The obligation of discernment



Lately I’ve come to terms with the fact that I must remain a confirmed bachelor. In retrospect, it’s something that, had I a little more self-knowledge, I should have recognized ten years ago. It surely would have spared me a lot of grief and conflict. My personality, temperament, life story, interests, and values all seem to mark me off as such, and ever since I consciously understood that, my mind has been much more at ease.

Coming to this understanding, though, opens a new series of questions, and brings into relief much that has been at the back of my mind for most of my adult life. (I’m in my mid-30s, by the way.)

I should like to ask if every sincere Catholic whose celibacy becomes fairly secure to him has the obligation and then the responsibility to discern the religious life and/or priesthood. As 98% of those who would be suitable candidates marry, that leaves a rather small pool from which those who’d embrace these saintliest and most perfect of lives can be chosen. Thus, anyone having any belief whatsoever that they might be a suitable candidate ought to consider this.

However, in some of my other conversations, many have reacted to this idea with hostility, insisting that some sort of supernatural confirmation above and beyond the three criteria laid out by St Pius X–right intention, physical and mental fitness, and acceptance by a lawful superior–is necessary. I always respond that inclination is but necessary for someone to make an inquiry, for bishops and superiors won’t come knocking at one’s door, and the ultimate decision is in that bishop’s or superior’s hands. Then, if it is judged that the aspirant may have a vocation for that life, it is the aspirant’s responsibility then to accept or decline.

So few, however, even bother with the inquiry–perhaps largely due to the natural fear of celibacy. One who needn’t worry about this, thus, must be doubly obliged to present himself for judgment as to his vocation–starting with that most perfect state of life, religious life, and if failing there, to the secular priesthood. I’m certainly not rigorist enough to consider it sin if one does not, but I do find myself in agreement with St Aloysius that one who passes on the call, as many do, will the grace to bear his daily crosses somewhat wanting, and might even hazard his soul.

I know my views here are quite traditional, and tend to run at countercurrents to a lot of pop pastoral psychology. Nonetheless, they seem quite well-supported in our Church’s traditions and in the doctrine promoted through her magisterium.

I likely shall be mailing my letters of inquiry to superiors of those institutes of which I’m most fond this week. However, I’d ask whether it would make sense to speak about this in terms of duty or obligation.


No, you’re not obligated.


hi, in regards to your posts-last question; with all due respect: ‘ooh um?’-i don’ know about that…let me provide a counter point to help you write that letter…(self discover is a good thing though) Well think about it first, that prayer is a guiding force in your life, later , as you meet face to face to talk about your interest in a religious order,

let me offer reasons to improve the message of an introductory letter, or increase the chances for success in that first face to face meeting, So reconsider -“I am here by obligation.” is not the best phrase to communicate to enter a monastery-(although-it may be an initial vocational discernment process, or it may be a personal belief to do the will of God)/ But for the best communication, i add some ideas in the following, that require asking for gifts, or realizing the gifts you have, or a reminder to ask the Holy Spirit for gifts…

i don’t know what the application process is exactly. Sometimes there is a web site, or two decades ago-a printed phamplet /.many years ago-i read a vocational pamplet from the franciscian monastery in cincinnatti ohio/ they have missions in eastern kentucky-as matter of fact-considering the total of all the masses that i have ever been-i have never met or witnessed so much joy as the missionary franciscian priest had…

well the franscian phamplet suggested that… in the vocational dsicernment process-any applicant ‘should’ have ability to get married or join their monastery…

to me-that was a dilemma (or confusing) …this was not the first time -to meet a road block/so in my discernment-there seemed to be always some ‘catch.’

…as you make an effort to prepare (letter or meeting)…to inquire to someone about a vocation…
“so you know?” getting the words correct either in an introductory letter or interview process -…seems important to you , right?
they will probably be asking questions that get an idea of… to what degree… you would make a brother to them…of course, as you think about it-that could mean ability to show a brotherly love for people (as there are many types of love)…
Hope this helps, when i suggest there is a rational approach and/or a joyful approach to vocation…

so consider joy…how it involves your approach to a religious order or priesthood…how it infuses into your life of prayer, how it is a natural expression when the source is prayer…if not, give it time-that gifts of the Holy Spirit become an action with in you…as the spiritual gift yields a spontaneity
as humility and joy


Hello, David. Certainly in the letters, a sense of obligation will not be a primary consideration. I work as a tutor, and my experience in that tells me that those students who say to me, “I am here because I am obliged to be here,” generally get the least out of my work.

Indeed, I even doubt that a broader personal narrative, an Apologia Pro Mea Vita, is needed in an initial letter, or even savoury. Long letters from unknown persons often go unread. My external circumstances are likely unimportant to them, at least at this time; they’ll all come out later through interviews and the like. So your suggestions are very valid.

I was asking this question, though, not so much in regards to any specific introductory letter, but just speaking generally. The perfections of heaven are our ultimate destiny; therefore, are we not obliged, so long as we have no canonical impediments or secular attachments and it can be believed reasonably that we are appropriate candidates, to present ourselves as aspirants for those states of life that are by their very design more perfect and holier before we consider anything else, and to come to our decisions based upon the judgments of superiors and spiritual directors? Is it not our duty to prioritize the sacred above and beyond the secular?

I know this flies in the face of a lot of conventional thinking and is certainly radical in its submission to the divine order as ecclesiastically revealed, but, as I noted, it seems to have a very strong tradition behind it. We all seem to presume that we are intended to remain in the secular state unless there is a very particular calling that we are to leave it, but, if we are quite sincere in our faith, should we not presume the opposite? Should not secularity have the burden of proof?


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