An Unnecessary Mystery

I’ve just read Religious Vocation: An Unnecessary Mystery by Fr. Richard Butler, O.P. It’s a brief, perspicuous book, written from a Thomistic perspective, which address the question how can one be sure he or she has a religious vocation?

Has anyone else read this (I highly recommend it!)? What do you think of it?

No…I have not read it, but based on A Cistercian Abbot Monk’s (Cistercian website) comments…I like what he says…and he strongly agrees and supports Father Butler’s Thomistic teaching and understanding about Vocations to Religious Life…I am going to purchase it for a young man in my parish who is in college and trying to discern if he has a vocation.

Here below…two excerpts from Abbot Joseph’s intro comments…before he and fellow monks/priests do a review of the parts of the book that the abbot thought were very important…it is a very insightful and unique approach the way the Cistercian website discusses this book…the website link is at bottom.

Pax Christi

[INDENT]

Abbot Oscar Joseph says:

Greetings dear aspirants to the life of perfection:
I read this book out of frustration. For years I have helped men and woman overcome their hesitancy to enter into religious life. Traveling this journey with them was exhausting and often fraught with pointless rabbit trails. I was constantly asking myself, “why all the fuss?”

For me, being a monk is a logically practical application of the call that Christ has given to us all, “come follow me.” There was no mystery to overcome or the necessity of a divine call specifically given and hand delivered by Gabriel himself. The call to perfection has been given to every Christian

]Fr. Richard Butler, O.P

., quotes many of the church fathers. Guess what? They say what I have been saying all along.** The call is for everyone. We are supposed to do this. No special telegram from on High is needed. WOW!!!** When I read Religious Vocation: An Unnecessary Mystery I underlined and marked various sections that seemed important to me and perhaps to you also. These sections you will find below.
Our Cistercian commentators will further discuss the marked red words in the text. These are my markings.

I truly hope that this discussion will help you follow the invitation that has already been given to you.
Blessings[/INDENT]

cistercianmonks.org/Documents/visitor%20section/Religious%20Vocation.pdf

Man I’m glad I stumbled onto this thread. I read through the pamphlet just now and it helped me tremendously. I’ve been stuck at the “Please give me a sign God!” stage for a long time and this little writing makes perfect sense. I add my voice to the other two here and recommend everyone take 30 minutes or so to read this! :thumbsup:

Link to the pamphlet, please. :slight_smile:

Thanks for posting! :slight_smile: The only question is: if so, would the ideal state in life be for ALL of us to be religious? This is the only problem that I have with the conception of the religious vocation. It seems that not having children would cause human life on Earth to end. Is this how God would prefer that the world ended?

While our Baptism calls us to The Gospel and holiness, to perfection, not all are called to “the state of perfection” (religious life per se).

It is generally agreed usually that there are three basic signs of vocation:

[LIST]
*]Attraction to the life with right intention
*]Ability or qualities necessary to live the life
*]Acceptance into the life
[/LIST](see pathsoflove.com/church-on-vocation.html This reputable Catholic site - see About - quotes saints and popes on the subject as well as
saints/theologians).

Does God call all to perfection - Yes. But, again, He does not call all to “the state of perfection”, which is religious life per se. Is it possible to attain holiness and perfection in the other states of life? Yes, the list of our saints attest to this and in all walks of life or lifestyles, vocations. It is possible to live out poverty, chastity and obedience outside of religious life. Even within religious life, the terms of these three vows can vary at least where poverty and obedience are concerned and the constitutions of the community or religious order etc. spell out the terms.

I would be gratefu alsol for links to what Oscar Abbot Joseph and Fr Richar Butler OP (quoting Church Fathers) had to say (previous post by Lancer) to be able to read the whole context of their thought.

Vocation in life is an invitation from God, not a Divine Command. It is as if God is saying “If you take up My Invitation and follow this path, I will be with you all the way. If you choose another path, I will also be with you all the way”. Be this as it may an invitation from God is something pretty special I would think and well worth all effort to discern what His Invitation might be. Jesus was very sad at the lack of gratitude when He cured the ten lepers - and only one returned to Him in gratitude.

Fr. Butler’s thinking goes something like this. The evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity, obedience) are a universal invitation and the surest means to the end of Christian perfection. Vowing to follow the evangelical councils (whether or not one does so as part of a religious community) is an external act of religion (see ST II-II.88), i.e., it pays due honor to God. Fr. Butler doesn’t like the word “vocation” because this day and age it connotes the idea that God has somehow delivered a special message to you regarding what, precisely, He wants from you. Rather, Christ’s words in Scripture may be read as coming directly from the mouth of Christ: “he who is able to receive this, let him receive it” (Matthew 19:12). Fr. Butler goes on to discuss fitness for making these vows and for living in a religious community, and he also stresses the Thomistic idea that man has to cooperate with God’s grace.

The general sense of the book is that those who sincerely desire to sacrifice in this way for God, who have the right intention, and who sincerely ask for His grace, are not refused. It would be better for their souls if they became religious. Marriage should equally be regarded as a “vocation” that must be discerned, and yet too many people default to marriage, thinking that unless they receive a special sign to religious life, they have the “vocation” to marry.

The evangelical counsels could and should be lived out in any way of life including marriage. Poverty does not have to mean a lack of what is necessary in raising a family - it does ask a detachment from the material goods of this world and this does not mean an absence of such goods. It does ask a working understanding of the theology of Divine Providence which The Catholic Catechism mentions and underscores without using the term “Divine Providence”. Obedience in marriage (or any other non religious life way of life) means obedience to The Gospels and The Church and Her Teachings including the Precepts of The Church. Some lay people may undertake to vow or promise obedience to a spiritual director, although this is not as often done as it was in the past. A director today may be unwilling to accept such a vow or promise. Those who are married are called to conjugal chastity, not celibate chastity.

Not all are called to religious life. There may be an absence of attraction and ability or qualities necessary for the life. As the article I posted states, the three qualities of attraction, ability and acceptance are not legal requirements - they are the actual vocation.

I can well understand Fr. Butler’s problem with the word “vocation” - and at times the language we use as Catholics can tend to reinforce misunderstandings. For example, the term “mortal sin” is quite often stated when the rightful term is “grave matter”. This is a problem of lack of understanding what The Church actually teaches and points to the necessity to evangelize those called to evangelize, which is all the baptized. To ensure that we do understand what it is that The Church teaches.

I attended a meeting years ago and a particular word was being regularly used. When I questioned the definition of the word and we each wrote down our defintion, we found that there were multiple understandings and definitions of what the word meant. This meant that to that point in the meeting we really had no idea of what some others were saying, we only thought we understood.

If one has an attraction to religious life, then this MIGHT mean one could have a vocation to that life. If a person has an attraction and the qualities and abilities for the life, then it is a POSSIBILITY the person has a religious vocation. If one has an attraction and ability or qualities AND one is accepted for postulancy into a religious order, then the person MAY WELL have a religious vocation. Postulancy is then followed by the noviciate and then temporary vows before final vows. These are years of discerning both by the person and the community. At perpetual or life vows/final profession it can be said that the person HAS a religious vocation.

An initial attraction to religious life may fade in the day to day realities of community life and attendant challenges etc. And at acceptance into a community, it may seem to the person as well as leadership that the person indeed has the necessary abilities or qualities to lead the life - it may prove that this is not so as life within the community unfolds in the day to day.

Nowadays, things are not as they were pre V2 when religious life was a great mystery to those who entered. Nowadays, religious life is very transparent and we are much more aware of what its all about including horariums and even videos of the inside of a monastery or community. This may include the opportunity often to have a ‘live-in’ with one or more communities. This does give a potential candidate an ‘inside view’ of the life and/or a particular community - after which there are still several years of discerning by both the candidate and the community as the person actually lives the life within the community.
Also, I dont think nowadays there is always that tremendous sense of failure, sometimes even disgrace, that could exist in the past pre V2 if one entered and then later decided to leave. It is more accepted if one leaves than it once was, although it may be very painful indeed if one is asked to leave and under such circumstances there might be a sense of failure. Personally, I think leadership has a very real moral obligation towards a person who is asked to leave, since it was a decision by leadership to accept them in the first place.

Just two points.

You’re right to say that everyone is called to give up worldly possessions, practice chastity, and be obedient (e.g., to one’s spouse). These are, of course, spectrum concepts: one can give up more or fewer possessions, one can be so chaste and so obedient. But the evangelical counsels represent specific vows which are the means to the end of that spectrum of perfection: total poverty, no sexual indulgence of any kind (ideally virginity), and total obedience to one’s superior. These vows need not be made in the context of a religious community; Fr. Butler writes that in the first few centuries Christians simply made these vows and began living in proximity and giving everything they owned to each other.

Second, Fr. Butler makes the point that acceptance into a religious community is not a guarantee that one has a “vocation” to the religious life (indeed, this is proved by those former religious who have left their communities). Again, he stresses the important of a right intention, which it is partially the task of the vocations director to discern in the aspirant.

In my discernment the mystery was not “am I being called to a religious vocation” it was where “am I being called to live out this religious vocation”.

Was I being called to be a secular deacon?
Was I being called to be a secular priest?
Was I being called to be a byzantine franciscan priest?
Was I being called to be a yorkton redemptorist priest?
Was I being called to be a priest with the fathers of mercy?

and so on.

I finely found that I was being called to be a Carmelite. It was not until years of formation that I separated the call to the priesthood from the call to the religious life. Though I still feel a call to both.

Quoting Alterum:

You’re right to say that everyone is called to give up worldly possessions, practice chastity, and be obedient (e.g., to one’s spouse). These are, of course, spectrum concepts: one can give up more or fewer possessions, one can be so chaste and so obedient. But the evangelical counsels represent specific vows which are the means to the end of that spectrum of perfection: total poverty, no sexual indulgence of any kind (ideally virginity), and total obedience to one’s superior. These vows need not be made in the context of a religious community; Fr. Butler writes that in the first few centuries Christians simply made these vows and began living in proximity and giving everything they owned to each other.

I would not challenge the above at all if your comments might be directed to me:o. In my posts, I am hoping I made it clear that we are all called to perfection and this means the way of poverty, chastity and obedience - of kind. The religious life is “the state of perfection” and radical poverty, chastity and obedience. Some non religious lay people may live a more radical type of poverty, chastity and obedience, including celibate chastity, than some in religious life. Many of our saints who attained holiness were not religious, while probably many more were. Just as many non religious have been canonized and lived more holy lives than some religious. This does attest that it is not an ABSOLUTE that one MUST be a religious to attain holiness and a level of perfection of Charity. The Grace of The Lord to outstanding holiness is not confined to religious life.

The evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience are not ends in themselves, but a sure means to perfection of Charity.

Again, I did mean to make it very clear indeed that acceptance into a community is simply an indication that one MAY WELL have a vocation, but what follows are years of discernment within the community and both a discernment process and journey by the community and the candidate until the candidate makes final profession, when it can be said that the person ACTUALLY HAS a religious vocation. It is final vows that is the actual indicator of vocation to religious life.

Second, Fr. Butler makes the point that acceptance into a religious community is not a guarantee that one has a “vocation” to the religious life (indeed, this is proved by those former religious who have left their communities). Again, he stresses the important of a right intention, which it is partially the task of the vocations director to discern in the aspirant.

Again, I am hoping that I made it clear in my posts that acceptance into a religious community “is not a guarantee that one has a “vocation” to religious life”.

I have two questions :
Some do leave religious life even after final profession. I wonder if this is an indication that God may not call a person to religious life for their entire life span? Or is the person unfaithful to a religious life vocation?

Yes.

Thank you, Brother.

Is the “Yes” : that God does sometimes call a person to religious only for a limited period i.e. the person leaves after final profession.

Or is the “Yes” : that the person is unfaithful to a religious vocation.

I know at least one person that left after final profession and she feels that she was only called to religious life for a limited time. Of course, this is just how she feels and not the theological understanding of The Church. It is the theological understanding of The Church that I would like to understand if possible.

IMHO the Yes is to both.

That is both of them are possible.

After we make our final vows or promises discernment does not stop. There is a process whereby a person can leave the religious life or stop acting as an ordained minister and continue to be a good and faithful Catholic though restrictions may be placed on any sort of ministerial/teaching functions that such a person may have.

I don’t know if there is a doctrinal teaching on this, but I will tell you what Fr. Butler says, and then what seems right to me.

Fr. Butler addresses a whole chapter to the “lost vocation”. He examines three (I think) accounts by apparently devout religious who after many years abandoned their orders, and he tries to demonstrate that by their own records, they did not enter religious life with the right intention. One grew continually more lax in prayer over a period of something like twenty years until he stopped praying and finally stopped having faith altogether – that is clearly a moral failing of someone who may indeed have been called to the religious life.

For my part, I think the suggestion that a religious “vocation” is a perpetual discernment even after final vows is inaccurate. Someone leading a holy life who, with the right intention, makes these vows, can and should keep them: he is, with all people, invited to live the evangelical counsels, he has the ability to do so, and he commits himself to it. If he could never be sure that he had a “vocation,” there would be no point in making final vows (as there would be no point in making marriage vows if marriage were a perpetual discernment). How can one be a religious while lacking the certitude that he is a religious? Moreover, God will not refuse a sincere soul the grace to keep these vows. But just as nuptial vows are broken, the vows of religious can be broken (contrary to marriage, however, they can also be licitly lifted). But I’d be strongly tempted to say that anyone who has left the religious life did not avail himself of the graces offered by God.

This is inaccurate. Discernment is a life long process whether you are in religious life or outside of it.

Religious are known for working in various ministries throughout their lives, how else do they determine where they are being called to minister/serve?

I think I will go with what I am being taught rather than the posts on an anonymous internet forum.

Hey, I don’t disagree with that. I’m asserting that discernment of a religious vocation is not a lifelong process. That’s the “technical” discernment we’ve been discussing. The kind of discernment you’re referring to above is simply the use of prudential judgment in determining what one ought to be doing to serve God.

I tend not to think that The Church would never dispense a person from their perpetual religious vows if it was clearly wrongful to do so. If it was wrongful to dispense, then I think The Church would state that they may leave religious life but are not dispensed from their vows.
All of us and without exceptions probably are unfaithful to Graces offered by God - not only religious who have left religious life after peretual vows. At Judgement the most of us will be direly in need of God’s Loving Mercy, His Infinite Insight, Understanding and Compassion. Not only this, but it is a complete mystery why one person perseveres despite many difficulties, and another person does not persevere. I personally think it harsh and judgemental to state that one has responded to Grace while the other with an equal amount of difficulties (if indeed such can be measured) has not responded.

On this subject, the other point that occurs to me that as an outsidet of religious life, it is easy to make sweeping generalizations for those actually living the life. Just as I think it wrongful and destructive to pass any sort of judgement on a person or couple who may separate and divorce. Can they marry again? No, not without an annulment. If they should marry without an annulment, then clearly it is morally wrong - but we have no insight at all into their dispositions and associated factors perhaps etc. at the time. God is our Judge and only God.

I think that discernment is an ongoing process for all the baptized for the whole of life. To reflect on their vocation and way of life and to question it - How am I living it? Can I improve and how? etc. etc. I think that these type of quite ordinary everyday type of questions we may ask in the course of an examination of conscience or a retreat could lead to all sorts of other questions and perhaps unexpected and unanticipated questions - perhaps even frightening questions. Life in any vocation or lifestyle can suddenly place us in situations never anticipated.

The other thing that has occured to me is, do we all share the same interpretation when we use the words, e.g. “discernment” and “Grace”. I did go to New Advent and “Grace” (divided into Sanctifying and Actual Grace) and they are very long and quite complex (for me) texts which I did not attempt - hence I did not even think about researching “discernment”.

Thank you again, Brother. Your “Yes” to my two questions is what I suspected after posting.

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