October 9, 2014 by Alex Johannigman
As a society, we tend to hate commitments. Getting anyone to commit in advance to coming to an event (especially via Facebook) is near impossible because we all, myself definitely included here, are always wanting to hold out in case something better comes up at the same time. We don’t want to be tied down to one decision.
Yet despite hating commitments of our time, we love the feeling of being committed to something or someone. Young people especially long for the stability of being committed to a certain job, or being in a committed relationship, or discovering what their vocation is in life and committing to pursuing it. This causes a big problem when so many now are jumping the gun on labeling something as a commitment before it’s truly become one. And its becoming more and more of a problem in the world of “vocational discernment” as we Catholics like to call it. We want to make everything look like a bigger commitment than it actually should be, and it needs to stop.
Take the world of dating for example. Therese Aaker from FOCUS recently highlighted the need to stop taking dating so seriously. “Dating shouldn’t be a big deal. If we take the casual approach, date with clear intentions and pursue relationships in a healthy way, our chances of finding a great spouse are much better.” she said, responding to the problem of so many young people in the Catholic world viewing it as just one step away from engagement and marriage, rather than what it is intended to be: a way of getting to know another person to see if you’re interested in committing to a relationship with them.
As bad as this problem is in the dating world, it is even more prevalent in the discernment of religious life. A few weeks ago I was helping to run a middle school youth conference. As is to be expected with many youth and young adult events, representatives from the vocations office were present, including several seminarians. At one point the MC wanted to draw attention to the seminarians and told the middle schoolers to “Give it up for our future priests!” While I respect his intentions, his particular words made me come inches from imitating the great Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as seen below.
Entering the seminary or a convent should not be viewed as signing up to take your vows. They are places of discernment. Saying “Give it up for our future priests” to a group of first or second year seminarians is just as utterly insane as being introduced to your friend’s new girlfriend and saying “Oh, so this is the future Mrs. (insert friend’s last name here)” Seminarians, novices, postulants, boyfriends, girlfriends, dates, fiancées, they all have one thing in common. They are trying something out. They are seeing if that person, or that religious community, or that lifestyle, is right for them.
I think a part of why there has been such a decline in religious vocations over the past several decades is that there is a huge fear of even trying it out, because we think it is the same as making an unbreakable commitment to it.
Few people want to enter seminary or join a religious community as a postulant because they aren’t totally sure that they want to be priests or religious brothers or sisters yet. But I have good news for them: That’s what it is for. Finding out!
Lots of women are afraid to go on dates with men because they don’t know if they love them and if they’d be willing to marry them. Heck, as a man I’ve been afraid to initiate or ask a girl on a date because I still was uncertain about if she was “marriage material” or not. Good news for all of us: That’s what dating is for. Finding out!
I have 4 awesome, holy roommates right now. 3 of them have been in the seminary. None of them ended up being called to the priesthood, but each of them grew tremendously through their months or years in their respective religious communities. Trying out religious life helped them discover that it wasn’t what God wanted for them. But a lot of us are much more comfortable praying endlessly for direction when it comes to our vocations rather than going out and trying something to see if it fits.
I have gone on dates with dozens of women in my lifetime. I am not married to any of them. But I know a heck of a lot more about the type of woman that I’m looking for now than I did when I started my relationship with my first girlfriend over 10 years ago.
Don’t be afraid to try things out, whether it is by going on a date, going on a discernment retreat, entering a seminary, or just scheduling a meeting with a vocations director. If you aren’t sure about if it’s what will be the best fit for you, don’t worry. That’s why you’re there.