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Monday, August 04, 2008

Vocational Discernment

This summer I've been working, with the Youth Minister, on finding speakers for an upcoming class on Vocational Discernment. It's a general kind of thing, to address the questions: "How do I know what God is calling me to do?" and "How do I begin to listen to God" and "I know what I want...and what my parents want..but what does GOD want?"

Finally, the speakers are in place, our job as employees will be to welcome and introduce the speakers, and then get out of the way, which is ALWAYS a nice position to take!

Yet, I find that as I've worked on this project this summer in the precious few hours provided by my employer, that I have been taken back a few years to when I began discerning my Vocation. VISION 2009, a discernment guide published each year, was recently sent out to various parishes and I have one opened here in front of me. I have read many of the articles, cringing at some (as usual), but even the latter have some usefulness. The ads for the various communities are always interesting, so I've followed a few links and I've likewise been frustrated at those communities that do NOT have a web presence.

Like it or not, we live in a world of technology, and I'll be the first to admit that I'm not going to call up a community if I can't see what they're about other than a brief "bio" on a magazine that comes out only annually.

We live in scary times. Some religious communities wear habits...some do not. And these factors, like it or not, are a huge part of discernment. It was a factor to me a few years ago and as we look at the climate of Vocations in America, those religious communities that wear habits are EXPLODING in comparison to those who don't. In fact, the latter are mostly dying off and merging in order to care for their elderly...because there is no one to take their places.

Like it or not, the communities that have continued to wear habits are the ones gaining new aspirants and postulants and novices, for they are also the ones to have stayed most true to their original charisms. Thus I would suggest that it isn't so much the outer trappings that are drawing men and women to these communities; it is their Faith. It is the Faith and Loyalty to their founders and to the Magisterium that are signified in the Habit, and that Loyalty speaks to the hearts and souls of those who are seeking to truly follow Christ.

Sadly, so many Orders and their Congregations have fallen away, giving in to the ways of the world, and many of these have chosen to let go of the Holy Habit in favor of dressing like "the guy next door" or "the ladies next door." And there is some validity in that, for in the beginning, many of the Orders began by dressing like the poorest of the poor. Thus, the original Sisters and even Brothers were indistinguishable from the impoverished that they served.

But we live in a different world now, and we are ALL judged by others based on our outward appearance. The world is superficial and cares nothing for the soul. Thus, it makes sense that those who care the most for souls are choosing to use an exterior symbol of the Habit in order to identify not themselves, but Christ.

A few years ago, I remember thinking back to the days that I had dreamed of being famous. I thought I would light up Broadway, and some early success on the stage even lead me to believe it was actually POSSIBLE. The very idea of having to disappear and lose my individuality under the clothing of a religious community was a terrifying temptation; for I never wanted to lose who I was, my very individuality - even AFTER I had long given up dreams of being famous. (In fact, these days, the idea of being famous is abhorrent to me!) Yet, even now, I consider that temptation of Vanity; to realize that if I were to wear a Habit, I'd be letting go of myself so completely as to blend in with others and lose my freedom to do what I want to do.

I think that this temptation was one of those that chased me away from real discernment a few years ago. I wanted to be my own person. I didn't want to be lost among so many others. And it seems that many of the communities that have chosen to lose the Habit have given into this temptation as well, choosing individuality over obedience, choosing political platforms over real spiritual charisms.

Yet, we see how the idea of obedience and even conformity through wearing a Habit does NOTHING to quash the individual; we have so many examples! Consider St. Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Therese of Lisieux, and so many others! They were men and women who wore Habits...and their names and their individuality were not quashed through answering God's Call and dying to their own desires. God in fact elevated them such that they were true celebrities long before the Cult of Hollywood!

Looking through these magazines, resources, and websites has brought me back to those early days of discernment, and has reminded me of the confusion to be provided to someone truly seeking. While the technology and ability to research are wonderful, and NECESSARY, it also provides a daunting landscape of considerations and overwhelming possibilities.

While our very culture of religious communities who have "lost their way" require us to add another dimension to Vocational Discernment, we are forced to give in to another temptation; that of looking for our place in the same way that we would find a job through Monster.Com. Or

But Discernment and finding Home is not a job search. Again, referencing my discernment of a few years ago, that was the biggest mistake I made, and the same one made by others who knew I was discerning; not only did I naturally fall into "discerning" through hours of research via the web, but others around me fell into the same trap on my behalf. Just as, when I was unemployed or seeking other employment people would send me job leads or websites, so, when I was discerning, did people send me religious communities and discernment websites. Instead of listening to God, I was reviewing "employer resumes".

In short, I was interviewing God and asking Him to meet MY demands.

True Discernment is the other way around; it is about being Called and then interviewed by God; and then freely choosing to answer His requests to love us as He created us to be loved.

So I somehow have found myself full circle, reviewing these publications in preparation to introduce youth to the idea of Discernment, realizing that the answers aren't found here. I've half a mind to steal the stuff and hide it during and after the event. There's something to be said for the absence of too much information. There's something to be said for stoicism and austerity.

It's only in silence and lack distraction that we can hear God. In this culture of soundbite insanity, even in the holiest of places we are innundated with information. We can't get away. Somehow, I think that introducing young people to so much information so quickly may not be the way to go about helping them to discern God's voice.

We are all constantly praying for more Vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life, but I have to wonder if our response might be truly counterproductive? We might be getting the cart before the horse.

When someone says that they are considering a Vocation, what do we do but throw information at them? We give them magazines and books and websites, and especially in the case of women, we say, "Good luck!" Diocesan Vocations Directors are without a leg to stand on when it comes to God's Call to women, and no matter how good their intentions, all they can do is throw information about and say, "My door is open if you have questions." And in reality, the hapless VoD has no idea what he would do if a woman came back to him with questions, for he's equipped and has the main focus of assisting men towards the Priesthood.

There's a tide of Vocations out there, and if the reports from Steubie North are true, there's a TON of young men and woman locally ready to give their fiat to God...if only we don't overwhelm them with too many choices.

They don't know HOW to discern. They don't know HOW to make choices, and it's not feasable to go with "whatever is close by." Unfortunately, what is "close" and might bill itself as "Catholic" may in practice be pagan and acting in most ways adversely to the narrow gate that leads to Heaven.

I have to say that maybe learning to be quiet and just know God and truly seek His Will might be far more valuable than all the books in the world. For if we can't teach them how to develop a relationship with Christ, how can they possibly even BEGIN to make headway with all the data available to them in their discernment? How do we find the balance between teaching them how to Discern AND giving them the tools they need in this culture of technology?


Rob said...

There were a couple of hundred at Stuebenville of the Rockies too. If a quarter of them follow thru it would be fabulous. I believe the very best thing we can do is to pray much and often that they listen and follow the call.

Anonymous said...

I think you are very correct in your summation about vocations. Anyone considering a vocation should ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their search. It is, after all, the Holy Spirit who will show them the correct path to the vocation that God has for them.
Speaking about the many possible choices out there and the faithful and not so faithful orders; I think it would be wise for the publications such as you mentioned, to not include those orders that are not faithful. I hear some of them promoted on the local affiliate of Relevant Radio and hope that no one calls them. I wish our archdiocese would have a list of "good" orders and work to help those discerning a vocation by refering candidates to them only. It would be a waste to have them join a "bad" order. Both my wife and I have aunts who are former nuns from bad orders that lost their way back in the wacky 70's. It almost seems that those orders took on the culture as you have said, and in a way are similar to it in that they have taken on the contraceptive mentality and just like the contraceptive culture can no longer reproduce their own while those who embrace God's laws remain fertile and growing.

Adoro said...

RJW ~ Some of them probably will follow through, some that DIDN'T go forward will end up there, too. And some who went forward will learn that God is calling them to something else. And we DO have to pray for them!

Vianney33 ~ The problem is that those publications aren't there to screen the communities...they are there to provide a resource to let interested people know who is out there. There are some websites that contain all the good communities, and I've noticed fewer and fewer modernist-types included, probably because they seem to be allergic to habit-wearing sisters. (Looking from the female perspective...I'm not sure of the trends in men's communities as I pay less attention there.)

I've known women and men ruined by certain communities, and some of them SEEM to be GREAT and very faithful; but they are in actuality rigorist, nearly schizmatic, and they've literally destroyed people. :-( I won't name any names, but I have to say that that's where discernment comes in and that's why people need to learn how to discern..or they'll end up in a place like that!

Unknown said...

thank you for your thoughts. They are rather sobering and a bit depressing for me. I started discerning (rather poorly) at the age of 41 that I might be called to the monastic life. Now 44, I am pushing the upper age limits of most communities and still haven't discerned my home.

Anonymous said...

Kevin ~ you're in my prayers. God will lead you to your earthly home, have no fear!

Christina said...


I went through that over abundance of information as well. Now even the thought of VISION gives me the willies. As a suggestion, don't do their "Vocation Match" on their website. I filled it out (specifically choosing the "habit only" option) and it automatically sent out an "I'm looking" email to at least 60 communities (that's at least how many responses I received). I still get emails from some of them.

I also discerned in completely the wrong way, going through each one to try to figure out which "fit best". I even told people who asked about discernment that it was a lot like looking for a college to go to, but for life.

I've since learned this is the wrong way. I've come to realize that God speaks to me through the events in my life. He knows which community will be best and when He feels I'm ready will guide me there. My "job" is to make sure, through prayer and the sacraments, that I'm open to His Will every day, even if that will is something horridly boring or painful. Right now His Will is that I finish my lunch break and get back to checking websites for errors.

I think it's a good idea for a community to have a website though, just something basic with a description of the community, daily schedule (it says a lot when they have adoration every day) and contact information (including email). This way when God does send a community your way (through a friend, coworker or priest), you'll have some way of seeing if it's a legit community to go visit. This is also important for shy folks like myself who would want to learn more about them before appearing on their doorstep and are too shy to call.

The Ironic Catholic said...

Adoro, hon, how is the search for a spiritual director going...?

I think the right director could make this a lot easier for you.

Anonymous said...

Christina ~ Great comments, thanks! Last fall I did take that quiz to see if it would be a good resource for us to refer to our high school group or as research for the younger kids, and it wasn't too bad. I wasn't looking and checked the box that I wasn't looking and didn't receive any email from them other than some junk stuff for awhile.

IC ~ This post is NOT about where I am right now. The point was that as I was looking through the materials for the upcoming thing we have to do at work, it brought back memories of why, in part, I quit discerning a few years ago.

Anonymous said...

so, are you going to post links to communities you find acceptable? :) (BTW, I'm going to be very good and NOT put a link on this!)

Adoro said...

You Know Who ! ~ LOL, it always cracks me up when you post your name as that. I used to have several communities on my sidebar...I must have restructured and erased them. They WOULD be a clue, though!

I'm not going to post any links, although I can say that your favorite would be posted.

Do you feel better now? LOL