How to narrow your vocation options

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“RELIGIOUS LIFE is a tapestry of religious communities expressed in a variety and diversity of spiritualties and missions.” Above, Trappist monks take a daily walk around the monastery grounds.  

A few weeks ago
a friend and I got together for coffee and conversation at Starbucks. Once again I found myself overwhelmed by the array of choices and the Starbucks-specific coffee-drink-ordering lingo.

It’s not too different for those discerning life as a sister, brother, or priest. You think about who you are and how God is calling you to live in this world. You desire to understand the mystery of that call, you long to be true to your heart, and you want to follow Jesus as a disciple through vowed religious life, but how do you make sense of so many communities? What distinguishes the “skinny mocha cappuccino” communities from the “espresso” communities? How do you decide which religious community is the one in which you can follow Jesus with the total gift of your life?

Varied and valid
Religious life certainly has grown since its beginning 2,000 years ago with Saint Anthony the Great out in the desert. Today religious life is a tapestry of religious communities expressed in varied and diverse spiritualities and missions. Each community is valid. Each reflects a different charism or gift of the Spirit that meets a need in the church and world today.

Diane Roche, R.S.CJ., a Religious Sister of the Sacred Heart, and Holy Family Sister Carmen Bertrand, S.H.F., members of apostolic communities, attend the 2012 World Youth Day.
DIANE ROCHE, R.S.CJ., a Religious Sister of the Sacred Heart, and Holy Family Sister Carmen Bertrand, S.H.F., members of apostolic communities, attend the 2012 World Youth Day.
As a discerner seeking to follow Jesus as a sister, brother, or priest you, too, must navigate many choices and the lingo of religious life. Likewise, there are various aspects of religious life that you need to consider before making a decision. The prayerful weighing of options—discernment—that brings you the clarity of responding to Jesus’ invitation to be his disciple is key. Once you have that clarity, you can direct your discernment to more specific aspects of how to live out that call.

Which particular community is best for me?
An essential part of the call to follow Jesus is yet another call and that is to a particular community. Once you have surrendered to God’s invitation to live religious life, then it is important to discover which religious community will complement who you are. Basically all religious communities include aspects of prayer, service, community life, and decision-making. Yet each community lives out these realities differently.


”Words for the wise: Defining the vocabulary of religious life,”

Religious life timeline,” on the VISION VocationNetwork,

If you desire that the hours of your day be marked by prayer, then consider cloistered or monastic communities that engage the day with prayer as their overarching priority. If silence and solitude are your preferred daily surroundings, cloistered communities will offer you these characteristics in significant quantities.

Monastic communities uphold silence at specific times throughout the day and provide a similar but somewhat less rigorous schedule. You might be attracted to a monastery especially if you value a regulated routine that provides a rhythm for each day.

If you like stability, then both cloistered and monastic communities have these qualities, although in different proportions.

An apostolic community might be more suitable for you if you want personal and communal prayer, whenever it takes place, to be the foundation for your daily action, which in turn then influences your daily prayer.

If you find energy in diversity and a variety of forms of service for your ministry, then you might want to look at communities that have a broad-based mission and serve in a multitude of ways. If you are only interested in a particular area of service, then consider those communities that focus their time and resources in a specific way like health care or the education of youth. One way to find out where you feel drawn is to identify what volunteer or work experiences you have found enriching and energizing and that you are good at. You might also discover whether you want to minister with other brothers or sisters in your community or if you are comfortable in one ministry while others are serving in another one or at a different location.

Missionary Father Dermot Roache, S.M.A. lives out his vocation by embracing other cultures.
MISSIONARY FATHER Dermot Roache, S.M.A. lives out his vocation by embracing other cultures.
If you like travel and different cultures, then you might enjoy being a part of a community that is represented in a variety of places around the world or that has a missionary charism. If you identify more with a sense of “home,” then you might want a community that is defined more or less by geographical boundaries.

An essential element of religious life is community living. There are numerous ways and styles of community life. Your level of comfort among a group of people might help you to know if you prefer to be a member of a larger group or a smaller one. You may be drawn to a sense of order in which life is clearly defined, or you might be attracted to helping to create and design the way you will live each day given the circumstances and needs of ministry.

Within each community, life will unfold either through a more collaborative style of decision-making or a more hierarchical style. If you prefer to have more of a voice that gives you a sense of initiative, judgment, and personal responsibility, then look for a community that invites participative decision-making that affirms the individual. If you prefer greater uniformity and structure, then you might search for a community with decision-making concentrated to a greater extent in the hands of superiors.

A very critical aspect of this search to discover which community you will belong to is not only information-gathering and matching personality, qualities, and characteristics but also visiting and spending time to see if the lived experience fits and enables you to feel at home. It is important for you as you discern to identify priorities and to look for a religious community. 

How to make sense of so many communities?

In addition to considering the following practical steps to discerning a religious community, check out VocationMatch,—sponsored by VISION vocation magazine and the National Religious Vocation Conference. It is a tool for matching your personality and interests with communities.

1. Decide which type of community—for example, cloistered, monastic, or apostolic—would help you to become your best self.

2. Determine whether you want to belong to an international community or a local one.

3. Consider what size community would be suitable for you given your personality, temperament, and gifts.

4. Determine the value you place on living, working, and praying together and how it is manifested in each religious community.

5. Learn about the mission and charism of the communities to which you feel attracted.

6. Discover how the vows are lived in the various communities.

7. Consider what level of initiative, judgment, and personal responsibility you hope to bring to your life of service and obedience within the community.

8. Identify the significance of prayer, both personal and communal, in each community.

9. Decide which religious community would allow you to feel most “at home.”

10. Finally, drink deeply from the cup of God’s grace and blessing as you discern your call in life, and, in the words of Saint Francis de Sales, “Be who you are and be that perfectly well.”
Sister Charlene Diorka, S.S.JSister Charlene Diorka, S.S.J. is formation director for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia.




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