Saturday, March 31, 2012

Vocation crisis.

Seeking God?  Or...

I worked in a Catholic bookstore for a few years where I met many fervent young people who felt called to religious life.  The best of these more or less lived their lives as if they were already in the convent or monastery; devoutly assisting at daily Mass, praying the Liturgy of the Hours - including the little hours, practicing mental prayer, doing good works, and so on.  Some of these really wanted to be a nun or a monk or a priest - the few who have persevered in religious life thus far, seemed to be the ones who wanted Christ alone.

I just heard of a young woman I met back then, who has since returned to secular life.  She really wanted to be a traditional nun - and she was, for awhile.  Nothing wrong with that - in fact it will most likely be a tremendous, formative grace for the rest of her life.  Indeed, many who leave get married and raise beautiful families for God.  Others, like me...  well, never mind.

Prior to entering the community, several enthusiastic aspirants were toasted with going away parties - 'showers' or 'receptions' as it were.  Unfortunately, not a few also carried the burden of large student loans to pay off.  Many good people, friends and strangers, donated to help them do that.  Although I always wonder if and when these young people do leave religious life, if they are obliged to reimburse the people, or the organization, that paid off their debts?  Or is it like the wedding gifts a bride and groom keep, even after  the marriage was annulled or the couple split up?

I'm just wondering, not condemning or judging - I'm just curious about what the etiquette is. 

Nevertheless, it is most always true, vocation is a crises for those without one.

Incidentally, St. Clare left the world on Palm Sunday.  She slipped away quietly and unnoticed - without a party or celebration.  I've always liked that idea.


  1. you are invited to follow my blog

  2. Terry

    My student loan debt is but ONE of the reasons why I have not thus far followed what I perceive to be a calling...

    I suppose if someone paid my remaining debt and I was able to try out my vocation and after a time left then I would feel obligated to pay back the kind soul or apostolate who helped me to do that 100%. No question.

  3. I pondered something similar last summer when I heard a professor from Villanova, who'd been educated in Rome's best schools forty years earlier obviously as a priest, tell about his wife's cancer in the midst of a lecture on the church. At least he's sharing what he learned. It's probably a wash?

  4. +JMJ+

    Have you read the story Fireworks for Elspeth by Rumer Godden? The title character is about to leave for the convent and wants to go without "fireworks," but her mother insists on a big party because it will look better.

    Back when I was still discerning a religious vocation, I learned that there are very few communities which will take someone straight out of high school these days, because of how many young people leave after the free college education. My parish priest entered seminary even earlier: it was both high school and college for him. Of the thirty boys in his class, he was the only one ordained as a priest.

    Now, I'm not happy that this has become a money thing. I'm certain that any seeds that were planted during this time still grow in wonderful ways, and that God's "investment" always pays off in the end. But I do understand why vocation directors would want to be more "realistic" about their resources. Heck, if someone asked me for help paying off a student loan so that he could enter a religious community, I might make him sign some equivalent of a pre-nup first.

  5. Sadly, not all those seeking to enter the religious life do so with pure motives. A former acquaintance sought admission to a traditional order known for its focus on education, mostly because he knew they would finance his doctorate. He was quite open about this with his friends but, of course, said nothing to the order. He was rumbled when one of his (now former) friends showed the Facebook posts to a priest.
    Scandalous, but true.

  6. Brian6:18 AM

    that's called stealing with a religious veneer- since it involves thousands of dollars- it would objectively be grave matter- truly not worth going to Hell over. Yes the devil would get a hearty laugh if someone ended up in Hell because they tricked a religious order into paying for their education. For those who on the otherhand sincerely went into the community thinking they had a religous vocation, but did not- they should pay back what they can when they leave unless the order tells them they do not need to; but even in that case I would make a donation to the community- unless they were objectively wackos and were undermining the Catholic faith. What crazy times we live in! Lord have mercy.

  7. I donated to a friend who was entering a community. As it turned out, she discerned with Mother Superior that she was not called to religious life.

    I would not want my money back - she sincerely tried and believed she was called, and I'd pay millions if I had it for people to try their vocation if the only thing standing in their way was money.

  8. I've asked St Joseph with a 30 day novena for his intercession in helping me to have the resources to pay off the remaining student debt I have and then I can be a true delayed vocation God-willing.

    I had it planned the other day when I bought my first lottery ticket the other day by some misguided notion that I was going to give alot to a few particular religious communities whose work I value for the formation of holy priests. ALAS....ITE AD IOSEPH

  9. Christine11:37 PM

    Many benefactors helped me pay off debt in order to enter the convent. I am so grateful to them and pray for them daily. In addition to the painful circumstance (my father's death)that led to my depression and departure, I experienced the deep sadness of goodbyes, the confusion as to what to do next, and the guilt and shame at having failed to succeed when so many people were rooting for me. I cannot pay them back to this day and believe God will reimburse them beyond my poor ability to do so.

  10. Christine,
    it sounds as though you sincerely tried to discern whether it was GOD's will that you were called to religious life. I'm certain you gave your utmost. I can certainly understand your confusion as to what to do next and your shame at having seemingly "Failed" to succeed despite the prayers of many on your behalf. That is a heavy cross to bear. I'm certain and hopeful than no one who helped you in your endeavor holds this against you but I can sympathise with your feelings of "owing them". offer up this heavy cross in union with JESUS to GOD the Father through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Trust that GOD will lead you to where it is HE wishes you to serve Him (if He hasn't already).

  11. Did not St. Thomas Aquinas recommend the religious life (not the sacerdotal life, but the vowed religious life) as a remedy for past sin (expiation) as well as a most excellent avenue to be formed & grow in virtue? This notion we have today of 'having a vocation' I think is nonsense. All are called to the perfection of charity, and there's nothing wrong with someone trying to live the formal, vowed religious life. Most are not able to remain (and I'm just guessing here) because they are not properly disposed to receive the necessary grace to persevere. I would think that those who present themselves rarely have 100% pure motives for entering. That does not mean God still cannot work with them in their good intentions to persevere in the life.

  12. DB - excellent comment - I especially love the St. Thomas recommendation - which is the traditional notion, understanding, purpose of entering religion.

    Many are called, few persevere.

  13. i have a friend who entered the convent after paying off the debt from her college education with the help of about 40 donors.

    she kept a meticulous list of who donated when and how much and took the list with her to the convent so she can pray for them, and also so that if she ever leaves the convent she can begin to pay then back.


Please comment with charity and avoid ad hominem attacks. I exercise the right to delete comments I find inappropriate. If you use your real name there is a better chance your comment will stay put.