“From the very beginning of the Church there have been men and women who have renounced the great good of marriage to follow the Lamb wherever he goes…” (CCC 1618)
Not all people are called to be married or to the priesthood or to religious life. Without the care of a family or spouse, the committed single person is called to fulfill a role that a married person, a priest, a deacon, a religious brother or sister could never fulfill. While the single person may renounce sexual relationships, he or she by no means renounces love. The single person is called to experience and to share the same intense, fulfilling love that every human being is called to experience. The single person is simply called to love in a different way than a married person. Rather than pouring their love into a spouse and family, the single person pours him/herself out in service to Jesus Christ and His Church, to his/her family and to society. Scripture makes it clear that living singly frees us to work in the Lord’s vineyard. We are told that the single person remains unmarried “…for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 19:12).
Like everyone else, the person called to live in the single state may find loneliness to be a struggle, but it is not a disadvantage. It is a universal truth that as long as we remember that we are children of God and members of the Church, we are never truly alone.
Although marriage is a sign of God’s unconditional love, we know that it ends with death and remains a part of this passing existence. Those who live the single life, on the other hand, are a sign to us that our ultimate fulfillment is to be found in our relationship with Jesus Christ, a relationship that only grows stronger in Heaven.
While priests and Religious, through the gift of celibacy, express their love through serving the whole human family, those called to be married share a more exclusive love – the love of husband and wife. Marriage is a beautiful Sacrament, instituted by Jesus Christ (Mark 10:3-12) and meant for the holiness of the spouses and for brining children into the world. The husband’s mission is to get his wife to Heaven and the wife’s mission is to get her husband to Heaven.
And this vocation is a challenging one. All of us know a couple whose marriage fell apart… maybe even our own parents. And God knows marriage is tough. That is why He made it a Sacrament. He infused this natural bond with His grace, so that when a couple is married in the Church they are given supernatural help to grow in love for each other throughout the entirety of their lives. They are also given the grace to love and welcome children, who are born out of the love of husband and wife. You can see that the vocation to marriage and the establishment of the Christian home play a very important part in the building of Christian society and the kingdom of God.
Have you ever wondered what Heaven will be like? I bet you have. The best place to look, if you are trying to imagine what Heaven will be like, is within the walls of a convent or a monastery, where nuns and monks are striving to live the life of Heaven here on Earth. What do I mean? Nuns and monks – those living ‘Religious Life’ – have made vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in order to detach themselves from the cares and concerns of this world and to be free to live entirely for the Lord. We spend much of our lives worrying about where we are going to get the money we need to survive and to be comfortable, or who we are going to marry and how we are going to raise our children, or what job we should take and how we should spend our time. But those in religious life have vowed themselves to poverty, chastity and obedience. They have no bank accounts, no paycheques, no cars, no homes to worry about. They do not need to worry about finding partners or raising families. They have religious superiors who guide them in their work and leisure, so they don’t have to make those decisions. You can see that the vows that religious make – poverty., chastity and obedience – free them to live entirely for the Lord and the building up of His kingdom. That is the life of Heaven on Earth!
We know, too, that we will live in community in Heaven – we will not be isolated. Just so, those called to religious life follow their vocation as a community – they support and encourage one another in their efforts to be united to Jesus and to do his work. In that way, too, religious are living the life of Heaven here on Earth!
And there are many different communities of nuns and monks and of sisters and brothers. There is not just one group that we lump together – there are different group of religious that we call ‘orders.’ You may be familiar with some of them – the Jesuits, the Franciscans and the Dominicans, for example. But there are thousands of religious communities, and a person called to this vocation must also discern which order he/she is called to. What distinguishes one order from another is their charism – what particular gift or service they have to offer the Church. Some are preachers. Some are nurses. Some are teachers. Some serve the poor. A young man or woman called to religious life must discern which order is the right one for him/her.
Some religious orders, like the Cistercians, live a contemplative spirituality. This means that they spend very little time engaged with the world, and devote themselves instead to deep prayer and sacrifice. Men and women called to this form of religious life are called ‘monks’ and ‘nuns.’ Other religious groups, like the Jesuits, have a more active spirituality and become involved in pastoral activity in the world. Such groups will have a special ministry or ‘apostolate’, such as nursing or teaching or working with the poor. Men and women called to this form of religious life are called ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters. Still other orders, like the Daughters of St. Mary of Leuca, live a very strong life of prayer but also engage with the world through some ministry or ‘apostolate,’ like caring for young children. These religious orders are called ‘semi-contemplative,’ a mix of the active and contemplative life.
Thousands of young people continue to hear the Lord calling them to religious life. In fact, there are religious communities that can’t construct buildings fast enough to house the young people who are joining them every year. If you think that you may have a calling to religious life, contact the vocations director. Many religious orders have websites as well, although some ‘googling’ may be needed to find them.
Priests are heroes. They are men who have laid down their lives so that others might live. Courageously setting aside all the comforts that the world has to offer, the priest lives to bring glory to God and to save souls. They accomplish this by offering the Sacrifice of the Mass, baptizing, hearing confessions, anointing the sick, preaching the Gospel, and witnessing marriages. Priests are heroes because they have been specially united to Christ, the one true Hero, so that priests act ‘in persona Christi’, that is, in the person of Christ. They represent Him before the people.
Every young Catholic man should ask himself whether God is calling him to be a priest. If you haven’t asked God if He might be calling you to be a priest, why not? Our deepest happiness is found when we say ‘yes’ to what we were created for, so we will be happy as priests if that is what we are called to! It is my hope that one day every young Catholic man will at least ask the question ‘is the Lord calling me to be a priest?’
If the thought has crossed your mind that God may be calling you to the priesthood, there are several signs you can look for to indicate that you may, in fact, be called to become a priest. Keep in mind, though, that exhibiting these qualities is not a foolproof test for one’s vocation – these are simply guides to help you know whether the priesthood may, in fact, be a possibility.
Growing Faith – An increased awareness of God in his life and a developing appreciation of Jesus, His life, mission, Church and followers.
Growing Zeal – The urge to seek truth and to share faith with others.
Growing Desire To Be Consumed – An increasing desire to give himself completely to the Lord; joy is found through regular confession and reception to the Eucharist, along with participation in Eucharistic Adoration.
Growing Interest in the Life and Work of the Priest – An increasing wonderment at what it would be like to preach and teach the Word, to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and the other Sacraments, to organize people for service, to be with people in their joys, sorrows and needs and, in general, to assist people in their own faith.
Growing Desire to Lead People – Being ‘one of the crowd’ is not enough. Those called to the priesthood are also given the gifts and the desire to guide others.
Growing Sensitivity to the Needs of People – A growing concern for others, their concerns, joys, challenges, lives and spiritual lives.
Growing Sense That God Has Something Great Planned – Life is not a series of coincidences but has been carefully planned out by a loving God. Wondrously, God invites each person to participate in this mysterious plan through unique ways.
Any baptized men who believe that they could have a calling to the priesthood should explore this possibility. One important step in exploring that call is to share the idea with a parish priest or the director of vocations. The director of vocations for the diocese of Peterborough can be reached by phone at 705-874-1871 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.