You know what’s confusing? When you might have a vocation to religious life and you’re the only one who’s excited about it.
Over the past year, I’ve told a lot of people that I’m considering religious life. Their response is, at best, measured.
They choose words carefully and hesitantly. “Wow, you’re doing a lot of thinking.” “Huh.” Maybe a follow-up question. Sometimes just silence.
There are plenty of good reasons for some restraint. People close to me don’t want to unduly influence my decision. People unfamiliar with religious life are unsure where to direct the conversation. Acquaintances feel it’s not their place to give feedback on such a deeply personal matter. I get it.
But the aggregate result is unnerving. When no one encourages you about a vocation, and then people hesitate to respond when you do say something, you start to think you’re a little crazy.
I’ve wondered if I’m a terrible fit for religious life and everyone sees it but me, or if everyone else knows that women’s religious life is dead and I’m just too naïve to realize it.
It’s like I’m dating someone and everyone thinks I could do better but is too polite to say so, discretion thinly covering their internal disapproval.
I didn’t realize how deeply this all had affected me until last November when I met up with Father Tim, who has known me since he was a young parish priest twenty years ago. Father Tim is a raging extrovert, a charismatic guy whose ideas, thoughts, and emotions bubble out with unrelenting enthusiasm, and he was in full force that day.
“You should do religious life!” he said excitedly. “Not because it’s better than everything else, but because I think it would make you really happy.” I almost cried with relief. No one had ever said that to me before, and I’d started to think it wasn’t true.
Since then, his unbridled and continuing delight at the idea of my going into religious life has given me the freedom to consider it as a legitimate, and legitimately cool, option.
Granted, this says something about my own discernment; if I were leaning strongly toward marriage, I might find Father Tim’s clear preference pushy or intimidating.
Something like that happened to a friend of mine. His family and parish priest pushed him toward priesthood from a young age and never let it go, even after he clearly said he wasn’t interested. Being saddled with the expectation of priesthood created a deep resentment toward the idea that remains firmly in place 20 years later.
So I don’t know what the “right” response is, exactly. I do know that I have appreciated when people have kept the conversation going, particularly when they have shared their own stories of discernment, stories which I increasingly crave.
And I hope that people won’t be afraid to say this simple sentence (judiciously and only if accurate), to me and other discerners:
“Religious life is a great option, and I think you’d be fantastic at it.”