Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 11, 2002
The call comes from within
But after that, community must nuture a vocation
By RENATO GANDIA
WCR Staff Writer
The vocation to the priesthood and religious life is both mysterious and mystical.
It is mysterious and mystical because one does not necessarily hear his or her name being called by God like one would hear from a microphone or a telephone.
The call comes from within, said Sulpician Father Lionel Gendron, rector of St. Joseph Seminary.
At some point a person has experienced this call to live the Gospel in a radical way, said Gendron.
That personal call from God is the germination of one's vocation. But this seed of call has to be looked after and nurtured. And this is the reason why there are seminaries and communities of formation for ordained ministry and religious consecrated life.
"God's call comes from within but it also comes from the community and from the Church," Gendron stressed.
The role of the Church when God calls someone is to more or less verify the authenticity of the call. This is where seminaries and formation houses enter.
In seminaries and houses of formation, persons who felt the call, journey together for the common purpose of discerning God's will.
Father Duaine Devereaux said, "Someone who comes to the seminary is not walking off the street."
"A person comes here because he feels he is called by God to serve the people as an ordained minister," said Devereaux, vice-rector of St. Augustine Seminary in Scarborough, Ont.
Before these men even apply to the seminary they have all been in contact with a bishop and or a diocesan vocation director, who has helped them explore that call for some time.
Gendron said, "It is important that the person journeys with the spiritual director and other members of the community."
"Through this journey, it is important to know if the person is becoming more and more aware of this call from God," Gendron said.
Devereaux said, "Sometimes a person is called to be in the seminary for a period of time for whatever reason, but as time goes on, the call to the priesthood becomes less strong."
"It's a very mysterious thing but it's a moment of grace in many ways," he said.
The one who is called is the principal agent of formation. But together with the community and the formation team, a person is helped to understand, appreciate and verify this call.
A person cannot simply say, "I felt the call of God so I should be ordained or I should be consecrated to the religious life." The Church needs to see the signs that really God is calling this person to this way of Christian witness.
That is why all throughout the formative years, formators are looking for outwards signs that point to the consistency of lifestyle expected of a priest or a religious.
For Gendron, "there is an important role given to the formators and the peers. It is important to know how they see the candidate."
"The way a seminarian lives his life within the community is crucial. The way he lives should mirror the way the Apostles lived with Jesus within in the community."
If it is only prayer then someone can go as a hermit someplace and then come back as a priest after some years.
If it is about academics only, one can go to the university and take the necessary degree.
Or if it is simply about pastoral life, one has to acquire pastoral skills and then be ordained.
Devereaux said what they look for in a seminarian in formation are signs of someone who seems to be reasonably at peace with things.
"We are looking at the consistency of lifestyle of someone who has the view in mind that someday he will be ordained a priest in the Church."
A person has to ask, "Am I becoming closer to God living this way?"
Sister Frances MacDougall, who is a member of the formation team at St. Joseph as the human formation director, said, "Sometimes, what we look for are signs that can be obstacles to vocation."
Responding to the call of God to be a priest or religious is a radical way of living the Gospel and there will be obstacles, MacDougall explained.
During the years of formation these obstacles have to be identified. They can be permanent or temporary and they manifest some signs of God's call. They are either hindrances or instrumental for the pursuit of holiness of one person.
"We're looking for openness. Openness to new experiences and openness to conversion."
"I really think in a vocation to priestly life, how people handle confidentiality is very significant," MacDougall said.
Wholesomeness of personality is another characteristic expected of priests and religious.
"We can have a whole variety of personalities that are all wholesome. But we're looking for signs that this person will relate in a healthy way with all sorts of persons he or she will meet in ministry," she said.
How the person's spirit harmonizes with other people and with the desire to spread the Gospel is crucial, said MacDougall, who in the past was involved with formation in her own community of Congregation of Notre Dame.
"In religious communities both for women and men, we're also trying to discern whether the person has what we call the charism or the gift of that particular community," she said.
Does this person's call and desire to live the prayer life, fit with the hundreds of people who have gone before him or her, is an added area of discernment for religious life.
On the day one reaches perpetual profession, members of the community are in a way looking on and saying, "Yes we recognize that this person is one of us."
"We're looking for that harmony with the charism of the community."
The usual stages of formation in a religious community are postulancy, novitiate, temporary profession of vows and perpetual profession of vows.
Perpetual profession of vows happens when the community decides that a candidate's way of life and witnessing is not only concurrent with the Gospel but also compatible with the congregation's charism.
Charisms of religious communities vary. Some communities are called to do ministry through contemplative prayer within a monastery. Others are committed to education of people in various situations, such as hospital ministry, serving the poor, and providing other services in the community that give witness to the Gospel values.
Both for priestly and religious life, the most important thing is that a person witnesses and lives according to the Gospel and that this witnessing is recognized and experienced by the Church as a grace from God.