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Dymphna

What if it's not possible to live a vocation?

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Dymphna

There are lots of resources about how to find one's vocation, but I'm currently really missing advice on how to cope with not being able to live it. This must be a common situation - there are plenty of men and women with a vocation to married life, who never find the right partner. Myself, I'm sure I got a vocation as a religious sister (my spiritual guide and others agree with me, so it's not just just my own idea), but my life follows a bumpy road, so I am now over 50 and haven't found "my" community. For the apostolic communities I'm looking at, my age and life story are a major problem, often an outright obstacle.

So, I will possibly have to accept that I have a vocation, a place where God wants me to be - but I can't be there. Which is seriously painful. I don't believe that if I can't join a religious community then it's not my vocation, that God would not allow this. He allows lots of bad things to happen which are not his will. But how is it possible to make something good out of a life which is fundamentally "wrong", or at least feels like it?

I remember attending a vocation event at a time when I was a volunteer with people with serious mental lllness. I asked the priest giving the talk what he would say to these people, who often had their lives shattered, how should they go about vocation. His answer was, they should "make the best out of it". Is that all I can do now, make the best out of a bad situation? And if it is, how do I live this without becoming sad and bitter? How can one grow and be useful and fulfilled when they can't live their vocation?

Dymphna

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Swami Mommy

Aside from living with other people similarly inclined, what do you feel you cannot do on your own as an oblate layperson who affiliates with a particular community? What are you imagining you are missing out on?  If you consecrate your life to serving God in an apostolic way, if you pray the Divine Office on your own, if you observe interior silence throughout the day (which can be done even in the midst of a busy workday with practice), and if you offer the fruits of your day to God and eliminate a personal sense of doer-ship, then what aspect of a religious life are you missing that can only be experienced as a sister?  Become a monastic in your daily life and recognize that God does not limit grace and blessings to a particular living situation.  There is no place or time in which God is not present.

You mentioned that your life history and age are obstacles for joining communities you are interested in.  I believe there have been threads on this site that list communities that accept older vocations.  Perhaps you need to weigh what is more important to you—being accepted by a community YOU choose, or being accepted by one which would be willing to choose you regardless of age or circumstances.  There may be specific graces and lessons inherent in your disappointment that are crucial to your spiritual development.  Work with what you have and know that whatever happens, it’s perfectly designed for your own unique unfoldment that may be hidden to you at the moment.  All things come together for good in the end when we stop resisting ‘what is’ and act from the heart as if we had chosen them.

 

 

 

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Sponsa-Christi

"Vocation" can be kind of an ambiguous word sometimes, but there is a sense in which "having a vocation" isn't always the same thing as "having a feeling of being called." Technically, the Church doesn't consider someone has definitively "having a vocation" until the point of ordination, final vows, etc.  

But even if you don't or can't become a religious Sister, this doesn't mean that God isn't calling you to some kind of more radical commitment to the evangelical counsels. Maybe you're called to make a private vow, for example, or even just to deepen some aspect of your general baptismal vocation. This is where finding a good spiritual director can be very important and helpful.

Also, being called to "make the most of it" isn't necessarily a brush-off. Things can go wrong in life, and even people who have confirmed vocations to priesthood and consecrated life can find themselves in situations where they can't live out their vocation as fully (in a more superficial objective sense of "fully") as they would have wanted. E.g., think of St. Faustina, who was often too ill to participate in the prayer life and apostolate of her religious community; St. Padre Pio who lived out a lot of his priesthood under what amounted to ecclesiastical house arrest; Fr. Walter Ciszek who spent a lot of his priesthood as a Soviet prisoner, etc. There are a lot of saints who essentially became saints because they did "make the most of" a difficult situation. 

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nikita92

Then again, some people just do better when in the company of same like kind!

I feel there is a reason there is a attraction drawn to the "community" aspect ..verses going it alone..by oneself..hermit like. 

While some people are just fine, being a single bride of Christ by themelves" there are others that thrive better, when in the company of other "brides of Christ"!

Dymphna- God might have chosen you to "bloom where you are planted"! If he brings you to it, he will bring you through it"! Have Faith!  O;)

(And it is ok to feel sadness)

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Swami Mommy

Do a search on this Phatmass Vocation Station site using the phrase ‘Communities Accepting Candidates Over 50’ for a list of communities accepting older vocations that someone posted in the comments section of the topic thread. 

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Dymphna

Thanks for all your answers! I know about the various lists of communities accepting older vocations, but I'm not US-based (and couldn't emigrate there in the current legal situation). And I believe it wouldn't be right for me (nor even possible, given my personality) to join a community just because they are willing to accept me, independent of their charism and the state in which they are. I found it a good question when I was asked by a VD if I'm just looking for a community with no age limit or for the specific charism and way of life. of this community.

I know that I'm just as close to God on my own as in a religious community. But, yes, Nikita, I really do better when I'm with others of the same spirit. And I just have this sense, church-recognized or not, that that would be the right thing for me - whether or not it will happen. 

And I love the idea that there are saints who became saints by making the best out of their situation!

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Nunsuch
4 hours ago, Dymphna said:

And I believe it wouldn't be right for me (nor even possible, given my personality) to join a community just because they are willing to accept me, independent of their charism and the state in which they are.

 

I can't believe any responsible community would accept a candidate who was not otherwise an appropriate candidate simply over issues of age. In most cases, the acceptance process is far from automatic, and takes many factors into consideration. It's a mutual matter, not the choice simply of the applicant. 

And as Sponsa-Christi also said, a "vocation" is not something that one has unilaterally; it must be confirmed by the appropriate church office (in this case. the religious congregation). If they don't confirm the possibility of a vocation (admission), or its reality (final vows), then someone doesn't have one, not matter how they feel.

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Dymphna
11 hours ago, Nunsuch said:

I can't believe any responsible community would accept a candidate who was not otherwise an appropriate candidate simply over issues of age.

Exactly. In my region of the world, there may well be a few communities who are desperate, but accepting someone out of desperation is not responsible. On the other hand, I've been in contact with several interesting communities who no longer accept candidates, because they feel they've grown too old. 

Quote

And as Sponsa-Christi also said, a "vocation" is not something that one has unilaterally; it must be confirmed by the appropriate church office (in this case. the religious congregation). If they don't confirm the possibility of a vocation (admission), or its reality (final vows), then someone doesn't have one, not matter how they feel.

Hm - doesn't this give some sort of infallibility to the congregation, which they don't have? They can make a wrong decision, just like anybody else can. As I wrote initially, there are many people with a vocation to marriage, who remain single because they don't find the right partner. They may be seriously trying to live their vocation, but God has given us freedom, which includes the freedom for a potential spouse to say "no".

Or what about a man with a vocation to both marriage and priesthood? Currently, he has to make a choice and can only live part of his vocation. If he happens to live in the Amazon region, he may be able to live his full vocation in a few years. But until then and outside this region, the appropriate church office will not confirm his double vocation. Does this really mean he doesn't have it?

Edited by Dymphna
typo, as always :-)

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Nunsuch
4 hours ago, Dymphna said:

Hm - doesn't this give some sort of infallibility to the congregation, which they don't have? They can make a wrong decision, just like anybody else can. As I wrote initially, there are many people with a vocation to marriage, who remain single because they don't find the right partner. They may be seriously trying to live their vocation, but God has given us freedom, which includes the freedom for a potential spouse to say "no".

 

No, but this is what the actual church teaching is.  Further, one must assume that a religious congregation has far more experience than an individual applicant, both about vocations generally and about what is a vocation to that particular community. My point (which is not really "mine") is that a vocation doesn't exist unilaterally--it must be confirmed: by a bishop (for ordination) or by a congregation (for religious life) in order to be real. Of course a discerner has a major role. But it is not one for them alone.

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gloriana35

I have no answer - though my heart aches for you. I don't necessarily agree with every statement on this thread, but much is thought-provoking. I fully agree with you that many things that happen in this world are NOT 'God's will.' (If I thought that everything is, even glancing at headlines each day would make me agree with Bertrand Russell that this would be the purpose of a fiend.)

There are a huge number of varieties in how people, through all the Christian centuries, have lived a vowed life, whether in community or as solitaries. Even well-known communities differ in being 'institutes', 'societies of common life,' congregations such as the Filippini Sisters (who are not a religious institute), or the Daughters of Charity (who have annual, private vows.) There are individuals or secular institutes who have reasons they keep their vows a secret, and I'm not criticising the reasons there may be for this. But there is absolutely nothing in church law, or a theology of consecrated life, which requires those who do not belong to religious congregations to keep their vowed life a secret. Many people who are associates, members of Secular Franciscans, etc, do not live the evangelical counsels - I sense you are not just looking for a sense of membership, but a true living of and witness to vowed life.

Vowed life, from the earliest years of the church, was a special, eschatological witness - Paul, for example, only was able to preach of celibacy as a charism when the resurrection had shown that there is more to our lives than this world (and living on through descendants.) I would not fully agree with Swami, because that witness would be missing in your life if you had to keep your vows a secret (you do not - but many would either think you did, or mistake you for someone who is a fake or deluded if you did not.) There is more missing in your life than not living in a community. 

I wish I had an answer for you - but I do pray that the manner in which you best can respond to your vocation presents itself.

Edited by gloriana35
adding a line

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Dymphna

Interesting thoughts about vows, Gloriana - for me, it never was about vows, public or private. I could well live with an annual commitment to the community, necessary for practical reasons. But it is about being a witness, yes - I'd want people to know that we're religious sisters and there to accompany them.

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Nunsuch
30 minutes ago, Dymphna said:

Interesting thoughts about vows, Gloriana - for me, it never was about vows, public or private. I could well live with an annual commitment to the community, necessary for practical reasons. But it is about being a witness, yes - I'd want people to know that we're religious sisters and there to accompany them.

If for whatever reason you are unable to enter a religious congregation and take their vows, you might want to consider being an Oblate (Benedictine), Secular Third Order member, or Associate. For example, a woman I know thought she had a vocation upon becoming a widow--she was about 70. She was not admitted to either of the 2 congregations she approached, due both to age and health. So she joined one of them as an Associate. She sold her home, moved 2/3 of the way across the country, rented an apartment across the street from their motherhouse (and may soon move into the motherhouse itself in a senior living complex they are opening there next year). She attends daily Mass there, volunteers in various ways, goes to a variety of programs there, etc. The distinction between her life and that of many of the retired sisters is very small. She feels personally and spiritually fulfilled. Like you, the formality of the vows were less important than the life. She will be making her permanent commitment as an Associate (that can be done after 5 or 6 years as an Associate) next year. 

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Sister Leticia

Like Gloriana I too have no answer - and my heart also aches for you. Your OP did remind me, though, of something that happened while I was discerning. I know that I went on to become a sister, so it might not be the most helpful thing to share, but I'll do so anyway (and if it doesn't help you, maybe it'll speak to someone else's need?)

So before I met my congregation I met and visited several others, and felt at home with one in particular. I was convinced this was where God was calling me to be, and so happy to have found "the right place". I visited them a few times, met the Provincial and the NM, stayed with them for a week... and it became clear this was not where God wanted me to be. 

I was upset and bewildered. But in the midst of this I also felt God saying that he wanted me for himself in a way I hadn't yet imagined. I had no idea what this might mean, but realised it could be something other than religious life - and I had to be open to that possibility, if I was true to wanting to do what God wanted (as can easily happen, I'd moved beyond fearing the idea of a religious vocation to really wanting one! - so this wasn't easy)

And yes, God did want me to enter religious life, and I met the Society of the Sacred Heart, in certain ways very different to the order I'd first discerned with. And yes, this time I really did find the right place! 

So I offer you my story, my experience of discovering how much I needed (still need) to be open to God... and the certainty that, as with me, God does want you for himself, but probably not how you have yet imagined. 

And my prayer, of course. 

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OneHeart

This is a really good topic, and one close to my heart.  In fact, I was just thinking about this topic and what I would say about this about 6 hours ago, on my commute to work, before I read this post!  Hmmmmm :)  

A lot of the posts here with suggestions on how to respond to your situation.  Lots of good food for thought there.  But I'd like to offer my own thoughts on the whole notion of "can you be prevented" from fulfilling a vocation, or "can life go so increadibly wrong that it can't be made right".  I'm not sure if this is exactly what you are asking.  They are questions I have had to ask myself.  And I've gotten a lot of advice, some helpful some not so much.  If my words offend anyone, I'm really sorry. And if anyone feels that I'm talking about them, please just forgive me and pass along.  I'm just sharing my own experience.

My life went wrong, very early, very wrong.  And I've been trying to get it on track for decades.  This isn't a statement of hopelessness, but the reality is that my life will always be marked with events of the past.  There is no way I can overcome some things. Nature never forgives.   I feel that I missed my vocation, in the sense that where I'm at now is not what I was made to be.  So I've had to reflect very seriously on this and see how to consider this in order to not become bitter, or give up, or just sit and cry.  So, here goes:

Truth:  Not everything that happens is "God's will."  And sometimes things do go awry.  I think this applies differently to people who are trying to do well and just get side-swiped by life; vs some people who flat out are intentionally outside of God's will, doing their own thing, seeking the world.  The later are clearly "missing God's call in their life".  That type is the real tragedy.  And, they can definitely get back on track (conversion).  So consider this type -- I really don't think anyone here is that type at all! But let's consider this.  Because, you see, if it is possible for someone who is unbaptized, unchurched, un-everything, to be utterly converted to right relationship with God through reception in the Church, then, isn't it likely the same thing with regards to the other type of people also, the people who are trying to do God's will but get sideswiped?  And, in truth, aren't we all a little of each?  Thinking in terms of "that was then, this is now", then, it is possible to take a look back and see "oops, I missed that call" to the point that "here I am now" (not where I am "supposed" to be), but that at the same time, when you look at "here I am now", it is absolutely possible (because conversion is always possible) to "get on track" and "do God's Will".   But what does it look like when this happens?

Now, it's true that "God always forgives, man sometimes forgives, but nature never forgives." In light of that statement, "where I am now" is dictated by the natural consequences of events.  Some of those events were way beyond my control. (In my case, I was raised as an atheist, introduced to very bad actions early on, and went head long the way of the world. I find myself, therefore, dealing with multiple consequences of that set of events.)  Was this where God intended me from my birth? No, I don't think so.  However, He allowed it.  He certainly did. And, I've come to believe that during everything that happened, even some pretty significant abuse that I suffered at the hands of others, He was there.  Yes He was.  He held my life in His Hands before I was conceived and He looked down the years, and saw everything, knew everything, and looked at me and said "yes, this one, I want to create this one."  This is the mystery of God's permissive will, and I don't pretend to understand it.  But I, as everyone else, live it.

I find myself thinking "what if".  What if I hadn't been exposed to this, if this event hadn't happened, if I had been treated this way not that way.  Where would I be now?  I think I would have been in a community of religious.  But that presupposes a perfect world, a perfect life, that never went astray.  And that kind of thinking is a little bit dangerous, don't you think?

God allows the innocent to suffer at the hands of the guilty.  That is the history of redemption.  Our Lord did it, and He is our standard.  Suffering means, well, experiencing pain.  The pain of "not being where I'm most comfortable to be, of not being where my soul cries out to be".  That's pain.  So many people with mental challenges who know they will never be married, they cry a lot.  Is it "God's will" that they not be married? Well, no....... but yes.  

There is an amazing component of our Faith: "Oh Glorious Fault".  St. Thomas Aquinas wrote a hymn about it, and others have talked about it.  It is, essentially, the notion that although we were made for paradise (Eden), God allowed the fall in order to bring about some even greater good: Heaven.  Heaven is higher and more glorious than even paradise on earth. It is beyond the beyond of anything we could possibly imagine.  We can imagine Eden.  It's earthly.  But heaven is only possible AFTER the fall - after everything goes completely haywire.  Total and utter destruction that only God Himself could redeem.  And even more amazing, is that the fall isn't "Plan B".  It isn't like God said "oops, now I have to send My Son...." No.  That was the plan all along. Some say that that is what made Satan so angry.  Tee hee.  And so too, when a life "goes awry" and an individual isn't able to follow the path they would chose for themselves, it may be a sign that God has somethign even better for them.  Because grace is available in toto at every moment of every day.  Oh how He loves us. Oh glorious fault!  Oh redemption so bright!  

So, when I'm considering "what might have been if things had been perfect", I also tell myself not to think that.  Did the events of my life prevent my "vocation"?  Sort of.  But actually, God wants me right here, right now, exactly in the total mess that exists right in front of me.  Why? Because this way I will glorify Him much more.  By being resurrected out of the dung heap, and by resurrecting not only my soul, but the facits of my life as well, God is showing how mighty He really is. Will I ever be in that nice community I dream about? Probably not.  And it hurts. Yeah, it hurts. A lot. But sin hurts, doesn't it? And the effects of sin are a broken world. Anyone who says anything else is selling something.  My life is broken.  But God is putting it back together in a way that I never would have dreamed of.  Never in a million years.  

There is an artform in Japan where they make these beautiful china vases.  Gorgeous creations.  And, when one of them is broken (falls or whatever), they don't throw it away. They take the pieces and painstakingly put them back together. And they don't just use glue. They put them back together with gold filler.  Real gold.  So that the cracks become a golden pattern throughout the vase.  Oh Glorious Fault! How rich His mercy!   How much more beautiful the gold He has put in my brokenness, than would be anything I could possibly create as if perfect!

I don't know if I'm explaining this well. My life now is a life being redeemed one step at a time.  And when I think "What is my vocation", I look at God's Hand in my life and not just the natural propensities that I was born with.  My natural propensities would suggest community life.  My circumstances suggest that if God want's me consecrated, it will be a private consecration.  Just a few months ago, due to circumstances, I had to step back from entering a community that I had visited. (I liked them, and they liked me, and it wasn't just the idea that they take older vocations. It was potentially a good fit.)  I stepped back, and cried - again - and my VD and I looked again at private consecration.  I'm working on a private rule, and maybe that will bloom into an eremitic consecration, maybe not. Who knows.  This is not what I would have chosen if I had been writing the game plan from the start. It is not what I would have chosen - but wait...... a "vocation" is a call from the OTHER, not my own self-willed self determination.  So, hmmmm....

There are a lot of saints who "missed" their vocations.  One of my personal favorites is St. Joseph Benedict Labre.  Others were kicked out of the Orders they started.  One of the keys to sanctity is finding the grace in every moment and responding to THAT grace (not some other grace).  What is the grace of this moment?.......

What I want is for God's redemptive work in my life to be greater than His original creative work in my life.  That is living a life of grace. This doesn't feel good. But this isn't about feeling comfortable. This isn't about having consolation.  This is about accepting suffering that is due to things not in my control (other people's actions, circumstances etc).  Going beyond what I think logically makes sense.  Trusting beyond my own natural abilities.  Loving God in all things no matter what.

If you really look at the lives of a lot of the saints, (NOT the caricatures from the children's books that make them look like they were born with a halo and made everyone smile), their lives are full of disasters, missed appointments, misunderstandings, rejections, failures.  It's not about having a nice life.  The Cross is precisely opposed to that.  But if you lean into the Cross, you may find that instead of splinters, you get a big hug.  I know: it's hard.  Believe me, I know.  Hang in there!  Please pray for me.

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gloriana35

I had misunderstood the OP - assuming the vows were your main concern. Since it appears that your interest is more in the community life (in some form) than actual vows, Nunsuch makes some good points, which may be worth your exploration.

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