Thursday, January 02, 2014

On the Discernment of Religious Vocations

I don't buy the central thesis:
The prevailing opinion amongst those who talk and write about discernment is that God calls men and women to religious life by placing an innate desire for religious life in their hearts. If you have no such desire, it is unlikely that you are called.

This advice, although it looks harmless on the surface, ends up thwarting religious vocations. Men and women who prayerfully examine their desires almost never find a strong desire for religious life lodged in the depths of their hearts.

All forms of religious life have this repulsive effect. All forms of religious life, at their very core, consist of three vows—poverty, chastity, and obedience—and each of these vows is repulsive. The vow of poverty means giving up money and property; the vow of chastity means giving up a spouse and children; and the vow of obedience means giving up one’s own will. No one has an innate desire to sever himself from property, family, and his own will. No one has an innate desire to uproot three of life’s greatest goods. Such a desire would be mere perversion.

Everyone, however, has an innate desire to get married.  Religious life is a renunciation, but marriage is a positive good.  So, if we ask people to decide between religious life and marriage on the basis of their desires, they are going to choose marriage every time.  And that’s what’s happening.


If we want to revitalize religious life, we need to rethink our methodology. We need to stop telling people to look within their hearts for an innate desire for religious life. They have no such desire. Instead of asking people whether they desire religious life, we should ask them whether they desire salvation—whether they desire to become saints. If sanctity is the goal, then religious life and all its harrowing renunciations begin to make sense. Although religious life is the hardest, most fearsome way to live, it is also the most spiritually secure, most fruitful, and most meritorious.

I agree with the author that the religious life is superior to marriage in terms of bringing salvation....

On one very important condition. One important condition that the author seems to forget....

Religious life is the most efficient means of salvation if you are called to the religious life.

If you are not called to the religious life, the religious life is a spiritual disaster waiting to happen.

Imagine becoming a religious with no enthusiasm for what you are doing.

Marriage chosen every time it's presented as a choice? Are you sure? 

What about the desire to do God's will? Some people will do that instead of getting married if they know that is what God wills.

Does that not excite enthusiasm in a devout Catholic?

I take it as an axiom that every devout Catholic wants to become a saint. Every one wants to do the will of God.

So why aren't all devout Catholics religious?

The answer is that they are not called to do that.

The writer makes it sound like the Catholic chooses the religious life.

You don't choose the religious life, God chooses you.

Does God call all devout Catholics to become a religious?

I think the answer is an emphatic "no".

So there has to be some judgement in discernment.

The desire for the religious life has to be there on some level. Imagine entering a lifestyle that brings no enthusiasm, and to do it for the rest of your life.

You'd have to be insane to enter religious life under those conditions.

Now the writer is correct that we should emphasize the superiority of the celibate life, and that it is the fastest means to sanctity to those who are called.

But I think eliminating the emotional angle is a huge mistake.

In order to have a fruitful vocation, you need to have a desire to do the will of God, and to do the will of God whatever vocation he calls you to.

I also want to add that while no one has an innate desire for poverty, chastity or obedience, such desires do develop outside the formal religious life.  How else do people think about adopting the religious life if they don't already have an inclination towards those evangelical counsels to begin with?