Here are a couple of great questions from another young woman discerning her vocation to religious life:
“It’s been a year since I discovered my call to religious life, and even though I’ve had a few ups and downs, It has mainly been all the time upwards, and I’ve been maturing the idea, thinking it through and everything seemed to work out well.
The things I have to discern about are mainly two. Firstly, I was thinking of entering a congregation next summer (2015) once I was 18. But my family has advised me and asked If I could delay it one or two years in order to be able to experience and live those first years of university outside of the congregation, in a “normal lifestyle”. I am really looking forward to entering and I’m not sure what I should do, experience life and “freedom” and then enter into a congregation or start straight away. It’s something I’m trying to discern. The next decision I have to make is which congregation apply to; the school I’m in is run by nuns, and I’ve always thought that I would like to be one of them…but lately I’ve been wondering if It’s the correct decision or I should look for another one. I like their mission and how they work, I also like the nuns; on the other hand sometimes I feel I don’t agree in certain aspects with them and It would be difficult for me to follow their instructions.
I would really appreciate if you could throw some light into those decisions and help me understand what God wants me to do. Any advice on how to listen to his call and his plans for me would be great.”
First of all, I just want to thank you for your courage in seeking to do God’s will in your life, and I encourage you to continue to be open to the Lord as he calls you!
With regard to your first question about whether to enter after you turn 18 or wait a year or two, there is wisdom in doing both, so it really depends on how God is inviting you in the concrete circumstances of your life. Obviously, if you have already gone through a significant discernment process, and both the community and you feel that God is inviting you to take the next step to enter the community, that is definitely the best choice.
But a significant discernment process requires a number of elements, just a few of which I’ll list here:
- Taking the time to prayerfully discern God’s will in a way that you are not rushed or pressured. Above all, this means sufficient maturity, interior freedom from expectations, pressures, etc., and freedom from external pressures (such as financial, security, etc.)
- Accompaniment by a spiritual director
- A full understanding of what religious life entails
- Dialogue (or discussion) with close family and friends
- Discerning which community you are going to enter—which usually means visiting at least two other communities besides the one you plan to enter
- Getting to know the community you are planning to enter well with (ideally) several live-in experiences of a weekend to a week—not just for you to get to know them, but for them to get to know you.
- After making a decision, taking the time to evaluate it and continue to pray with it.
This can take six months…but it can also take two or three years. It requires an attentiveness not just to external events, but to the ways the Holy Spirit is working within the person discerning.
Since we are seeking God’s will in our discernment, if we truly discover it is God’s will that we enter sooner rather than waiting a year, then that is best. But there are good reasons to wait for a year or even two:
- To make sure our discernment isn’t rushed; to more fully understand and purify our own motivations so that our decision is fully free
- To journey with our family and friends in our discernment when possible, so that they can be at peace and continue to support us on our journey
- To be ready for the transition and challenges that we will face as we enter religious life
- To discern well to which community we are called, and to get to know it well. (We are not called to “generic” religious life, but to a particular community. If we only visit one community, we may not realize whether the attraction is for religious life in general, or for that particular community.)
- To grow in maturity to be ready to give a fuller gift of ourselves when we enter
Growing in maturity can include living certain life experiences. For example, if a young person has just turned 18 and has led a very sheltered life and never lived away from home nor had any experience in ministry, that might be a situation where gaining some life experience would enrich her discernment or clarify it (e.g. spend a year studying or working, being more involved in her parish or another form of ministry). This is not so that she experiences the “freedom” of doing her own thing, but so that her discernment is colored less by a decision to leave home for the first time and more about how God is calling her. But it depends on each young person’s circumstances. I entered the convent as a teenager with relatively little life experience and I have no regrets: I was eager to get started in my new life! But I know others whose time after entrance would have been easier if they had waited a year to enter. Every situation and every person is unique. And the requirements of each community are different as well. The important question is: How might God be inviting you through your circumstances?
We’re always seeking God’s will…and if we’re not sure of the course of action, it can be wiser not to rush in. But when we are discerning a big step such as entering religious life, we also want to make sure that we’re not using a good reason as an excuse to delay.
For your second question about which community to apply to, I think answering that question may influence the length of time you feel you need to discern. You could be called to the community which has taught you for years; but it’s also possible that you are simply drawn to their goodness and consecration, and you need to find the community to which God is calling you.
A lot of information is available online about different communities’ missions and spiritualities. (For those in the USA, www.vocationnetwork.org is a great resource for many communities! For those in Canada, www.vocations.ca is a great online resource.) You might want to spend some time browsing these sites and see where it leads you. Pick a few communities that attract you and research them. Email them with questions you have. Then, when you’ve narrowed your choices down, make arrangements to visit a couple of them—I’d recommend at least two; perhaps even three. Every religious community is made up of human beings—none of them are perfect!—so what you’re looking for is a community where you feel at home, living a lifestyle where you feel God is calling you to follow him more closely.
I hope this is helpful! You will be very much in my prayers as you continue your discernment!