What's Holding You Back?

Posted: 8/14/2012

By Pat McEntee,
Associate Vocation Director

Patrick McEntee is the associate vocation director for Glenmary Home MissionersNo, this isn't a commercial to remind you to wear your seat belt.

Vocation ministry is full of anticipation, hope, joy, heartache and everything in between. That isn't hard to imagine because of the nature of the business. We are asking people, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, to make decisions that may change their lives forever.

It may seem inappropriate to compare vocation discernment to dating, but in a sense, they are similar. Each is meant to be the first stage of a lifelong commitment. Many people do not approach a dating relationship as a discernment process, but it certainly is. You have to get to know the other person, and you should ask yourself if God is calling you to that relationship before taking it to the point of marriage. As time goes by, the romantic vision of the other may often fade, but it's at this point that you can determine if the other person is the one—without the hindrance of rose-colored glasses.

It's not usually a good idea to jump into a marriage headfirst after knowing a person for only a very short time. It's also not a good idea to jump into a religious vocation after a very short discernment period. One important difference is that discernment of a religious vocation does not end when an applicant is accepted and begins formation. In a marriage relationship, the discernment—at least in terms of a commitment—is complete when the couple exchange wedding vows.

So, back to the original question: What's holding you back? Any number of factors can hinder a person's pursuit of a religious vocation. Most if not all of them are internal and are based on fear-fear of the unknown, fear of commitment, fear of missing out on other opportunities, and others.

Sometimes the hurdle has to do with family concerns. In days of old, Catholic families were often much larger, and it was an honor to have at least one child enter into religious life. In recent years, most American families are much smaller. With only one or two children, parents often have a greater desire for their children to produce grandchildren than to become priests or religious brothers or sisters. Sometimes, individuals discerning vocations want to be able to help parents as they enter their elderly years. This is especially true if a discerner is an only child or one of just a couple of children.

Other factors that hold people back from religious vocations can include lack of education or fear of being unable to tackle the education required. Some even feel unqualified. When I hear this concern, I am often reminded of the saying: "God doesn't call the qualified. God qualifies the called."

The last roadblock I will discuss (and trust me, there are many, many more) is peer pressure and societal views of the religious life. I used to teach religion at a Catholic high school, and I often heard students speak negatively about the religious life in general. Because these comments were rarely directed at individual priests, brothers or sisters, it became clear that many felt choosing this life was abnormal.

I did have one student who was very open about his belief that he was called to the religious life. It was interesting to see the dynamics in that class. Because he was well liked, most students in the class supported him in his pursuit of a religious vocation. I think because they actually knew someone who was considering a vocation, they were able to see it as a viable choice. In most cases, if individuals are considering religious life, they don't make it known to their peers because of how they might be viewed.

All these obstacles faced in discernment are legitimate ones. We need to explore all questions as we attempt to understand where the Holy Spirit is leading us. It's the same as if you are discerning a relationship that may lead to marriage. The difference is that entering formation does not end your discernment. This is what I tell discerners who are approaching formation: You do not take your Final Oath on your first day of formation. The discernment continues through several years of formation, all the way up to your Final Oath.

As you consider God's desires for you and your life, ask yourself what obstacles are in your way. Then ask yourself if they have been put there by you or by God. Answering these questions will help you make the right choices and be where God wills you to be.