Common Questions about Religious Life
Often people are curious about religious life and exactly what is entailed. The following list of questions and answers has been compiled to offer you a better understanding of religious life, and specifically contemplative life and the Catholic tradition.
What is the Contemplative Life?
The contemplative life is a life-long journey to God in prayer and worship, turning from all else that could make the journey less direct. Contemplative monks and nuns are concerned less with themselves and more with God and all those whom God loves.
Prayer is essential for all Christians, but contemplatives are called to make their whole lives a prayer, in solitude and silence and in community. As lofty as this may seem, contemplatives are human beings – human, yes indeed!
How do I know if I am called?
There is no easy answer to discerning a call to the contemplative life. Like any vocation, the contemplative vocation contains its share of mystery.
It is beyond our understanding. When it comes right down to why God calls anyone to be a contemplative monk or nun, it is absolutely unreasonable! Few (if any) know for certain to what they are called until they begin the search and take some risks.
How would I recognize signs of a contemplative call?
If you were to ask contemplatives to explain their vocation or why they came to the monastery, several phrases are often repeated. They express subtly some of the signs of a contemplative call.
There is room for a word of caution here. Even if all the phrases fit your feelings at the moment, all this must be grounded in a deep, on-going desire to be a contemplative monk or nun as a response to God’s call. “I should”, “I ought to”, “I must” won’t do!
I am happy at this moment in my present situation.
Sensing a personal happiness now is an important starting point in discerning God’s call to a contemplative community. Monasteries are the wrong places to run away from an unhappy, unhealthy situation.
Contemplative life is a journey forward, not an escape. The structure becomes too confining and burdensome for a runaway. Contemplatives are wayfarers bent on seeking God and bringing everyone with them.
I want to give myself totally to God.
As often as monks and nuns are questioned on why they joined a contemplative Order, total giving of oneself to God is expressed as the primary reason. This seems indispensable.
There are many things I could do with my life to help others, but this seems right for me.
We all want to give our best to whatever we do. Once we recognize our gifts, we usually set out to use our gifts and to develop our potential for the service and enjoyment of other people.
For a person experiencing a contemplative call, no gift or potential (contemplatives are enriched with many) seems sufficient in the measure the person desires to serve their brothers and sisters. Accompanying the total gift to God is the yearning to give everything for all people everywhere.
I feel drawn to a simple life where there are other people who have the same Christian values.
A joy-filled community following the Gospel is one of the most convincing witnesses to the presence of Christ. Simplicity is rather obvious in a contemplative community with our monasteries having a simple, unpretentious look about them.
Actually, monks and nuns are known to have that look as well! Community affirms the person, giving to one another what rank, education, or position cannot – the promise of love and the support to grow.
Would I be a candidate? What are the basic requirements to be accepted into religious life?
If you are thinking about religious life, we encourage you to contact us to talk about your questions. Those interested in learning more about life in our monastery should:
- Be a mature Catholic woman with a desire for a life of prayer in community.
- Enjoy good physical, mental and emotional health.
- Be able to spend some time in our Monastery as you discern your suitability to our way of life before applying for admission.
- Be a U.S. Citizen or have a green card
- We welcome inquiries from women ages 25-50 who may be attracted to this witness.
Now what do I do if that sounds like me?
It is time now to seek out some contemplative communities. Most communities have vocation personnel willing to share with you the spirit of their Order as well as the routine, formation program, requirements for admittance, and answer your questions. Some Orders will hold more personal attraction for you than others, and it is good to follow your natural inclination toward a particular community.
Contemplative life must be seen as it really is, not as someone hopes, imagines, or likes it to be. Monasteries are not “perfect” places, for superhuman people who desire to be wrapped in an aura of mysticism and bide their time expressing their creativity. Community, work and prayer have realities that cannot be avoided and circumstances that need to be seen in the light of their ordinariness. How often contemplatives who want to give themselves totally to God discover that sweeping the floor is part of the gift!
Each monastery has its own particular process for discerning a contemplative call in their candidates. Requirements for health and aptitude will vary. You need to ask yourself if you are willing to follow this process. It takes time and energy.
At times, the process is exhilarating and at times painful. Yet for those God is calling, the process is part of the journey. St. Teresa of Avila wanted her candidates to have “great desires, determined determination, all balanced by sound common sense.”
Pray often. The one who calls also gives the courage to respond. Seek advice from someone who knows you and is familiar with contemplative communities.
As those already called to the contemplative life will confirm, a contemplative vocation is a mystery well worth answering. There is no perfect type, and most of us are surprised at who God calls!
If you are thinking about religious life, we encourage you to contact us to talk about your questions.
Contact Sr. Nancy, our Vocation Director, by phone (864) 834-8015 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.