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Friday, June 08, 2007

Don't Just Give Lipservice - DO Something to Help!

Just when you thought I was done with this topic...

I think we all agree that we need more Vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and we all rejoice when someone is ordained, especially if it's someone we know, grew up with, watched grow up, became friends with in his or her discernment process...etc. We rejoice when a woman makes her first vows and enters the novitiate, when she becomes professed, etc. We all agree that this is such a sign of God's love and the action of the Holy Spirit in the Church, and the willingness of people to listen to God's voice and follow Him so perfectly.

But you know...those success stories don't happen through the actions of the individual alone. They don't happen just through prayers and invitations to discern one's Vocation to the priesthood or religious life.

It's not enough to sit back, invite someone, and then watch what happens like some sort of Catholic soap opera. Will Adam really survive the seminary? Will he be kicked out (because you know he was a mischevious boy...), or will he persevere and be ordained? Will Eve listen to God and become a Sister in whatever mysterious process she has to follow to make that happen? Or will she be kicked out of the convent (because she was pretty mischevious, too...).

Let me share with you a typical dialogue:

Q: "Have you considered becoming a nun?"

A: "Yes, actually I'm discerning that now, and there are some communities in Michigan and New York I want to visit."

Q: "That's great! But if you decide on one of them, what will you do with your house and your dogs? I just love your dogs. We're considering getting some dogs for our kids to play with in our yard...I hope we have as much luck as you did in finding such sweet tempered animals. So, anyway...would you rent your house out or would you have to sell it?"

A: "Well, I'd sell the house, but first I'd have to paint and take care of some maintenance issues I'm just not equipped to handle, but it would have to be done before the house goes on the market."

Q: "Oh." Knowing, experienced nod. Empathetic expression as she wipes her own paint-stained hands off on her jeans self-consciously.

A: "And the dogs...well, I'd have to find homes for them. The greyhound, I have a contract requiring me to turn him back into the adoption organization if I ever have to give him up, and they'll adopt him out again. But for now, all that's in the future as I don't know yet if I'm called."

Q: "Well, we're all keeping you in our prayers. I know it's hard. All the girls say it...there's not a lot of options around here."

A: "That's the problem. It's hard to get time away from work, and arrange my life so that I can get away to go to a discernment retreat. It's nearly impossible as it is, even if a retreat and community are local, but add the expense of travel to other states, the time needed for that travel....!"

Q: Sympathetic nod. "Well, let us know if there's anything we can do to help. We'd so love to see you become a nun!"

A: "Actually, there is something maybe you can do to help....you said you like dogs?"

Q: Cautious nod. "The boys are old enough now for pets, they just love dogs. We're doing some research - but don't tell them - we want it to be a surprise!"

A: "Your secret is safe with me! And it's a great idea! I grew up with pets, too, and they are a lot of work but well worth it. Just as long as you have no illusions that YOU will be taking care of them."

Q: "Oh, right...we know that. Boys will be boys!"

A: "Since you like dogs, the biggest issue I'm running into right now is them; I can't just leave them alone for days at a time, and I don't know anyone who can either come to stay with them over a weekend or watch one or both of them. Since you're considering getting a dog anyway, would you be willing to take at least one of them? My German Shepherd loves kids, and she'd really love to play in your yard for the weekend."

Q: Uncomfortable expression, trying to hold onto the empathetic look with no success. Glancing at watch. (Oh! My! Look at the time!) "Well...I'm not sure we could do that. We're so busy on weekends, what with going to Mass and all. I think the Humane Society boards...have you checked with them?"

A: "Yeah, but it's expensive to pay for two dogs for a few days, and to have to do so repeatedly for repeated weekends. That, and the travel expenses are not going to help me pay down my debt, which I have to do before I could even enter a community as a postulant."

Q: "Oh. Well, keep asking around...I'm sure there's someone who could dogsit for you. I must be off...gotta pick up my kids from soccer! We'll keep you in our prayers!" (Now on the way out the door, seeing another young woman ready to enter the adoration chapel.) "Hey, Christine! Have you considered becoming a nun?"



People, it's completely hypocritical to invite people to discern a Vocation to religious life and then not be willing to lift a finger to help where the help is needed.

A priest I know has indicated to me more than once that it seems women are not willing to leave the area, they don't seem willing to travel, and the reality is that with the state of women's communities in the United States, most of us need to travel to find one that's orthodox and faithful to the teachings of the Church, as well as to the founding Rules of their respective communities. St. Therese of Lisieux and her sisters had it easy...they all went to the local Carmelite convent. Back in the day, being faithful wasn't in question. In our world today, too many communities have quite literally gone pagan.

It's easier for those men called to the diocesan priesthood; they go to specific seminaries. They can be driven there. I know that surrounding states send men to our local seminary, but it's within a few hours' driving distance; this is not a huge deal. But for those late vocations, I know for a fact most of them owned houses, and some had pets. Clearly, they did not abandon their duties and just run away...they had help.

I suspect, though, that men who are called to be religious priests, brothers, friars, or monks face similar challenges to women in discernment; they have to travel, too. They have to deal with debt and property and real every-day concerns.

I do think men are more willing to travel than women, and for an explanation as to why, look only to the Theology of the Body. I will not go into that here, but the short of it is that women are designed to be protected, while men are protectors. It is more natural for a man to go "out and about", seeking God. It is more natural for a woman to internalize, to stay "close to home", where there is safety. Speaking as an ex-feminist, no shrinking violet myself, we simply are not created to thrust ourselves into the world in an aggressive manner, the manner now required if women are to truly seek God's will for us.

So I do agree with this priest in that women are hesitant to leave the safety of home, and maybe it's more of an "unwillingness" issue for younger women. We old fogeys who have been in the world for awhile and have amassed "stuff" have to find ways to fulfill our obligations and still be able to get away. Sometimes it's not possible.

I have friends who are willing to help...but not able to address my specific concerns because of their own limited conditions. One friend actually tried to help me find assistance, without luck, and I questioned every appropriate person I met as to whether they or someone else could help me with my biggest concern; my dogs, so I could go on retreat. No takers. Not a one. Just suggestions to spend a fortune boarding my dogs, or a suggestion to just get rid of them so I could discern in peace.

I don't consider the latter to be an option, for many reasons, which I will not go into here. Suffice to say it wasn't a well-thought out suggestion for that person to make. The short of it; I'm not willing to throw away a couple of lives, even animal lives, just because they suddenly become inconvenient to a thought process about a future I don't have.

'Nuff said.

Here's the reality; if a parish is praying for Vocations, people have to also be willing to use their hands to aid in the process. And I don't mean through sending e-mails pledging support. If you look at the basic needs of a parish in general, you see that people must be actively involved. If people just said they loved the liturgy, but no one was willing to lector, no one was willing to clean, no one was willing to decorate, no one was willing to maintain the sound system so the Word of God could be heard...well, that would be a sad parish indeed.

People give lip-service to wanting Vocations all the time...but where are their actions? Don't just sit there...DO SOMETHING TO HELP! Your assistance may be simply driving someone to the airport and picking them up. It might be dogsitting or helping to find a dog sitter. It might be financial assistance. For someone who has chosen and has been chosen by a community, it may mean helping to get their house ready for sale by painting, maintenance, yardwork...something.

If you say you support Vocations, then step into the role your mouth has formed for you, for if you don't, you've made yourself into nothing but a hypocrite, for by your lack of action you betray your heart.

Some people perhaps can't do anything but pray, or offer an ear...but even they have the ability to assist in finding someone to answer a need.

Perhaps my words are too harsh, perhaps not. Perhaps my own words condemn me, and I am willing to accept that.

The amazing thing about discernment is that one begins to see things from an entirely different perspective, and even for those of us who are not called...we become convicted by our own action or lack therof.

So my challenge to you all is to be ready to step up to the plate. Don't just pray for Vocations, don't just invite people you know to consider them, but be ready and willing to offer whatever assistance you can, and don't wait to be asked especially if you know the person well.

Our Church needs vocations, but without the help of everyone, it will never get any better. We do not live in an ideal world, and it is more difficult than ever for someone to even hear God's voice amidst all the sound and fury of modern society. Everyone is required to listen for that voice, to discern where God is calling them to help...and not enough people are answering the call to actively help those who may most need their hands as well as their prayers.

17 comments:

Jennifer F. said...

Wow, this is such an eye-opening post to me. I'm definitely one of those people who's very earnest about wanting more people to consider vocations...yet I see it as having nothing to do with me in concrete terms. Since I converted after I was already married with children, I've never spent much time considering the logistics of discerning a vocation to religious life.

After reading this post I will definitely handle it differently next time I run into someone who says they may be considering religious life. Thank you!

Adoro te Devote said...

No, Jennifer, thank YOU!

Jean said...

Hi Julie,

I don't know if I can say what I want to say without it seeming confrontational, but I would like to try: on top of your earlier post about the "do's" and "don't's" of what to say and not to say to someone discerning a vocation, I'm left with the thought that it's probably best for us ordinary Joes to keep our mouths shut in this mine-field -- best not to encourage anyone, lest our stupidity and awkwardness tick them off!
Is that desirable?
I think that stupid though well-intentioned comments and lack of support are pretty well distributed across life, no matter what vocation one is called to--or so it's been my experience. It's just part of life, and you have to grant people their good intentions even if they lack sensitivity. I don't see why a vocation to the religious life is somehow going to grant would-be supporters with any more sensitivity than they would otherwise have (speaking as one who has little sense and sensibility in this regard).

Adoro te Devote said...

Jean,

It's not about sensitivity or lack of sensitivity. This is about common sense.

Take the other posts in context: Invite people to consider religious life/priesthood, but don't hound them to death about what you think they should be doing and when. It's fine to ask how it's going, but if you're asking that question of someone every day or everytime you speak with them (unless you rarely see each other!), don't expect "results".

This post is about offering to assist in some way, ie "If there's anything I can do, let me know...."

"Well, actually I DO need help with X task so I can take the next step..."

"Oh, excuse me, I'm busy that weekend. Good luck!"


Do you see the difference? This is just taking a look at this from the hands-on perspective. I'm afraid you might be reading into what I'm saying and completely missing the point.

Yes, DO say something to someone you feel may have a calling, DO offer to help, esp. when you see there is an obvious need, which may change as that person progresses through discernment. If there are some "results", such as a chosen community and your friend mentions, say, needing to find a ride to the airport, that's an "in". I'm not saying that people should fall all over themselves and rearrange their lives to assist, but if you know of a need and think someone you know can assist, it's a simple matter to simply offer to call friend X or something.

Do you see what I'm saying?

It's common sense. Especially, when, in the example I gave in dialogue, the backpeddaling is obvious.

Jennifer F. said...

Jean - I see what you're saying, but I do think that Julie brings something important to light here: our culture is so totally unfamiliar with what's involved with entering religious life that I think may of us have a huge blindspot to the needs of those discerning. I think it is different than people in more common vocations like motherhood.

E.g. I'm practically bombarded with offers of help once my baby is born is September. People are always asking if they can help with the other kids, cook some meals, etc. because they know about motherhood and they know what my needs will be.

I think that Julie was just bringing to light the needs of those discerning religious vocations since many of us are unfamiliar with that.

uncle jim said...

IF you should find an order to visit anywhere within your driving distance tolerance of East-Central IN, bring the dogs down, drop them off. On the way in and the way out, we have a couple of extra guest rooms that would accomodate you and a travel partner, if you have such a need.
AND you should consider, at least, having a travel partner as a partial response to the questions and issues you raise about women traveling alone.
We have guests [adults, children, pets] here often. Our rooms are at the service of whomever the Lord sends our way.
So, ...

Jeffrey Smith said...

Bravo! Keep harping on the subject. Everyone needs to hear it as much as possible.

Adoro te Devote said...

Jennifer F. ~ Yes, that's exactly it. Thank you.

Uncle Jim ~ Wow, that'd be a very long drive for me...can you move closer to MN? :-) But it's nice to know there's a place to stay out there should I ever find myself in Indiana! (I love being Catholic!)

Jeffrey ~ Which subject? Vocations in general or the fact that those discerning need practical help?

Glad you find my harping useful!

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Hey, wait a minute, I said I'd watch your dogs for a weekend.

DESpressed in St. Paul

Adoro te Devote said...

Cathy,

Yes, but I didn't know you two years ago when I was in active discernment and trying to hit a couple retreats I could never get to.

This post does not apply to you.

:-)

beez said...

As someone who may be packing what little I have left in boxes to shoot off to seminary in the fall, I have to say that you have a point. That is, there are different levels of "commitment" to aiding vocations out there.

I think it's reasonable for people to say that they are praying for a discerner, but if they are going to approach someone who they think (or know) is discerning to be encouraging, I agree that they should be serious when they ask, "Is there anything I can do to help?"

I am fortunate in that I have a boss who has been encouraging me to enter seminary, and has cleared the obstacles at work to make it possible for me to attend retreats, go to interviews, etc.

Now, I have some debt to settle, but I have a retirement account that will deal with everything but my car and my student loan. The student loan I can defer, but the car will be a challenge.

For discerners, especially the younger ones, help with travel to communities, taking in the dogs, etc. are vital. Don't be afraid to help! God can only reward your gifts!

Adoro te Devote said...

beez ~ Thank you for your comments, and obviously they come from experience! I'm not so young anymore...gonna be 33 (a bad year for Jesus, it was), and the debt and the stuff just gets hard and harder to deal with. Those fresh out of college have the huge college loans, but not the houses.

Of course, with all the "late vocations", the stuff is an obstacle for many. Pets, cars, more than student debt.

I still have a student loan I'm struggling to pay off.

With your car...can you sell it? Will you still need it in the seminary?

I know that if were to go into a religious order, I would have to get rid of my car. Thankfully I don't have negative equity in it, but selling a car is more irritating than buying one.

God bless! You're in my prayers, and in fact, being added to my OLPH intentions. :-)

Tony said...

Is there anything I can do to help?

Adoro te Devote said...

:-)

Brittany said...

Wow... what an AWESOME post. I have often felt like "If only someone would PLEASE pick me up at the airport so I do not have to blow $65 on a cab home," it would have made it all a little less stressful.

When I came back from visiting the Order I am entering with, it was a huge deal getting home. I could not afford the cab, so I had to make sure that I came back on a weekday so that I could take a train home. I had to find the bus terminal at the airport, take the bus to the train station, get on the train and head north. I missed a train and had no cell phone (trying to save money for the convent), so I had to beg someone I did not know to please let me use theirs. If they had no done so I would have been in a pickle.

Hopefully through the internet we can help people to come to understand this whole discernment process and what it is like a little better.

Adoro te Devote said...

brittany ~ Thanks for your comment! It so illustrates my point!

How just having someone there to pick you up would have made all the difference in the world!

Corey F Huber said...

I'm a little late to the party (I found out about these postings through a Google alert), but I thought the following may be of interest.

I'm the co-founder and President of the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations. The Fund issues grants that pay the student loans of men and women prevented from following their call to religious life or the diocesan priesthood. How we do this is detailed on the Programs page of our website: fundforvocations.org

Those looking for a concrete way to assist with vocations may want to have a look at our website and consider making a donation. The need is much greater than our resources.

Those wishing to enter religious life who are prevented by their student loans may find grant application forms behind the Apply menu item. It's also important for you to read the Program pages to know how it all works. Our current open period for accepting grant applications ends September 30th.

I solicit everyone's prayers that the Fund may continue to succeed in enabling people to follow their vocations. Currently 21 men and women are in formation because a grant from the Fund made it possible.

Thank you.