Questions Catholics Ask
More questions...and responses
- What’s the purpose of Ordinary Time?
- The church made Mother Teresa a saint overnight. Why is it taking so long for Bishop Oscar Romero?
- What does the phrase “consubstantial with the Father” in the Creed mean?
- What does Pope Francis mean by “rapidification”?
- I'm having trouble finding a religious community that will consider me as a candidate because I'm older. Why?
- I don’t read papal documents. What do I need to know about Laudato Si?
- Is God a name, like Allah or Jesus?
- Why should I go to church?
- What is the common good?
- Why is prejudice against Catholics called “the deepest bias in the history of the American people”?
- Why does going to Mass on Saturday night “count” to fulfill the Sunday obligation?
- Don’t we have to obey what the church teaches, or be kicked out?
- How do I reconcile patriotism and faith? Sometimes it feels like dueling citizenships!
- Our priest cancelled Saturday Vigil Mass, citing Dies Domini and pastoral necessity. Is this valid?
- With the recent opposition to Muslim immigrants, I wonder: Were Catholics always welcomed here?
- Is Pope Francis the first Catholic leader to address the environment?
- Do all Christians basically agree on the purpose of baptism, Eucharist, and ministry?
- What is natural law?
- Some of my friends view belief in God as anti-intellectual.
- How did the veneration of relics get started?
- Why do we worship in buildings instead of in God’s beautiful creation?
- What are Catholics to believe about the Antichrist?
- How can I understand and explain the Catholic position on contraception?
- How is it determined that someone is a saint?
- What can we expect from the Vatican Commission on women deacons?
- Who were the women at the cross?
- Is the Bible infallible?
- Can Catholics practice yoga?
- Where can Mass be celebrated?
- I've been told Catholic devotion to saints contradicts what the Bible says about graven images.
- Where in the Bible does it say Jesus' birthday is December 25th?
- Is Jesus truly the Son of God or is it just a story?
- If you're married, is it still possible to become a priest? If yes, what are the steps needed?
- What's a halo, really?
- Why do Catholics put so much emphasis on Mary and the saints?
- Is the parish expected to give the pastor and secretary a bonus at Christmas?
- I recently became a Freemason but feel a calling to be a priest. Do I have a canonical impediment?
- Is it necessary to attend Mass on Sunday? I can't go to church because of my job. What should I do?
- Can Catholics be cremated?
- Is it a sin to eat meat on Fridays during Lent or just a suggestion?
- What exactly is a "Jubilee Year"? What's a "Holy Year"? I hear the Year of Mercy called both.
- Is astrology compatible with Christian belief?
- What does Advent have to do with Apocalypse?
- Petra is the coolest historical site in Jordan. Is it biblically significant?
- Where is Moses buried?
- Settle an argument for me. Was Jesus baptized in Jordan?
- Is the clerical sexual abuse crisis over?
- Who is Karl Rahner, and why is he important?
- Is there a protocol for paying the priest: for marriages, sick calls, last rites?
- Are priests obliged to say mass every day?
- I heard all the big heresies were invented by the 5th century
- What does the church have to say about suicide?
- Where did Limbo come from?
- Mary's parents aren't mentioned in the Bible. How do we know their names?
- Was there ever such a thing as a deaconness?
- Who was Origen?
- How do you know if you're committing heresy?
- Do Catholics believe in psychology?
- Is there a heaven? What is it like?
- What's important about the Avignon papacy and the Great Schism?
- What do I need to know about the Crusades?
- What's an abbess, and what power does she wield?
- Is premarital sex a sin?
- Do the Eastern churches have popes?
- What is papal primacy and where does it come from?
- What does Jesus have to say about family?
- Why do we have priests?
- Why do we "respect life"?
- Why do we honor martyrs?
- What is a patron saint?
- Is there truth in other religions?
- What do Catholics believe about war and peace?
- Why do some buildings have feast days?
- How do you figure Transfiguration?
- What is the Immaculate Heart of Mary?
- What is the Sacred Heart of Jesus?
- What is humility?
- Is it possible to prove the existence of God?
- How “Roman” is the Roman Catholic Church?
- How do can you deal with sinful thoughts?
- What is virtue?
- Does God get angry?
- Why do we have a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults?
- What’s the purpose of fasting?
- What are the qualifications for being pope?
- Is it OK for Christians to be rich?
- What is the Roman Catholic view of work?
- What is Baptism?
- What do we know about Saint Joseph?
- Why is there a church calendar?
- What is the “deposit of faith”?
- What’s the purpose of incense?
- What is “mission”?
- Why is marriage a sacrament?
- Where did American Catholic schools come from?
- As Pontius Pilate asked: What is truth?
- What is the Anointing of the Sick?
- Why do we hear scripture readings at Mass?
- What about the violence in the Old Testament?
- What’s the difference between “the gospel” and “the gospels”?
- What is the Sacrament of Confirmation?
- Why are there cults?
- What’s in a papal name?
- What is Pentecost?
- What is Christ’s Ascension?
- What are the different forms of prayer?
- What is the Real Presence of Christ?
- How can the pope resign?
- Can Catholic doctrine change in light of new information?
- Why is the Lord’s Prayer so important?
- Love thy extraterrestrial neighbor: Does the church believe there could be life on other planets?
- What do Catholics believe about the divine inspiration of scripture?
- Who was John the Baptist and what was his relationship to Jesus?
- What is the structure of the church and what do the people in it do?
- Are there other kinds of Catholics besides Roman?
- What does the "Word of God" mean?
- What are visions?
- What is Purgatory?
- What are third orders, oblates, and associates?
- Why sing at Mass?
- What about all the different gods in Hebrew scripture?
- Is there a place for dissent in the church?
- Do Catholics believe in evolution?
- What does the Bible say about God?
- Why do we say Jesus "descended into hell"?
- Why does God let bad things happen?
- Is it OK to use “real” bread at Mass?
- What is Wisdom?
- Is there a “right time” to be called by God?
- How can I understand the Holy Trinity?
- Why are there two Creeds?
- “How can I live as a Christian in the modern world?”
- Saint Thomas Aquinas did what, exactly?
- Why did American Catholicism begin in Baltimore?
- Do religious communities work for human rights?
- Why isn’t the "Gloria" sung during Lent?
- Should people in discernment date?
- Why do Catholics wear ashes on Ash Wednesday?
- Where did Lent come from?
- What’s so important about the Council of Trent?
- What are the “Precepts of the Church”?
- Do Catholics take the biblical creation story literally?
- Why can’t a woman be ordained?
- Why does the liturgy change?
- Which religious community is right for me?
- Is Purgatory still “on the books”?
- Why is it important to participate regularly in the Mass?
- Why pray the rosary?
- Why can people go to Mass on Saturday evening instead of Sunday?
- I feel called to be a sister, but I am not yet 18 years old
- Did King David compose the psalms?
- Who were Jesus' “brothers and sisters”?
- Is there really a Catholic Index of Forbidden Books?
- What can I do about my student loan debt if I want to join a community?
- What are the corporal and spiritual works of mercy?
- Is a long or short discernment process better?
- What’s the difference between celibacy and chastity?
- Is it “Catholic” to be vegetarian? Do Catholics care about animal suffering?
- What does the Bible say about Judgment Day?
- How can I talk to my parents about my vocation and get their support?
- Why do Christians believe Jesus is God incarnate?
- What’s that picture of Jesus with rays flowing from him?
- What is the Triduum?
- Can someone change religious communities?
- Who chose the "Seven Deadly Sins"?
- What should I believe about hell?
- Why are there different kinds of Franciscans?
- Is the Mass a “holy sacrifice” or a “celebration”—or both?
- Pulpit, lectern, ambo: What’s the difference?
- What was the Reformation?
- If you have a mental illness, can you still join a religious order?
- What is “discernment of spirits”?
- Why would someone want to be a priest, sister, or brother?
- Is environmentalism “Catholic” or a political football?
- Why do Catholics believe in the Immaculate Conception?
- Why are there parishes?
- Do Catholics believe in ghosts?
- Who was Saint Augustine?
- Is a college degree needed for religious life?
- What is "sanctuary"?
- What is the Liturgy of the Hours?
- How do I discern my calling to priesthood or brotherhood?
- How does God “answer” prayers?
- As a sister, would I have to give up sports?
- What does “salvation history” mean?
- Why do Catholics believe in the Assumption of Mary?
- Can I keep doing my music when I enter religious life?
- Why do priests wear vestments?
- Do miracles still happen?
- How can I find a good spiritual director?
- What do deacons do?
- How is the Mass “prayer”?
- What is Catholic decision-making?
- Can I have a job if I join a religious community?
- Who wrote the gospels?
- Can converts become sisters or brothers?
- What is “original sin”?
- How does the Catholic Church view other religions?
- The "Five C's" of Confession
- Discerning your vocation
- What's the difference between chapels, churches, cathedrals, and basilicas?
- Where do the Stations of the Cross come from?
- What's the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament?
- What about wearing habits and and taking "religious" names
- When and where is it appropriate to bow inside Catholic churches?
- Older vocations
- Can I come back to the church?
- Why does the priest talk after the readings at Mass?
- Is being divorced an obstacle to religious life?
- What's the difference between catechesis and evangelization?
- Didn't Saint Paul write all the letters attributed to him?
- Are we supposed to believe in angels and demons in the 21st century?
- Who are the saints and why do we pray to them?
- How does a religious community start?
- Why pray for the dead?
- Dealing with stage fright
- Who are the "Doctors of the Church"?
- How were the books of the Bible chosen?
- What's the difference between saying "set" prayers and prayers in my own words?
- Paying for seminary
- If I join a religious community do I have to change my name and cut my hair?
- What do Catholics have to believe?
- Who were the prophets? Does God still call people to prophecy?
- What is the lectionary?
- Why do Catholics bless themselves, genuflect, and so on?
- How did we get from following “the Way” of Jesus to the church?
- What do we mean by the church’s “magisterium”?
- Is there salvation outside the Catholic Church?
- What do people in religious life do for fun?
- Why is celibacy important to religious life?
- Vocation: For all of life, or only "religious life"?
- What is contemplation?
- Is my vocation from God or just my imagination?
- What does the Bible say about discipleship?
- How do I know whether be an order priest or a diocesan priest?
- What do Catholics believe about scripture and tradition?
- "Sin" is such a negative word. Can't we just talk about “failure”?
- Why should I read the Bible?
- How can I be happy?
- How can I live a holy life?
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Vocation and Discernment PostsAsk a question now!
Vocation is one of those words that tends to cue the spooky music. What does it mean that God “calls” us? When the religious imagination runs wild on this topic, we begin to think: You can run but you can’t hide when God drafts you for a particular service. Look at what happened to Jonah, who tried to outrun God and wound up in the belly of a whale!
A website visitor’s question continues: “Does God plan our professional life, whom we marry, and who will come to be our children?” This line of thinking gets us to the crux of the matter, which is: How free is our freedom? Is free will a polite fiction, when God has our destiny all worked out in advance? The short answers are: Our freedom is real, human history has no blueprint, and God is prepared to greet any choice we might make with a constellation of grace and possibility. So feel—really and seriously—free.
Like any divine gift, our freedom comes complete with responsibility. It does, after all, make a difference which choices we make. Choose the way of destruction, and you’re in for a world of hurt. Choose the way of planting and building, and the future blossoms into fuller and greater life. What we reap, we sow. That isn’t God rewarding us or getting even with us, as the case may be. It’s just the natural consequences of our free decision.
Yet we say God calls us. To what, if not to particular things? God calls us to fullness of life. God wants you to be everything you can be, to the height and breadth and depth of your being. God wants you to be fully alive, which means loving, giving, expressing, and radiant—just as God is. We’re made in the image and likeness of God, right? So answer that call, and you have stepped into your vocation for sure.
Book of Jonah; then compare to: Genesis 1:26-31; 12:1-3; Deuteronomy 30:19-20; 1 Samuel 3:1-10; Ruth 1:16-17; Isaiah 6:8; Mark 1:16-20; Romans 5-7; 1 Corinthians 1-3
Running into the Arms of God: Stories of Prayers, Prayer as Story by Patrick Hannon (ACTA Publications)
Finding God in Each Moment: The Practice of Discernment in Everyday Life by Carol Ann Smith, S.H.C.J. and Eugene F. Merz, S.J. (Ave Maria Press)
I have to begin by quoting Joan of Arc in George Bernard Shaw's wonderful play about her trial. When Joan's interrogators doubt that the voices she hears are from God and suggest that they spring from her imagination, Joan replies as if her accusers are hopelessly ignorant: "I know. That is how God speaks to me."
We tend to belittle the imagination as the realm of children. We forget that Jesus had a high opinion of children, favored their company, and thought we should be more like them: "Of such is the kingdom of heaven." Many saints agreed with Joan's assessment that imagination plays an important role in the spiritual life. Teresa of Avila, no slouch about spiritual matters, employed religious imagination deliberately and recommended it over theological reflection: "I continued to picture Christ within me. . . . I did very simple things of this kind. . . . I believe my soul gained very much in this way, because I began to practice prayer without knowing what it was."
It's safe to say that the call to religious life most probably begins in the imagination, and in no sense does that imply it's to be ignored. But obviously if any vocation remains in the daydream stage—whether it's about becoming a bookseller or a Benedictine—it won't progress far. I would advocate three tools in the early discernment stage: regular prayer, reading, and retreat. How you pray best is up to you, but make it a habit. Daily mass attendance, praying the rosary, the Liturgy of the Hours, meditation on the Bible, or using a daily prayer guide from your local Catholic bookstore may help.
Reading is next. Read about topics like chastity and celibacy but also about the specific aspects of vocation that interests you: contemplation, ordination, communal life, or a particular form of service. When you're ready, schedule a retreat and ask for a spiritual director. And remember Joan of Arc's prayer about being in God's grace: "If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me."
Matt. 18:1-5; Mark 9:36-37; Luke 9:46-48; Ephesians 4:11-16; Philippians 3:12-15; Colossians 1:9-12; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
Becoming Who You Are: Insights on the True Self from Thomas Merton and Other Saints by James Martin, S.J. (HiddenSpring)
Finding God in Each Moment: The Practice of Discernment in Everyday Life by Carol Ann Smith, S.H.C.J. and Eugene Merz, S.J. (Ave Maria Press)
I’m happy to count among my friends Franciscans, Jesuits, Oblates, Paulists, Marists, and even the rare Camaldolese monk. I also know and love a small army of diocesan priests. I’ve often wondered why each one entered the ministry and, in particular, wound up in the “lifestyle” he currently enjoys. Because I’m curious and also pretty bold, I always ask.
Their candid replies have helped me appreciate the process of discernment, the power of the Spirit, and the beauty of personal testimony. Diocesan priests are characterized primarily by their priestly call to serve a specific community of faith. Their avenue of service is literally a geographic region—a diocese—and within that patch of land they pledge to pastor, preach, teach, and lead. Most diocesan priests talk about feeling called to serve in parishes, to lead the assembly at Mass, to share in the whole cycle of people’s lives from birth to death. They hope to minister in seasons of sorrow and joy to the love of God and the hope we bear in Jesus.
Priests who belong to a religious order may also feel the profound call to lead worship, preach, and teach. But they also speak of being powerfully drawn to a special charism or spiritual gift a particular religious community embodies. For example, Franciscans are noted for their commitment to poverty; Jesuits for their academic excellence; Paulists for their pioneering media-savvy; and monks to a life defined by prayer and silence.
Although diocesan priests may or may not share a residence with other priests, religious order priests are usually dedicated to a communal lifestyle by design. If you spiritually yearn for communal life or to serve in parish ministry, those promptings might be trusted as the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
But nearly every priest I know begins the story of his call with the story of another vocation: the priest he knew whose generous ministry first compelled him to draw more closely to a life of service. So priests of every variety and charism continue to give birth to the next generation of leaders.
Psalm 110:4; 1 Corinthians 12:1-31; 1 Timothy 4:6-16; 2 Timothy 1:6-14; 4:1-5
Look no further! You have arrived! See the many resources on the Vocation Network website for descriptions of religious communities of men and to take advantage of the Vocation Match.
Paths of Love: The Discernment of Vocation According to Aquinas, Ignatius, and Pope John Paul II by Joseph Bolin (CreateSpace)
Diversity of Vocations by Marie Dennis (Orbis Books)