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Some Answers to a Few Common Questions about Vocations

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Monsignor Charles M. Mangan
Catholic Online

Issue One--Priesthood

1.) What is the difference between diocesan and religious order priests?

Both diocesan and religious order priests share in the one ministerial Priesthood of Jesus Christ. What differs is the expression of that Priesthood.

A diocesan priest is under the authority of his Bishop. He has promised to pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily, obey his Bishop and observe celibacy. He does not live in a religious community per se, though he may live with other priests. In the United States, he wears the black cassock or a black suit with the white roman collar.

A religious order priest is under the authority of his Superior. Like his diocesan counterpart, a religious order priest, during his Ordination to the Diaconate, promised to pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily. He has professed the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. He lives in one of the communities of his order and wears the religious habit of his Order.

One notes that the religious order priest has foregone the ownership of materials goods; the diocesan priest has not. Nevertheless, the diocesan priest is to live in a spirit of detachment concerning material goods, using them judiciously and as necessary.

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2.) Why is clerical celibacy so important?

Clerical celibacy indicates that the Church's clergy--bishops, priests and deacons (with the exception of permanent deacons)--have, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, freely sacrificed the physical expression of love as found in marriage in order to be completely conformed to Christ, Who Himself practiced celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom.

While not imposing but rather presupposing celibacy in those who are called, the Church enjoys the right to insist that her ordained ministers be celibate. She does so knowing that while celibacy is not esteemed, and even scorned, by some, it remains in this twenty-first century a powerful sign of the clergy's dependence on God and their desire to live now the reality of the next world where, Jesus said, men and women "neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in Heaven." (Saint Matthew 22:30)
In his Encyclical of June 24, 1967 entitled Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, Pope Paul VI wrote: "Priestly celibacy has been guarded by the Church for centuries as a brilliant jewel, and retains its value undiminished even in our time when the outlook of men and the state of the world have undergone such profound changes."

3.) Is there really a shortage of priests in the Church?

Especially since the 1960s, we in the West have become accustomed to the phrase, "priest shortage." Perhaps we're convinced that it is so throughout the entire Church.

We must be rather cautious because there are places in the world that have a significant number of priests, even very young priests. Here we are thinking particularly of some sections of Africa, Asia and South America.

Sadly, it is true that most of North America and Europe has observed a decrease in the number of priests during the past four decades. Yet, there has been a resurgence in some quarters of the West. Many onlookers have pointed to the pontificate of Pope John Paul II as having been a catalyst for that upswing.

To summarize: yes, there are fewer priests than needed in various parts of the world. That all the members of the Mystical Body of Christ on earth may benefit from the reception of the Sacraments, we must pray and do penance for this vital intention and do our important part in encouraging young men to consider the Holy Priesthood of Jesus Christ.

Issue Two--Consecrated Life

1.) I was sexually active when I was younger. Is it possible for me to make a vow of chastity?

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Yes. A vow is concerned with the present and future, not with the past.

One may make a vow of chastity within the context of public profession in a religious or secular institute. The superior of the institute decides on one's preparedness and ability to do so.

Others can make a private vow of chastity. This may be done in the presence of one's confessor.

In both cases, one seeks to embrace the virtue of chastity. If one is truly called to a life of celibacy, then the Holy Spirit grants the necessary grace, no matter past sins.

2.) Would entering a religious community mean that I must sever my relationship with my family?

Sever? No. Reevaluate in the light of Christ's invitation to leave one's family in order to be more available to Him and His Kingdom? Yes.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd Who loves his lambs with gentleness. Yet, He also makes certain demands, some of which are extremely challenging, of His flock.

Members of religious communities, much like the laity, love their parents and siblings. They pray for them, offer thanks to God for them, give an outstanding example to them and assist them as they can.

But detachment from one's family is essential to the religious life. (This detachment is also required of diocesan priests.) Religious communities vary concerning practical matters, for example, the frequency of home visits, the manner of communication, etc.

Paradoxically, many priests and religious report that they actually feel closer to their families due to their special vocation in service to Christ and His Beloved Bride the Church. The vocations of priests and religious often first appeared and were nourished within the confines of the family.

Jesus isn't content when our hearts are divided. He wants and deserves every segment of our souls.

How we need the Sacraments to make us holy, wise, prudent and detached!

3.) I've heard that some religious orders live a secluded life. Could you please explain?

Some religious orders do live in a more secluded way from the outside world than other religious orders. This allows their members to devote additional time to prayer and penance on behalf of the Universal Church and the world.

The Rule of Life for a particular religious order determines the kind of seclusion and the reasons for it. Religious orders range from the actively apostolic to those with strict papal enclosure.

"Cloistered" religious orders are those whose members live behind an enclosure (sometimes called a "fixed grill.") This enclosure limits the contact of cloistered religious with those who are not members of their particular religious community.

The seclusion experienced by cloistered and semi-cloistered religious orders, however, in no way means that the members have forgotten about "the world." Indeed, that very seclusion permits them the extra time to remember the needs of all peoples--Christian and non-Christian--with great intensity.

Issue Three--Discernment (In General)

1.) I'm 14. How old do I have to be to start thinking about my vocation? What should I do now?

You are at a great age to consider your vocation. Our Blessed Mother was around 14 when she was visited by the Archangel Gabriel before she became the Mother of God.

Pray. Ask the Holy Spirit for His Seven Gifts--Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, Fear of the Lord--as you, with His Grace, pursue your vocation. Receive often the Sacraments of the Most Holy Eucharist and Penance. Invoke Our Blessed Lady.

Read. Sacred Scripture and the Lives of the Saints are rich sources that will inspire you to follow Christ.

Study. The Catechism of the Catholic Church will reveal our Church's doctrines to you and the various ways of responding to your call to holiness and mission. Your own classes in school are very important for your growth as a young adult.

Serve. Look for opportunities to be charitable to your parents, siblings, friends, classmates and the suffering.

Speak. Discuss your spiritual life with a priest or a religious, seeking guidance and understanding of how the Lord is calling you.

Listen. Open your ears to the sound advice of others who have your best interests at heart.

My prayers are with you on this exciting pilgrimage of faith!

2.) Where should I go to learn more about my vocation?

You may find that you have already learned much at home about your vocation because there you began to pray, read and serve.

Discussing the beauty and splendor of marriage with your parents may lead to a fresh understanding of that special vocation.

You may benefit from going to see your pastor in your parish, your local Bishop, the vocations office in your diocese, a seminary to speak with the priests or to a monastery or convent to chat with the men or women religious there.

Attending a retreat may be a powerful and illuminating experience as you ponder how the Master is calling you.

Although visiting various places can be valuable, perhaps it isn't so much about going to one location or another to learn about your vocation as it is living now your chosen vocation as a baptized person--a disciple of the Risen Lord Jesus. Then, our loving God, often gradually, will reveal to you His master plan--the wisest and best possible--for your life.

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3.) Should I want my kids to seek a vocation?

Your children already have a vocation, received when they were baptized, to be disciples of Jesus Christ, Who will reveal to them--often gradually--what specific vocation He has granted to them. By "specific vocation" we mean the particular call to Christian perfection, whether the priesthood, the religious life, the consecrated life or marriage.

Perhaps you would like to ask whether you should want your children to seek the priesthood, the religious life or the consecrated life. Undoubtedly, you desire that your sons and daughters do as the Lord wishes.

For them to respond to Him, they need you. They benefit when they see you pray, receive the Sacraments, practice self-denial, forgive and tend to the suffering. Your good example inspires your sons and daughters to seek God and embrace His will.

Over the centuries, Catholic parents have expressed their delight in having priests, religious and consecrate among their offspring. These dads and moms recognized the special road to Heaven that the priesthood, the religious life and the consecrated life are.

Parents should offer to their sons and daughters the opportunity to know outstanding priests, religious and consecrated who testify to the love and mercy of the Lord.

Issue Four--Discernment (Promoting Religious Vocations)

1.) What are the indicators of a possible call to the religious life?

Every vocation is a gift from God. While indicators aren't all-important, there are signs that one may have a vocation to the religious life. Here are several.

Passion for Christ. The following of the poor, chaste and obedient Jesus is paramount in religious life. Youth who illustrate this trait already possess a good foundation for a potential vocation to the religious life.

Desire for prayer. Religious life is empty without communal and private prayer. Young men and women wishing time for extended prayer and participation in the Church's liturgical celebrations evidence a quality indispensable for the religious life.

Love of service. Spending oneself for others in praise of God is at the heart of religious life. Those young who selflessly reach out to their families, friends and also strangers manifest a characteristic found in the religious life.

Attraction to a particular apostolate. Teaching, nursing, feeding the poor, interceding for the suffering, comforting the grieving . . . these are only a few works performed by religious. Young men and women who are drawn to some special apostolate even now have an ingredient required for religious life.

Enthusiasm for the company of others. Religious life is lived within the context of communities as men and women religious cooperate with their fellow members. Youth who find support and companionship among those with similar values and who are allured by community living demonstrate a longing for that sharing which is part and parcel of religious life.

Commitment to the Church. Men and women religious love the Church and accept her teachings and laws. Young persons who embrace the Church and her mandates recognize how vital it is to believe as the Church does--an essential aspect of religious life.

2.) Are all religious orders basically the same?

Religious orders are the same in so far as their members profess the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, live under the authority of their Superiors, live in a community with other members of their order and wear the religious habit of their order.

A religious order differs from other orders regarding various significant points: the identity of the Founder or Foundress; the history and traditions; the Constitutions and the Rule of Life; the purpose (contemplation or active service); the spirit (particular spirituality); the character (monastic, conventual or apostolic). Other aspects that distinguish orders are the specific apostolic work of the order, the way in which the order is governed and the manner of dress.

Notwithstanding these "differences," religious orders are the place in which individual men and women, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, live their consecration to God, offering themselves entirely as a sacrifice to Him, thereby continually worshipping Jesus Christ in charity.

3.) I'm 22 and convinced that God wants me to be a priest in a particular religious order. But first I want to travel and buy a sports car. Recently a priest-friend challenged me about my plans. Was I wrong to resent this former friend's interference?

I'm sorry that you now consider this priest as a former friend. It appears as though he was trying to help you look at your situation from a different perspective.

In themselves, traveling and purchasing a sports car are neutral--neither good nor bad--as long as one is not shirking his responsibilities or using money that is required for some necessity.

Nevertheless, if you are truly convinced that God desires that you become "a priest in a particular religious order," then the best place to discern that call is within the confines of that particular religious order. In other words, since you believe that your vocation is to be a religious and a priest, then I respond thus: go and see without delay!

Poverty and simplicity are part of the religious life. Since your heart is set on the religious life, you will benefit even now by reconsidering the place and attention that material objects have for you.

You'll never regret exploring what you maintain is your vocation. Other adventures pale in comparison with what Jesus wishes of you.

Now, why don't you call Father and ask him what he thinks?

(Copies available from Catholics United for the Faith [740-283-2484]. Used with permission.)


Mary's Field , VA
Monsignor Charles M. Mangan - Official, 390 66616-1125



Vocations; Priesthood; Religious Life; Consecrated Life

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