One very important way to support monastic vocations–or any religious vocation–is to support the Vocation Director. The best way to do that is to pray for the Vocation Director. It’s a a demanding and often discouraging job; much of it may be spent confronted by people’s delusions and that demands that the Vocation Director has to be the midwife of their disillusionment. That’s not a comfortable job. So any Vocation Director needs the support of our prayers for the wisdom, prudence, and insight to do his or her job and not to fall pray to his or her own delusions! Anyone involved in monastic formation–from the Vocation Director, the Novice Director, the community members, all the way to the Abbot, must be wary of “playing God” or second-guessing God. We are only human after all and must remain aware of that fact.
The second way to support the Vocation Director is as important as the first: don’t play Vocation Director yourself. Please leave that responsibility to the “professionals” who are aware of the community situation, the Canon Law, the Constitutions and Statutes of the Order–even something of behavioral sciences and human quirks!
“How might I be playing Vocation Director?”, you may well ask. Well, had you ever thought of entering a religious order but for one reason or another never did? Sometimes people with that experience will latch onto a young neighbor, a parishioner, a son or daughter or nephew and try to live out that “missed opportunity” vicariously. This tendency may be largely unconscious but as we face the inevitable regrets of middle age or the illusions of “missed opportunities” we may want to live those out through someone else’s life.
Or did you ever feel that you could do something significant with your life by “saving” a shrinking community and channeling “likely” candidates their way? I’m not discouraging outside help in our current situation–the situation of most religious institutes these days! But it’s one thing to help a community attract vocations and another thing for you to decide who those vocations can be.
Monks and nuns have been known to usurp the role of Vocation Director. A confessor knows this single-woman who’s so dedicated to the Liturgy of the Hours and to Centering Prayer and she’s just what the community needs. OK; but can she live in community? Has she the flexibility to interact with other people who have other points of view? Can she adjust her fine-tuned spiritual disciplines to the community’s ethos and schedule ? Can she pass the psychological screening? The Vocation Director is trained to observe, to detect, to evaluate the pertinent characteristics for living this life. Let the Vocation Director do his or her job.
What’s at stake here? Our God-given free-will. A religious vocation, like any state in life, is a freely given gift from God. If I offer you a gift that’s really a gift, you may accept it or you may tell me, “Thank you very much, but no thanks.” And if I offer you the gift freely–and not to make myself feel generous or good–I won’t take offense if you don’t take it. That’s the classic Catholic theology of a religious vocation. It’s not playing “Let’s Make A Deal” and I have to guess the right door to get the new washer-drier I need so badly or bungle it and end up with an envelope with only five dollars in it. We’re not second-guessing God. It’s a free offer from God and I can freely accept it or not accept it. That means if I accept it, God is granting me the opportunity to creatively and freely bring this gift to its potential as only I can. If I don’t accept it, God is leaving me to the opportunity I am already in to creatively and freely bring this potential to a fullness as I only can. Neither possibility guarantees that I will feel fulfilled or happy all the time; that I will be safe and secure. Especially not safe and secure! When Christ calls us to follow him, that usually means forsaking safety and security.
The role of the Vocation director is to help the inquiring individual, knocking at the Abbey’s door, recognize whether or not God is offering the gift. Since we are not clairvoyant or prophetic that takes a while; we call that discernment and it’s a process. We can no longer work from the model, “I feel called so I will enter the monastery.” Feeling may not be the best criterion. One can more safely, more accurately say: “I experience an attraction to the monastic life and I’m definitely dissatisfied with my present life. I’m resolved to begin the discernment process with a Vocation Director. Together we can explore the issue and pray for guidance and enlightenment.” For most, the process takes about a year, for others it may take several years. But no one can impulsively forsake it all and “enter the cloister” with impunity.
Let the Vocation Director be the Vocation Director and let the possible candidate discover and appropriate their vocation on their own, with their own free will. God respects our free will enough to allow us to make mistakes–big mistakes. And God is also ready to bail us out and give us a second chance.
to be continued