Thursday, September 30, 2010

Religious Vocation Discernment: Trust your gut.

"In the spiritual life we must always be a little suspicious of feelings." - a minor friar

But...  I, along with many others, have at one time or another found myself in dysfunctional religious communities during the period of time I was discerning my vocation.  From experience I can tell you this - if the community seems disordered, it most likely is.  That doesn't necessarily mean one shouldn't enter if one feels called to that particular house or community - St. Therese entered a somewhat dysfunctional community and became a saint... you simply enter at your own risk, trusting the interior conviction while depending upon divine providence.  (Nine out of ten you don't stay.) 
Anyway, with that introduction, I want to highlight a few insights from Fr. Charles of A Minor Friar blog; a friend of mine directed me to Father's post exclaiming - "This is exactly what I've been thinking since I left that awful abb...."
Irreligious life.
Many of us who have come to religious life, myself included, have struggled with the impression that the life we have found doesn't seem very religious. We are bothered that our communities do not seem to be prayerful places, that we ourselves to do not feel as devout as we used to, and that our conversations about the pressures and problems upon us do not often turn to God.
First, we must trust ourselves and our instincts. I failed to do this in my own early experiences of religious life and did myself a lot of harm. I arrived young and much more innocent than I thought I was, and much of what I found in my first try at religious life was confusing and scandalizing. When I expressed my concerns to my directors and superiors I was told to 'get over myself' or was given unfortunate labels: 'neo-con,' 'traddy,' someone who wants to 'go back' to the bad old days.
So, do not listen to those who tell you 'get over yourself' or dismiss you with labels. Trust your instincts. Religious life in our time--and here I can only speak to my own geographic and cultural context--is afflicted with various forms of decadence, moral confusion, and theological error. I thank God that he has led me, by the circuitous paths of grace, to a pretty solid community, but that doesn't mean we are exempt from the problems and errors of our time. We who are younger religious must trust our instincts and always be a little suspicious. When someone tells you the Church or your community or Vatican II teaches something and it doesn't sound right, look it up yourself. Be empowered. - finish reading at Irreligious Life
Remember the proverb, 'if it quacks like a duck...'


  1. Anonymous12:47 AM

    I am primarily attracted to men, yet have heard the call to become a priest since I was 3-4 years old. Sometimes louder and more clearly than at other times. I have had boyfriends and anonymous sex and times of great restraint and penance.

    The call is not going away. I have some pretty serious and clear indicators as answers to prayer regarding my vocation over the years. However, at this point, I don't think I should pursue the priesthood because I would have to lie about my background and that might be a serious sin and a reason for getting removed later on. And btw, no...being same sex attracted does not make me interested in children, nor does it mean I want to jump every guy I see.

    So, at this point, I am looking into becoming a brother or an oblate. The orders I am looking into are pretty traditional.

    Two questions:

    1. I am planning on approaching a potential spiritual director. Should I discuss this background with him? And if so, how should I discuss it?

    2. Do I need to be completely honest and open about my sexual history with a religious order when applying and asked? I do not have stds/hiv-Thank God! And no criminal background of any sort.

    What to do...what to do...? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Great blog, btw and beautiful art. Are you looking for commissions? I could recommend you to some wealthy patrons I know, but you'd have to take the risque stuff off of your page, they would freak.


  2. Thanks for the support...the issues in the post aren't easy, and I'm not sure I got all the balance they need.

    Thanks for the photo of Severinus, who is one of my favorite movie monks. "It is a most effective remedy for nervous disorders."

  3. Anon ~ You were asking Terry, but I'd advise you to take the advice of the patron of spiritual directors, that being St. Francis de Sales. In "Introduction to the Devout Life" he instructed to hold nothing back from your spiritual director. If that director cannot know the state of your soul, how can he help you? If you have a very large issue to work out and you withhold it, it is akin to going to the ER for a small cut on your finger while a large gaping gut-wound bleeds out - and it WILL eventually become visible, no matter how you think you can hide it.

  4. Anonymous - Adoro stated the case excellently. (You did Adoro! Thanks!)

    I would also say you need to discuss this with your spiritual director - he in turn might discuss it with his, if you give him permission.

    Anyway - if you are concerned about it now - it is really going to concern you later - this stuff just doesn't go away. Remember the psalm, "I kept it secret and my frame was wasted".

  5. Father - I thought your post was very helpful and balanced. I love your blog.

  6. Anonymous11:46 AM

    Thank you for the comments. I suppose I already knew the answer. Sorry for lack of more information, it is hard to write an entire bio in a little box and after all, this is the Terry Nelson blog, not mine.

    I guess a better question would be, what have the general reaction been to those who have a same-sex, sexual past and have attempted to enter religious life? How is it generally received? I guess that is what I am really curious about? I think this is an important topic. As Terry and many of his readers must know, there are a lot of us out here...

  7. Anonymous

    Whatever God calls us to, He equips us for!! Just keep on doing the next 'right' thing and relax in God's good plans for your life.

    God bless and keep you safe.

  8. Anonymous2:09 PM

    Thank you for your kind words shadowlands, those are the exact sentiments I receive when praying about this.

    I would like to hear about the experiences of other gay/ssa/homosexual people men/women have had in pursuing a religious vocations. Perhaps that is beyond the scope, or too serious or personal for this blog.

    Are there any resources or blogs out there that deal with such issues? Can anyone direct me?

    Thank you.

  9. Fr. Charles has written very good, wise and important things on this issue...
    thanks, Terry, for your insights.
    As to the same-sex issue, the present documents relating to this make it clear that anyone who is predominantly attracted to the same sex is not adequately able to live in a same-sex community nor is he to be considered for Holy Orders.
    Because this is such a complex and difficult reality; because it depends upon the individual, their willingness to undergo a certain "conversion" that is not something a heterosexual would need (beyond foregoing genital and overly emotional relationships with the opposite sex), in my humble opinion, it would depend upon the individual...
    there are very important issues so closely with the same sex in a religious community...the particular "issues", that you, Mr. Terry have so well written of, that someone who has same-sex attraction must deal with, can make living so closely and intimately with other men, some of whom an individual might be attracted to, and rightly so...after all, goodness, beauty, holiness ARE attractive...combined with physical attraction, can make community life both difficult and tortuous.
    It is something that needs to be dealt with in spiritual direction and therapy...and being open and honest is so very important.
    God can do wondrous things. In all honesty, I cannot say one way or the other. It all depends. God bless you, anonymous, in your search to give yourself to God. Your desire, in and of itself, will be fulfilled with God's help!

  10. Anonymous: There is a Courage website:
    and NARTH (which some find to be horribly "abusive" to the homosexually inclined individual...I don't think that's accurate):
    God bless you! Mary keep you!
    My prayers and blessing to you!

  11. Anonymous3:30 PM

    Dear nazareth priest, Thank you for your frankness. I didn't realize that extended to all forms of religious life. Despite what I have read, having lived chastely for the last few years probably will not count for much with my inclination, especially with all of the current hysteria.

    I am glad to know this now, rather than pour my heart out to a priest who may or may not be scrupulous to begin with in a full disclosed, lay it all on the table, spiritual direction session, or series of sessions, only to be told what you just told me.

    So, for now, onward and upward. Thanks everyone.

  12. Anonymous: If you want to correspond, please contact me.
    I am most interested in speaking with you, if that is something you would email:
    I'm praying for you.
    You are so beloved by our Lord; don't ever forget that!

  13. Anonymous--

    What you might want to consider is a Third Order such as Secular Carmelites..we have very deep spiritual lives, pray the LOTH, personal study and retreats, is definitely a "next level" in spirituality and the promises have yo live a chaste life depending on your station in life (which sounds like you are already doing...)

    You live in your own house so you will not have the same-sex pressures that Father NP mentioned..

    There are also religoius
    "groups" that are not as strictly the Glenmary Missioners that work with small mission churches in the Deep South, and other mission fields, or perhaps hospitals or groups who DO an an apostolate in working with also might be cut out for a Permanent Deacon..

    I do think that there are some options available out there for may take a bit of digging..

    I will keep you in my prayers...


  14. Sara: great advice...just what I was thinking...

  15. Anonymous3:17 PM

    I hope and pray "anonymous" got some advice in his discernment. I'm in a similiar situation myself. It's definately not an easy road.


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.