Don’t Just Discern Your Vocation

There’s a cause for today’s vocation shortage that’s rarely addressed. Too many people are discerning; not enough people are deciding. I know they mean well, but instead of courageously pursuing the priesthood or religious life they form safe communities where they can muse on ideals instead of act on principles.

I call them the Order of Perpetual Discerners. I’m not questioning their piety. I wouldn’t dream of impugning their intentions. However, they fundamentally misunderstand how to discern God’s will. They agonize over the call. They seek spiritual directors and confidants to emote about the vexing feelings they’re experiencing. The sad result is that they never actually discern; they only dream.

The narcissism pervading our culture is a major cause of this trend. We act as if it’s a virtue. Popular culture promotes it. Popular Christian culture is ensnared by it. It’s not surprising that the modern obsession with self-care was bound to cause some problems. The philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard provides intellectual soil for it. Personality cults popularize it. Televangelists and magazine rack mystics sell it. Our contemporary culture has been perfectly constructed to cultivate narcissistic Christianity. Combine the popular psychologism preached in our parishes with a society steeped in postmodern despair and you get exactly what we’ve got — a simulacrum of the Corinthian Christianity that St. Paul fought against.

Common trends of vocational discernment typify the Catholic appropriation of this narcissism. The problem isn’t whether people are or are not discerning. The problem is people are stuck in their heads. It’s like they’re waiting for an infallible neon sign from God. “Constantine got his in hoc signo, so should I!” The truth is, however, God doesn’t usually operate that way. He’s the author of the ordinary, the mundane. God reveals the extraordinary only after we’ve embraced the ordinary.

The scenario I’m describing is ubiquitous. I frequently see it among candidates inquiring into my own Order. This narcissism is why so many will “come and see,” but so few will “stay to pray.” They’ve gotten stuck in the discernment trap and they lack the tools to get out. They try to get out by doing exactly what our culture has taught them to do. They look inward. Yet, by doing this they’ll never find what they’re seeking. Why? Because the answer is found on the outside not on the inside. Thankfully, this sickness isn’t unto death.

Technically the word discernment is a good one. It describes the ability to wisely chose one thing over another. It’s not simply the ability to separate good from bad. More specifically it’s the ability to place all the good things we encounter in a hierarchical order from what’s good to what’s best. Discernment is essentially an intellectual process of ordering perceived goods. However, we can get stuck in the process if we lack critical information. When this happens we become paralyzed because all our possible choices seem to be equally good. In this scenario we become incapable of discerning which vocation to choose. This is the discernment trap. The lacuna in our knowledge is often the result of asking the wrong question. We usually ask ourselves which vocation is better for me. Instead we need to simply ask which vocation is better.

I can already hear objections and outrage at what I just wrote. That’s because savvy readers know what I’m about to say. The best vocation is the one immediately ordered to contemplation. The best vocation is religious life. Moderns think this statement  is an insult to married couples. They think it’s antiquated hogwash. After all, didn’t the Second Vatican Council do away with thinking of religious life as objectively superior to married life?

Well, not exactly. The Council desired that we avoid minimizing the dignity of Holy Matrimony. Lord knows there’s been enough of that! What, then, does it mean for religious life to be objectively superior to married life? It’s simply the consequence of religious life being a more perfect reflection of beatitude. Married life is good but religious life is better. The Second Vatican Council affirms this position when it calls religious life an eschatological sign. It literally allows us to begin living on earth what the saints experience in heaven.

Probably most people reading this article have never heard this before now. That’s because it’s never, or rarely, preached. But it’s also because we rarely consider how God’s love affects our daily lives. What does this mean? It means God desires our highest good. This isn’t limited to His desire that we get to heaven. His love extends to all the particular aspects of our life. God wants the best for us at every moment of our lives in every possible way. When His love intersects with vocational discernment the ramifications are clear. He desires that we participate in the highest of form of Christian life. God desires that each of use enter religious life.

Once discernment is seen this way everything changes. The question is no longer about whether God desires me to live one way or another. No. I already know that God desires me to choose and possess the greatest good. Knowing this the process of discernment is no longer about guessing what’s in God’s mind. Discernment becomes a question of whether I’m capable of living religious life or not.

St. Thomas Aquinas was no stranger to the difficulties of discernment. He also excelled at placing things in their proper order. Wisely, he left a practical guide to help us get out of the discernment trap. Much of what I’m saying is found in Question 189 in the “Secunda secundae” of the Summa Theologiae. Each article asks very practical questions about religious discernment. Each are real questions from his day. Many of them were surely his own questions. Most of them are the same questions we continue to ask today. His conclusions are as helpful today as when the ink was still fresh. Tolle lege!

The reality is, however, that you can read about discernment until your eyes fall out. There is a simpler solution that Aquinas would appreciate. Enter the novitiate! Enter the seminary! Among good things there is no replacement for experiential knowledge. The Church knows this and has designed these structures to help your discernment. A pair of pants may look nice on the rack, but you’ll never know if they fit until you try them on. And, if you already know your size, what are you waiting for. Buy the pants! Entering the seminary or the novitiate doesn’t involve signing a contract in your own blood. They are trial periods for both you and the community. They are designed for you to “try on” the community. If a community doesn’t fit, you can always put it back on the rack.

Remember, you’ll never discover your vocation in your own head. Stop over-thinking it! Follow the example of our Blessed Mother.  When God calls, answer. After you answer, ponder. While you ponder it follow Him wherever He leads you. Be at peace. Abandon yourself to God’s will and you will undoubtedly save your own soul and win the salvation of many more. Make a choice and live it.

Br. Gabriel T. Mosher, O.P


Br. Gabriel Thomas Mosher, O.P. is a Dominican Student Brother with the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, studying at the DSPTand residing at St. Albert Priory in Oakland, CA. He attended Texas A&M University but completed his B.A. in Philosophy at Holy Apostles College & Seminary. When Br. Gabriel, O.P. isn't studying he is frequently engaged in the work of the New Evangelization through the responsible use of Social Media, giving talks on a variety of topics, and leading retreats. You can contact or follow Br. Gabriel, O.P. online at his site The Eighth Way, on Facebook, or Twitter.

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  • gswf

    Good thoughts, Brother Gabriel. It is all part of God’s universal call to holiness. Those of us Christians living out in the secular world are also called to holiness – we just have more challenges to achieving it than do those living in religious life. Indeed, God desires our highest good.

  • Maud

    Great article. Very straight forward. I do have to ask: what do you mean by whether or not someone is able to live the religious life? If they are not able, does this imply that they are less able to attain holiness?

  • Maud,

    Great question. It only makes the attainment of holiness more difficult. It doesn’t make such a person less ABLE to attain to holiness.

  • gswf

    Agreed. More difficult as we have more obstacles in our path to holiness.

  • John

    Thank you for your article. It did raise some questions for me.

    I believe it has been the consistent teaching of the Church that religious life is objectively the highest vocation, but hasn’t the Church also consistently taught that marriage is a vocation? I think Pope Pius XI mentions that in Casti Connubii, and that it is part of John Paul II’s thought as well. My question is about the idea that God desires each of us to enter the religious life. Wouldn’t that negate the idea of marriage being a vocation from God? What about the parents of the Little Flower, who had five religious as children, including a Doctor of the Church, after unsuccessfully attempting to enter the religious life earlier in their lives? Wasn’t this an example of God directing them away from the objectively higher vocation because of His particular plan for their lives?

    I am asking these questions not as a challenge, but sincerely. I appreciate all the points in your article, as your wisdom obviously surpasses mine. And I certainly see the wisdom in entering a seminary or the novitiate, and “trying on” the religious life. Sedentary discernment can be a problem, though I trust that God will accomplish His purpose through a sincere, even if a somewhat reluctant, heart.


  • John,

    What an excellent and thoughtful question! I got a similar question from a friend today. I may, it seems, need to write a follow-up piece to this article. The short answer is that there are two states of life in the Church. There is the lay state and the clerical state. Religious form a special category that is comprised of both objective states of life. Each group has it’s purpose in the Mystical Body of Christ. Each has an intrinsic dignity of its own. Religious just happen to more objectively reflect the sort of life that we will all experience in heaven better than the other states on their own. So, yes, God would desire this for all of us. However, in his foreknowledge he knows that not all of us will chose that way of life nor will be each of us be well suited to the religious state. It’s not really a question of “more” or “less” it’s a question about a greater participation in Christian perfection through the practice of the Evangelical Councils and all the other virtues necessary to live Religious life well.

    Now, we can consider the matter from different angles. For instance, if I were to consider the matter from the context of the Sacraments it is clear that Holy Matrimony is objectively higher than Religious life because Marriage is a Sacrament unlike religious vows. I, however, took the traditional eschatological example. There are many reasons why I chose this “ratio,” however, one reason which I didn’t cover in the article itself was practical. It’s much easier to enter the novitiate or the seminary and discover ones suitability for religious life or priestly life before one enters into an engagement.

    In the example you give of St. Therese’s parents, I don’t think it’s a matter of God “directing” them away from what is “objectively” higher to fulfill a particular plan. God doesn’t seem to act that way. Rather, God used the choices of all the individuals involved (their choice to try and enter Religion, the choice of the communities to reject the petition, etc) to bring about the sanctification of the couple and the family. This is more a question of God’s providence. That is a very time consuming topic!

  • John

    Thank you for your response. God bless you!

  • Paola

    Br. Gabriel,

    I read your article thanks to a post of Digitalnun and I found it very interesting.
    Here I want to share my experience.
    I have been blessed with the opportunity to follow Fr. Giussani’s vocational meditations in the 90′s. His method is based on the idea that if a person starts a path of vocational discernment, it is because he/she is so fascinated by Jesus Christ as to be willing to spend his/her life in His company and to devote to Him all his/her spiritual and physical resources. Vocation is not choosing a cloth that fits you, it is not a call to a particular way of life: first of all it is a call to virginity, virginity being the ideal of each way of life, also of married life. In this perspective the question is not “what vocation is suitable for me?” but rather “how can I better serve Jesus Christ my Love in his Church?”. His business is my own business. The matter of the choice of a particular order (or of married life) comes naturally, following the affinity that is found in friendship, better in “fellowship guided to destiny”. The proof of the the path is the ability to live everyday life, whatever your duty, with more intensity and a greater joy.

  • Nathanial Putnam

    Well, this is a provocative and inspiring line to take, Brother, to rebuke and exhort people to act on faith. But how do you know that this interiority is “ubiquitous”? It may be prevalent, but can’t be the only obstacle to decisions in favor of vows. This isn’t a summons for you to provide anecdotal evidence, but for you to narrow and focus your argument.

  • Therese

    As I’ve counseled folks thinking about being in the Lay Fraternities of St. Dominic (Third Order): “Time spent with God is never wasted — and most especially if it is spent discerning His will” Spending time with Him allows us to look into the mirror of His eyes and see whether those pants really fit or not. 🙂 That said, true confessions here: I am a strong proponent of God investing in Neon Signs for those of us who are like totally and like completely like obtuse. 😉

  • Gringo

    As someone who spent a long time trying to discern before I actually found a group in the church that was capable of providing decent spiritual direction and instruction on the subject, I think one of the problems in the Church today is that there isn’t good information on how to actually discern a vocation.

    when I first began to look into it the advice was either very wishy-washy or, from some groups, very manipulative. Now – don’t take this the wrong way – but I find your article veering a little bit into the wishy-washy category, because it’s not very clear and it’s very light on concrete takeaways.

    On one hand you say too many people are discerning, then a paragraph later you say they never actually discern. Which is it?

    And what is discernment in a non-technical, Catholic sense? St Ignatius had a very clear idea of what this meant and his ideas are now being shared more broadly, but you don’t address this either.

    You bring up a question from the Summa, but that’s really not about discerning God’s will as much as it is addressing topics related to the entrance into religious life. Some discernment of a genuine call from God is almost presupposed by Aquinas – though both he and Ignatius state that at various places that evidence of a call is not necessary if it is something someone wants to do.

    The only take-away I would see is that somebody can enter a novitiate and try it out. This is good advice, but there are things that can and should come before that. It’s those things that are not often addressed, but should be. After all, given that many men are discerning later, entering a novitiate is not without professional and/or academic costs – and these are real costs that do matter and to ignore them and skip steps would not be prudent.

    So while I agree that there is certainly a group of people that seem to romanticize, agonize, and emote on the subject of vocation – and this leads to problems over and above the “perpetual discerner” complex – there are many people genuinely seeking God’s will that don’t have access to decent instruction or advice on the subject. Vocational direction has gotten much, much better over the last 15 years – really in the last 5 years – but there’s still a dearth of good, actionable advice on the subject as well as a dearth of good directors.

    If this is a subject close to your heart – and it seems it is – give people good actionable advice on the subject. There is certainly a need for it and those actually attempting to discern God’s will regarding their vocation will be grateful for it.

  • Paul Jentz

    I don’t agree. You seem to be rejecting a personal aspect to discernment, “…the answer is found on the outside not on the inside.” If I understand you, you say that discernment is a matter of recognizing and conforming to the objective reality of the hierarchy of vocations.

    Nevertheless, you bring it directly back to the personal by saying, “Discernment becomes a question of whether I’m capable of living religious life or not.” To understand what I am capable of, I must look to myself, the opposite of what you’d said previously.

    Christ indeed gave the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience for Christian perfection, and as far as I know, these are why religious life has been called superior. In the clerical state and in religious life these are emphasized, however, there is no reason a married couple cannot practice these same counsels. How well the individual or community is a sign of things to come relies on their sanctity, not their state in life. That is, it relies on how they personally live their vocation. This is why some religious are saints, and others aren’t.

    I’d like to hear what more beef you have with Kierkegaard as well as your thoughts on the Ignatian discernment of spirits, which Ignatius wrote about in an entirely different culture than our own.

  • sweet serendipity

    There’s another cause for today’s vocation shortage that’s rarely
    addressed. And that is the huge “washout rate” in seminaries and houses
    of religion.

    You’re 100% correct that religious life is objectively superior to other
    states in life, and I agree that there is a Perpetual Discerners Club,
    but the solution to the vocations crisis is not to have everybody pile
    into the novitiate to take a swing at it. This is a strategy SOMETIMES used by
    vocation directors who view it as a numbers game -The more that are
    pumped in, the more that will be left when the tide recedes. It’s often a successful strategy for the community but it can be a disaster for souls.

    The fact is that a large percentage (perhaps most) of men and women who enter the seminary or religious life, don’t stay. At one local convent, I saw an entire entrance class of women slowly drop out through postulancy, novitiate, and temporary vows. It seems to me that a great many young people ARE trying the pants on, but finding they don’t fit.

    No, it’s not a contract in blood – but this is not without dire consequences. Someone who has continued in a formation program may not be aware of these consequences, but they include financial damage (which can be severe if a relatively unemployable theology degree has been purchased), emotional and spiritual damage. Few communities make provision for their former members that truly makes these people whole. I have never entered religious life myself but I have helped many get back on their feet.

    Most regretted entering, but believed God had a plan that included their time in religious life.

    Some of these people even leave the Church after a traumatic end to their time in consecrated life. This is especially the case in communities where there is not a balanced and positive approach to vocations – leaving is a “failure” to “persevere” in the “best vocation” vs. “successfully completing discernment of one of God’s callings.”

    Overall I know you mean well but I would never recommend this approach to a discerner who confided in me.

  • Rose

    Errr I agree the church teaches religious life is preferred, but I disagree that it isn’t personal. Marriage isn’t just there as a fall back for people who aren’t good enough for God’s best or who aren’t good enough to choose it. Some people really like the idea of religious life but simply don’t have a vocation and discover that God actually prefers for them personally to be married. Maybe their spouse needs them for salvation. Who knows. Maybe God needs them to give birth to more St. Thereses. Preferred is in the abstract; I disagree that vocations are a numbers game. See I recently discerned a calling to a specific lay fraternity which I’m currently inquiring about. The vocation was made exceedingly clear to me through a series of events. After this experience I realized that there really are unique callings in life for individuals. It’s not simply a matter of willing my way into something. I thought other 3rd orders were really cool; it would have been so neat if i had a personal call to them, but I only had that personal call to this one order. But it is secular as I also feel called to marriage not as an easy way out or a fallback but as something God truly prefers for me personally. So if God didn’t give a special call to me for religious life, it’s not because He doesn’t want me to have His best, which is kind of the logical implication of your article. It is because He wants me where i can most serve Him and others. Plus…we kinda need families to keep creating more souls so more can be sanctified in religious life or otherwise.

  • sweet serendipity

    Re-reading the article, this line struck me – “If a community doesn’t fit, you can always put it back on the rack.” Somehow I missed this the first time I read it through. At worst, this is misleading to vulnerable young people who have no idea what severing a relationship with a community can be like.

    This statement does not at ALL reflect the truth of what it is like to leave religious life! You can’t just “put the community back on the rack”, so to speak. If only it were that easy!!

    The more I reflect the more troubled I am by this piece!

  • Brian C
  • Gringo

    Very well said. I don’t think the Author intended to say that “everyone is called to religious life and marriage is for those that can’t hack it” but it’s unfortunately what comes across. Some in the Church (St Ignatius comes to mind) did teach that everyone should consider a religious vocation and concretely rule it out before considering marriage – yet that is a different thing.

  • bekside

    Thanks Brother Gabriel. I agree with your overall thrust – there’s never going to be a neon sign, we need to learn what the Lord’s “voice” sounds like, however it is that He speaks uniquely to each one of our hearts. We need to test it and be prudent, of course, but at some point we need to COMMIT. I believe this is the point you are making and I endorse this view.

    Having said that, the Lord MAY call us to community and then call us out again. OR, some may try religious life motivated by a sense of good old Catholic duty rather than authentic love. Some enter religious life whose reasons are more about their need to escape from a difficult home life, or their desire to secure an education they can’t otherwise afford. Now I’m confident that you weren’t suggesting we throw the discernment baby out with the indecisive bathwater, but I thought it worthwhile to highlight the need for a delicate tension between patient prudence and authentic, wholehearted commitment.

    I echo the concern (albeit with less doom and gloom) of one of the other commenters who rightly pointed out that a great deal of damage can be done to those who “give it a go” without, after careful discernment and direction, having mutually ascertained with a Community that there is a high likelihood of a good fit there.

    In addition to having once been a novice myself and discerned that the Lord was calling me away from the community before vows (for reasons still unknown – perhaps He saw fit to prune a certain rose bush so that it could flower more fruitfully for Him, and I’ll end up a religious again one day, and for keeps?) I have also been involved in helping to provide friendship and support to others who have left religious life – some of whom are very badly burned by the circumstances of their departure. It bruises my Dominican heart to say it, but not everything in this valley of tears reduces to a convenient black and white.

    To take one of the more interesting contributions of Kierkegaard, since you mentioned him, I draw attention to his notion of freedom as a synthesis of possibility and necessity. Obviously this is only a partially formed idea and Thomistic philosophy gives a more complete view of authentic freedom, but it does contain some useful truth and I’ll take truth wherever it resides.

    Your exhortation to be prepared to commit is therefore fantastic if accompanied with the emphasised caveat that prudent and patient discernment of the possibilities, with the guidance of a suitably qualified/experienced director, is something that precedes the commitment to the eventual necessity.

  • Peter Atkinson

    Two things, first, Kierkegaard also said that suicide was a result of deliberation, not a conclusion from it, i.e. a suicide dies from that deliberation. He didn’t seem to hold introspection as the above-all else. Careful to be hating on Mr. Kierkegaard.

    Second, is it not far better to follow God’s call for us as individuals rather than to try and aim for what we perceive the highest good to be? How can marriage not be disgraced by considering it as a necessary evil for people who aren’t good enough to be priests or brothers?

    I don’t know the answers, but it seems that vocations are particular to each person – not a hierarchy of goods which we must bind ourselves to. But again, more study and more thought and more life may give me more insight.

  • It’s not about strategies or numbers so much as it’s about seeking Christian perfection. True, there are some communities that don’t help the process of discernment. Usually this can be seen in communities that are saturated with voluntarism. Also, heterodox communities (and over-zealous, self-consciously orthodox” communities can be too) are not necessarily places that are good for the soul. Each seminary can also be judged under that criteria. This isn’t a point I’m making. It’s clear to me that in choosing WHERE to enter is a far more nuanced and difficult issue than THAT someone should enter. I’m more interested in this initial stage since so many people don’t even get there. The question, “should I enter religious life” is very different than “where should I enter religious life.”

    As one who has “bounced around” myself I intimately understand the difficulties that come with leaving a religious community and returning back to the world. It’s not easy. One is filled with uncertainty, doubt, even depression at times. Thank you for helping people who have had to make that transition. It isn’t an easy one to make if the community you joined is itself unhealthy. Blessed Cormier tells us that one out not enter a community that will cause our spiritual harm. Indeed. The experience of some is a direct result of entering an unhealthy community. I’d never suggest doing that.

  • Everything speculative must eventually move to the particular. Suitability, however, is not something one does on their own. It’s a determination that must be made by the individual and by the community. There is both an objective and subjective aspect to suitability. The application of the universal good in the particular circumstance is a natural and proper progression. They are not opposed to each other. However, one must always begin with the universal and more to the particular, not the other way round.

    The counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience are part of the universal call to holiness. They are not exclusive to the clerical state or religious life. Married couples must also live these counsels according to the nature of married life. However, the religious life doesn’t simply emphasize them. The nature of religious vows are ordered to living them in a radical way. It is, as the Gospels tells us, a matter of focusing on heavenly things rather than earthly things. Also, as an aside, the fact that religious are eschatological signs is simply a matter of their way of life, not their personal sanctity. The Second Vatican Council is very clear on this point. Personal holiness is directly related to this objective states, however, the two notions are not necessarily coextensive.

    I’d love to talk about the problem of Søen Kiekegaard. That may make a good post on my own site.

  • “Two things are necessary for salvation. The grace of God and the will of man.”

    My response to “sweet serendipity” I think holds true to what you are saying. To be more systematic, there are two movements that occur before one actually enters religious life. First, there is the movement of the will, by God’s grace, to enter religious life. Second, there is an act of discernment by which the individual choose where it would be best for them enter religious life.

    The second part is fraught with any number of perils. However, you can’t get to the second if you haven’t done the first. My article is primarily ordered to the first and only glances at the second.

  • I tried to make it very clear in the article that Marriage isn’t to be disparaged. I say as much. However, nearly every spiritual master who speaks about vocations agrees with the position I take the article.

  • You may have misunderstood what I’m saying. I would be surprised since the notion of vocation discernment is made highly subjective these days. I’m well aware that discernment is a highly personal matter. However, it is not a “personal” matter at the stage I’m addressing. What I’m trying to do is help order people’s thinking that considers higher goods first. If we see the seeking of Christian perfection as the highest practical good in this life then it’s easy to see the theological point I’m trying to articulate.

    It is true that God must prompt the heart of the individual to seek evangelical perfection. However, once that grace has been given the response ought to be to seek the surest means possible by which one can attain to evangelical perfection. The means by which we do this is what we call Religious life. Now, not all forms of religious life are equal to this task. However, each have this as their primary task in the life of the church. There is a legitimate dispute about whether the contemplative, mixed, or active life is more noble. Aquinas believes the mixed life is more noble because it more closely mirrors the life Christ lived with the Apostles during his earthly ministry. But, this is debatable.

    Marriage is different because it is the Universal Vocation. Everyone is called to marriage. However, not everyone is capable of marriage and some people renounce marriage. Marriage is the “default” setting, so to speak. There are also ways we can speak about marriage as being greater than religious life. For instance, if we consider it according to the grace imparted then marriage is better because it’s a sacrament while religious vows are not. The “ration” or manner of consideration I’m using is eschatological. This is what maps with what Christ says in Matthew 18 and what St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7.

    Because the reality is that not all will be able to live religious life God will grant overabundant graces to those who marry. They are in no way excluded from the possibility of holiness – even heroic holiness. One of my favorite saints, Blessed Karl of Austria will be commemorated on 21 October. He was the last of the Holy Roman Emperors. This was a man who was deeply immersed in worldly matters. However, by God’s grace, he was able to attain to the highest levels of sanctity.

    The point of my article is this. We should always seek what is objectively higher among possible goods. We can know with certainty what objectively higher and lower with respect to their end. We can’t know with certainty what is the best subjective good. Therefore, we ought not make our choices based on a subjective good first. We should always strive to make our choices based on what is more certain that what is less certain.

  • Rather than wishy-washy I’d actually say that what I am proposing is very radical. Everyone wants to bury the dead and then follow Jesus. Instead we are supposed to be like Peter. When Jesus calls we immediately leave and follow him. The example of the Apostles, in the end, is the only real advice necessary. I don’t focus on the issues that you are looking for because I think those things are precisely part of the problem. Article 10 of the question in the Summa that I site in my article is the most relevant to my thoughts on the matter.

  • I pretty familiar with the CL approach to discernment. I think that what I’m articulating is in direct contradiction to it. It leaves too much to trying to guess what is in God’s head. However, I do see a good place for it in the latter portions of discernment. As one lives a particular vocation it becomes necessary to discern whether one is growing in holiness or not. The key to knowing this is if we are manifesting the fruits of the Holy Spirit. This must be done in community. However, once we make our final commitment then we must simply preserver and trust that God will provide us with the grace to do so.

  • Good question. Seeking evangelical perfection through the religious state is “easier” than in the married state. This is why the traditional way of speaking about entering religious life is that one is entering a “School of Holiness” or a “Hospital for Sinners” or the “Holy Prison.” Religious life is a means by which we dedicate every moment to contemplation. The hope is that religious life is a more sure way of saving our own souls and the souls of others. However, God grants us sufficient grace to attain to the highest levels of holiness no matter what vocation we choose. All of us are called to be Saints. I think the parents of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus, Blessed Jane of Aza (St. Dominic’s mom) and Blessed Karl of Austria teach us this fact very clearly.

  • This is because marriage isn’t a necessary evil. It is a great good. Be careful of Either/Or thinking. <—- see what I did?

    In the Christian dispensation all states of life are good. We speak of religious life being a higher good only because Holy Matrimony is temporary, i.e., it doesn't last past the death of one or the other spouse. So, when we say that religious life is a higher state of life it should simply be understood as articulating the mysterious reality that our life is to be primarily ordered to heavenly realities.

    I think I may need to do two follow-up articles. One on the dignity of marriage and the other on the good of the life of contemplation. We've lost a sense that the life of contemplation is in what our happiness consists. Every earthly good is subordinated to this, even the great good of rearing children.

  • HA! Yeah, I often need God to smack me on the head too.

  • Look around. Ever since the modern age began and there was the “turn to the subject” we have experienced an increasing self-scrutiny that can become unhealthy. We see this in the dominant philosophies as they progress into our own post-modern era. An article of 1200 words does not afford one the opportunity to articulate every detail. Often, broad brush strokes are necessary.

  • Oh, also. I’m not rejecting the personal/subjective. However, I am subordinating it to the objective.

  • bekside

    Hi, Brother Gabriel, I just had another thought… maybe a complementary article on Thomas Aquinas’ treatment of Prudence might be really useful here? With a focus on the threefold breakdown of Deliberation, Judgement and Command… and then a detailed look at Command, the failures of command (negligence and inconstancy) and how we can grow in the virtue of Prudence with a view to more effective discernment and follow-through? Whadya think?

  • bekside

    Fair enough! Thanks for your response, Brother! (I must say – you’re doing extraordinarily well to keep up with all of us! I can’t speak for everyone but I CAN speak for me: most grateful for your efforts and guidance!)

  • Adam

    As a former seminarian, I think there can also be too much pressure to “give seminary (or a novitiate) a try” even if one is not feeling at peace with it; as though that is the only way to definitively answer the question. We need to be careful about the effect of guilt in expressing the need for priests or religious. It inhibits one’s ability to really discern freely and peacefully. Being in seminary can really increase the pressure one feels to continue “discerning” instead of just being able to admit that it’s not what you fundamentally desire in a vocation – and how God’s desires are expressed through that desire. Saying “it’s about what God wants” isn’t meant to be used as a hammer; discernment should always (or nearly always) be done in harmony with our own desires. Pray for our seminarians!

  • Gringo

    First of all Brother Gabriel, this is where you get wishy-washy. You are arguing against something that I didn’t say.

    Does religious life offer the opportunity for a more meritorious life? For living a more perfect charity? Yes, absolutely. That’s in the Gospels. It’s comes from the doctors of the Church.

    The problem I’m addressing in the comment is on the subject of discernment. It appears you are saying that “everyone is called to religious life and marriage is for those that can’t hack it.”

    This is exactly what my comment says, yet you completely ignore it and rebut something I never said.

    Rather than actively replying to comments defending your position, it might be time to practice some of this perfection you are working toward in the form of humility and admit that the article is not as clear as it should be. Carrying the title “Brother” and “Dominican” carries responsibility, so live up to it.

  • Gringo

    Am I to read your response correctly that discussing methods of discernment as put forward by doctors of the Church is “part of the problem”?

    And don’t get on too high of a horse there… This isn’t radical by any means. There are plenty of religious hacks out there that use all these exact same lines to recruit members.

  • I appreciate you trying to help Rose see what I was doing. However, I was specifically responding to your statement “it’s unfortunately what comes across.” I’d caution you against your disproportionate reaction to my response. It’s not good for the soul to accuse people of vice.

    It’s difficult to articulate how each vocation is a good in themselves yet ordered hierarchically. St. Paul and even our Lord could be accused of articulating a position that marriage is for those who can’t “hack” religious life. And, rightly so. There is a truth to this negative approach. However, it’s not the whole story.

    I’m not sure how I didn’t address your statement in the initial comment.

  • A Perpetual Discerner No More

    Someone wrote this in response to your article. I could clarify some things myself but I thought it would be better to give you the opportunity:

  • Jeremy M. Kritt

    You make many good points in your article, but I also see some problems. Religious life might be better than the state of Holy Matrimony in a strictly theoretical sense; however, the fact remains, every man and woman is equally capable of holiness.

    I am not sure what planet you live on Br. Gabriel, but, here on earth with two feet firmly planted on the ground, there is nothing about professing vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity that magically makes someone morally better, less capable of sin, or holier than a fully committed baptized lay person in the church. As I am sure you have experienced in religious life, there is a mix of religious with varying degrees of virtue. It has always been that way. I am positive that you would find a similar spectrum among the ordinary laity. Which is better in the way that really matters? A married couple fully committed to Christ and living a virtuous life or a religious who is selfish with less virtue than the married couple? [Those are rhetorical questions.]

    I am unsettled by someone saying, “Married life is good but religious life is better.” I urge you to think about the pastoral aspect of preaching that since it probably will not be properly understood by most people. The reality is that each person must answer the universal call to holiness. For some that will mean entering religious life. For others it will mean becoming a diocesan priest. For some it will mean answering the call to Holy Matrimony which is, unlike religious life, one of the seven sacrament of the Catholic Church.

    One thing that you neglected to point out is the same lack of commitment and risk taking for considering Holy Matrimony (as the Church understands it). That is another vocation crisis that should be very high on our priority list. It requires just as much discernment if we take marriage seriously. However, you might not understand that since you are not married and have not chosen that permanent state of life.

    And as it concerns the evangelical counsels, we must remember that all Christians are called to follow Christ who was poor, chaste, and obedient; however, it will be in different ways according the graces and call given to each person.

  • Jeremy M. Kritt

    That is very true. Br. Gabriel seems presents somewhat of a naive presentation of these issues. It lacks the reality of practice in the real world. It is more complicated than he expresses in this article. I think there is also a very sterile and unrealistic presentation of religious life and vocation discernment in this article. It almost seems like the article may have been written for himself to justify his own choices while minimizing the great difficulty many young people have with discerning a vocation in the light of faith within the context of our modern world — a world vastly more complicated than the one inhabited by St. Thomas Aquinas.

    Perhaps a layperson with little experience with religious communities and religious would buy into these arguments of superiority; however, anybody who has spent a lot of time with religious will quickly find out that they put their pants on the same way that the rest of us do. As a layperson, I find this type of article sanctimonious and condescending.

  • I knew that writing this article would ruffle many feathers. That’s one of the reasons why I felt it was important to write. However, I do see that I’ve assumed too much. I assumed that people would know the distinction between one vocation being a higher good than another and the ability to attain to holiness. I’ll see what I can do about that in a later article.

    You are absolutely correct that it is easy to misunderstand this article even thought it is a very basic and very traditional articulation about vocations and vocational discernment. That is why I think it warrants a few follow-up articles. In particular I think one on Holy Matrimony is important because, as you say, a similar problem occurs there.

  • Unfortunately, because it’s tumblr I can’t respond. In one way I agree with her assessment. The purpose of my article was to cause a disruption in the way many people think about vocations and discernment. It’s not a “how to” manual for discernment. I know that’s what some people want. I’ve been asked to write a “how-to” many times by a number of people. Maybe I’ll do that at some point. However, I think it would require a book. The last time I tried I gave up after it was at it’s 6th part.

    I do think that this article coupled with a few other key points about man’s last end and the dignity of Matrimony (and the hesitancy of some to commit) will help fill in what is lacking in my article.

    However, I’d point out that she critically errs in her critique because she is privileging activity over contemplation. Man’s happiness consists in contemplation not in activity. This is not only in heaven but also on earth. If we prioritize mission over contemplation we will never understand the essence of holiness. Also, according to Aquinas it is not the purely contemplative religious who have the most noble vocation. Rather, it’s first, Bishops and then those religious who most reflect the mixed life of the Bishops. This is because the life that is a perfect mix between contemplation and action more closely resembles the earthly life of Christ and the Apostles.

    I get what she’s saying. But the devil is in the details. One of the greatest errors of our day is privileging action over contemplation. It does very serious harm to the life that seeks holiness.

  • I think it’s a great idea! I often say that many of today’s theological errors are errors in anthropology. This will help further people’s understanding of an authentic theological anthropology that will help people.

    However, I’m not interested in writing scholastic treaties in this venue. So, it will necessarily lack the depth and detail that could be given. However, I do think that giving further reading could help with that.

  • It’s important to be able to distinguish between two things. First there is the objective character of a vocation in the Church in light of it ordering to evangelical perfection and the final recapitulation. Second, the holiness of individual religious. These are very different things. Anyone is capable of reaching the heights of sanctity by God’s all sufficient grace. However, religious life potentially a more direct way to sanctity. This is simply because the religious has the opportunity to dedicate his life to things as opposed to earthly matters. I’ll try to say something about this is a follow-up article.

    You are correct that it’s important to situate all of these questions in the context of the universal call to holiness. But I’m not sure I agree with your assessment of the difficulties of discernment in our time over and against any other time. Maybe some eras where easier. But, really, any realistic look at Church History seems to argue against it. The discernment troubles of St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Anthony of Padua seem to paint a picture very similar to our own.

  • Mancipium Mariae

    Br. Gabriel, your piece is very thought provoking. Some good points were raised but I found it gravely lacking in the area of personal dimension of discernment. God gifts us and then calls us just like He gifted the Virgin Mary with the Immaculate Conception and then called her to be the Mother of God. The Blessed Virgin also had an unshakable desire to do the will of God. God also places selfless and loving desires in the heart of the one discerning his or her vocation. In this case, the gifts of the person must be considered in vocation discernment. You just cannot say that because religious life is a higher calling that every single person should try it out first and then get out if it is not for them. Are you saying that someone who does not desire silent prayer should just jump into a monastery simply because it is a higher call than marriage? It may indeed be a higher call, but for the love of God, it must be for the good for the person with the gifts and desires that God has given to the person. You must thus consider the personal gifts and desires of the person discerning the vocation. We do not follow Jesus like a piece of stone. We have feelings and desires that must be shaped and involved in our vocation as we answer His call. Your idea of vocation leans more to a stoic attitude of “Just do it.” Please my brother, we need to pay attention too to the desires and gifts of the candidate and how that fits into God’s call to religious life. It is not enough to just jump in and with a “swim or sink” attitude.

  • Jeremy M. Kritt

    One of the problems with your orientation to this topic, in my opinion, is an underdeveloped theology and understanding of the laity. You wrote, “This is simply because the religious has the opportunity to dedicate his life to things as opposed to earthly matters.” I find that to be an unfortunate statement from a person in religious life. Lumen Gentium (sec. 31) states a very different perspective: “But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer.” Committed lay people are fully dedicated to this mission, and I fail to see how this is less spiritual than a monk praying the divine office. It is just another way of being spiritual. It is the way that lay people express their mission and spirituality in the church. Maybe you just have not met many content, committed, and spiritual lay people.

    You argue for a simple decontextualised hierarchy of better vocations, but it falls apart in light of further scrutiny: “For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rm 12:4-5). There is no class system in the Gospel: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph. 4:4-7).

  • Jeremy M. Kritt

    One thing that you need to understand is that you did not just ruffle feathers. You are starting from the standpoint that you are teaching people who simply do not understand what you are talking about, but there are people here who are actually disputing your arguments.

  • Lumen Gentium is wonderful at articulating the positive dimensions of each vocation from the perspective of the equality yet difference within the mystical body. It deliberately avoids hierarchical language. That great. However, it is not the only way to consider the matter. There are other ways to consider the matter. Regardless, I think you misunderstand the ecclesiology that is at work in Lumen Gentium. It’s a little different than how your articulation is utilizing it.

    For instance, when we consider the source of the universal call to holiness we discover that it is derivative of one’s baptismal promises. So, a lay person’s mission in the world flows primarily from baptism. Similarly, religious life is an “intensification” of one’s baptismal promises. There is nothing superadded to the religious state from the lay state. It’s simply the lay state live with greater intensity. This is one of the reasons why the Church only formally speaks of two states of life – the lay state and the clerical state. Religious life is found among those who posses the lay state and the clerical state. It’s not it’s own state.

    For each individual religious, then, their life as a religious is simply a way to intensify their lay or clerical state according to an ordered manner of living the universal call to holiness. What you are describing is not a more developed “theology of the laity.” Rather, you are articulating an ecclesiology that doesn’t properly consider how each vocation relates to the other, nor the ground of the vocation. But, this isn’t the most essential aspect. We must “begin with the end in mind” as the old saying goes. Man’s last end is the contemplation of the divine essence. The essential distinction in the Christian life is between the life of contemplation and the active life. Please take the time to review Aquinas on this matter in ST II-II q182 where he discusses the matter at great length. Also, see the document Perfectae Caritatis and Chapter 6 of Lumen Gentium.

    Also, your Scriptural interpretation is problematic. There is definitely a hierarchy in the Gospel. At the least we speak about Christ as the head and us as the Body. Would we deny that Christ is part of his Body? The Gospels also distinguish between those chosen as Apostles. Yet, even among the Apostles there is an ordering, viz., Peter, the Three, etc. The rest of the New Testament articulates an even more complex hierarchy, particularly in the so called Pastorals. It’s necessary to understand the citation from Romans in the light of the hierarchy the new dispensation establishes, not the other way around. However, I think you are using hierarchy in a different way than I am. Religious are not part of the hierarchy of the Church as a result of their profession. My reference to a hierarchy is a “hierarchy of good” which is simply derivative of the natural order. The two uses ought not be conflated.

  • The only way to know if you can live a particular vocation is to try it out. We, as human persons, only have one ordinary way to discover God’s will. We must discover if the Fruits of the Holy Spirit are operative in our life and in the life of those around us. The manifestation of the Fruits are the confirmation of our cooperation with the Holy Spirit. This, however, also needs to be kept distinct from “feeling” the Fruits of the Spirit in our life. Mother Theresa was a perfect example of a person who manifested the fruits but didn’t experience their consolations. Regardless, the only way you can know if the Fruits will arise in your vocation is if you actually try and live it. Otherwise, you’re just shooting in the dark.

  • The life of contemplation is a higher good for everyone regardless of their individual desire.

    I agree that there is a distinctly personal dimension of vocational discernment. However, I don’t think that factors in until the second stage of discernment. The first stage is simply the universal call that is a result of simply being a baptized human person. This is all I’m getting at. The second stage is far more complex and would need “fleshing out” but that sort of work is better done with the help of spiritual confidants. The initial movement, however, is far more simple.

    We must re-learn that our desires must be formed. If they are not consistent with what is objectively true/good then our desires are, by definition, disordered. For instance, if I don’t desire contemplation, then my desire is disordered. If I don’t desire to live under some form of direct obedience to another, then my desires are disordered. Simply relying on particular desires, preferences, weaknesses or strengths, is a poor way to understand how the Christian life works in general. We are all called to evangelical perfection. This is, precisely, the perfection of the virtues in and through grace. The perfection of the virtues is precisely to help order our desires to higher goods so that we begin to see with clear eyes, instead of eyes governed by our passions. This is the primary function of Religious life. It’s designed to help us poor sinners order our passions rightly. It is not a life for the perfect, it is a school of perfection, a hospital for sinners.

  • Disputing, of course. Clearly, I can see that. However, disputing a claim and overwhelming or disproving a claim are very different things. To overwhelm or disproving the claim I made in the article would require overturning over a millennia of thought on this matter.

  • Jeremy M. Kritt

    I haven’t misunderstood the document at all. I am very familiar with it, and I studied it quite thoroughly in graduate school. Furthermore, if you go to Part III of Code of Canon Law you will find that you are incorrect concerning the use of the term state used in conjunction with religious life. Allow me to give you several examples:

    “Can. 574 §1 The state of persons who profess the evangelical counsels in these institutes belongs to the life and holiness of the Church. It is therefore to be fostered and promoted by everyone in the Church.

    §2 Some of Christ’s faithful are specially called by God to this state, so that they may benefit from a special gift in the life of the Church and contribute to its saving mission according to the purpose and spirit of each institute.”

    “Can. 588 §1 In itself, the state of consecrated life is neither clerical nor lay.”

    “Can. 598 §1 Each institute, taking account of its own special character and purposes, is to define in its constitutions the manner in which the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience are to be observed in its way of life.

    §2 All members must not only observe the evangelical counsels faithfully and fully, but also direct their lives according to the institute’s own law, and so strive for the perfection of their state.”

    Your last two paragraphs don’t make a lot of sense. You are starting to argue with straw men and not with my words. I wrote the exact opposite of what you are writing in your response. Hence my reference to Romans 12:4-5: “For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rm 12:4-5). I completely acknowledge different vocations that relate together.

    The intention behind my comment about a more developed theology of the laity was to show that the Church views the laity as fulfilling a special and unique role that is not less special than religious life but an essential aspect of the Church’s missionary work. This is quite different from the Church’s articulation of the laity in the Tridentine and Medieval periods. The language of vocational superiority is, in my opinion, dangerous. What we have is a beautiful variety of vocations and each person must, with the help of God’s grace, discover the service of love to which they have been called.

    I have read ST II-II q182, Perfectae Caritatis, and Lumen Gentium many times. I think it is better for you to state the arguments you want to make from these documents rather than assigning homework assignments. I find it patronizing. There is an implicit assumption that these things are not familiar to the other. It is a kind of name bombing that is void of argument with unfair rhetorical effect.

    Your last paragraph is bit strange. I have not written that religious are part of the hierarchy. Please reread everything I have written in this thread . You are arguing with me, but with a straw man. I also have not written that there is no hierarchy in the Church. That is absurd and heretical. Let us look at what I actually wrote: “You argue for a simple decontextualised hierarchy of better vocations, but it falls apart in light of further scrutiny…” And the quotation of scripture that I used was a citation from scripture used in Lumen Gentium no. 32 that specifically makes the point that the laity are not ‘less than’ other states of life in the Church. My usage of class was meant in the sense of a superior class of Christian which seems to come across in your writing. Of course, that is my interpretation of your words. Maybe we could have a different understanding of each other if we actually sat down to discuss it. Who knows, maybe that might happen some day as I have know a person in your province of the order.

    I think your article was messy. However, I would like to reiterate that I thought you made some very good points. You need to hedge more and think about the wider audience who may read these article.

  • I appreciate the advice. You should know that I was very aware of the audience of potential readers. It was a direct factor in what I wrote and how I wrote it. But, also, my article is not a systematic argument. It’s a call to action, it’s rhetoric, in the proper sense of the term. Systematic works are, in my mind, for a different venue.

    I see how I miss read your argument. I’ll also concede you point about states of life. That’s a much larger conversation that I really don’t want to go down at this point. However, it’s an interesting point and goes to the very structure of the Code of Canon Law.

    Surly I wouldn’t advocate a *perfecti* level of Christianity. That’s gnostic. I was simply ordering vocations according to their relationship and identity to man’s last end. That’s all. It’s a difficult thing to communicate in English without setting up an opposition. Contemporary man is accustomed to binary thinking that it’s difficult to not receive what I wrote under that customary binary rubric.

    I think this is where we disagree. You think that the older formulation is unhelpful and possibly dangerous. I think that because it is true it is therefore both helpful and right. It is we who need to conform to it, not the other way round. So, what we are in disagreement about is something that is a matter of prudential judgement more than the underlying reality.

  • Jeremy M. Kritt

    “Marriage is different because it is the Universal Vocation. Everyone is called to marriage.” Really? You must certainly believe that is not true.

  • Jeremy M. Kritt

    I think we agree more than we disagree. You do not represent the last word of our beliefs, and there are other ways of understanding some of the points you make. I think there are some problems in your discussion, but do not think that means that I find no value or truth in what you have written.

  • No, I do. It’s perfectly reasonable to speak of marriage as the Universal Vocation and religious life as something that God desires us to chose. I think this is actually the key to understanding how the proper way to understand vocations in the Church is not a binary good/bad. The goodness of religious life makes no sense unless we uphold the goodness of marriage. If the religious doesn’t realize that he is giving up a great good for a greater good (for the sake of the kingdom) then the religious would be entering holy religion with the wrong disposition. As my old vocation director would say when I was a diocesan seminarian, “If you wouldn’t make good dads, you won’t make good priests.” He didn’t mean this in the abstract.

  • Agreed. I just don’t think it’s a problem. It was deliberate, purposeful, and exactly what I think was needed. But, again, this is a prudential argument.

  • Jeremy M. Kritt

    I don’t think that the “older formulation” is necessarily unhelpful and dangerous; however, I think that it does need to be very carefully framed in addition to linking it to contemporary developments (according to the magisterium) in the Church’s understanding of religious life and the laity. I also think that there are broader interpretive possibilities to some of concepts and texts you reference that are within the realm of orthodoxy.

  • Mancipium Mariae

    Brother, thanks for clarifying your article a bit with your explanation. I am satisfied with your acknowledgement of a personal and subjective dimension of vocation discernment. I also never doubted that contemplation is a better vocation because that is what we will be doing for all eternity in the presence of the Blessed Trinity. in addition, desires need to be shaped for sure. Personal desires alone cannot be the starting point of discernment. I am in agreement to that point. But you must also remember something called inordinate attachments, wanting something in a manner that is not in alignment with the perfection that God calls us to. A person who inordinately seeks religious life because it is a contemplative life is not free to see the plan of God for them. The presence of inordinate attachments and impure motivations make it clear that you just cannot relegate the subjective dimension to the background or something that you do later. The objective and the subjective must go hand in hand. Without the clarity of the subjective, it is not even possible for the objective to be accepted and followed. This is my main issue with your article. But thanks for getting me thinking about this. God bless you.

  • tinyfunkmaster

    I commend Br. Mosher for tackling this tough topic but, like many Catholics of my generation and younger, he leans on the quintessential crux of Neo-Platonic, univocal thinking that breaks out in hives at the mere thought of uncertainty and paradox (gasp!) in life. Jesus did not sit down with pen and parchment and has out the rules of every canonical order in existence today. Nor did it spring from the lips of the angel Gabriel and float down from heaven on the shoulders of chubby cherubim to alight softly on the grass of a meadow. Like every other institution on earth, it was born from very human processes that were often largely shaped by the culture in which it was born. In anticipation of the argument for infallibility of the Church one word: Borgias.

    Perhaps the reason the Church has lost touch with this age is because of the arrogant belief that it is not apart of this age! Maybe if we first recapture what church really is- the edifice of believers, a Kingdom of Hearts- we would value what’s most important, the souls of our brothers and sisters. Instead of engaging in meaningless quibbles about “forms” of life (married, single, religious), we would just live life infused by the Gospel which always has at its center self-donating love.

  • Susan Walker

    Thanks for writing this Br. Gabriel.

    From my perspective, there is a very serious crisis out there with people who will not commit to either marriage or the religious life. We have a glut of women in their 30’s and 40’s who would very much like to be married but cannot seem to find decent Catholic men who take the vocation seriously. That, in turn, leaves these women unable to fulfill their vocation to be wife and mother. I don’t believe sitting in the deep chasm of being single was intended to be a permanent state – one should pursue religious life or marriage and make a commitment to love thru that chosen state.

  • Elizabeth

    One of the most important truth about the states in life is the following: the best state for you or I to reach perfection is precisely the state to which God calls you or me. For example, I would say to the person who has carefully discerned and embraced the call to marriage: consecrated life would not have been a better way than marriage for you to become holy, because God did not call you to that state. The state is which you will become the holiest person you can be is the married state.

  • Meryl

    Dear Brother,
    What if at an early age as a teenager a young woman enters religious life in a particular Religious Order and returns to the world before making final vows and lived the life of a Catholic and Faithful lay person and discerned that CHRIST was truly calling her to the Consecrated Life and was introduced to a new charism and a different Religious Order. How welcoming would that Religious community be for that particular young woman. She has done all the Spiritual Steps towards truly LISTENING to the DIVINE WILL OF GOD through the sacraments and direction through weekly confession and personal meetings with a Pastor and the Religious Communities continue to turn her away because of her first formation with a Religious Order in her younger years.
    Kindly respond,

  • Thomas Richard

    Dear Brother Gabriel, You are getting quite a bit of “push-back” to this article, but I think rightly so. It sounds to me that there is an error in your argument that is fundamental and serious, and I think you ought to consider it.

    A way of discipleship structured, in its forms and outward observance, objectively closer to the life of Christ – such a vocation is objectively higher, more holy. However, if a man follows such an objectively higher vocation outwardly but yet inwardly he fails in imitation of Christ – then what can we conclude? The structured life he follows is more holy, yet his heart may not be advancing toward the goal. He may not be growing in the holiness that his vocation is ordered to.

    Another man, let’s say, follows a vocation less close outwardly to the life of Christ, yet his vocation is leading him toward the goal of maturity in Christ because this man’s heart is true. He is more whole-heartedly following the path to holiness appropriate to his vocation, than the other man.

    I am reminded of the many encounters of Jesus with the Pharisees – whose way of following of the Law was as complete as they could imagine. Outwardly, their obedience to the will of God appeared objectively as near perfection as they could imagine. Yet Jesus pointed them, time and again, to the absolute necessity of subjective obedience of the heart. Time and again, the spiritual superiority of those who appeared to be objectively more distant (the “sinners”) was affirmed by the Lord.

    Today we see the same temptation (to pharisaism) active among us, and perhaps most temptingly among those who chose to follow the objectively higher calling. Clericalism today, as pharisaism of Jesus’s time, presents a cover of religion under which to hide hardened hearts.

    So what, some may say. It is still objectively better to follow the objectively higher vocation. Every vocation has its temptations. The truth is, however, not all are called to what is objectively higher, while all are still called to holiness and to the perfection of charity. The truth is, a vocation is literally a “calling” – and it is not “chosen,” it is received or it is not by those being called.

    Jesus urged us all to pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers, and so we must pray. Jesus said that the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Note – He did not say to pray for more laborers! He said we are to pray the Lord to send – not “more” laborers – but to send laborers. We do not need more laborers! We need sent laborers – sent by the Lord of the harvest. The Church needs not “more” of any particular vocation – the Church needs men and women more faithful to the work God has fitted them for, in the Body. One Body, many members having different functions in the one Body. Feet may be “distant” from the head objectively – but not distant at all when those feet take the Body where He wants it to go.

  • bekside

    Neo-Platonism? I would have thought Brother’s approach to be unmistakably Aristotelian in its platform, through the lens of St. Thomas (with even a little Josef Pieper thrown in for good measure, if you read one of Brother’s responses to a comment further down the page.)

    I agree with you that Brother’s article does not account for all of the complexity of vocational discernment, as others including myself have pointed out in earlier comments, but as per his response to one of my comments, he is not attempting to provide a comprehensive guide to all aspects of discernment. He is attempting to get people thinking, to disrupt the status quo of those stuck in perpetual indecision, and perhaps aid those who are struggling with the thought of lifelong commitment. Look at the conversation he has sparked! This is definitely a good thing, and it has people thinking and talking.

    In pleading Alexander VI, as you have, I would highlight that the Church survived the Borgia family, managed to avoid erring in what was taught by the Magisterium during this time despite the public scandal and immorality that took place at the very top… and it survived all the way to the present age of saintly popes and sincere and humble leadership. This is no mere human institution.

    I don’t accept your assertion that the Church has lost touch with this age. I’ll concede that many within the Church speak in older categories – but really that means that those in this age who are unfamiliar with the categories have lost touch with the Church! We need to meet in the middle somehow; we cannot lose the continuity of teaching by compromising on these categories, but we DO need to learn to ‘translate’ as it were the language of the Church to the language of people who have lost touch with it… not to “dumb it down” but to gradually draw people into a deeper understanding that gives them access again to the richness of our Tradition.

    Having said all of that – we agree on one very important thing. We MUST live a life that seeks to embody Gospel values and this is characterised by authentic love, self-donating love, for His glory.

  • bekside

    I am struck by the number of respondents to Brother’s article whose point of dispute is the reality that religious life is an objectively higher vocation than married life. It’s not actually a matter up for debate and it is what the Church has long taught – I think the objections are maybe based on a misunderstanding of what this actually means?

    It may be helpful to reflect prayerfully on Paragraph 32 of Vita Consecrata, which directly addresses this question and speaks also about the esteem in which married life should be held:


  • Jessica

    And we wonder why we have a marriage crisis! The Church can thank herself for it!

    “Married life is good but religious life is better.”

    I can see in your comments below you are back pedaling about the above statement. You should really edit and rewrite this article, it was really good until this point. I would also add that people are also having trouble committing to married life, and staying committed, which your above statements about discerning your vocation also apply too.

    Married people are called to the exact same degree of holiness, communion with God, as any priest, monk or nun. A vocation is God’s plan for each individual, He has a plan for everyone and it makes no sense at all that it is first to a religious life and then if you can’t handle that, then to the married life.

    Married people are called to me an Icon of the Trinity here on earth, that is a great calling, different in some ways then religious life but just as great of a calling.

  • MJD

    I’m late to the game here, but I must add my support for the approach taken by the article, in spite of the protestations below.

    The form of life of a priest or religious is the highest form of life. Initially, this sounds like clericalism, but let us be clear: it is not that one who adopts religious life for oneself is, ipso facto, superior to those who do not. That sort of thinking, obviously, is a particularly repugnant manifestation of clericalism. It is also a non-sequitur. Taking vows is no guarantee that one shall fruitfully keep them, and holy orders is no guarantor of holiness. Moreover, the married state does not relieve one from the same demands of spiritual perfection our Lord placed on all of us: “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The one who faithfully lives married life, seeing in it a constant unfolding of the divine plan, can surely attain spiritual perfection. Who can fail to recall the example of Thomas More who, as a layman, displayed more heroic Christian virtue in his steadfast fidelity to a papacy that had been marred by corruption than many of his contemporaries in the episcopate whose loyalties ultimately lied with the sovereigns of this world, rather than Christ their true king? It is not that one who adopts the religious form of life is necessarily superior, it is that the form of life itself is superior because it provides objectively more powerful means for holiness. (Of course, what is objectively more effective will not be more effective for the particular person God wills to embrace a different state in life.)

  • Thomas

    Br. Gabriel, thank you for the article-it has really opened vital and important discussion. My question is about the “health of religious community”. Could you describe it’s “characteristics,features”? I am asking this because I have been living in catholic monastery for 8 months but finally left it. I lived there because for a few years I had been experiencing some “mystic” signs and some of them were related to my soul father. It seemed to me that there was too much of individualism among brothers (at my time there were only 4 brothers) and lack of agape, practice of charity, except time of inner prayer and Mass, which for me was the cornerstone-the only really devoted moments in monastery-the rest of time wasn’t organized. I couldn’t grow in other natural aspects of my personality- learn some craft, assist in cooking or whatever other works learn. Brothers couldnt share their time with me because there was so few of them. The order at that time was experiencing inner schism-sisters were trying to create separate order and leave the old one which included brothers and sisters. For me life in monastery was really God’s gift since I was gradually feeling stronger in faith and trust in other people and God. Before that I came to monastery almost depressed-my father died a few years ago, I studies much of atheistic philosophy although hadn’t stopped praying, for more than 20 years I have diabetes and that effects my fitness in doing many things in same pace as other people. What I personally experienced is that being in that monastery I lacked simple everyday impressions-doing works together with brothers, being together. How do you think: Is it enough for young people who come to live in monastery just attend Mass and common prayers and clean closets? Or should there be more creative and inspiring activities even in the monastery? I have a great desire to devote myself to God but I have a real doubt about the healthy conditions living in monastery. I have been leaded by my soul father in giving me suggestions and support, he even told me once “you are a perfect servant -you are a priest, you help people pray”. How could I teach other brothers and priests that they are not acting good in everyday life of community? I think I have a vocation for life in that monastic order. Thank you.

  • Thom

    Br. Gabriel, thank you for the article-it has really opened vital and
    important discussion. My question is about the “health of religious
    community”. Could you describe it’s “characteristics,features”?

  • I’m aware that historically there are some communities that do not accept people who have been in formation with other communities (the Jesuits were famous for it; I don’t know if they still have this practice). This is something for that particular community to decide.

    My understanding, based on the spiritual masters and theologians that have discussed the issue of vocation is that there are two discrete steps to a religious vocation:

    1. Accepting or rejecting the universal call to consecrated life (this is the point I’m addressing in this article).
    2. Discerning which community to manifest this choice.

    You’re question is bound up with the second part. This second part has three aspects to it:

    1. God’s grace.
    2. Personal choice.
    3. The judgment of the community.

    This is the part of Discernment that is analogous to dating. It’s only possible to marry a person if God wills it, and both parties agree to it. This is the same with religious communities. God may will it (at least in his passive will), you may want it, but if the community isn’t also desirous of the relationship then it won’t happen.

    This is a sign that it’s time to look at a different community.