I was disturbed by a conversation I had with a young lady the other day. I wasn't so much disturbed by what she told me exactly. I was disturbed that this was at least the third time I've heard this same story from a young lady. This story will demonstrate my continued distaste for the current use of the word discernment. It's a term that's just as abused today, among the faithful and clergy, as the term 'Pastoral.' I'll write on this specifically in the near future. The abuse of these words (read: these practices) makes me really, really angry. Like, Bruce Banner angry. These abuses cause grave injustices in the faith life of these young women.
Here's the scenario. A young woman feels a call to religious life. So, she goes to visit what she believes to be a good, faithful community. During that visit she meets with the vocations director. After some conversation and prayer the vocation director definitively tells the young girl that she doesn't have a vocation to religious life. She instructs the young woman to return home and put thoughts of religious life out of her mind.
Do you see the problem!
I hope so.
What would it take for this sort of event to be okay? Well, first, the vocation director would need a direct and absolutely clear access to the mind of God. Last I checked, this isn't the way things ordinarily work. It's possible that, maybe, the vocations director may be given a very specific grace to discern vocations. Well, there's a problem with this too. The purpose of a vocations director is not to be an Oracle. The director is one small piece in a much larger chain that may even transcend that director's own order.
Let's consider how the Church thinks about vocations. First, there is no claim that a person is only called exclusively to one vocation. It may be the case that God has a primary plan for your life. This doesn't exclude the possibility of him rewarding an alternate, still good, choice that's not necessarily according to that primary plan. This can go either way. A person God may primarily wan to get married may become a happy and holy religious. The opposite is equally as possible. Vocations aren't magical. They are 90% perseverance. Any religious, priest, or married couple will tell you this after they've lived their vocation long enough.
Also, vocations are not essentially private. They are public and they are confirmed or denied publicly. It's the disregard for this second part, the public dimension of a vocation, that disturbs me most. The experiences of these young women seem to go directly against this objective aspect of a vocation.
Any vocation begins with a feeling. I see a girl, I feel an attraction. I encounter Christ mediated through a priest,I'm attracted to his way of life. I encounter Christ through an experience of religious brothers, I feel an attraction to their manner of life. So, I follow my feelings. I talk to the girl, I discern the priesthood, I discern religious life. Mind you, this is all still very subjective. I've got no problem with a vocation director telling someone that they don't have a vocation to this or that particular Order at this point of discernment. But, this is very different than definitively telling someone they don't have a vocation to an objective state of life at all. This isn't something that an individual of a community can simply determine.
This is one of the problem with marriage today. We don't consult the families when we want confirmation of our percieved vocation to marriage. Men who feel called to the priesthood must have that call confirmed by their local Diocese and those responsible for his formation. But, even this is generally limited to a vocation to the priesthood in that particular Diocese. Unless there is some objective reason, the young man is free to seek the priesthood under the care of another Bishop. Likewise, a religious community can't determine out-right if a person isn't called to some form of consecrated life. They only have the authority and knowledge to determine if a person has a vocation to their own way of life. That's it. That's all.
A vocations director making a claim larger than suggesting the petitioner isn't called to their own community is an injustice to the petitioner and the potential community the petitioner might be suited to enter.
This is a brand new form of vocational contraception.
Vocations directors aren't their to make sweeping universal statements about the call that God has given to an individual. They are there to help you refine what you are experiencing. They are there to be a first line of discernment for the community. They can't speak for other communities, they don't know, with absolute certainty, the will of God for you. That's not their job. That is the job of the Holy Spirit working through the particular community that you are considering.
What this vocation director did to these young women was essentially the same as a young man telling a young woman that she wasn't called to marriage because he didn't feel called to marry her. It's absurd, irrational, and just plain wrong.