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Monday, April 27, 2009

Liberals and Vocations

Last year, I went to a training function through the Archdiocese, and found myself seated at the same table of a very nice woman who happened to be a DRE responsible for the formation of young souls. 

The topic of Vocations arose, as at the same table was a man from a parish which had been left by a friend of mine who had gone from DRE to cloistered nun.  

Naturally, the connection caused us to discuss Vocations in the Church, and the DRE, the nice lady from the early baby-boomer era asked, "Do women actually DO that these days?"

She was completely flummoxed.  Her only experience with Vocations were the declining statistics and dying communities that happened to share the same hair color.  Boys weren't becoming Priests, girls were too "empowered" to bother entering religious communities. 

She'd never heard of the Nashville Dominicans, the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, or the LA Carmelites. She didn't know about the Sisters of Life or the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. The idea that women were not only entering into religious life in DROVES, but were doing so in favor of faithfulness to the Magisterium, in favor of the Holy Habit, and, in favor of the cloister in some cases was a moment of complete amazement.  

She didn't know it was happening. Her entire perception of the Church was that it was dying.  In her experience, there WAS no life.  

I guess that's not too surprising.  

Recently I had a conversation with a "Liberal Catholic" regarding the topic of Vocations.  This person is faithful to the teachings of the Church, but as the other "Liberals" I described in the previous post, she maintains a foot in the secular/political world, and views the Church through this perspective. 

She was familiar with the current process of discernment, in that women (and men) who enter religious life or seminary are not making a permanent decision from the beginning. She knew it took years to take permanent vows. 

Her position is the one that flummoxed ME, for I couldn't really fathom it. 

She said that the Church should change with the culture that doesn't understand permanency, and instead, should make Vocations according to contract.  Five years, maybe. 

She said that she'd be willing to be a nun for 5 years and give that time to the Church, just as she'd be willing to give that time to the Peace Corps.  

I admit, I was so amazed the rest of my conversation was nearly incoherent.  Not in anger, but confusion.  I mean...WHAT?!

She continued in this tack. 

When I had time to settle down and think about it and how to respond, I realized that at her core, she didn't understand what the Church is and remains. She didn't understand the meaning of Vocation.  Which makes sense;  for, as a person who defines herself as a "Liberal Catholic", she would be looking at Vocation through the same cloudy goggles through which she views the rest of the Church, and the rest of the world. 

She has a default position of sympathy for those who don't understand (or even desire) permanency.

And this is so troubling, for our very nature, our very souls, draw us into permanency with our Creator.  Everything we do on earth is ordered towards this end, but we have to cooperate with it.  To do or believe otherwise is disordered.  We are ordered to perfection;  not dischord.  

A lack of permanency is by definition dischord.  

The fact is that the process within a religious community is ordered towards permanency; if it was not, there would be NO Vocations.  We'd see in religious life what we see in marriage. 

As courtship is ordered towards marriage, so is the postulancy and novitiate ordered towards permanent vows. 

Oh, wait. That's the problem.  (Please note that what follows is NOT the position of the person with whom I was speaking.  It is my own musing.)

Look at this through political eyes;  Marriage is no longer seen as a permanent sacramental union. It is seen as a governmental contract for the mutual benefit of better taxes. Oh, and if the couple chooses to stop using dangerous chemicals and environmentally-unfriendly plastic rubbers to prevent them, then it might be beneficial for the raising of children. Who can, actually, be born of a Dish named Petrie and dessimanated and disposed of for embryonic research purposes and re-named "Dolly".  The Matrix come to life.  

I guess I can understand the attitude, given that perspective.  

For if your view of the world is one of hedonism and impermanence, then why WOULDN'T you look at religious life in the same way you view marriage?  

I think most couples these days sign prenuptual agreements, for they tend to assume from the beginning that their marriage won't last. They live together before marriage, for why buy the cow when the milk can be sampled for free?  Why not sample the milk of a TON of cows?  Why does it need to involve love, or sacrifice?  Who needs children? 

Speaking as a woman who has been treated as a cow...why bother to pay for a ring and take a risk on someone who might not be "sexually compatible"?   Give her chemicals!  Try out her paces!  Who cares if the chemicals might kill her, or the paces aren't to HIS liking?  It's all in discernment, isn't it?  

And if you don't like the cow, kill the calf so that there will be none like her...or you.  

So much for permanence. 

Why can't religious life be the same? 


Because, like marriage  is supposed to be, it is ordered towards permanence.  A religious vocation isn't about building bridges over the River Kwai. 

It isn't about heading down to Guatemala for a few years to give Avian Flu shots to orphans. 

It isn't about going to Africa to fight AIDS.  Or to China to fight illiteracy.  

Those are all very important things, but they can be done with a limited committment. They are acts of mercy that belong to this world, and remain in this world, all of which honor the dignity of the human person both body and soul, for all are children of God. 

But it's not a Vocation to give 5 years of one's life to a charitable act, or even to prayer.  To trivialize a vocation as such is to ignore the import of the sacrifice of one's life. Such an idea is a trivialization of Christ. 

Are we not to be like Christ in all that we do?  And did He NOT experience a complete immolation on the altar of the Cross?  Are we not to do the same?  

The process of discernment alone should rule out those who are looking for temporary gratification.  If that's what you desire...then find a program that gratifies that desire.  It's a worthy cause, and a needed sacrifice especially in a world such as ours that doesn't tend to care for one's neighbor. 

But don't call it a Vocation, and don't try to make a Vocation match a temporary volunteer experience. 

It's not the same thing.  

For those not familiar with the process of Vocational discernment to a religious community:

Step 1:  Aspirancy  - 3 months living with the given community (this may not be a step of all commuinities)

Step 2:  Postulancy:   6 months to a year.  Some wear a veil during this time, some don't.  

Step 3:   Novitiate:   6 months to a year, or more.  This is where they take the habit, white veil but don't take vows.  

Step 4.  Canonical Novitiate - from observation, some cont. to wear a white veil, some change to black.  2nd year novitiate

Step 5.  Temporary vows - 1-3 years

Step 6:  after very careful discernment, permanent vows. 

Please note... the timing changes according to community, but it's NEVER permanent from the beginning. Thus someone can enter with reservations and leave, or enter with reservations...and realize it's home.  The systems is designed for EVERYONE who MIGHT be experiencing a call to that community. 


I find it completely astonishing that someone who is familiar with this process would suggest that it be changed, and allow for people to enter under a contract; for five years, for example.  

As it is, that's already happening.  That's what the aspirancy, postulancy, and novitiate are for. Never mind temporary vows.  

Further, the way it happens isn't ordered to the WORLD as would be a contract, but to GOD, which is a permanent committment.   

Maybe I'm Old Fashioned. Maybe I'm one of the few who believes in purity and permanency. It wouldn't be the last time I've been ridiculed for such a romantic idea. 

When I dated my last boyfriend, I held out that I was  hoping for marriage.  A longtime friend of his, another woman, also single, said, "It's nice that you can believe in those things, but it's unrealistic."

She laughed at me.  To be looking for a husband...permanently.  (As an aside...she's the same person who told me my "intended" didn't want to break up with me because he thought I'd have a hard time finding someone else.  No wonder she didn't belive in permanence. And why I gave up on it and him. And haven't dated since.)  

And even now, the world laughs, when we as Catholics look for permanency in Vocation, whether through Marriage, the Priesthood or Religious Life. No matter what we've suffered.  

There are those who think the Sacrament of Marriage should be a temporary contract. 

To follow that logic, maybe there would be more married couples if we let them marry only for a contract of five years. At least that way, we'd have fewer divorces.  

Maybe we'd have more priests if we could just ask for a committment of five years; and then, if they sucked at it, at least his people would only have to suffer temporarily. 

Maybe if we have Religious enter for only 5 years, we can get rid of discernment and more people would do it.  

Maybe if the Church was more like political organizations of the world an operated according to democracy and changed according to the philosophy of John Locke, we'd be in a better place. 



...Maybe if we actually followed the eternal teachings of the Church we'd reap more souls and have more workers for the harvest.   Maybe if parishes stayed faithful to the GIRM and read the SCRIPTURES instead of 60's era poetry there would be more who would find a faith wiling to die for. 

Maybe if ecclesiastical communities that claim to be Catholic would avoid the heretical works of idiotic authors who write easily refuted works such as "Misqoting Jesus" would choose the wisdom of the Church Fathers instead...there would be more Vocations. 

I'm not willing to die for a faith that requires only 5 years from me.  I might give that to a government, but to God...I'd rather give my life.  After all, He gave me His.  

It's not that I don't understand. I'm from a divorced, alcoholic family, and the other parent is bipolar.  Believe me...I know about committment avoidance.  I can understand anyone who wants to reserve something, because psychologically, they (we) need a safety net.  We're damaged in that way. 

But that's not what God wants. He knows our past. He knows everything. And He asks for it all. That's what Vocation  is all about.  All of us...damaged, and hopeful and reserved...all of it.   

If someone asked me for 5 years of my life, I'd refuse. I don't have 5 years to give. At this point, it's my life...or nothing.  If my life isn't called for, then YOU'RE not worth my time.  I'll look elsewhere. 

I may not have a Vocation. But I'm at the point where I'm ready to committ, right now. I'm tired of looking. Not 2 years, not 5 years.  NOW!  Permanent!  

Because if Our Lord is not worth my life...nothing is.  And if He doesn't want it...who does?  

Give me a Vocation or Give Me Death.  I can't survive this limbo anymore.


RJW said...

I wondered if I should be a priest. (Didn't want to go to school for 6 years, Also not to fond of that obedience and poverty thing. God has a great sense of humor. A poverty vow might have been a step up.) Wanted badly to be married. At 40 decided that wasn't happening. God must be calling me to a vocation of lay single life. Bang! Met a great women at 44 and got married. She left me 9 years later. Now...? "God, its in your hands. Just keep me open to your word." Hang in there.

sr_mary said...

Great observations.
One clarification: The term cononical noviciate... it MUST be one year, and CANNOT be in vows / colored veil. Active communities, the cononical novice CAN"T participate in the apostolate or take secular classes for credit. (Some cononcial novices do take theology / philosophy classes for credit ... if it's part of their formation program, they may take them for credit. But the credit can't be the focus / primary intent). Every community I know would have step 3: Cononical Noviciate - 1 year; step 4: second noviciate - 0 to 12 months.

sr_mary said...

One more thought: the idea of permanence is based on LOVE. True love is NEVER temporary. God is eternal, God is love, therefore love is eternal. A vocation is a call .... always a call of love. A call from God (we merely respond). Thus, it MUST be permanent.

cl00bie said...

I wrote a blog post a year or so ago, comparing the pantsuited to the habited nuns. The habited nuns seemd to focus their lives on their relationship with their husband, Jesus. Their "social justice" activities flowed from that close and intimate relationship.

The pantsuited nuns seemed to focus on their social justice activities, expecting their love of God to flow from that. They were behaving much like a wife who filled her time with personal social activities and didn't have any time to be with her husband.

Which "marriage" would you think would be more joyful and fruitful (spiritually)?

That, I believe, is one of the reasons that vocations of the pantsuited variety are drying up. What woman would want to give up the opportunity for a husband and children simply to work for social justice? She can do that while she's married.

The vocations that are thriving are the ones where the women dedicate their lives to something much bigger than themselves.

Julia said...

Great post! I've been thinking about this as I consider the possibility of a religious vocation (or the marriage vocation). I'm 20 and scared of commitment in my everyday life, so lifelong vows are really scary to me! :)

Nonetheless, I know how absolutely vital the permanence of these vocations are. As Sister Mary said, they are based on love! Of course they're for life! If we can't commit our lives for God (as religious or in marriage), then what do we have in life?

Melody K said...

Just a few reflections on this subject. First of all, I agree with you. A vocation is permanent. Since we've been married nearly 37 years, I'd better believe that! If people just want to do God's work and help others for awhile and not make a lifetime commitment, there's nothing stopping them.A lot of people have spent time with the missions, helping however they could. I know a couple in their 70's who just spent several months in Tanzania doing mission work. But this isn't a vocation, though it may an outflowing and fruit of their primary vocation. Sr. Mary is right that true love is never temporary.
I think people should be careful about generalizing about habited or non-habited nuns. Just an example, I know a nun (she was my 7th and 8th grade teacher) who doesn't wear a habit now, though she did back in the day. The practice of her order is to wear simple and modest attire. She has been a nun over 50 years, and is still doing God's work. She is still the same person, faith-filled and dedicated.
Sister Julie ( has had some interesting discussions going on the habit subject. Someone made the point that a nun wearing street clothes, if that is what the practice is in her order, is in fact wearing their "habit". Mother Teresa's familiar cotton sari is actually the usual garb of poor women in India.

Adoro said...

RJW ~ Maybe the deaconate for you? Is that an option?

Sr. Mary ~ Thanks for the info, that helps!

c100bie ~ I actually don't want to use this as a forum to discuss habit vs non habited. While I DID bring up the veils, I did so because those are the communities I discerned and that I would consider. But this is NOT a post to air that conversation. I have actually discussed it before, and if you'd like, I'll find and post the link so that you can enter into that conversation instead.

Julia ~ That's EXACTLY it! I think that permanence is MEANT to be scary, because that means we realize its importance.

Melody ~ Thanks for your comment, totally agree. And again, I'm not going to enter into the conversation about habit vs. non-habit here as this is not what this post is about. (I know you only brought it up in resp. to prior commenter. ) :-)

RJW said...

Thanks. Actually that is a possibility I have thought about and Father Erik has mentioned. My "baby" is 8, so I have a couple of years that I am concentrating on that aspesct of vocation.

Nan said...

Adoro, countless saints discerned a vocation, entered the convent and got booted due to illness, running with scissors or just not being a good fit for that particular group.

They got better, learned to walk with scissors and either found another order or founded an order.

Remember, Our Lady of Lourdes promised happiness in the next life, not this one.