November 19, 2008

Encouraging Vocations, Continued

Thanks for all the good comments, brothers and sisters. This is a critical topic, and I've continued to think about it, especially with reference to my own hesitancy to encourage vocations and what it might be about.

Perhaps another reason why I find it challenging to encourage vocations is that, in my experience, I feel like we promote the common religious life wrongly. Though this was completely alien to my own discernment, for many men who discern there is a choice to be made between the secular priesthood and religious life (including, perhaps, the religious priesthood.) Within this dilemma I think that we sometimes set up an unhelpful distinction between a caricature of the secular priesthood as lonely, solitary, and unsupported and the common religious life as one in which you can depend on mutual care and support. To me this is very dangerous.

It's true that the common observance can provide a kind of safety net from spiritual ruin. Even when you can't pray and don't want anything to do with spiritual effort, you still have an obligation to common prayer and the common table. Somebody might notice if you totally disappear. These are both good things. On the other hand, though, if someone enters religious life in order to fulfill his needs for friendship, support, or (to use some of the favorite words of those who try to sell us this bill of goods) mutuality and intimacy, he is going to be disappointed.

If we try to encourage vocations to religious life by convincing people that it will serve their own emotional needs, their vocations will end in disaster. Yes, a brother will make friends in the community, and this will be an invaluable support in the life of observance and ministry. But this is not the primary purpose of the common life, which is provide--as St. Benedict put it--a "school for the Lord's service." The common life at its heart is meant to be a penance in the best sense of the word, an opportunity to do violence to ourselves and bend our minds and wills to God.

The common, religious life is observed not to serve my emotional needs, but to give me a chance to discard the emotional tyrant that I have come (falsely) to regard as "myself."

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I could not agree with you more Fr. Charles. This is an aspect of religious life with which I have always had some difficulty. I believe a person should be somewhat secure with his or her place in the world before entering novitiate and really feel called to religious life and to a particular charism. If the person is drawn to a particular charism or community primarily out of personal "need," it will only hurt him or her down the road as well as those in the commmunity.

Br. James

4narnia said...

you bring up some more great points on your topic of "encouraging vocations, continued," Fr. C! i agree with what you say, as well as with Br. James, who says "a person should be somewhat secure with his or her place in the world." as i mentioned before, i entered the convent right after high school and this only lasted about two weeks. this may be because i really didn't have a sense of where my place was yet. for me, it turned out to be a blessing that i left, because i'm happy serving God in the way that i do in the two parishes (Sacred Heart & St. Theresa's) and i'm happy with the two part time jobs that i have. i feel that i'm fulfilling God's Will in some small way. but, because i'm happy and content at the present time, it may not mean that this will be all i do for the rest of my life. there is always growth and change when we serve God - i think change helps us grow closer in our relationship with God and others. and, i agree with Br.James that one should "really feel called to religious life and to a particular charism." this is one thing that i've admired about your Capuchin community - that all of you who i know and have had a closer opportunity to serve God with at Sacred Heart parish, truly have a very special charism. if the Capuchins had an opportunity for lay people to serve with them for longer than a year or two (perhaps for life) i know in my heart that it would be a calling for me. thanks to you, Fr. C and to all the Capuchin friars that i know - you all have been, and continue to be, a real inspiration in my life.
PAX ET BONUM!
tara t

ben in denver said...

Thank you for saying this:

"If we try to encourage vocations to religious life by convincing people that it will serve their own emotional needs, their vocations will end in disaster. Yes, a brother will make friends in the community, and this will be an invaluable support in the life of observance and ministry. But this is not the primary purpose of the common life, which is provide--as St. Benedict put it--a "school for the Lord's service." The common life at its heart is meant to be a penance in the best sense of the word, an opportunity to do violence to ourselves and bend our minds and wills to God."

It really clarified something my pastor told me in confession last month.

Anonymous said...

While I agree with much of what you have said regarding the danger of looking to fulfill ones personal needs within the context of the 'common' life, I think that perhaps you overlooked the more positive aspect of religious life as sign of lived Gospel brotherhood, not merely as a 'penance' leading one to conformity of his or her will to that of God's will.

Peace and every good thing,

Rocinante

Brother Charles said...

Thanks for the comment and correction, Rocinante. You are clearly someone who knows our Franciscan tradition and spiritual approach. By penance I always try to mean it in the most positive sense, as I take Francis as he begins his Testament, "to begin to do penance."

I am in this life in the first place because I believe what you say, and hope that by living together as brothers and sisters of penance, turning from ourselves to God and to each other, we might become that living sign of Gospel fraternity for the world.

Pax et Bonum, friend!