Whether it is mortally sinful to become set in a vocation without absolute certainty of that vocation?


#1

A book from 1897 on “Vocations Explained”, which bears a Nihil Obstat, and also bears an Imprimatur by the then Archbishop of New York, states the following:

Q. What is to be said of those who, having opportunities, give this subject little or no thought?
A. We answer with St. Alphonsus: “In the world this doctrine of vocation is not much considered by some persons. They think that it is all the same whether they live in the state to which God calls them, or in that which they choose of their own inclinations; and therefore so many live bad lives and damn themselves. But it is certain that this is the principal point with regard to the acquisition of eternal life. He who disturbs this order, and breaks this chain of salvation, shall not be saved.
(available at: gutenberg.org/files/31311/31311-h/31311-h.htm) (Emphasis added.)

If one chooses to become set in a vocation/state-of-life (becoming married, or taking Holy Orders, or taking monastic vows) without absolute certainty that one is called to that vocation, does that person commit mortal sin or any sin?

If they become set in a state of life while having conflicting desires or affections for different aspects of different vocations, do they commit mortal sin or any sin?

How much certainty is required of one’s vocation before one can heavily pursue or become set in a state of life?

I have not found any authority contrary to the statement made above, and so am concerned that by improper evaluation of vocation, or by misunderstanding or poor discernment of inclinations or ‘tugs’, heavily pursuing any one state of life to the exclusion of others would be to put myself at risk of mortal sin or some sin. (Confession of which would require contrition for the very choice I would have made to enter a vocation, which would be difficult, to sincerely confess and apologize and be regretful for becoming married, or becoming a priest, or becoming a monk).

(On the other hand, I am almost entirely certain of what state of life I personally want, but apparently (from the quote above) following our own inclinations is problematic.)

Any assistance with these questions, or contrary authority (not merely the quote of a Saint (unless that Saint is a Bishop or Pope), but rather something with at least an Imprimatur) to the quote above would be appreciated!


#2

I believe you are way over-thinking this issue of a vocation.
How are we to be fully confident that we are correct in any decision regarding our future. We decide to go to the shops and the car battery is dead. We decide to become a priest and your superiors decide you are not suitable.
A vocation is a calling; you expect tugs. However a wise man decides over years not months in deciding a religious vocation. Marriage is different and to most, not all, people the single life is the default mode.
I do not see how you can sin, even venially, by being earnest in you discernment.


#3

Intent. Discernment. Those are the keys. Do you intend to act contrary to God’s will for you? Are you trying to discern correctly? Worse come to worse, your discernment is wrong, which happens die to human error, but not necessarily human sin. If/when you seriously believe you have erred, you must do what you can to remedy the situation (get out of the vocation, etc.)

I understand your worries, but that is all they are. There is no magic spell to tell you what you must do (even if there were, it’d be against church teaching- a little joke there. :smiley: ) But don’t let anxiety and doubt stop you from pursuing a seriously possible and inspired path in your life. I don’t see how you could commit a mortal sin (without intent) or go to hell (while pursuing God’s will) on just those grounds.


#4

I think what is actually meant and being discussed by the Saint’s words are the particular instance of a man who is say, called to the Priesthood or the woman who is called to the Religious life and turns their backs on this vocation and refuses God His ability to touch those lives each of these persons would have impacted by that particular persons works in each of the Vocations mentioned. An exaggeration to show the effect could be Mr Dawkins. A very gifted man, an intellectual giant, very talented and making use of those gifts. But perhaps God gave those gifts at his conception to serve him as a Jesuit or a Theatine and he turned his back on God early in his life even after hearing the Call and lived as he wanted, as the renowned Atheist he is. What happened to God’s Will? Is he simply supposed to change it when it comes time to Judge the person who failed to do His will not only for them, but for the people he or she would’ve influenced and perhaps even have saved through their actions? Should God simply forget His People in order to forgive one simple soul who denied Him all of his life? It is the ultimate act of selfishness to think so.

Glenda


#5

P.S. One thing I’ve read somewhere but cannot recall exactly where, perhaps Thomas Merton, but don’t hold me to that, is that those who are Called to Religious life as a Sister, Brother or Priest, notice a tangible and pervading feeling of deep peace once they’ve entered into the place that this will be lived out and have set themselves on the path that God wills for them. They simply KNOW from the inside out that they are living what God wills.

As for the OP, please note, this living of a Vocation isn’t just about the person living it. It is about all those persons who will be served by God through the assent of the will of the person so called. THAT is why the Saint says it is such a damnable sin to deny God His choice of that particular person.

Glenda


#6

May I advise that you speak to your parish priest about this rather than referring to a quote because discernment is also something practical not just theoretical. However, I will be looking at this thread to see if any Bishop or Pope has said it is sinful. I’d like to know.
Is it sinful? I have been wondering the same thing. Look at this way; if Jesus had approached St. Paul and he had said: “well, no, sorry”, it may not be considered sinful but it may be considered selfish. Also, vocation could be compared to responding to one’s environment. If people were under attack and one had a way to help it might be considered charitable to put oneself out for them. A vocation could be thought of in the same terms. It might be uncharitable not to do what it best for the sake of yourself but also for the other, and ultimately, for God. Consider it a duty of service. The greatest love shown is to give oneself for love, to love. And it might not be prudent to live a life that is contrary to your own means of salvation.

I would say that when we do act contrary to God’s will this can delay our vocation because God moves us towards His goal in stages. He prepares us. The best way to discern is to get a spiritual director and be adamant with your priest that you need to find one. This could be considered a sincere way of showing God you are serious. And also visiting Orders. Speaking to priests. Reading books.

[quote=SecretCatholic] If/when you seriously believe you have erred, you must do what you can to remedy the situation (get out of the vocation, etc.)
[/quote]

If you are a teacher or a nurse and you realise you are a monk then this is possible. But a vocation that has included a binding promise is not really something to undo. So if you are a monk and then you realise you should have been married, one should speak to one’s superior - Abbot, or otherwise. If you are married then your duty is to your wife and family. If God calls you when married then that would be something to discuss with your priest.

[quote=SecretCatholic]But don’t let anxiety and doubt stop you from pursuing a seriously possible and inspired path in your life. I don’t see how you could commit a mortal sin (without intent) or go to hell (while pursuing God’s will) on just those grounds.
[/quote]

I agree. I think that a lot more people have vocations to religious life than there are actual vocations. The reason in part could be due to people in the western world being pressured into living a ‘normal’ kind of life - material things and money and wife/husband. But in poorer areas in the world religious vocations are rife!

As one wise and holy man once told me: if you think you have a vocation then maybe this is because you have! :slight_smile:


#7

I think you’re confusing concepts a little bit here, as becoming set in a vocation is the same thing as absolute certainty of that vocation. One does not truly begin living any set vocation until it is finalized at an altar. So, whether you go to a seminary, enter a novitiate, or court a woman, it is still a matter of discernment until that vocation is sealed through the acceptance of another and through orders, vows, or marriage.

So to discern any vocation is of course not a mortal sin, as it increases one’s openness to divine grace, which can correct and redirect one if he is thinking wrongly. Simply trust in divine grace.


#8

It’s important to understand that this book (and indeed St Alphonsus’ quote) was written and needs to be understood in the context of its time. Put simply, things have moved on quite a bit since 1897 in terms of the way in which vocations and discernment are understood - these days we no longer smuggle those leaving the seminary out in the middle of the night! there’s also a recognition that a vocational call can evolve and change over time.

At the same time a person pursuing a vocation does need to have some degree of certainty about their call before they start taking serious (or reasonably serious steps towards it. Granted some vocations allow more flexibility for discernment than others either because they take longer (like priesthood and religious life) or because of their structure (like religious orders). Still, in the case of priesthood for example, there are steps along the way at which the discernee is required to make an affirmative commitment and, as part of this, confirm that this is what they want to do.

I seriously doubt that anybody can be absolutely sure - beyond all doubt. at the same time though, I think a person can be confident enough and sure enough in themselves that they can accept those doubts and trust in God that the commitment they’re making is what’s best for them. Of course, if a person was embarking on a vocational course for the wrong reasons (for example, becoming a priest because they like the vestments, or marrying someone for their body) then that may well be sinful and would certainly be misguided.


#9

St. Alphonsus was a great saint but he was not Pope with the gift of papal infallibility. Therefore, his word is only opinion not doctrine or dogma. :wink:


#10

Hello Mary.

Correct. However, if you are standing before him and have asked to enter his Order and you feel the weight of certain doubts and are wondering if you can simply walk away from God’s will for you until all your doubts are dissipated and maybe come back later on say after 5 years of discernment, etc. well, then you are on a different footing with God then. Keep in mind what Jesus said about those who turn back to the plow after being called and whether or no they remain “worthy.” Marriage vows are just as weighty and since most folks are called to the married state, they really don’t worry too much about whether or no it is God’s will for them. They assume that it is God’s will because they want it. This is what the Saint is addressing. The modern mind that has been formed in a liberal society cannot fathom the depth of sin and selfishness there is in turning away from God’s will for one thing or another and the art of discernment is forgotten. Folks used to talk to the Priests and Sisters and Brothers in their lives all the time especially when it came to life altering decisions FIRST, before the decisions were actually made. This was a given. And they were all seeking the answer to one simply question: is it God’s will for me? And that is when the gift of discernment came to the fore for those whose gift it was. People actually feared not doing God’s will in their lives. This sadly seems a foreign notion these days.

Glenda


#11

Dear glendab, if I could ask you from your post few questions as I’m also discerning?

’However, if you are standing before him and have asked to enter his Order and you feel the weight of certain doubts and are wondering if you can simply walk away from God’s will for you until all your doubts are dissipated and maybe come back later on say after 5 years of discernment, etc. well, then you are on a different footing with God then. Keep in mind what Jesus said about those who turn back to the plow after being called and whether or no they remain “worthy.” '

  • worried now:( So what was the general outcome then for those that had walked away when things got tough? Presumably one’s vocation doesn’t stop, because not everyone is ready to say “yes” at the time; I mean, doesn’t God leads us back? (Are we are ever worthy?).

’The modern mind that has been formed in a liberal society cannot fathom the depth of sin and selfishness there is in turning away from God’s will for one thing or another and the art of discernment is forgotten. Folks used to talk to the Priests and Sisters and Brothers in their lives all the time…'

So turning away from God at that time can completely damage one’s relationship with God to the point that the call vanishes because of the sinful selfishness? I am not arguing but genuinely concerned. I thought that if God has spoken what was to be at the beginning before time then no amount of obstacles would stop our vocation being realized. Surely as well, if due to the lack of religious and spiritual directors is a reality, one can’t be held entirely responsible, let alone Satan also doing his best to interfere and taking full advantage of a bad situation. I am sorry to be so ignorant on the matter. Some of what you says you see does ring a few church bells. :frighten:


#12

Hello Friardchips.

Look at it this way: if your sole purpose in life was to serve others in Christ for His Church, and that number of others was also going to influence others, and this too was going to influence others, and you said “No, wait a minute, I need to think about this,” in the beginning of your call and then turned back to God say twenty years later and said oh yeah, now I remember, I was supposed to be doing this and I’m sure God found a way to help all those thousands of persons I was supposed to help to know Him by now. He made it without me! He is God after all, and then the only thing you’re concerned about is your personal level of sin and whether or no God figured it out without you and if He still holds it against you. Ummmmmmmm…does this make the point? Many are called few are chosen.

And I bolded your comment above because the Way to the Cross for Jesus wasn’t exactly smooth either. Read through the Agony in the Garden and see for yourself how God suffered even before taking up the Cross. Also, today’s readings are very timely when it comes to obstacles, poor St. Peter being one! :bigyikes: The Via Dolorosa is pretty tough and smooth sailing might actually be a false sign when it comes to vocational awareness.

Glenda


#13

Hi. Thanks for responding patiently to my questions!

I get your point but I just don’t think God sees it like that. I don’t think anyone in their right mind who is thinking seriously about a vocation, a genuine vocation, is only ever thinking about their level of sinfulness. And why not if they are? To care about sinfulness is to care about not offending God! :slight_smile:

It is such a big jump to make, especially in days when money and luxury and distraction and temptation is everywhere, that the discerner must have a sense of duty that all in all is driving them to eventually commit - a bit of fear and of love also. Otherwise, if God judged our nerves in this way and took back our very path, our very means of salvation, then every person who is discerning would have to be God and be always conscious of all the people he or she is apparently not helping, even though this person has never even met these people; so I do understand your angle, but it can’t really be that black and white.
However, I don’t know! It is an extremely selfish act to say “no”, but then, the eventual courage to make the jump is more generous still and so maybe God looks at that. He looks at the positives! I can’t believe He holds it against people because they are late as there are too many factors involved as to why this might be. One example: in the lives of Saints, some of them had to keep approaching the same Order, because the Order was testing them, and kept turning them away. Religious Orders pan discernment out for a very long time. There are so many vocations in Europe, compared to the West, that it makes me wonder if it is a lot quicker process to join there. And God knows all these complications. Blessed John Henry Newman suggested that everyone has a particular thing they were born to do. Would God really hold back our very reason for being in this life - our very way to love Him? I believe that Jesus is infinitely patient and as long as we are trying to get back to Him in the way He may have intended then He will help. Everything bad can be made good. But your opinion certainly underlines the need to not run from the first signs of difficulty.

I don’t think the ‘many being called, few chosen’ applies here to my questions. I think that this is more referring to people who never commit maybe because they get married instead of taking religious vows. If one commits at some point eventually, even after five or twenty years, then that means God has already called and chosen.
.
**…‘smooth sailing might actually be a false sign when it comes to vocational awareness’ **

Could well be true. This bit has definitely made me think. Do you mean when starting out with a particular Order?


#14

However, glendab, if I was so aware of a call in my discernment that I had asked lots of questions and met Orders and read up on vocations and gotten lots of great advice, with no mitigating circumstances or circumstances that made the choice exceptionally complicated, and then turned around after all this and said selfishly at the last minute: “I need to take a few years to think about it”; in this instance, I would agree with all of the above - all you said. To turn away in that instance, when everything is there waiting and everything has been discerned, would only be likely when someone either has no real vocation or the discerner is making a selfish choice. And the selfish act is therefore void of charity - of virtue, and so could be considered deeply negligent (?).


#15

Dear glendab,

Just quickly, I just found this webpage after we had dialogue, and it pretty much says a mixture of what we were both saying.

This is a vocation site and it details insights into our convo. started by another poster to you:

vocation.com/QandAItem.aspx?id=1470

I think at any stage in discernment, talking to a priests or religious, as you said, is needed -this is acting upon one’s discernment. How else is one to explore!


#16

Hello Friardchips.

Yes. Think of what St. Teresa of Calcutta went through and then see if smooth sailing applies. She received the “Call within the Call.”

I also think there are folks God calls after married life who are widowed. The seriousness with which they took their marriage vows is key. It used to be more common especially for women to enter religious life after a marriage that ended early in life or even in mid-life as long as the children could be taken care of. I tried as a widow to join a religious order but am too disabled. That is a fact neither God nor I will change. I cannot keep up the level of physical demands that it requires. And that is the only thing holding me back. Many are called few are chosen. But I’m still living a consecrated life as a widow. I don’t usually share this with folks, so don’t make a big deal about it, okay? I’m still a little sensitive about it.

Glenda

Glenda


#17

Hello Friardchips.

Two other things come to mind: the first being the actual quotation give in the OP. This is supposed to be a discussion of what he meant and whether or no we agree with that and why.

Secondly, those whose “job” it is to help those discerning in the different Orders, do have knowledge of the types of persons needed for each particular Order. For instance, if a young gal thinks her vocation in Religious life is to teach, she may meet with the Novice Mistress at a particular place and that Sister sees something that God sees in her that the young girl may not even know is there and send her on the Carmel because she sees the BEST place for her to go. That is when the experience of seasoned Sisters discerns the true vocation. Discernment is a gift of the Holy Spirit and it helps those who feel called determine where exactly they will be fulfilling God’s will. Docility and openness have to be a part of this. That is why I said a sense of peace fills the soul of the guy or gal who finds exactly where they belong. It is just about the same for those in marriage. They know in their hearts he or she is the right one because a joyful anticipation enters accompanied by peace in the knowledge that they are on the right path. If they aren’t and the person is simply coming to a place seeking a personal ambition say to be a Priest or Monk, then who are they to say it is God’s will? Kinda presumptuous if you ask me.

Glenda


#18

Hi. True. :slight_smile: I’ve already given my opinion early on to the OP and so will depart from this thread now - I was only thinking this morning that a thread is like a tree sometimes, because from it sprouts other related branches, which add to the whole and makes the tree even more beautiful and life-giving. Yet, it does need a jolly good prune sometimes, which you are rightly doing! Thank you very much for sharing generously with me, Glendab. Your valuable insights are noted too. I’ll read up on St. Teresa of Calcutta! God Bless you.


#19

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