What is a Religious Vocation?
“Unless you do penance, you shall all perish likewise.”
(St. Luke 13:5)
“So likewise, every one of you who does not renounce all that he has, cannot be My disciple.”
(St. Luke 14:33)
“Because he who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” (St. Luke 14:11)
On one occasion Our Lord Jesus Christ appeared to St. Faustina Kowalska and showed her the night sky, filled with the moon and stars. And He pointed to the full moon and said to the Saint, “You see how bright the moon is tonight, compared to the stars? Know that the glory of one soul in Heaven who was a faithful religious is like that in comparison to the glory of one soul who was a faithful layman.”
The greatness, beauty, honor, and glory of the religious vocation is a thing unheard of, unknown, and unappreciated in the world. Not only today; but in the past and until the end of time. It is unheard of in the world because the world does not speak of the religious life, except to ridicule it. It is unknown of in the world, because the world knows only pride of life, pride of the eyes and vanity of spirit. It is unappreciated in the world, because the world’s love leads to death; while a religious vocation leads straight to eternal life.
When a vocation begins to think of a religious vocation, he invariably considers that it is a difficult and narrow path. It contradicts what our nature loves, wants and is comfortable with. It contradicts what our parents, relatives, friends and worldly idols encourage us toward. It contradicts the freedom of life, the self determination of a career and the control our society encourages us to have over our life, lived here and now for the there and now. In short a religious vocation is the exact opposite of the creed of the world, the flesh and the devil.
To understand and appreciate and begin to desire a religious vocation, let us consider the four aspects of the essence of a religious vocation: its greatness, beauty, honor and glory.
The greatness of the religious vocation is founded upon its essence. A religious vocation is a calling from the Triune God to devote one’s entire being and life, soul and body, heart and mind, prayer and works, to the knowledge, love and service of Him in this life, and to a special life and blessedness with Him in the world to come.
“Why did God make you?” This is the first question in the traditional Catechism, taught to children. And the answer is: “To know, love and serve God in this life, and to be blessed with Him forever in the life to come.” At Lourdes, St. Bernadette Soubirous, who was a cordbearer of St. Francis of Assisi, asked a favor of Our Lady. Our Blessed Mother replied: “I never promised to make you happy in this world, but only in the world to come.”
The idolization of technology during the last century has led to a complete here-and-now mentality in modern society. How many of our contemporaries are concerned solely and wholly with making money, getting a promotion, buying a house, raising a family, finding and enjoying new entertainments or be tourists here and there. But God did not make us for this world. God did not fashion us to be entertained in this life. God did not intend us to be satisfied here. If we are content with this life, entertained in this life, satisfied with this life, oh how sad, miserable, ignorant and wretched we truly are.
You shall die. God fixed the day before the foundation of the world. It will be for the punishment of your sins, for the punishment of the sin of Adam, if you die the friend of God; for the punishment of your own sins, if you die His enemy.
To be a religious is to consecrate oneself to the most important work in life: being the friend of God. If we become and remain His friend, His faithful servant, when we die He will grant us eternal life. This is the meaning of life; this is the mystery of life. It is that simple.
The greatness of a religious vocation is founded upon the essence of a religious vocation. A religious vocation is a calling from God to dedicate oneself entirely and purely to Himself. Since God is infinite goodness and eternal life, such a relationship is a arrow drawn and shot up into the infinity and eternity of God. As such a religious vocation is a calling to the maximum greatness a man can ever hope for and achieve: the eternal divine sonship, by the adoption of grace.
The beauty of a religious vocation consists in the beauty of God. The religious vocation is an invitation and path to become immersed in the life and beauty of God. This is accomplished by our cooperation with the life of grace. Grace as you know is the participation in the life of the Most Blessed Trinity. Now God is perfect, infinite and eternal Beauty. And beauty is the harmony of order in goodness. So a religious vocation is a calling to become absorbed in God, immersed via grace into the beauty of mind, the beauty of heart and the beauty of spirit.
The beauty of mind to which a religious is called, is the immersion of our intellect in revealed truth in this life by faith and the virtues of wisdom and understanding and knowledge. The beauty of heart to which a religious is called, is the immersion of our will in the pure love of God via the virtues of charity, hope, prudence, fortitude, temperance and justice. The beauty of spirit to which a religious is called, is the exaltation of our mind and heart and body in the contemplation of God for his own sake and the dedication of our life to the works of mercy towards all.
The beauty of a religious vocation is seen so clearly in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose beauty of mind is so remarkably seen in the Magnificat, whose beauty of heart is so remarkable seen in her silent witness at the foot of the cross, and whose beauty of spirit is the sight which so many saints and holy souls have longed for and sought ought with so much prayer and fasting and good works. Indeed Our Blessed Mother is so beautiful that she has single handedly inspired the greatest of artists to the work of beauty.
The beauty of a religious vocation is seen also very clearly in the life of the Saints. How the saints inspire us to virtue, console us with their words, enlighten us with their teachings, encourage us in sorrows and urge us on to the perfection of charity. The saints are our best friends. How great an honor, if God should grant us the desire to follow in their footsteps. Thought not all Saints where religious; nearly all saints were religious, or if they were not, they lived more like religious than even some religious.
The honor of a religious vocation is derived from the One whom a religious serves. There is nothing greater than the service of the Most High and Blessed God, Three and One, the Eternal Lord, the Everlasting Creator, He who is all good, wholly good, without whom nothing is good.
Without God there is not honor, with God there is all honor; to serve God a little is a already a great honor, to serve Him faithfully a greater honor; but to serve Him faithfully and perfectly, that is entirely and wholly and perseveringly: this is the greatest honor, a sublime destiny and the work meriting a stupendous and amazing reward.
The honor of a religious vocation is the honor of serving a Great King, a most noble Redeemer, and a most powerful Master.
A religious is called to serve a Great King. Consider how High God is and you will being to understand the honor of a religious vocation. God is in His being beyond all angels and creatures: He is so good that all creatures by nature must desire either Himself or His works. He is so beautify that death would be the immediate result of seeing Him, so much would our soul flee the service of the body so as to grasp Him. He is so true, that to know Him as He is, is the root of immortality.
A religious is called to serve a most noble Redeemer. God the Son became a lowly man, a poor man, a crucified a rejected Messiah, so that by His poverty all of us might be rich in grace. God gave, God gives, and God will give of Himself and His riches to poor wretches sinners like ourselves. He is most generous, most giving, and most forgiving. What greater captain, general or lord is there to follow?
A religious is called to serve a most powerful Master. His faithful servants healed the sick, raised the dead, cursed to death the enemies of the Church, exorcised demons, and worked all manners of miracles. These were gifts which God gave them to manifest the even greater and truly safe spiritual gift which He gave them: the life of grace. God by His grace is Lord of heaven and earth. To serve him as a religious is to be taken up into a supernatural life, conversing with angels and saints and Our Lady, by faith.
How great then the honor of a religious vocation It is an honor to serve in the armed forces of one’s nation, to protect the safety of us all from temporal dangers. How much greater an honor to serve in the army of the God, the army of the Church Militant, to protect the Church from spiritual dangers? He who serves God faithfully in this life, will merit unimaginable riches in the life to come.
The glory of a religious vocation is the immense reward that lies in wait for the faithful religious. This reward is so great that if it were clearly known all the faithful would rush upon monasteries and convents in such numbers that the police would have to be called in just to control the crowds.
The glory of a religious vocation is the tremendous riches of heaven which are for all who serve God faithfully and over and above this very special graces and gifts which shall only be given to religious. Such are not even given to those saints who were not religious.
Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it even entered into the mind of man what God has prepared for those who love him. To love God is to keep His commandments out of love for Him. But to love God perfectly is to love Him with one’s whole mind, heart, soul and strength, and this is perfectly fulfilled in the whole and entire and perfect and pure dedication of a religious soul. So then how great is the glory of the religious in the world to come? It is beyond imagining, so I would be a liar if I described it in words. I imagine it to be so truly, greatly, beautifully, wonderfully, stupendously good, that it would be stunning and truly beatifying. But I am certain that it is greater than all this. For God loves a generous giver. And the blessedness of Heaven consists essentially in God’s giving of Himself, as He is, to the soul by an ontologic contact of mind to mind, will to will, spirit to spirit. Such an embrace is truly to be wondered at. But how much more the embrace of One who has be all the more loved. Such is the blessedness of the religious in Heaven.
The Duties of a Religious Vocation
A religious has the duty to know, love and serve God. To know Him by prayer, meditation and the study of Catholic teaching and scripture in this light. To love Him by keeping the commandments and following His precepts and by works of charity for our neighbor. To serve Him by being faithful and persevering in what he has promised until death.
A religious vows poverty, obedience and chastity. Poverty, in that he forsakes personal property and shares everything with his community. Obedience, in that he forsakes his own will, and does what his superior’s legitimately ask him to do for the community or the Church. Chastity, in that he forsakes all carnal pleasure, of body or mind, and lives with the innocence of a child who is concerned with pure things, holy things, heavenly things, and not those of the earth.
Such duties encompass the entire day and year and life of a religious. A religious should consider vacations and remuneration shameful. What he does and is, is for God alone; and no recompense in the life is comparable. Indeed it is so unequal to the beauty, honor, greatness, and glory of a religious vocation that it is a lie and a deceit to compare it to a career or job. The Church will only be restored with religious who are what they are and do what they do for His sake.
The Need for Religious
There is a very great and urgent need for religious today. With the dissolution of religious life there is obviously a need for new religious and new communities. With the loss of so many priests and brothers and sisters in decades following the Second Vatican Council there is obviously a need for others to take their place. But there is also a need for good and faithful, holy and generous religious. If there has been failure in recent years and a dissolution and leaving of many of the faithful, it is only because the prayers and example and works of religious were lacking. Religious are like Moses on the mountain above the plains of battle; when they let down their arms the Church suffers loss.
“Who shall go for My sake?” says the Lord. It is the religious who says: “Here I am Lord, send me!”
The religious vocation is a call to be a disciple, a soldier, a knight, a servant, and a son. What calling is greater? What destiny more worthwhile?
May God grant you each such a desire; and if you do not desire this, beg Him for it, or at least beg Him to grant this desire to others.