You Are Not Alone With Your Excuses
"What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.' He said in reply, ‘I will not,' but afterwards he changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,' but did not go."—Mt 21:28-30
In many of my recent conversations with discerners, the young men have said that they are not good enough, smart enough or holy enough to become priests or brothers. Certainly goodness, intelligence and holiness are among the qualities that one has to have to enter into religious life, but being perfect is not required.
I often ask the young men how they know who is holy enough. Are we not all sinners? Or I ask why they believe that they are not holy enough. Usually they answer that they do not pray enough. I think discerning a vocation does mean you need to be a man of prayer, but you also need to realize that sometimes you might oversleep. A discerner needs to pray, but missing one morning prayer does not mean that you are not called to be a priest. Can you recognize the desire to pray in your life? Do you already participate in the sacraments? Do you attend daily Mass? Do you desire to have a deeper relationship with our God?
So you have not read the entire Bible. Maybe you have not read the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church. Some of the writings of the saints may have seemed confusing when you tried to read them. The good news is that you do not need to have read all of these before entering into the seminary program. While you are studying and preparing to become priest or a brother, there will be plenty of time to study. You do need to have the ability to study. But do you need to be a perfect "A" student? No. Nor do you need to have completed all your schooling or know all the answers the day you sign up. Glenmary's formation program actually sponsors men while they complete their undergraduate degrees.
Potential missioners do need to be in good health. Obviously you must have the physical stamina and ability to take on the challenges of the day. And good health includes physical, mental, emotional and mental health. You have to keep your mind, body and spirit fit in order to be available for those you serve. If you do not have good health, then how would you be able to visit the sick and counsel those in need? You go to the missions to serve others, not to be served. Your formation can help you to have a holistic view of caring for yourself so that you can stay healthy and will be able to care for others.
If you are discerning whether to enter into religious life, then you should be practicing intentional celibacy. That means not dating, abstaining from pornography, and not engaging in sexual activity. Is that easy? Not always. Do people make mistakes? Yes. Does God forgive? Most certainly. This is a practice that can hopefully allow you to recognize that your efforts do indicate you have the gift to live a celibate lifestyle. Maintaining that chaste life will be easier later on when you have the full support of the community.
Having too many possessions is another reason some discerners do not think they are holy enough. But the question really is: can you begin to understand the need for simplicity in your life? That is, can you recognize that possessions are not the most important things in your life? If you do have too many possessions, you can start taking steps to simplify by giving away and selling off. If you have personal debt, you need to begin to pay it off. Once you enter into a religious community, you will not have any additional means to pay off that debt.
Do you feel a desire to pay closer attention to God's will in your life? You should want to be more present in the moment and to be more accepting of what life has to give you. You should be willing to give up some of the control in your life and let God lead you. You should recognize that it is not "all about you" but is about something greater than yourself. Joining in a community of men who share these same values will help you to recognize God's will in your life. Having a community with whom to share can help you to clarify where God is calling you.
I have heard a long list of excuses from some people regarding why they may not join a religious community: "I'm afraid I'll fail." "I come from a dysfunctional family." "I'm a sinner." "I'm not an extrovert." You can invent a lot of excuses as to why not to begin discerning. You can fool yourself into thinking that God is calling someone else. No matter how many excuses you invent, you will continue to have lingering doubts until you try. Attending a Come & See weekend, or just talking with a vocation director, can help you to explore and resolve some doubts and to confirm one way or another if you are being called.
The good news is that discerning is not like visiting a used-car dealer or a time-share, where the salesman will pressure you into buying today. Discerning is a process. Talking to a vocation director or visiting a religious community will not add more pressure or stress in your life—but instead will help you to move past the invented excuses. By talking with a vocation director and visiting a community, you can learn what gifts you have; how holy, intelligent and good you really are; what talents you have; and how well those talents match with the needs of the community.