It’s often been said that there are religious vocations “out there,” but that young men and women are not responding to them today.
This is a harsh accusation. There’s more here than meets the eye.
The problem is not so much that single persons are resisting a calling to consecrated life, but they are paddling in a lifeboat amid threatening waves.
Vocations come out of a secular culture today and lack the knowledge of the Catholic faith that was present in the past. They also lack spiritual maturity and the personal help they need to nurture their calling.
A successful Catholic discernment and education program has unveiled greater insights in this area.
The High Calling initiative, a vocation discernment program that is part of the Avila Institute, has been preparing men for the priesthood as well as for life in religious communities for six years.
Building a Bridge
In this program, some eighty or ninety men meet on an online video platform to learn about Catholic faith and spirituality. They also participate in an interactive discussion once a week. The program builds a bridge between the initial spark of a desire for a consecrated vocation and formal entry into a diocese or community.
The goal is to bridge the gap between interest and entry.
“It allows the men for the first time to critically engage the faith, to encounter Christ in the interior life, and experience the healing that leads to spiritual maturity,” said Dr. Joseph Hollcraft, director of the High Calling program in a video interview.
“They also undergo spiritual direction and enter into a more robust relationship with Jesus Christ, and achieve greater clarity about their calling.”
Check out the Facebook page of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy
Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy
One men’s religious order sees a benefit to this type of approach.
“It’s true. We find men who have some genuine interest in the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy,” said Fr. Daniel Bowen, vocation director of the community. “But they lack a knowledge of the faith, or feel that the experiences in their own lives are obstacles to becoming a religious friar.”
“Often a man comes to us who has a sincere interest in our charism of redemptive love, but he lacks an understanding of everyday Catholic life and beliefs. Or sometimes they feel wounded in some way, and don’t understand how to heal the relationships with others and with God so that they can go forth and serve others.”
Fr. Daniel outlined six helpful tips of such an approach:
- Men who are discerning often come out of a secular culture and lack the groundwork of a Christian anthropology.
- A man often needs more knowledge of the Catholic faith, spirituality, and culture.
- A spiritual director, or guide is a great help in discerning. One-on-one help is essential.
- It’s good to meet with other men who are discerning.
- Men need to grow in their prayer life so that they can hear the voice of the Holy Spirit.
- Some men suffer from their own sins of the past or that of others, and they need to get right with God and sort that out.
Let’s look at each of these points.
Christian teaching provides a solid ground for a person to discover his identity. He or she is a creature made in the image and likeness of God. Our Catholic heritage tells us that, through baptism, we share God’s supernatural life, serve Him while here on earth, and then glorify Him in heaven.
Our secular culture, however, disdains this understanding or is ignorant of it. While it may promote some noble ideals, it generally rejects religious beliefs and promotes a selfish or hedonistic standard of life.
But those who have grown up with this background can hardly be blamed.
Why go it alone? A spiritual director is essential. This would be someone who is personally mature, who has been trained in spiritual direction, and who has “been there, done that” concerning a vocation.
This person can be a priest, layman, or the vocation director of a diocese or religious community. They can be a sounding board, one who helps clarify one’s thoughts, helps to avoid dangers, and provides ideas and approaches not thought of by the discerner.
Furthermore, the discerning person should not fear that a spiritual director will take a “hard sell” approach and push for joining his own institution. The director’s intent is to help the discerner hear God’s voice and follow it.
Meet With Other Men
You’re not alone. It’s good to find other men who are also discerning who discuss their own viewpoints and struggles within a group. This can be done with both in-person meetings and online. It should be a place where you can ask questions in a confidential way.
A structured program that meets regularly for a given length of time for a fixed number of months is best. It should be led by an experienced director. Participants should be men who are serious about discerning consecrated life. The goal in such a group is, by the end of the program, for the man to make a decision as to whether consecrated/religious life is God’s will for them.
Not only that, but men can meet kindred spirits within such a group who can become lifelong friends.
Growing in the Spirit
Many men feel that their prayer life is dry. They would like to pray more and get better at hearing God’s voice. They may find it difficult to maintain a silent time as part of their daily routine. Our culture of constant noise, music and electronic media has drowned out hearing the Holy Spirit’s promptings in our lives.
This is where a spiritual director can greatly help. Reading Scripture and the lives of the saints, or other tried and true spiritual works can provide a wellspring in diving deeper into our own hearts to understand ourselves and hear God’s voice.
Sins of the Past
There is a saying, “sin clouds the intellect.” Thus, wrongdoing in a person’s life hampers one from seeing things clearly and thus in making wise decisions. Serious sin hurts one seriously. The sacrament of confession is the first step in restoring one’s relationship with God and others. Personal healing and forming virtuous relationships with those around us are necessary in forming a wholesome path to the future.
We all know those who have suffered from the sins of others. These are especially harmful if done to the person when they were in their tender years, or as a young person. Healing is needed here as well.
In either case, the help of a director or counselor goes far in understanding the wrong done and providing an objective view of the sins involved and laying out practical ways to heal and grow.
Another matter to be determined is whether one’s own personal sin, if grave or long lasting enough, would mean that a person should not enter consecrated life. This can be determined by prayer, listening to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and following the direction of one’s advisor.
Pope St. John Paul II’s Take
God still calls men to religious life.
It is said that Pope St. John Paul II studied the vocations issue and concluded that men are not properly prepared for success in seminary because of the absence of authentic Catholic culture and formation in their youth.
However, if the needs of men of the world today are met with common sense, determination and compassion, vocations can be nurtured. Programs such as High Calling, or one carried out by a religious community can greatly aid the individual and build up the Church in the world today.
Order of Mercy
The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, also known as the Order of Mercy, was founded in 1218 in Spain. It has friars who are both priests and brothers. They can offer the kind of guidance needed to, with God’s help, identify one’s vocation and bring it to fruition.
In the United States, these friars serve in parishes, hospitals, schools and other institutions in Ohio, Pennsylvania New York, and Florida. As part of their charism of redemptive love, they have a sincere devotion to Mary and to the Eucharist.
Single Catholic men age 18 – 40 who think they may have a Mercedarian vocation are invited to visit the website of the Mercedarian Friars USA at OrderofMercy.org. Contact Fr. Daniel Bowen, vocation director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join in the discussion with the Friars at these sites:
YouTube: Mercedarian Friars USA