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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Why Won't They Invite Me?

I haven't written on Vocational discernment for awhile, but recently a question was posed to me and I thought others may benefit from the answer.

The person in question had been in correspondance with a few religious communities for several months, but after a time, they stopped writing. She was interested in visiting them and wondered why they had not invited her to visit. Was there something wrong with her? Was this common practice with cloistered religious? Should she keep writing to them or was this a "closed door"?

Her questions are good ones, and there are, actually several different answers so I'm only going to choose the most likely given the circumstances she described.

First, she described she'd been writing to them for some time, and they responded. This is a good thing and a necessary step in discernment. Many communities, especially those that are cloistered, do not have an online presence so prefer that potential candidates write to them the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper (although typewritten/printed out is the new "old fashioned"), and sent by snail mail with postage stamp and all.

Those letters are important as they introduce the individual and community to each other. In the meantime that community will be praying for theirs and that person's discernment, and looking to see if perhaps that individual would "fit" with them, if they are serious about discerning or merely "sightseeing", if they have impediments, or if they are truly free to follow the Lord wherever He leads. 

In my experience, in this type of correspondance with different communities, I decided on my own (through prayer, through circumstances, etc) that it was time to end the correspondance with a particular place; it wasn't for me. That's not to say it was a "bad" community; simply that it wasn't where God was calling me to go, not even for a visit.

In another case, I also experienced, after one response to my inquiry, they did not respond again. Because I was having problems with a particular email account I re-sent a response with apologies citing the computer issues. They still didn't respond. I walked away, too.

A religious sister I met along the way also had looked at religious communities and one cloistered community she truly wanted to visit would not respond to letters, return phone calls...nothing. The monastery in particular was looking for vocations, so she thought their lack of response quite odd, and ended up contacting another, then ended up meeting members of an active community while she was actively, as in, at an event, trying to find the Carmelites she wanted to join! Well...God always has better plans than ours, doesn't He?

So what does a non-response mean?  Sometimes it simply means that particular door is closed. If it doesn't open, there isn't a crowbar in the world to open it. Look elsewhere and trust God.

Moving on to the second part of her question, the young woman wondered about visiting - why hadn't they invited her for a visit?

This is a VERY important question!

I was cued into it because of the context she gave of the letters back and forth.

My most faithful readers will remember my visit to the Cistercians and some of the things that built up to it. The Cistercians are cloistered and somehow caught my attention in a way I could not deny. So I wrote to them (via email as they are online), and a correspondance ensued. They did not invite me to visit at any point, but rather, helped to guide my discernment of them, and in general. One of their suggestions was that I read "The Cistercian Way", which I had to put off because of my graduate studies. I knew I had to focus on each thing in its own time. When I had read the book, we discussed it and I confessed that I would still like to come for a visit.

I had to ask. They were not going to offer. I had to request to come to them.

Why is this?

I've noticed most especially through cloistered communities that they are very careful not to push. They may greatly desire new candidates, but they want to allow that soul and God to comune, so that the soul freely comes, and not through power of suggestion.

You see, especially in American culture, we are all about "politeness" and we are very overly-sensitized to "hurt feelings."

In our day-to-day living, we would not even THINK about just inviting ourselves over to someone's home for a visit. We may call relatives and ask to visit them in the summer, whether to stay with them or drop by if we are in their area - but in that case, we already have a relationship with them that provides an open door to that sort of thing.

When it comes to strangers, however, we do not want to impose ourselves upon them, and that's how we tend to feel about religious communities. We recognize that the convent or monastery or abbey is their home, and they are strangers we would like to meet, but our social taboos make it very difficult to get our minds around the concept that, in the case of discernment, it is acceptable to ask to visit, and in fact, it's necessary.

The other reason the vocation directors at these communities wait for the request is this: some contact them only looking for more information; they may not be ready for a visit. Yet if they are invited, they may feel that it is rude not to accept the request, or they may fear "hurt feelings" if they turn down the invitation. In that case, they may pretend willingness to schedule a retreat, and then go, completely unprepared for the experience - and that can destroy a vocation entirely. Someone who is not ready is not going to be able to properly discern, and a bad experience early on can have lasting effects.

A good religious community is, of course, looking for postulants, but not at the expense of the individual souls who come to them. They desire the good for that person, and see their visit as an opportunity to help them grow closer to God, to know His will for them, and therefore benefit them and their future community, or marriage, or spiritual life in general.

This is why they do not invite, but wait for that request to come; then they know the soul may be ready for what God has in store for them.

I hope this has been helpful for some of you out there in discernment. Know that what I have written here is only in limited scope and addresses the practices of many cloisterd communities. I have found the active religious congregations to be more out front with invitations, but they, too, act with care and concern for the good of the soul that comes to them, and even many of the active Sisters will wait for a request before they throw open their doors to welcome someone for a visit.

Vocational discernment can be a very confusing time, but sometimes, knowing a little about the culture and expectations of the various communities can go a long ways towards easing some of that difficulty. I truly hope that, over the years I have written on this topic, that my own trips and tumbles along this rocky road to Emmaus have made the path straighter and less confusing for someonen else.

God bless you and may the Holy Spirit guide you in your discernment!


Charlotte said...

Hi all,

I knew of a cloistered/hermit community that only allowed its members 2 phone calls out per month. I'm not saying this is the case with communities not returning phone calls in all circumstances - but could it be that there is a restriction on the amount of times they can make phone calls out??? Even if it has to do with vocations? Just a few thoughts...
Also, pray, pray, pray! If God has put a community on your heart but the doors are not opening, ask Jesus to show you why. There is probably a deeper reason here if there are constant blocks. Maybe he wants this particular community and maybe he doesn't - but only he knows why the doors are closing.

In all things, "Do whatever he tells you."

Adoro said...

Charlotte ~ Thanks for your comment.

It's true that members of cloistered communities are limited in their contact with the outside world (outside of emergencies involving their family and other obvious things, of course), but that restriction does not apply to the community's Vocations Director whose job it is within the community to have that outside contact for the good of them all. It would be silly to limit a Vocations Director to only 2 phone calls per month with the outside world, or response to only 2 letters.

The Director of Vocations in a given convent, monastery, etc is a Professed Sister who has already detached from the world and of course, abides by the rule regarding PERSONAL phone calls, but would not have a limit outside of reason for the work involving those discerning their community. Cloisters also have "extern" Sisters responsible for work that takes them outside of the community or involves the outside world.

As far as the rest of your comment: very solid! :-) That's exactly it: the door doesn't open for a reason and it is very proper to ask Jesus why for He expects that question and will answer when it's time, perhaps simply by revealing another door.