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Dymphna

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

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Dymphna

Thanks a lot for your replies!

Nunsuch, yes, I also knew a retired woman who lived in a similar way - she volunteered in a community and was very close to the sisters in many ways. It's an attractive idea, but possibly more for retirement, maybe I'll get back to that in due course...

Sister Leticia, thank you for your story! I have to admit, I like most about it that you actually found your community, but I realize the need for being open very much. I think this is why I started this thread - I am talking to communities and feel I need to have the inner freedom to accept a "no" (or say it myself).

OneHeart, wow! Your post touches me in so many ways! I feel you are very similar to me. Not in everything, but wow! Maybe a difference is that I worked so very hard to deal with the consequences of the abuse I suffered, and in my case this was pretty sucessfull, so I don't say "nature never forgives". But it took a long time - which means I easily get angry with God, who first allowed that I was broken, and then, after I have spent all this time and energy, I may well still not be able to become the woman I was meant to be, because now I'm too old. But I also believe that in Gods eyes I'm repaired with gold... and you say that beautifully:" Is it "God's will" that they not be married? Well, no....... but yes. " Exactly. And it does hurt. A lot.

And gloriana, don't worry, I think I really wasn't clear about what I am looking for in the first place!

 

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Antigonos

Dymphna, just keep in mind that there's no such thing as "useless" experience; it only depends on how you use the wisdom gained.  If you're a graduate in the University of Life, you may be in a position to make a unique contribution, whether you take formal vows or not.

I wish you well.

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Dogtag
On 11/10/2019 at 3:54 PM, Nunsuch said:

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.

 

 

Whoever made up this rule? Vocation directors, abbots, houses of formation etc. are fallible and often make mistakes. They do not have the ability to infallibly discern if God is truly calling someone else to a vocation. What they can do is see if a candidate makes sense to them. True discernment, particularly when it comes to others, takes a lot of wisdom and patience and frankly many vocations people don't have enough to do the job. There are lots of situations I am aware of where bad vocations people have run good candidates away. The notion that somehow they have the ability to make a final say and whatever they say reflects the will of God is merely a fiction they made up to justify their authority.

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gloriana35

I agree that the voice of superiors is not that of God! Yet acceptance into a religious congregation is their decision. People have free will - including superiors - and their decisions do not mean that God spoke through them. However, one cannot be a member if the superiors did not accept one, just as one cannot marry if one has no spouse.

Being rejected by a community does not mean that one cannot try elsewhere (even some saints did - despite cliches about not 'shopping around') - or that one is not called to live a consecrated life (many of the earliest Religious were solitaries). One still has the vocation to a vowed life - but cannot be a member of the Institute which does not accept one.

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Nunsuch
13 hours ago, Dogtag said:

 

 

Whoever made up this rule? Vocation directors, abbots, houses of formation etc. are fallible and often make mistakes. They do not have the ability to infallibly discern if God is truly calling someone else to a vocation. What they can do is see if a candidate makes sense to them. True discernment, particularly when it comes to others, takes a lot of wisdom and patience and frankly many vocations people don't have enough to do the job. There are lots of situations I am aware of where bad vocations people have run good candidates away. The notion that somehow they have the ability to make a final say and whatever they say reflects the will of God is merely a fiction they made up to justify their authority.

The Church "made up this rule." Of course all humans are fallible--including those who think they have a vocation. But what they do have, more than the seeker, is experience and (one would hope) training in discernment. 

If you think this is a "fiction," then I'm afraid you are contradicting the teaching of the Church. 

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Dogtag
13 minutes ago, Nunsuch said:

The Church "made up this rule." Of course all humans are fallible--including those who think they have a vocation. But what they do have, more than the seeker, is experience and (one would hope) training in discernment. 

If you think this is a "fiction," then I'm afraid you are contradicting the teaching of the Church. 

Where has the Church formally declared that vocation directors, bishops, abbots etc. are incapable of making a mistake when it comes to discerning someone's vocation? If the claim is that an individual on their own cannot declare with certainty what their vocation is then I would concur. But to say that the institution is always right in this matter is completely warranted.

 

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gloriana35

I've known hundreds of priests and religious - many very gifted, dedicated people. I would say that the rarest of gifts is that of discernment (in everything, not only vocations.) If someone were rejected by a community, and had everyone saying that meant it wasn't God's will for her to be a religious (so she must not try again) , I'd greatly disagree - she just was not what that community wanted. 

I have known vocation directors, and novice mistresses, who certainly had no special gift for discernment, even if they were gifted in other areas. 

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Luigi

1. A candidate can feel very strongly that s/he has a vocation. Feelings come; feelings go; feelings are not a firm basis for making a vocational decision.

2. A candidate may have a strong conviction that s/he has a vocation to a particular way of life. I'm sure the vocation director would like to have the same strong conviction. Perhaps the candidate could provide evidence of God's call to the vocation director. 

3. Religious life is based on the vow of obedience. If a candidate, even before entering a congregation, thinks s/he is right and the vocation director is wrong, it does not bode well for the candidate's ability to live the vow of obedience. 

4. Congregations will have to deal with any future repercussions if the vocation director (and admissions board) choose unwisely. We're seeing a lot of that these days - people we thought were good priests/religious but who in fact are costing their diocese/congregations gazillions of dollars in legal expenses and settlements. I wouldn't blame a congregation for being overly cautious. 

5. The decision to allow a candidate to enter or not is seldom the sole responsibility of one person. There's a vocation director, but often an admissions board; then there's a master of novices or a formation director; in the case of a monastery, the whole community has a voice in whether a candidate is allowed to apply for the next step in the process.

6. Final vows or ordination is the end of a long process. The candidate has the right to leave at any point in the process, and the congregation or diocese or monastery has the right to ask the candidate to leave at any point in the process. It's just like any relationship - either party can call it off at any point. 

7. Most order are - at least in the US, at least these days - are pretty desperate for vocations. If they decline to admit a candidate, there must be a pretty good reason for it. They may or may not tell the candidate what that reason is. I don't know about that.

8. Being declined by a congregation could be a blessing. Many are small and numbers are declining; some have bad reputations to repair; there could be financial problems (again, based on legal expenses and settlements); there could be any number of problems in any particular organization. It could be that God is protecting the applicant from all that mess by inspiring the vocations personnel to decline the applicant. One never knows, do one? 

My point is, it's much more complicated than making up a rule. 

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Nunsuch

Luigi is absolutely right. The only point where I might differ slightly is on the "desperation" for candidates matter. While certainly all communities would like more members, they definitely want the right members. By that I mean those who belong (and this means a lot of different things) in the conregation. In fact, most communities I know of have made their admission criteria more rigorous, rather than less, in this day and age. 

For example, the community with which I am an Associate will not admit persons without a college degree, and the expectation is that every candidate will complete a Masters degree in theoloy or spirituality before final vows. There are rigorous psychological screenings, as well as a pretty extensive pre-admission discernment process. I'm not sure this is all that unusual today, at least in the US, though the Masters may be. (However, most sisters I know have at least that degree, and quite a lot have more, though not necessarily in theology.) 

21 hours ago, Dogtag said:

Where has the Church formally declared that vocation directors, bishops, abbots etc. are incapable of making a mistake when it comes to discerning someone's vocation? If the claim is that an individual on their own cannot declare with certainty what their vocation is then I would concur. But to say that the institution is always right in this matter is completely warranted.

 

I never said this. I said that a vocation is not determined by the candidate, but must be confirmed by the congregation or diocese. Of course people can make mistakes--and I acknowledged this. But that doesn't mean that the only, or even primary, right to determine the reality of a vocation lies with the candidate. Would anyone really expect a community to have no say in who might be admitted? 

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Lilllabettt

I think the teaching of the Church is that a vocation can't be objectively CERTAIN until it has been confirmed by the Church.

Vocation directors are in a position to confirm whether or not a candidate has a calling to their particular community/way of life. (Much as a woman is in a position to confirm whether a man has a calling to be her husband.)

It would be the height of arrogance for a VD to decline a candidate and think that this constitutes a global, objective determination of the state of life to which that candidate is called. Of course an experienced VD is skilled at guiding discernment and may have a hunch as to what the candidate's vocation is ... but a hunch is a hunch. 

As was discussed recently here on vocation station ... there are different theologies of vocation, and one such theology posits that basically everyone has a calling to consecrated life. But some may be unable or unwilling to live it due to circumstances. 

 

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Dymphna

I have this idea that we need to make a distinction here: A religious community has the task to discern whether someone is suitable for life in that community. Hopefully, most of the time they will make the right decision, sometimes they may get it wrong. Likewise, someone interested in religious life has the task to discern whether they can live well in a particular community, and again, they may get this right or wrong.

The question of vocation, as I understand it, is an independent one. As OneHeart wrote in her great post, a vocation is what we are meant to be by God, what we are created for. And then life happens, and all sorts of things can go wrong, and we get wounded and the people in the community we'd like to join may be wounded too. In the end, this may mean that someone has a vocation to religious life, but really cannot live in a concrete community - because of their own wounds, and because of the wounds of the community members. Again, OneHeart wrote about this more beautifully than I can.

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Lea

@Dymphna given that you are in the germanspeaking area: have you ever heard about the Freiwilliges Ordensjahr? It could be an option for you to live convent life at least for some month. I also know at least two communities which allowed their affiliate/ lay oblates to move in with them or live next door and share the community prayer and meals on a regular basis. 

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Anastasia

The active discussion of this topic seems to stop months ago but I have just read all and have some thoughts.

I have a suspicion that the desire to be confirmed or recognized in one’s vocation, may have something to do with anxiety and insecurity – apart from other reasons. (I hope no one will take an offence in my words, I speak about myself as well). It is something to do with the desire to be affirmed, accepted and belonged. There is nothing wrong with it of course, it is a human nature.

Yet it seems to me that centuries ago things were simpler and more about being than being recognized. Over last hundred years there have appeared more and more detailed descriptions of various charisms of the orders/organizations etc. I remember how years ago I was anxiously reading about “Carmelite charism” – ten, twenty, hundred descriptions from the websites feeling that I must fit into all that. Looking back, I can see it was probably unnecessary, especially since Carmel was approved for me as a way (in a form possible for an Orthodox) by a very wise Jesuit priest. Somehow, I was so anxious that I completely forgot the fact that St John of the Cross was going to join… I forgot which order, also contemplative when St Teresa of Avila convinced him to help her in her reform as a Carmelite friar. I think here is a very important lesson: St John wanted God and he could obtain Him in both places, with both “charisms”. Likewise, St Catherine of Siena did not think about “the Dominican charism” as far as I know but joined its Third Order out practical consideration and a strong feeling that God wanted her to remain in the world. Being a young woman who vowed to remain a virgin she need some formal protection. Now she is a Dominican Saint.

I feel there is something very important in those examples: first a person feels what God wants from her, something quite concrete, then she finds a place, a form, a cover to answer God so to speak and not trying anxiously fit into descriptions and boxes… I think when there is such a sense God provides and leads.

As for “not being able to live a vocation”. I still believe it is about being. St Gemma Galgani was refused by all monasteries in her area but one; in that one she was not interested because, to her mind, they were “too relaxed” and she wanted austerity. What one would say about that situation? Who was right? She was living as God wanted her to live, I mean her inner life.

I understand that this is Catholic forum but I still would like to provide a different approach. In the Orthodox Church there are no different monastic Orders with different charisms. All are contemplatives, technically speaking. If a person wants to become a nun, she joins a monastery as “a worker” meaning she works various tasks, prays, etc, lives there. It can go on for weeks, months, years. Eventually she may become a novice and later – a clothed nun. That is all. Yet, some women who b.o. their health simply chose (in a recent past) to live a strict secluded life at home. We not have a concept of “vows”, a person simply lives chaste. In the past during the Soviet regime we would have so-called “secret nuns” – nuns who were such but lived in the world and no one knew, for an obvious reason. Some lived together in some houses but many were on their own. Did they have a monastic vocation? Yes, but without normal monastic settings.

In the Tradition of the Church before the Schism there are stories of famous Saints, monastics, hermits who were told that in the nearest city there are lay people whose lives are higher than their. We also have a saying that "the habit does not make a nun; in the end many nuns will be seen as not while others who were not will be seen as such".

What I am saying is that it seems to me everything is much simpler. My firm conclusion is that it is possible to live own vocation no matter what because vocation is simply how a person is called to relate to God. It is something that always brings fruit.

Finally, a life in Christian community is very valuable and not just for those wish to enter a monastery. I would like to have such a circle but alas.

(It is long but really felt like sharing my thoughts. I think two Churches have much to learn from each other.)

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Dymphna
21 hours ago, Lea said:

@Dymphna given that you are in the germanspeaking area: have you ever heard about the Freiwilliges Ordensjahr? It could be an option for you to live convent life at least for some month. I also know at least two communities which allowed their affiliate/ lay oblates to move in with them or live next door and share the community prayer and meals on a regular basis. 

Yes, I know the "freiwilliges Ordensjahr" (it's an opportunity to share the life of a religious community for up to a year) and it is an option for me. The thing is - I have lived in/with religious communities for about 6 months each two times in my life already. That was good, but it's something different from living a vocation - and I can't go from one community to the next, living with them for a year each :-)

But the communities you mention sound interesting, if one of them is apostolic I'd be glad if you could tell me about them (PM?)

@Anastasia, thank you for your post, I need to think about it a bit longer!

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Dymphna

@Anastasia, thank you for your orothodox perspective! For me, too, the wish to live in community has to do with a longing for people where I belong and am accepted. That is a fact I have to keep an eye on - I talked about this with my spiritual guide many times, because at times it made me feel that my vocation cannot be in an religious order, because I have such a bland, psychological motivation. But the thing is - this is not my only motive, nor is it my biggest. It is human, yes, but basically everybody enters religious life with a mixed bag of motives, from very good ones to human ones, even a negative motive may play a role. It's important that one knows their own reasons and can talk about them with trusted persons, and that the human ones are not the strongest motivators - but they can exist.

I loved your description about how a vocation to be a nun can be lived under any circumstances - even in an oppressive regime and in secret. And I'm wondering if "active communities", eg. apostolic women, what I consider my vocation, exist at all in the orthodox church? I did give life in a monastic community a try, but I clearly don't have a monastic vocation (though I love the singing). I believe that I am meant to be a member of an apostolic community. Of course I can do apostolic work on my own, I am doing that already. But I noticed many times that I really grow into a better person when I can live and work in community with others - they inspire me, they challenge me, they make me a better version of myself! That, I think, cannot be replaced and it means that I will not be able to live my talents as much as I could within a community. 

So, while our basic vocation to seek God can be lived under any circumstances, the concrete vocation to live life fully, to grow into our best, depends on circumstances. And as I wrote before, that these circumstances are not given is by no means unusual, it's just not easy to live with.

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