its range of meaning really is just a factual matter of the Latin language! The Lewis and Short dictionary, an authoritative reference, defines “praecello” (from which this term comes) as: “to surpass or excel anyone; to distinguish one’s self; to be superior to; to excel; to preside or rule over.” The term always denotes something that is better than, set over, or distinguished from, other, lesser things. The “prae” prefix always denotes such things. As I say, I certainly don’t want to seem pushy about it, so I won’t say any more about it. I just didn’t know if you were honestly under the impression that it could mean “goodness” (generically understood), and if so, wanted to clarify the matter by telling you what the dictionary says about it. Latin words are not like English words, whose meanings tend to become broad because the language changes and we’re not very precise about them anymore. Latin words have changed very little in 1500 years, and in theological texts they are usually chosen because they mean exactly what they mean!

        I absolutely agree that the excellence of religious life lies entirely in the fact that it is one of great intimacy with Christ. That is all that matters.

    • Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouve

      In q. 98, part I of the Summa, Thomas asks specifically if without the fall, human beings would still reproduce through sexual intercourse. His answer is yes!:

      I answer that, Some of the earlier doctors, considering the nature
      of concupiscence as regards generation in our present state, concluded that in the state of innocence generation would not have been effected in the same way. Thus Gregory of Nyssa says (De Hom. Opif. xvii) that in paradise the human race would have been multiplied by some other means, as the angels were multiplied
      without coition by the operation of the Divine Power. He adds that God made man male and female before sin, because He foreknew
      the mode of generation which would take place after sin, which He foresaw. But this is unreasonable. For what is natural to man was neither acquired nor forfeited by sin. Now it is clear that generation by coition is natural to man by reason of his animal life, which he possessed even before sin, as above explained (97, 3), just as it is natural to other perfect animals, as the corporeal members make it clear. So we cannot allow that these members would not have had a natural use, as other members had, before sin.

      • Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouve

        Note that St Thomas calls Gregory’s opinion “unreasonable,” so while we have great respect for the Fathers, that doesn’t mean we have to agree with all their opinions.

  • MarytheDefender

    How do we know if we really desire religious life or if its infatuation? I do want to enter religious life or become a consecrated virgin. Its been almost 3 years since I first wanted to! That is why I had difficulty with Br. Justin’s article. I want to give Him everything! But discerning can be difficult…and reading what you wrote about infatuation makes me question my motives…

    • Sr. Theresa Noble

      Mary, what a beautiful question; I will try to respond from my own experience but I encourage you to talk with someone who can guide you in your decision making.

      From my own experience, it helps to make the first step in the direction you think God is leading you – so in your case make a step in the direction of religious life or life as a consecrated virgin.

      If you enter religious life, discernment does not end when you walk into the convent; that is why religious life has stages and steps. God sheds light as we move forward. Even if you are not called to religious life in the end, time in the convent discerning your vocation will not be wasted. God loves you for wanting to follow him and he will help you to see what he desires for you and what you desire clearly. God is faithful. You will be in my prayers!

      • Camila

        Mary, I love Sr. Theresa’s advice!

  • Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouve

    In TOB John Paul speaks of the relationship between marriage and consecrated life. They are like two sides of the same coin, both are rooted in the spousal meaning of the body and are “expressed through the complete gift of self.”
    In talks 76 and following he carefully explains the meaning of the “superiority” of the consecrated life (which he puts in quotes). It is not based on any Manichean interpretation that would disparage the body, but the reason is that the consecrated life “for the sake of the kingdom” is an eschatological sign of the life to come. What he says there merits careful thought and consideration since it sheds a lot of light on this whole topic.
    It is no accident that both marriage and religious life are in trouble today, for these are complementary vocations and when one suffers, the other does too, and vice versa.

    • Camila

      Sister I agree with everything you said. This is something I have given a lot (a lot) of thought to. Apparently the root of the problem is a lack of generosity. While nfp affords a means to ‘control’ the number of children, it creates an illusion that Catholic couples may mirror profane culture. Talking about ‘self-gift’ makes sense only in the framework of raising a generous amount of children either physically or spiritually. Certainly the fruits of both vocations are lives, either naturally or supernaturally. There is no doubt that all who seek holiness are to be generous, abundantly generous.

      • Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouve

        Thank you, Camilia, for your thoughtful comment. This evening I re-read a few of the pope’s talks, and he speaks of a spiritual fruitfulness, from the Holy Spirit, in relation to continence “for the kingdom.” I need to ask myself what kind of spiritual fruit I am bearing. Last year Pope Francis told a group of sisters to beware not to become old maids! I think he was saying the same thing, in his own simple way.

      • Camila

        Pope Francis is so funny! Concerning what he said, I would understand an old maid to be a grumpy, resentful woman. Marrying can turn one into an old maid too, you know. He could have said the same to wives.

        Sister, the freedom you have is one that wives do not’ “the unmarried woman and the virgin thinketh on the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she that is married thinketh on the things of the world, how she may please her husband.”

        Certainly, your supernatural fruitfulness is veiled in this earthly life. Equally is Christ’s deity and humanity in the Eucharist; but it won’t be in the eternal life to come. Walking by faith and not by sight, is what the Word teaches us to do every-day-of-our-earthly-life.

  • Agnes

    Vocation discernment need not be difficult, complex and agonising for the aspirant. Open yourself to whatever God calls you to. Be alert to His promptings. If you have certainty then go for it. If you’re not sure then take the first tiny step towards what you think God is calling you to and wait to see what develops. If nothing develops then drop it. If something develops then take the next tiny step. Be prepared to let go of your plans and preferences and ideas and go where the Holy Spirit leads. We can’t force a religious vocation. We can only request entry and do what we have to do on our part. The real discernment is carried out by the religious authority responsible for accepting the aspirant. If we are rejected, then receive that humbly and with trust in the Lord. Yes, it could be extremely painful. But all is gift, as St Therese said. So receive the painful gift graciously and peacefully. Just keep taking the next step. May God be with you all!

  • Gary Adrian

    Just my two cents worth as a Catholic who returned to the faith about two years ago. I find that my spiritual growth as a married man is in fact held back. I am coming to the point where I will feel a kind of connection or presents of God in me that I never felt before. But as a married man I sometime feel like my relationship with my wife actually pulls me back from that connection. Since I am either with my wife or at work all but about one hour per day, that connection is diminished most of the time. As the article states, when married, we have to focus on our families as a good Catholic, but this is sometimes at the expense of that wonderful sense one has when closer to God. Hopefully someday I will learn to overcome this obstacle but it may be that this is one of those areas that only religious life can truly solve.

    • Jonna

      Gary, Your married life is your vocation, no more or less excellent than any other vocation. It is your true path to holiness, with all the expected ups and downs. Do not be deceived by those you would lead you away from your sacred vow – religious life is only one vocational path, not a more perfect path. Often, it is those who need more grace and more assistance from God that are called to the more sheltered path of religious life. God bless your married vocation!

      • Gary Adrian

        Yes, my married life is a vocation, but not one that leads me to as perfect a relationship with God as I could have as a religious. St Paul in the Bible mentions this fact himself multiple times. Raising holy children and supporting ones spouse in their relationship with God is of very great importance and a very holy undertaking, but the writings of the saints throughout history have proven that one can gain a much closer, almost spouse like relationship with God through a religious vocation. Yet our more selfish desires lead us to wish for a married life. One can only be married to one person.

        Yes, my relationship with God is very important, yet my relationship with my wife is also very important, but of secondary position to that with God. As we have seen in recent times, when our relationship with God suffers, so does our relationship with our spouse. (Much, much higher divorce rates among Catholics.)

        This is a mistake that many religious orders have made in the last 50 or 100 years. They have emphasized corporal works over their relationship with God. Historically religious orders put their relationship with God first and corporal works in a secondary position. We can see the results of this in their vocations, a falling number, with many leaving. We can also see the result in their faith life as many go off in directions away from the truth that God has handed down from the apostles through his Church. New Age movements are not going to bring them closer to God while they emphasize corporal works, only following the faithful footsteps of Jesus Christ and saints like Saint John of the Cross and Saint Therese of Avila.

      • Jonna

        Gary, maybe you can find a spiritual director with whom you can explore all of this face to face. I don’t think this of you in particular, but often we can confuse feeling close to God actually being close to God. Both John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila cautioned against seeking the things of God (extraordinary experiences and spiritual feelings) rather than God himself. St. Teresa herself is famous for saying that God is to be found among the pots and pans, which I take to mean in the faithful living out of our commitments. Religious face as many temptations as we do to put other things before God. If you live anywhere hear a grounded monastic community, contact a seasoned spiritual director who can meet with you.

  • Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouve

    One other thing: Br. Justin is saying that people naturally desire the goods that religious give up by their vows, and that is true. But I think he’s missing something, in that there is another good that the vows speak to. JP speaks of the value that “continence for the sake of the kingdom” has in itself, and he says very beautifully that those called to this vocation must discover this value and make it their own. The vocation directors Justin refers to are speaking to this, I think, because they talk about the “deepest” desires of one’s heart, not the superficial ones. But it takes some time to get to this, so the problem evidently is how to speak about it in a way that will appeal to young people, who will probably see the vows as repulsive to what they naturally want.

  • Lobi

    Thanks for your points, they helped me to formulate my own thoughts, here:

    http://via-verdad-vida.blogspot.com.au/2014/01/why-religious-life.html

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  • LW

    great article!! thank you!! i’m applying to enter a women’s religious community & definitely DESIRE religious life and desire to give up the good for the greater things the Lord is calling me to, so thank you for discussing Brother’s idea and sharing your thoughts 🙂

  • Patty

    To Sr. Theresa Noble and SisterRose, an excellent explanation of the significance of distinguishing the religious life as being objectively superior to married life, is found in an Oct. 18, 2013 article written by Br. Gabriel T. Mosher, OP, called “Don’t Just Discern Your Vocation.” He writes that discerners need to ask themselves not ‘which vocation is better for me’ but ‘which vocation is better.’ He says that ‘God desires me to choose and possess the greatest good…God desires that each of us enter religious life…Discernment becomes a question of whether I’m capable of living religous life or not.’ I am not doing his article justice by clipping statements from it, so I urge you to read the article for yourself. http://catholicexchange.com/dont-just-discern-your-vocation#at_pco=smlwn-1.0&at_si=53da8961bc2edc49&at_ab=per-2&at_pos=0&at_tot=1

  • Jermano

    Was it repulsive for the disciples? To know they were in and with the midst of Christ, and see him die? But three days later saw he rose from the dead! How can we even think loving Christ is repulsive? We follow him for life. Everything else is vanity, grasping for the wind.