Priorities in discernment



I’m in a position where I’m advising several catechumens regarding their choice of a state of life. In this I’m foregoing a lot of the pop pastoral psychology floating around out there (which I’ve often found to be of dubious merit) and instead going right to the statements of the Holy See and of the better spiritual writers, like St. Francis de Sales and St. Alphonsus Liguori. No doubt, I’m also drawing on my own experience of this process as well.

In this I’m showing a strong preferment to religious life as objectively (if not subjectively) the highest and most pleasing sort of life in this world, the closest we can come on earth to our intended life in heaven. Any who lack impediments and wish to become more perfectly united to God ought (nay, have a grave responsibility) to consider that.

If that is not possible, I’m counseling the young men to consider the secular priesthood. I strongly part from the status quo on this in that I’m following several documents from the time of St. Pius X in stressing that any physically able, moral, and sufficiently intelligent young man with a proper intention can be an aspirant to the priesthood. No inner illumination or supernatural prompting or anything of that sort ought to be required. Fitness of nature and grace and an intention to glorify God, to save souls, and in doing so to secure one’s own salvation are all that are necessary.

I find myself somewhat concerned as it seems that we lose many good ecclesiastical vocations due to want in the generosity of spirit that would have one joyfully accept his divine destiny. Thus, I stress St Alphonsus’s strong warning that depriving ourselves of the many graces and spiritual advantages offered by the objectively higher states of life, if we are capable of undertaking them, can but make our final salvation more difficult and our road to heaven thornier.

To your mind, it this a wise way to undertake this?


I once talked with a Dominican brother about this. He said that his vocation consisted essentially in what you described. I have found it to be the same for me as well. It is also the advice that I have heard from a number of religious superiors. He recommended to me a book which only furthers the kind of points that you are making. You may find it useful.

Religious Vocation: An Unnecessary Mystery , by Fr. Richard Butler, O.P.

Here is a summary of the book.

According to the tradition of the Catholic Church, religious vocation is not something uncommon, strange or extraordinary, nor does it require an introspective search for some special voice or attraction within oneself, but is simply a firm readiness to serve God in the religious life, supposing that there are no insuperable obstacles, and thus that one is capable of living such a life: “Religious vocation is a divine invitation, extended to all by Jesus Christ, to the practice of the evangelical counsels in the religious state, to which a capable subject, under the impetus of grace, responds through generous devotion.”


I think your point can also be stressed with more contemporary writings as well, as a poster above has described.

Here’s another one for you to possibly look at:

As an aside - It says it was written by “A Vincentian Father” in 1897. As to who the real author is, I doubt there’s anyone alive in the Vincentians today who would know. The text is certainly not mentioned in “The History of the Vincentians in the United States”. They did have a priest who was over 100 years old, but he recently passed unfortunately…


Steymard, Lamentation, thank you both for the recommendations. I had been aware of the work of the anonymous Vincentian before (though I had never seen it), but the work by Fr Butler is new to me. Needless to say, I’ll be looking at both quite closely.

It’s a pity that such sage and prudent advice was lacking when I was a younger man. This is yet another reason that I find myself more grateful daily that the rather adolescent preening about the “spirit of Vatican II” is becoming less and less as the years pass.

My best hope would be, after finishing my obligation of counseling my charges, that a traditionally-oriented order or bishop would not see me as over the hill. The way the world is going now, I can only imagine that there will be many perfectly capable older men and women knocking at the monastery or seminary doors before long.


Required for any vocation, first and foremost is a calling, or as Butler, puts it, a “divine invitation”. I think though that it is easy to perhaps overemphasise this to the point of almost making it something similar to St Paul’s Damascus experience! A calling is something which needs to be discerned through prayer and guidance and I think that enabling this to happen is what is really important. Certainly every young person who is not otherwise unsuited should be encouraged to consider the priesthood or religious life. Some will of course not be called but a general lack of responsiveness should not (as all too often happens) be taken to mean that there are “no vocations”. God calls people and it is up to the Church (that is, the people of God) to enable and assist those who are called to respond. It’s important to remember that responding to (and indeed, even understanding a calling) is, for many people, far from an easy task.

I’m also uncomfortable about labelling priesthood / religious life a “higher calling”. Putting aside questions a clericalism (itself an over-used term) I think it also risks creating unrealistic expectations for and ideas of priests, religious and their respective lives. A common feeling amongst many who are called to priesthood and religious life is a feeling of unworthiness and describing their calling as " the highest and most pleasing sort of life in this world" is not exactly going to lessen such feelings. It also risks downplaying the struggles and hardships associated with such a life as well as making priests and religious out to be something other than normal human beings.

Having said all that, it is really encouraging to hear of people like bardegaulois engaging in the promotion of priesthood and religious life. Sadly this is something which doesn’t happen nearly as much as it should.


Perhaps I differ from you in that I presume every faithful Catholic person capable of undertaking the religious life to have that call, for, as I initially noted, it is as close as we can get here for what we are destined for in heaven. So I present the issue of vocation with the counsel that continuing in the lay life, rather than entering the religious and/or clerical state, should have the burden of proof, not vice versa. As one of the criteria for an ecclesiastical vocation is the acceptance by a superior, a rejection or dismissal by a superior will serve to make the vocation obvious (for women; men should then consider the secular priesthood). Moreover, if one has spent any time in a novitiate or seminary, he can bur be a more faithful Catholic in the lay state because of that.

However, your second paragraph confuses me somewhat. Any state of life should be embraced with a profound sense of unworthiness and humility; this I’m not arguing. Nor should any have any expectations of instant sanctity merely due to religious vows or Holy Orders. I’m merely stating that the life of religion has been considered by the Church for as long as I can remember the highest state possible in this life, followed by the secular priesthood. This is not to say that a religious is necessarily holier than a secular priest, or that a secular priest is holier than a layman. Anyone can fail in their duties through their own fault and thus not live up to the heights of their calling, and great holiness can be achieved by all in whatever state of life. However, the convent is ordered for its purpose to a sanctity greater than that for which the world is ordered: thus, a higher state. If that clarifies at all.


The clarification is much appreciated. There is still in my mind at least a tension (a necessary one perhaps) between the nature of those called and the nature of their calling, ordinary people called to an extraordinary life. therein lies the struggle and of course the need for God’s help (not to mention a good prayer life!)


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit