So that we’re on the same page, let’s establish that Religious are Brides of Christ. Briefly: the essence of a spousal love is a total gift of self, one person to another; an exchange of persons; giving / loving / sacrificing unconditionally and for life. This is in essence what the marriage vows are really about… for better or worse, in sickness and in health, etc. In religious life, the essence is the same. I vowed, and still do vow, to give myself totally and forever to Jesus; to give Him my entire being. He does the same for me. It is a spousal relationship. A woman called to the religious life goes through the stages of dating, engagement, and finally, after careful discernment, the vows. With that said, here are some clarifications and tips dealing with discernment:
List of topics:
1. You are called to a particular Community
If you are called to Religious Life, you are called to a particular Community. When a young woman feels called to marriage, she doesn’t say, “I am called to get married. Any man will do, as long as I follow my vocation. I’ll marry the first one I meet.” Just as in marriage God has a plan for your partner, He has a plan for the right Community for you. This leads to several other points…
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2. The need to visit Convents
If you feel called at least to consider religious life, you need to visit communities. How can a young woman decide not to marry a particular man before she has met the man in person?
The world shouts while God whispers like a gentleman. Getting away from the world by visiting helps to put a proper perspective on discernment and makes us more able to hear God’s voice.
3. Don’t visit too many places right away.
Start with what God places in your path. This is like the girl who refuses the engagement ring from a man she really wants to marry because she “hasn’t dated every single man out there and she just might find someone better.” This fear is overcome by decided trust.
4. You can’t discern your vocation in the same way you choose a college or car
It’s not a “head thing.” Jesus speaks directly to the heart. It would be ridiculous for a young woman to have a checklist and before getting to know the man personally say, “You meet all the requirements. Let’s get married. It should work.” When discerning, look at the CHARISM (spiritual personality) and the COMMUNITY, not for likes and dislikes. There should be a mutual feeling of, “I feel called here / we feel called to accept her into our Community.”
5. Don’t let fear keep you from following God’s will
The two biggest fears I see when a young woman is resisting her vocation are:
We simply can’t let these fears overtake us. Otherwise we will never go anywhere and we will never experience deep peace and fulfillment. Imagine if a young woman thought, “I’m never going on a date because we might break up.” Or, “I’m never going on a date because it might end in marriage.”
6. Give God “first dibs” and have no fear
He will let you know if you’re not called – both in your heart and through the help of the Community. You don’t need to worry about being “trapped” in a Convent if it is not your calling. Trust that God and the Sisters do not want this to happen to you.
7. An attraction to the vocation of marriage is normal, even for one called to Religious Life
Choosing Religious Life is NOT a rejection of marriage. It is about sacrificing marriage for the sake of a greater love. Love casts out all fear, and former desires melt away when one focuses on True Love.
8. Look at Eternity to put things in perspective
Many temptations and problems can be handled by putting things into perspective. We must look through Christ’s eyes (One young woman thought that if she entered the convent, she would never have ice cream again; she then realized that she was putting ice cream on the same level as Jesus. It would be foolish to choose ice cream over Christ.)
9. How do you choose from so many Communities?
Some young women say, “But there are SOOO many religious Communities out there. I give up before I even start because I don’t know where to start.” Well, there are a lot more men in the world than religious communities. Why hasn’t this stopped women from getting married? Because it only takes ONE man, the RIGHT one. When you meet him, you stop looking. Take it one at a time and trust God to lead the right one to you, or to place him in front of you. The same applies to Convents.
10. Mary shows us how to: ACT and TRUST
ALWAYS REMEMBER: Mary always says “DO whatever He tells you.” And: “My Immaculate Heart is the way that will lead you to God.”