Vocations to the Religious Life
A vocation is the “calling or destiny we have in this life and hereafter.” The truth about vocations is that everyone has one; all vocations begin with God. It is God’s call, or His word to us. Marriage is a vocation, as is living a commitment for the single life as a layperson. Most often, however, “vocation” refers to the religious men and women who have consecrated themselves to serving the Church as priests, friars, religious brothers, religious sisters, nuns, or consecrated laypersons.
Are you questioning the Will of God for you? Perhaps you are waiting for it to be revealed to you by God with some sort of sign? Well, this may be the sign you are looking for.....
Why live life as a priest, friar, religious sister or brother, a nun, or consecrated lay-person? Only one reason is adequate: the love for God and God’s people. Only the theological virtue of charity can sustain those who God calls to religious life enabling them to live their vocation faithfully.
There is one ingredient that must be part of any discernment process, or the process of reflecting on a possible religious vocation: a consistent, deep prayer life. Knowledge of God’s Will only happens through the encounter with God experienced in prayer. One may develop and nurture this relationship by frequent participation in Mass, and developing a daily habit of prayer and examination of conscience. Other suggestions: begin to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and the Office of Readings, make Holy hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament, choose an authentic devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and pray daily. Whatever your form of prayer, be sure to nourish it with daily reading of Sacred Scripture. Contemplate and meditate on the life of Christ, and begin allowing Him to make demands on your life. Listed are a few recommended passages of Scripture for reflection on “vocation” and our response to it, and while it is by no means a complete list, it may help you to get started: (2Maccabees 7:22); (Jeremiah 1:5); (Matthew 6:25-34); (Matthew 10:37-39); (Matthew 16:24-25); (Matthew 19:27-30); (Luke 14:25-27); (Luke 18:22-25); (Ephesians 1:3-5).
The above “recipe” of prayer and reading of the inspired Word of God will allow God to speak volumes to your soul. It will not be long before God will lead your heart in one direction or another. Fostering a unity with God through prayer will also help when the time for our response to God’s call draws near. Discernment must lead to action, and only grace can move us to be generous in our response.
The second ingredient in any discernment process is to seek out a good spiritualdirector. This person should be, above all, spiritual, someone that you trust, and someone, ideally, who has a lot of life experience. This is usually a person who is not afraid to tell you what you might not want to hear. We need a third person to help us to remain objective in our search. Also, a good spiritual advisor who knows you well might even know of a specific religious order to recommend.
Communal life is a characteristic of most religious orders. This community lifestyle has a very special grace that allows the members to help one another in their formation to become like Christ. It is usually part of discerning any religious vocation.
Each religious order has its own Charism, or spirituality. The Carmelites define charism as: “a gift from God to the Church for the world...the gift God gives to an individual or group to inspire the founding of a new religious family within the Church.” It is, “the particular way in which its members are called to follow Christ...charisms will have many elements in common, but the way these elements are emphasized gives each religious group its unique feel.”
The first “sign” that you may be called to the religious life is that you are asking the question, “Am I called?” The second step for you is to contact any religious congregation that is of interest to you. Despite some differences in details, all of them will have some type of visitation retreat, “test your call weekend,” or weekend visitation throughout the year. Some congregations allow visitors year round; all you have to do is make contact with them to find out. You can ask for additional information to be mailed to you. Once you have had some contact with the group, they may have you apply formally by filling out an application. Many of the orders will have either a live-in summer program or a year long live in experience to aid in your discernment. The one common denominator is that besides helping you discern their congregation, these orders are there to help you come to know God’s Will.
ORDINATION TO THE ORDER OF DEACONS
With these words, “At the lower level of the hierarchy are to be found deacons, who receive the imposition of hands not unto the priesthood, but unto the ministry,” the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) on November 21, 1964 restored the Order of Deacons to the Roman Catholic Church.
The service of deacons in the Church is documented from apostolic times. Its origins are found in the institution of the “seven” in the Acts of the Apostles (6:1-6). St. Paul refers to this ministry in two of his epistles (Phil 1:1& 1 Tim 3: 8-13) and also lists the qualities and virtues needed to exercise this ministry worthily. Within the Latin Church, the Diakonia (Diaconate), as a permanent rank of the hierarchy flourished up to the fifth century, after which this ministry fell into a period of decline up to its restoration by the Second Vatican Council.
In May 1968, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops requested that Pope Paul VI give them authorization to restore the permanent diaconate within the United States. Permission was granted during the fall of 1977. Since then the ranks of ordained deacons with the United States has grown to a point where most of the deacons ordained within the whole world are found within this country.
The ministry of deacons is focused on the threefold “diaconia of the liturgy, the word and of charity.” In practical terms, deacons, in conjunction with the bishop and his body of priests, administer Baptism, serve as custodian and distributor of the Eucharist, assist at and bless marriages, bring Viaticum to the sick and dying, read the Sacred Scriptures to the faithful, instruct and exhort the people, preside over the worship and the prayer of the faithful, administer sacramentals, officiate at funeral rites and burial services, and perform works of charity.
The Diocese of Sacramento accepts applicants for entry into diaconal formation biannually (every two years). The program of formation from the initial evaluation phase to ordination is close to five (5) years.
Information regarding the specific requirements of candidacy can be obtained from The Permanent Diaconate Office, Diocese of Sacramento, 2110 Broadway, Sacramento, California, 95818-2541, 916-733-0244.