Friday, October 25, 2013

Do you have a vocation to religious life?

Every Catholic goes through it. I did. Everyone I know did. A lot of my friends spent time in seminaries, sometimes lots of time, and in convents. Quite honestly, folks, the pickings are slim out there in NewChurchland and I think that one of the more incalculable losses of the post-Asteroid Church are the lost vocations. Women who wanted to give their lives away to God for prayer and service and were confronted with...well, as we have seen. Men who would have devoted themselves to the solemn celebration of the Mass and the cure of souls have gone into business instead because of bad bishops and worse seminary rectors.

But things are different now, at least a little. There really have been a number of small groups coming to light in the last few years who seem genuinely to be doing the Real Thing. I have been keeping notes. I've taken to calling them crocuses; brave little flowers that spring up while all about still looks steadfastly wintry, some of them pushing determinedly up under the hard crust of snow.

No matter what the White Witch may think, it cannot remain always winter.

But the question, Do you have a vocation to the religious life? is one that continues to cause confusion. The collapse of All Things Catholic have left most of us without the spiritual tools to answer this deceptively straightforward question. The noisesome NewChurchian expression "vocational discernment" has come to mean a perhaps endless period of introspection and self-questioning that can drive some people quite dotty. I've seen people, even while receiving "spiritual direction," tie themselves into knots, convincing themselves (in at least one case of my acquaintance) that their revulsion for the notion, the feeling of despair and horror, are sure signs that they're being called.

We are, in our times of spiritual destitution, left to our own devices. We are encouraged by the general culture to think that decisions must be based on feelings. But these are so changable as to be useless as guides to judge what we ought to do. Our times are also rather short on self-knowledge. Oh, I'm sure we're all taught to be "in touch with our feelings" but how long does it take most of us to figure out what are our major character traits, and flaws?

There are all manner of silly "test your personality" quizzes on the internet, and I'm sure we've all indulged in them for amusement now and then, but self-knowledge requires clear thinking, and a certain amount of courage. What sort of people we are can sometimes be difficult to face, and we are again hampered by the culture that does not encourage the virtue of manfully facing up to realities.

In the old days, "vocational discernment" was much more straightforward. Before we began psychologising ourselves into knots, the questions asked by a priest to a young woman or man who came to him asking about religious life were blunt. And the conclusion more easily acted upon.

Below, we have a list of questions that used to be fairly standard, but I think which rarely get asked nowadays. I found them years ago on the website of the SSPX in Asia, but don't let that deter you. They originate from a little manual written by Fr. William Doyle, an Irish priest who was killed giving aid and comfort to dying soldiers at the Battle of Passchendaele on 16 August 1917.

Some years ago, I was talking about these things with a good bishop of the Church. I expressed my frustration with the advice I had received so far, saying that I was no further ahead in my "vocational discernment" than when I had started, being plagued with doubts and hesitations that resulted in me waffling back and forth over the edge.

He said that I was doing it wrong. The only way to "figure out" if you have a vocation to the religious life is to try it. The "discernment period" is what the postulancy and novitiate is for.

Here is the list of questions Fr. Doyle posed to his directees:

1. A desire to have a religious vocation, together with the conviction that God is calling you. This desire is generally most strongly felt when the soul is calm, after Holy Communion, and in time of retreat.

2. A growing attraction for prayer and holy things in general, together with a longing for a hidden life and a desire to be more closely united to God.

3. To have a hatred of the world, a conviction of its hollowness and insufficiency to satisfy the soul. This feeling is generally strongest in the midst of worldly amusement.

4. A fear of sin, into which it is easy to fall, and a longing to escape from the dangers and temptations of the world.

5. It is sometimes the sign of a vocation when a person fears that God may call them; when he prays not to have it and cannot banish the thought from his mind. If the vocation is sound, it will soon give place to an attraction, through Father Lehmkulhl says: “One need not have a natural inclination for the religious life; on the contrary, a divine vocation is compatible with a natural repugnance for the state.”

6. To have zeal for souls. To realize something of the value of an immortal soul, and to desire to co-operate in their salvation.

7. To desire to devote our whole life to obtain the conversion of one dear to us.

8. To desire to atone for our own sins or those of others, and to fly from the temptations which we feel too weak to resist.

9. An attraction for the state of virginity.

10. The happiness which the thought of religious life brings, its spiritual helps, its peace, merit and reward.

11. A longing to sacrifice oneself and abandon all for the love of Jesus Christ, and to suffer for His sake.

12. A willingness in one not having any dowry, or much education, to be received in any capacity, is a proof of a real vocation.

He notes that these are "some of the ordinary indications of a vocation, taken principally from the works of Father Gautrelet, S.J., and the Retreat Manual. No one need expect to have all these marks, but if some of them at least are not perceived, the person may safely say he has no vocation."

On the other hand, consider this. I have been told by reliable persons that if you do have some or many of these signs, there is a clear moral obligation to try to fulfill a vocation to the consecrated life.

So, chew on that for a minute...



Anonymous said...

I spent years tying myself into knots trying to discern whether I had a vocation. The good bishop was right: the only way to really know is to become a postulant. Unfortunately, I started looking around at different orders in the 80s, when Church life was at its nadir. I didn't get very far. It wasn't that much better in the 90s. By the time I discovered the Internet and the fact that some decent orders may have existed overseas, I was already hitting the 'too old' category for some orders. Eventually I got married but the guilt of not giving it enough of a go still hits me now and then.


Anonymous said...

I surely do not, but I do have a vocation for solving your vanilla problem. I was reading expats complaining about stuff and one of the things they were complaining about was not being able to get vanilla extract in the EU, so they make it with vodka and vanilla beans. I know you want the artificial stuff but there's no vice tax in Italy right? So probably buying vodka (or the Italian equivalent of Everclear) is going to be cheaper than shipping a giant bottle of artificial which you can't get anyway because the Italian post will eat it.

That's just one link, there are lots. - Karen

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Oooo! Make your own! What a good idea.

Why didn't I think of it?

It must simply be a variation on making your own herbal liqueur, which I've done with bay leaves and lemon peel.

Anonymous said...

I do that with rose petals and I always mean it to give it as presents but I always drink it all up myself. - Karen

ps "it cannot remain always winter" made me cry and cry

Dr. Adam DeVille said...

I'd add a 13th point to that helpful list, and this I learned from a then-seminarian who is now a priest: set a deadline. He, too, had no patience for this endless navel-gazing that goes by "vocational discernment," noting that for some people they are still "discerning" when they've got one foot in the grave at the age of 78 or whatever. To counteract that, give yourself a decent, but not interminable, amount of time: say, a year. Tell yourself by the end of the year it will be clear "yes/no" and it will be.

Anonymous said...

I have a priest friend who basically did that, Dr Adam. He had finished his degree in Economics and thought he might have a call to the priesthood. But he wasn't quite ready to face the prospect, so he said that if he hadn't found a good woman to marry within a year, he would enter a religious order. He did the "singles" thing for a year and was so disillusioned with it that joining the Dominicans was a pretty straight forward choice, I gather.

I think the hardest thing for his was that the Dominicans take even longer to prepare for priesthood that he was a bit despondent at being 30 and not yet ordained. But after his ordination, he was very happy.

Louise L

Mar said...

Great post, Hilary. And kudos for seeking out and making available information very difficult to come by these days.