Friday, October 18, 2013

Why discernment has to take so long

It's no secret that one of the challenges in religious life in recent decades has been the "vocation crisis." In one way, it's not so much a lack of vocations (God doesn't stop calling men and women to a life of special consecration and mission) as it is a crisis of correspondence. But you could also say it is a crisis of discernment.

Thankfully, among Catholic young adults, "discernment" is the spiritual buzzword du jour. It is becoming a recognizable aspect of Catholic spiritual development. "I'm in discernment," someone will say, and the proper response is encouragement and prayer.

But discernment is a two-way street. Not only does a young person (or in some cases not-so-young) need to discern their particular call from God, the communities that work with them also have to exercise great discernment before allowing a person to enter candidacy or postulancy (much less novitiate or first vows). When someone is attracted to religious life, or to a ministry, or to a particular community, the process of discernment can seem to plod along at a purgatorial pace. (I heard once that on a vocational chatroom, one complaint was, "It's really hard to get into the Daughters"!)

At times, though, you'll hear of a young person entering a community after a discernment of only three to six months. Those stories give me the willies. The young person may be clear about their vocational desires, but has the community itself made a discernment? Or do they expect all that to come after the person has left "home, brothers, sisters and property"?

A tragic item in the news this week highlights this responsibility. When I first saw a hint of it on Twitter yesterday, I immediately replied to the reporter that such a thing just didn't ring true; religious communities have safeguards in place! We practice discernment! But after a bit (the reporter was good enough to engage me in conversation), I had to face the facts. Clearly, for whatever reason, the sisters failed in vocational discernment.  The particular case, extreme as it is, involved deceit (or at least dissembling) on the part of the prospective candidate; but somehow the community did not really know the candidate.

I am praying very much for the community involved; for their sisters who had been in vocational contact with the young woman; for the postulants and formation directress forced into an experience so foreign to every expectation. All this, because of a lack of true discernment. Perhaps it was from an excess of enthusiasm; perhaps a bit of impatience; cultural differences may have played a huge role.

But I am not giving up on vocational discernment! In fact, if you know a young woman who could possibly find her fullest joy in a life of consecration and mission, please encourage her to "enter a discernment process"; and maybe you could forward our vocational e-zine!


Yaya said...

I read the story and it is a sad one for all involved. I will pray for all involved. I too, will not give up on the gift that is true discernment. I hope and pray your wonderful community will be blessed with many vocations.

Katrina Albert said...

I'm currently considering discernment and literally found this article because I wanted to know why the process takes so long. It makes sense...but I'm just afraid that more waiting will mean more time to second guess and over-analyze.

Sr Anne Flanagan said...

Katrina, "considering discernment" is already Stage 1 of Discernment! Welcome to the process. You can find some solid guidance and insight from Sister Marie Paul, who is blogging her forthcoming book on discernment: