10 Tips on Discerning Religious Life

Saint Augustine Monastery, Austin Hall Arcade, San Diego, CA. Where I dwell and stroll to Morning Prayer & Mass each morning.

I have met several Vocation Wrecks, who can never manage to get close to deciding what to do with what God has given.

Sometimes they are given really lousy vocation advice. To deal with vocation wrecks, to comfort people, to dispense scrupulous young people from the misery of discernment, they give them bad advice. Worst is that God gives you a desire. This is an attempt to comfort people who want to be married, assuming that they think marriage is evil or something. I have met more people who cannot make a decision because they desire two mutually exclusive vocations. Second awful vocation advice is telling people that they will find peace. More on that below. I could actually go on about the lousy vocation advice that people who grew up in sheltered ethnic (Irish / Italian / German) parishes tell young people who have become spiritually obese on pop culture and consumerism.

I have found myself repeating many of these to many people. Sometimes I not even giving advice to discerners, but explaining the process to people who have a lot of misconceptions. I believe that most of those misconceptions are shared by people who may be called, but never looked into it. So I gathered these into ten points.

  1. If you begin to feel strangely drawn, begin to have a desire, you should look into it. If you begin to find yourself defensive, opposed, or repulsed by it, it probably requires you to look again. I used to think “They Wouldn’t Let Me Rap.” I met a Sister who used to think Nuns were ugly. If you have no emotional reaction besides a little gratitude or cheer, kindly move on.
  2. Do not Passively Discern in your head or your imagination. Do not think that by “praying about it” to yourself is actually discernment. If you have felt drawn or repulsed by it, become an Active Disciple, and then see how you feel about it.
  3. Sometimes a desire for Consecrated Life is simply a call to Radical Discipleship. Spend more time reading the Scriptures, especially the Gospel. Have a Master/Disciple relationship with Christ. Pray daily. Befriend the Saints. Participate in service to the Church or the community. Go to Eucharistic Adoration. Deepen and grow your commitment to Christ, & the church. See a Spiritual Director.
  4. Sometimes it is a good idea to defer discernment. If you are younger than a Junior in college, if you just broke up, or got rejected by a potential special someone, if someone close to you has died, if you have moved to a new city or state, or if you are changing jobs, it is a good idea to at least let 8 months pass before any serious committed discernment. I am not saying don’t discern, it is difficult to decide. Also, a yearning that persists through this is valid.
  5. A conflicted desire for both Married Life & Consecrated Life deserves a critical look. If marriage appears more comfortable, or includes more perks, you need to be honest, both come with their own Crosses. Many people NEVER have a desire for Consecrated Life. The fact that you do means you should look.
  6. You WILL NOT find immediate Peace, instead you find trepidation. All the Prophets & the Saints felt incredible turmoil. They found no Peace until they gave themselves over to a calling. Being afraid of a Vocation to Religious Life requires that you face it, not run from it. If may feel comfortable to turn away from it. If you feel drawn, but afraid, running won’t give you peace, it will only give you comfort. What is the worst thing that can happen, you find God’s plan for you in Religious Life and you discover immeasurable Love & Joy in Christ
  7. Talk to a Religious. Visit a Religious House, a Convent, or Seminary. Spend a portion of your day with a Sister or a Priest. Attend Mass several days a week. Do a weekly Holy Hour. Deepen your commitment to discipleship. Attempt to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Try the single life for a few months. This is Active Discernment.
  8. You don’t join a religious order for yourself, you join for Christ, His Church, and that community. You don’t pick a habit or patron saint or location that suits your fancy. Eventually all the superficiality and sweetness will wear out, and you will realize that you are stuck with a group of quite unremarkable human beings. This is not a sign to leave or not, but you have to look deeper in yourself and the community you want to join.
  9. Invariably, the moment you decide to actively discern or apply the boy or girl of your dreams WILL magically appear. GOD DOES NOT OR NEED a few bored lonely people with nothing better to do. God wants you to make a choice. Entering religious life does not make everyone else completely unattractive.
  10. Do not wait for 100% certainty to join. No Religious Order expects that. It is easier to leave a Religious Order within a couple years than a Marriage. Do not wait to attain 100% holiness or practice perfect chastity for every millisecond of every day. Marriage IS NOT the magic cure for lust, people have lustful thoughts after being married, and can even fall in love with other people who they are not married to. The point is growing up and moving past your emotions, comforts of 100% certainty or comprehensive preparedness.
Advertisements

The Trinity for Agnostics Part 1

“God is more thought than can be uttered, God exists more than can be thought.” -Augustine

For Saint Augustine, and For Saint Gregory Nazianzus, they spoke much of God. Yet, scattered throughout all their theological musings and quandaries was a reverent hesitation evoked by a heart in wonder hushed by the divine mystery.

Since the age of Enlightenment, or rationalism, or modernism, we have viewed activities of knowledge with rigor. We mixed in the idea of positivism: what can be known must be demonstrated or verified with concrete data and facts. Only what can be measured in the most pure of scientific settings can be held to be true. What cannot be measured and demonstrated in strictly empirical or scientific matters must be ignored. This seems to be at the root of much atheism today.

But most people are not atheists. Some people think that they have become atheist merely to liberate themselves from the shackles of religion. I believe it is the opposite, that many atheists have come to atheism because only positivism, or rationalism, or enlightenment, or whatever gives them confidence.

Instead of atheism, people get caught between religion and agnosticism. I was an agnostic for a long time. Some of my agnosticism was not a reaction to religion. It was a reaction to positivism and rationalism, which had become enshrined our secular society, and even our modern theology.

It was not because I had the certitude of a verifiable alternative that I became agnostic at the age of 15. I think that it was because positivism in the west, and particularly America was tying things so tightly and comfortably together. Unlike the stereotypes of Catholics somehow clinging deeply to irrational biblical fairy tales or whatever, we have actually always had a healthy management of reason amidst faith. But this is not really a defense of that. In some ways reacting to hyper-rationalistic secularism, we were actually hyper-rationalistic to the point of articulating our theological constructions of God that became positivistic or rationalistic. The problem was that it reduced God in so many ways to be grasped and articulated with scientific precision and clarity. God was reduced to a piece of empirical data.

Augustine struggled with this all throughout his work the Trinity. He always wavered between developing an affirmative speech about God, and then denying whatever he attempted to articulate. Even Thomas Aquinas wanted to throw away all his theological investigations after some sort of encounter with the Divine Mystery.

Even the most brilliant theologian saints themselves appear in some ways to be agnostic. Some apologists might be apt at quoting Aquinas against any objection or objector, which is great to a point, as if faith is not a gift from the Holy Spirit, but can be intellectually demonstrated in a positivistic rationalistic laboratory. God is not a lab rat. We cannot make God run the maze and say that is God.

On the other hand, we have plenty of gods in our films, whose power is demonstrated with spectacular special effects. I think many people walk away from the Church, because they are walking away from sloppy or inaccurate depictions of God that is so small as to fit into our theological demonstrations, or that Hollywood special effects God does not behave like the movies or whatever.

But the story of Augustine goes like this. As he walked along the coast of North Africa overlooking the vast Mediterranean struggling to put two words this theology of the Trinity, he was distracted by what some child appearing to play games. The child dug a little hole in the sand, and repeatedly went to the water transferring from the Mediterranean to his little hole in the sand with a little shell. Augustine inquired of the child what this game was. With innocent enthusiasm, and outstretched arms, the child said “I am going to put the WHOOOOOOOOOLE OCEAN in this little hole…” Augustine thought what folly! But the child, who was some sort of angel, “Don’t you know it is folly to attempt to put the Glorious Divine Mystery of the Trinity into your tiny little head?”

Read Part 2

Read Part 3

Read Part 4