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.
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Cute Gushy Romantic Love Stories

My best friend & his wife run a blog, The Crows Nest. Recently they both shared their love stories. Considering my own insufficient capacity to witness to the wonderful sacrament of marriage, I really felt it important to share it. In fact, they have always had an important part in my vocation. They were the two friends that I asked for a letter of recommendation to include in my application. I share the date of my Solemn Vows & Religious Consecration as an Augustinian with their Wedding Anniversary.

My friend, initialed JJ on The Crow’s Nest, shares The Love Story: His Version. JJ & I used to have a Rap Crew together, well a couple. I will tell a little about it on my next hip hop album. We knew each other since we were young, but really became good friends in college. He mentions the part about going to daily Mass at community college, I was the one who started that (Go figure the one with the religious vocation would be obsessed with daily Eucharist!). This isn’t a rap story, but a love story, and that is what he talks about.

My friend, more importantly my friend’s beloved wife, Kat, writes The Love Story: Her Version. Having known her since HS, but not having been friends until the end of HS and throughout College. The first time I really remember connecting with her was at a Discipleship Week with NET in 2001. She, subsequently joined them for a year. She has always inspired me as a little sister in Christ.

If I can summarize something about either of them, is the prayerful deliberation. Unlike myself, my friends here are not very compulsive. They are exciting, adventurous, but perhaps not as compulsive as me.  But more than that, their courting and engagement were always marked by mutual encouragement and prayer. Dating is a discernment process, and it seems clear therefore, that a couple should be praying throughout their discernment. However, what is so much more wonderful than this, is that a couple that opens to each other in mutual intimacy with the Lord is entering into a Sacred place that not many people have the joy of knowing.

Vocation Fairs and Hip Hop

The Province got two invitations to two separate vocation fairs at two separate catholic high schools in south LA.  I went to both, Mary Star of the Sea in San Pedro HS last week, and Juniperro Serra HS in Gardena today.

I may have been asked because I was young, I may have been asked because I do youth ministry.  I may have been asked because I know LA, and need an excuse to hang out with my dad (who is on the other side of LA), I may have been asked because I do hip hop.  I never went expecting to actually get vocations.

There seems to be a format.  Vocation Directors bring cards, pamphlets, posterboards, and set up around a table, where people can talk.  I had a totally different approach, maybe I am too cynical to trust that I can win anybody else, or something… In all honesty, all I wanted to do was plant the seed, and let them know that a Religious Vocation is so way different then what they have ever dreamed.

From the perspective of our friars, average high school teens who we have never met are not a lucrative field for serious vocations to our order.  We don’t want people to fill our ranks and positions, we want people to share our life with.  Who knows a relationship could begin.

Anyways, I brought my amp, I brought my mic, and I brought my beats.  I straight rocked the mic for Jesus, and told them my advice about vocations.

I laid down our charism, and some of my discernment story.  If I were to have an effect, at least I would hope they know God has a plan for them, and considering what God wants when they map their life.

And maybe a few might just want to consider a religious vocation, because it is so much more wonderful then they conceived.

I will still have more comments about this during the week.