03 February 2014

Dating While Discerning a Religious Vocation?

[[Dear Sister, I am discerning a religious vocation and thinking about entering in a couple of years. I also think I am in love with someone. I was told I should not date him though because I am in the process of discernment. But it is so hard just to cut off contact with him. I saw your post about discernment recently and wondered if you had an opinion? Thank you.]]

Thanks for your question. I think it is important to be clear about language so let me get a bit picky about some of what you have said. You say that you are discerning a vocation to religious life, but really, you are deciding at this time whether you will try a religious vocation and enter into a formal process of mutual discernment with a community or congre-gation. While discernment of course comes into play for you right now, you are not "discerning a religious vocation"; instead you are deciding whether or not TO DISCERN a religious vocation. Until you actually enter a community you may  (and should) be discerning many things, but you are not (yet) discerning a religious vocation.

Too often today I have read people speaking on Catholic bulletin boards of this pre-discernment period as though they have already entered. Often they have not even been accepted for entrance while others have been rejected several times. Nevertheless, they tend to put the rest of their lives on hold in the process. Some advise them not to date, not to get involved in social situations, begin living as informal candidates or postulants, dress the part, etc --- and unfortunately they do this --- all under the rubric of being in the process of "discerning a religious vocation". For many, this pre-discernment process stretches on, is transformed into a kind of limbo which is supposedly dignified with the title "discernment" and life simply stutters to a stop as these folks neither enter nor discern anything else which demands a life commitment. They are not religious and may never be religious but somehow being in this "process of discernment" gives them a kind of cachet and status which they seem loathe to leave --- fictitious as it has actually become.

I don't want you falling into this trap. Once you enter a congre-gation, if in fact you ever do, there will be plenty of opportunity to discern a religious vocation. The period from entrance to reception to first vows to final vows extends for up to nine years and all of these are specifically regarded as years of mutual discernment. But at this point you need to discern where God is (or rather, might well be) calling you more generally and that may be marriage just as well as it might religious life. It may be you are called to the life of a consecrated virgin, for instance. It may be as a lay associate with a religious congregation --- which means you could well be married or single and serve God in many many significant ways. Since I don't know your age or education level let me point out that education (college and graduate school) is also something you need to consider pursuing as part of ANY vocation to which God might be calling you.

 Regarding dating, you say you believe you are in love with this person. Date him! You are still called to chastity and to developing an affective maturity which a vow of celibate love also demands. Love him as a good friend. Share this time with him. Be honest with him and be open to where God is truly calling you --- including to marriage should that be the direction things develop. I would suggest you find someone near you with whom you can talk occasionally about all of this to help you maintain perspective. It could be a counselor, a campus minister, an actual spiritual director, your parish priest or a religious there, a parent, etc. (With some religious congregations their vocation personnel would be a good choice for this.) Continue to develop your spirituality and maintain your active religious praxis at the same time (prayer, lectio, or whatever you usually do), get the education you require, and above all pay attention to your heart and the voice there that calls you to maturity, integrity, responsibility, real joy,  and a fullness of life you might hardly be able to imagine.

Let me know occasionally how things are going for you! I hope this has been helpful.