Mature Vocations Still Needed in Church and Glenmary
by Pat McEntee,
Associate Vocation Director
"Jesus said, ‘No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.'"—Lk 9:62
Many complex issues must be faced by anyone discerning a vocation, but those seem to multiply for "older vocations." If you are discerning a vocation, you must ask the difficult question "What is holding me back?" Discussing this question with someone who has already done such discernment, or with a vocation director, might be a good step toward finding the answers.
Glenmary's upper age limit for new candidates is 47 years old. Some religious orders have a much younger age limit—in the range of 35 years old. Glenmary has decided on its limit based on the fact that formation takes someone about seven or eight years. Therefore, after completing formation and ordination, a Glenmarian would be, at most, 55 years of age when he first goes out to the mission field.
One of the first concerns often faced by men in their 40s is the difficulty of changing their lifestyles. If a man considering a vocation has been single throughout his adult life, it may be difficult to let go of the freedom and independence to which he has grown accustomed. Virtually every religious vocation includes a vow or oath of obedience, and this requirement may be difficult to grasp and follow for someone who has been living independently for so long. Changing lifestyle could also mean dealing with questions of how to proceed if he owns a home and business; has employees counting him for their own livelihood; or has a car or insurance policy. While discerning, an individual can make the decisions needed to make the transition smoother.
Still another possible obstacle during discernment is the fear of going back to school. Regardless of a person's education level upon entering the community, much of his formation will include schooling. To become a priest, the man will have to have a certain number of philosophy-course credits to begin at the seminary and, of course, several years in the seminary. To become a brother, he will still need additional education in theology and a field that will allow the man to be of service in a mission setting. Glenmary wants men to succeed in their schooling and will help them along the way. And in most seminaries, men will find support from others who are in their same age range.
Another issue faced by "older vocations"—but not by men who join at a more traditional, younger age—is elderly parents. Instead of having parents in their 40s and 50s, most older vocations have parents in their 60s and 70s. This issue becomes a concern if the individual wants to be near and readily available to them when needed. Living in a mission and dealing with all its responsibilities make it difficult to be available to parents all the time, but Glenmarians do receive three weeks of vacation per year that can be used to go home and visit family members. Finding the best living situation for parents while preparing to live out one's calling requires a great deal of family discussion beforehand.
In some cases, a man has been married and is divorced or widowed. In the case of divorce, he needs to be granted an annulment of his marriage before entering into discernment with Glenmary. He may even have children from his marriage. A man cannot enter formation if he has dependent children. But men have entered Glenmary after their children have reached age 18.
All these potential challenges do not mean the vocations of older men are less real or legitimate or needed. In the United States, the need for priests and brothers is great in even the largest of cities. In the mission areas of this country, the need is even more urgent. The questions are raised here to help discerners realize they are not the only ones facing such issues. Others have dealt with these questions, which proves the answers can be found.
God calls some men at an early age and some later in life. Sometimes God waits for reasons unknown to us. As is always the case, people are free to heed the call or not. If God is truly calling a man to the priesthood or brotherhood, the call will not subside, but the options may become more limited or nonexistent depending on the choices made and delays in making them.
My final suggestion to all those discerning vocations with Glenmary is to explore the question as fully as possible as quickly as possible. Those who are near the upper age limit face the biggest challenge: they have a greater need to "get it right" the first time, because if they begin formation and discern it is not for them, they may have passed the age to be able to look elsewhere. The time is now; don't look back.
For more information, please contact the Glenmary Vocation Office at 800-935-0975.