Diocese of Ogdensburg

The Roman Catholic Church in Northern New York

What are the signs of a vocation to the religious state?

There is no simple answer.  Some people feel in the depths of their hearts that God is calling them  to break away from the ordinary manner of life; marriage, materialism etc.  All experience a sense of emptiness about living in the world.  They are attracted only to the things of God and feel inclined to spend more time with God each day. Others feel they want to bring others to God either directly through a specific ministry or indirectly by prayer and penance. However, the important fact is that all want to follow Christ, following Christ means taking on ever more fully His mind and His way of life.

How do I know if I have a religious vocation?

What may start as an unsettling idea becomes a reoccurring thought. The person with a religious vocation increasingly finds that there is a restlessness of spirit that only the things of God seem to fill. Marriage may be attractive, but there is the question of whether or not God has something more in mind. A few questions to consider include:

  • Are you happy, yet find that deep within you there is an unfulfilled longing? With all that you have, is there is a sense  that it is not enough?
  • Do you feel drawn to daily Mass and more prayer than your present schedule permits?
  • Do you enjoy sharing your faith with others, most especially those who are searching for God?
  • When you first considered religious life, did the idea catch you off-guard, like someone who has been picked out of a crowd and responds, “Who me?”
  • Do you find that you possess a great love for the Church and her teachings?
  • When you have contact with priests and  religious, is there a sense of connection, an attraction to the joy and conviction they possess?
  • If you answered affirmatively to the above, you will want to  consider the next question.

What can I do to discern God's call more deeply?

The best answer to this question is to pray, pray and pray some more! God speaks to us in the silence of our hearts. We can look for extraordinary signs, but God works best with our cooperation in prayer and honest investigation. The closer you move toward the light, the easier it will  be to see the road. Make a plan for your spiritual life and include the  following:

  • Examine your conscience daily and seek to know yourself better in the light of God’s love and mercy.
  • Go at least monthly to the Sacrament of Penance.
  • If you have access to a good spiritual director  who understands religious life and has the wisdom to guide you, then let such  help benefit you.
  • Attend Mass daily, if possible.
  • If you have a Blessed Sacrament Chapel with adoration nearby, then set aside time in Christ’s presence. If not, try to  visit a church and give at least an hour or so a week for silent prayer before  the Blessed Sacrament.
  • Read Scripture daily and look to Catholic classics to learn about the great founders of religious orders and the saints  who followed them.
  • Participate in retreats, preferably at convents. Some communities offer vocation discernment experiences, while others provide in-depth opportunities for prayer. Either way, much can be learned from such exposure and attention to your spiritual life.
  • Talk to a sister. Having experienced what you are going through, she will understand whatever apprehensions or concerns you may have. Learn as much as you can about the way the life is lived.

If you have taken initial steps, liked what you have read about a congregation, and have been encouraged by the vocation director, then plan a weekend visit.

What are some of the basic requirements for acceptance into this community?

Below are listed some prerequisites for consideration as a candidate for entrance:

  • Sufficient health
  • Emotional wholeness
  • The ability to live happily within community
  • Sufficient age and maturity
  • A proper motive

Each applicant is reviewed individually. Some communities  require a college degree, others do not.   Many have an maximum age limit of 30 or 35 years.  But in some cases exceptions to the age limit  are made.

What is the best age to enter?

The best age to enter is when God calls.  The greatest impetus comes when God’s grace makes us “ready.” For some this call  comes around the age of 23 or 24, while for others He surprises the world and calls a young woman at the age of 18.  Occasionally circumstances are such that an individual has not considered  the religious life until she is somewhat older.   Whatever the case, God’s call is mysterious. What is most important is not full maturity but deep self-knowledge. If someone knows herself and has prayerfully considered religious life in its essentials, she may possess a sincere and well-informed desire. This is God’s gift. When discussing the idea with friends and family it is important that it be seen not as a career choice but as a call from God.

What is the vow of chastity?

Let the Code of Canon Law speak to us: "The evangelical counsel of chastity assumed for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven, as a sign of the future world and a source of more abundant fruitfulness in an undivided heart, entails the obligation of perfect continence and celibacy." (No. 599)

I find that I am attracted to both religious life and marriage. Does the fact that I would love to be married and have a family mean that I don't have a religious vocation?

No, this simply means that you are normal! Some of the same qualities needed to be a good wife and mother are needed to be a good  religious. We love with the same capacity, though the expressions differ. As  religious, we know Christ as our Spouse and express our intimacy with Him in a life of prayer. When engaging whole-heartedly our feminine gifts, these  expressions of sacrificial love are life-giving and tremendously fulfilling.

Does, celibate chastity mean having no feelings of affection for anyone or having no friends that I can like?

No. Chastity is the control and mastery over one’s sexual powers, not one’s feelings of affection for parents, family, friends, country, and the like.  As we grow in chastity, we hope our affections will become less possessive and our loves more and more based upon truth than simply on ties of blood, enjoyment of another’s company, common background, and so forth.
In religious life, as in the priesthood, you will discover that you will be given many friendships, which you may cultivate in Christ.  You will like these friends and enjoy their company but that will not be the deep reason for friendships. What we have to watch out for is becoming possessive of them, dominating them, or using their friendship as an escape from our obligations.  We do not find people we have chosen in the consecrated life but rather find people God has chosen for us.

What about dating and discernment?

Because the call to religious life is an invitation to freely follow Christ and choose Him as Spouse, dating in the midst of discernment often only throws shadows on how to proceed. The call to religious life, like that of marriage, is a radical call to surrender oneself wholly to the other. In the case of religious life, this surrender is to Christ alone in the totality of our self-gift. Because all of our loves are ordered in and through Christ, we can lose nothing by setting dating aside for a time to allow Christ to speak to our hearts and direct the love He has first given to us.

Is it hard to be a Sister, nun? Especially living a chaste life?

Each way of life has its own hardships and commitments whether you are married, single or a religious.  You cannot prevent difficulties no matter what, it is part of life.  However, consider that God always brings his grace upon us to help us mature in our way of life, for we know that 'without Him we can do nothing (Jn 15, 5). When someone has made a life-term, commitment to live a chaste life he or she will certainly encounter difficulties because we are normal human beings. Nevertheless, we strive to be faithful to our promises or vows because as adults, we want to be responsible to what God has given us; the beautiful gift of our vocation to the religious life.

Is it true that if you profess the vow of celibacy that means you cannot experience pleasures because they are either dangerous or befitting to your state of life?

Wrong. Sensual and spiritual pleasures are part of our make-up given to us by God. What is to be avoided is our tendency to go overboard and make them the principal sources of our happiness. We all need some legitimate pleasures in life, from good food, a cold drink on a hot day, a shower after hard work, and the like. What we do not need is excessive pleasures because desire for them can entice us to break our vows of chastity or poverty or lead us to avoid the hardships of the ministry.
Moreover, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us that if we do not have specific spiritual pleasures (like the fine arts), we will become disposed to turn to carnal pleasures. And experience teaches that what easily disposes us to break our vow of chastity is fatigue, sadness, depression, loneliness or a feeling of low self-esteem. Innocent bodily or emotional pleasures can help us overcome the negative feelings.

Do Religious Sisters get to see their families?

Each religious order varies in concern to visiting their families.  Some get to see their families every 3 years for an extended visit.  However, many keep in contact via phone or letters. On the other hand, family members often come and visit at the convent every now and then.  For specific practices ask a community’s vocation director.

Why do some religious wear habits and others don't?

Back in early Christian times, women wore veils as a sign that they were married, so the early religious wore a veil to show that they had made a commitment and were "unavailable" too.  The Rule of Benedict just says monastics should wear clothes that were inexpensive and easily available, that suit the climate and work, and that can be given to the poor when no longer being used.
The traditional religious habit was what ordinary women were wearing in the Middle Ages when many orders were established.  Then as styles changed, it became identified with the religious and they just kept wearing the same style.  It's like an outfit frozen in time.  If some group kept wearing the style you're wearing right now for 500 years, they would probably eventually be a lot different looking from everyone else!
As new orders began, they often chose to wear something similar to what had come to be expected as a habit, but some of them chose to wear clothing of their own times.  So today, some communities choose to wear "traditional" nun's clothing, some have other "uniform" styles of dress, some wear a special robe only at prayers and special occasions, some choose to be more like the people around them, some observe the teaching of a founder like St. Benedict.  Since women today don't wear veils to show they are married, that particular symbol no longer applies.  So many communities have a special ring which is worn as women in our culture wear a wedding ring, to be the same kind of witness to the public as the veil was.

Do Sisters get hot wearing their religious habits?

Sure we do.  Nevertheless, like anything else we get used to it.  Our religious garment represents who we are, it is very important for us.  As religious we strive to "offer it up" so whenever we feel uncomfortable wearing it, we bring to our minds the many sins committed because of immodesty, so we pray for those who dress immodestly.  Some communities also have a white habit for the summer and a black habit for the cold season and when we do chores, we wear a habit-apron made of light material so it is really not that big of a deal. We benefit more by wearing it, than by not wearing it because people identify us easier if they have an urgent need to talk to someone.

What about the sacrifice of giving up all the good things of the world?

The grace of a religious vocation is to respond to God’s call to leave all things to follow Christ (cf. Matthew 19:21). This entails sacrifice. Yet this sacrifice, joined with Christ, brings great joy.
Frequently, people leave out the fact that a call to the religious life is an invitation to look beyond the things of this world in all of their goodness, in favor of the ultimate realities of heaven. Through the vow of poverty, Christ detaches us from possessions so that we may have full freedom to possess supernatural realities. Through the vow of chastity, He frees us for single-hearted devotion to Christ as our Spouse. Through the vow of obedience, He conforms our wills totally to His. In this way, we anticipate heaven where all will live, in effect, as those consecrated to Christ.