How do I know if I am called to religious life?
Religious life is a huge and counter-cultural commitment, so it is completely natural to experience doubt, uncertainty, nervousness, and fear. It is important to put everything into perspective, and to realize that God calls us to take one step at a time. Just as no one expects you to marry someone without dating her first, no one expects you to commit your whole life to a religious community right away.
Therefore, you do not need to answer the question, “Am I called to profess final vows?” or “Am I called to become ordained?” You only need to answer the question: “Am I called to ‘Come and See’ what religious life is like by speaking to a vocation director?”
Some signs that you may be called to the first stages of religious formation are an attraction to life in community; a deepening prayer life; daydreams about becoming a priest or a brother; and a desire to serve God and the Church. It is important to discuss these desires with trusted loved ones, a spiritual director, and eventually a vocation director. You will never attain 100% certainty, but if your vocational desires are genuine and your prayer is consistent, you will find yourself getting more peaceful or more excited as time goes by.
What is the difference between a diocesan priest and a religious priest?
A diocesan priest promises obedience to a bishop and usually spends his life serving in parishes within his diocese. He has control over his own finances, and typically lives alone or with one or two other priests.
A religious priest vows obedience to his superior and can be missioned anywhere in the world. He may work in parishes but also in education, missions, journalism, or other apostolates. Religious priests do not own private property, but possess everything in common with their brothers. They typically live in communities of four or more brothers.
What is the difference between a priest and a brother?
In the Assumption, all men are brothers, and some brothers are called to the ministry of the priesthood. Priests are able to celebrate the sacraments, while brothers have more time for other, non-sacramental ministries. Neither is a better or fuller vocation than the other; they are different yet equal calls from God.
How long does formation take?
Formation can vary according to the individual, but it always takes a fair amount of time, typically seven years. This is standard for most religious orders and dioceses. It may sound like a long time, but for an Assumptionist, ordination is not the be-all and end-all. What are most important are community life and service, and these are present from the very beginning of the process, when a man commits to living alongside his brothers and to serving the Church throughout his formation and studies.
In a fast-paced and results-oriented society, religious formation that emphasizes the journey and the present moment can be a compelling witness of the way of Christian discipleship.
Can I change my mind once I begin formation?
Of course! No one makes final vows until they have been in formation for years. The application process is not the end of your discernment; it is only the beginning. You are free to leave at any time if you feel that God is calling you elsewhere.
Sometimes it is necessary to stop thinking about religious life and actually give it a try, because there are experiences you cannot have unless you “come and see.” Perhaps they will confirm your initial desire to enter; perhaps you will realize this is not your true vocation. Still, even if you decide to leave the congregation, you will have received spiritual formation that will help you throughout the rest of your life.
What if I feel that I am not good enough to become a brother or a priest?
No one enters religious life as a perfect person, and no one dies as a perfect person, either. To be human is to make mistakes; we have all made them. Remember that Jesus came not to call saints, but to call sinners (Matthew 9:13). St. Peter, St. Augustine, and all of the saints had character flaws and histories of moral errors. God is forgiving, and our awareness that we are sinners can help us to minister more compassionately to others, too.
It is important to be honest about one’s shortcomings in spiritual direction and vocational discernment. Every case is different. In some cases, our soul-searching may uncover signs that we would not be happy or healthy as a religious. But we will never know until we have brought everything that worries us to light, where our shadow side can encounter the mercy of Jesus.
Isn’t it lonely going through life without having sex or getting married?
Discernment is all about discovering how God calls us to give and receive love. Some people are called to do so through the beautiful sacrament of marriage. For others who are called to religious life or priesthood, celibacy is a gift rather than a curse. In giving up one single, exclusive intimate relationship, we find ourselves available to enter into chaste yet life-giving relationships with so many of our brothers, sisters, and friends.
It is important to realize that no life is free of loneliness. Naturally, priests and religious can become lonely. But when marriages encounter stress and difficulty, spouses can become lonely, too. Whatever our vocation is, there is a certain emptiness inside us that no human relationship can fill. If we anchor ourselves to the love of God, it is possible to manage our loneliness and our need for intimacy in healthy ways. Perhaps because service is profoundly meaningful, priests and religious generally report being happy people.
For more about the vocation to celibacy, you may enjoy reading this helpful reflection by Brother Sean D. Sammon, F.M.S.
My friends or family do not want me to enter religious life. What do I do?
Naturally, the decision to enter religious life affects people beyond ourselves. When the people we love are opposed to our desire to enter religious life, it can be extremely painful for everyone involved. It is important to realize that their doubts and concerns are perfectly natural — and not all that uncommon.
Opposition from people we love calls us to do a lot of soul-searching in order to discern God’s will. It may involve some pain and disappointment in the beginning, but we can trust that God will provide us and our loved ones with the grace to follow our vocation. We can never be truly happy without following our hearts, and we should not be afraid that becoming truly happy is selfish. After all, if we are joyful and authentic people, then others around us will ultimately be happier, too.
Understand that parents who hoped for grandchildren or significant others who hoped for marriage need to go through a normal grieving process. If you have grieved over similar sacrifices, then you can share your own grief with them, too. But also remember to share your joy and excitement, so that they can see that religious life is a search for happiness rather than a painful renunciation. In the end, what is most important for the people who love us is that they know that we are happy.
What should I do in order to discern my vocation with the Assumptionists?
It is important to pray often, receive the sacraments regularly, and find a trusted spiritual director with whom you can discuss your discernment. (Assumptionist spiritual directors are available upon request.) Eventually, you may wish to get in touch with the vocation director and join in our community meals, prayers, and gatherings, without any pressure or requirement to join.
Our vocation director can also speak with you about opportunities for service, retreats, etc., all of which can be of help as you discern your vocation.
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