On Vocations

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Yesterday I received news that a good friend's daughter recently entered Mother Angelica's Poor Clare convent. After a moment of shock (I had never known anyone who actually took this step--so I was surprised) I warmly congratulated the very proud father who had shared this news.

I shared this news with a couple of other people and invariably I have gotten the same reaction from them, "Wasn't she kind of young to make such a decision?" Now, I'll admit the thought had flashed across the surface of my brain, but I rejected it remembered St Thérèse, St. Dominic Salvio, and St. Aloysius Gonzaga, all very young.

It seems that nowdays, a person of eighteen years or so is considered too young to make a lifetime decision. But I wonder--isn't it a bit presumptious on our part to preempt the action of God. It isn't as though a vocation is a choice in the ordinary sense of the word. Certainly one must ultimately choose to follow where the vocation leads, but if we understand vocation properly, isn't it the tender tug of the person toward God under God's aegis?

So then, who is too young to follow God? Medieval hagiographies had legends of children who from the womb were preaching the word of God, and while that may be more than a little odd, St. Thérèse spent much of her young life playing at "Nuns in the Convent" with her sister Celine.

No matter, I am truly delighted that this young woman is exploring the meaning and possibility of vocation. There is good reason for long internships in the course of joining an order. The discernment of vocation is no easy task. It is also no decision to undertake lightly. Please pray for this young woman as she begins the journey of discovery of vocation. Pray that if she has a vocation, it is made resoundingly clear to her and that she remain true to it despite the currents of the world.

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Dear Steven,

I think that you - as usual - are right. It's important to note that the young woman is, of course, only "exploring the meaning and possibility of vocation" under the guidance and supervision of others. (And, of course, with our prayers.)

I wonder if some of those who are asking "Wasn't she kind of young to make such a decision?" think that there is some sort of static finality about the religious life - that you simply hold your breath, decide to become a monk and nun, and that's that. End of story.

Instead, perhaps we can imagine the life of a monk or nun as a process of becoming an adult. It will admittedly look different than the process of becoming an adult looks like in other contexts, but will still be involve learning and even a certain degree of inevitable friction. Rowan Williams writes about Benedictines:

"Benedict is, as usual, uncompromisingly prosaic in describing the monastic community as a workshop; it’s a place in which we use specific tools – listed with blunt simplicity in chapter 4 of the Rule – which are lent to us by Christ, to be returned on the Last Day, when we receive our wages. It’s an imagery that conjures up a landscape in monochrome, a grey sky, a stone wall: the tools worn smooth with long use and skilfully patched up over time, taken from the shelf each morning until finally hung up when weariness and age arrive. The holy life is one in which we learn to handle things, in businesslike and unselfconscious ways, to ‘handle’ the control of the tongue, the habit of not passing on blame, getting up in the morning and not gossiping. A monastic lifetime is one in which these habits are fitted to our hands."

Learning to "handle things," fitting certain tools "to our hands," isn't altogether different than what goes on in dorms, workplaces, relationships, and other situations that confront young people and force us to become adults. Williams continues,

"The ‘tools of good works’ listed include the Golden Rule, several of the Ten Commnadments and the corporal works of mercy (clothing the naked, visiting the sick, burying the dead, and so on); but the bulk of them have to do with virtues that can be seen as necessary for the maintenance of stability as a context for growth in holiness. It is as though Benedict were asking, ‘What does it take to develop people who can live stably together?’ He does not begin by commending stability, but by mapping out an environment where the long-term sameness of my company will not breed bitterness, cynicism and fear of openness with one another. If you have to spend a lifetime with the same people, it is easy to create a carapace of habitual response which belongs at the surface level, a set of standard reactions which do not leave you vulnerable. It is the exact opposite of the habitual acceptance of otherness which we were speaking about a little while back, though it can sometimes dangerously resemble it. With a slightly artificial tidiness, we might see the practices Benedict commends for nurturing the stability of the workshop under three heads. The monk must be transparent; the monk must be a peacemaker; the monk must be accountable."

Perhaps we can make sense of an eighteen year old with a vocation by thinking about conventual life as one way to grow up.


If one knows they are called, what does the calendar age matter? I met my husband at 18, married him at age 19, and I always knew my vocation was marriage and children. There are too many gen X kids out there who are not listening to the call because some one has convinced them that they are 'too young' to make that kind of decision - whether to religious or to married life.

Some people think that marrying before the age of thirty is "too young". Perhaps the folly is actually in waiting too long to make such a decision. If you know what you want to do, why spend your twenties wasting your youth and energy on selfish pleasures, waiting around for "the right time", with all too much time to get used to living only for yourself and having things exactly the way you want them? When thirtysomethings get interviewed about why they don't want to marry and start families, so many answers include things like, "I like getting to sleep in and read the paper. You can't do that with kids."

A young person with her head on her shoulders is perfectly capable of making such a decision.


We here have been struggling with the recent engagement of one of our homeschool girls. She just turned 18; she became engaged at 17. Her fiance is 19. They will be 18 and 20 when they marry next year.

You can know your vocation when you are young. Some of the saints speak of knowing their call to the priesthood, etc. as early as age 7.

There will be more directed formation for your friend's daughter than for our young friend. I expect she will be fine.

Canon law requires that a candidate be 16. There is a reason for that low requirement.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on September 9, 2003 7:42 AM.

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