Sacrificing Religious Life on the Altar of Egalitarianism

Young Catholics are spurning religious life.  According to the Official Catholic Directory, there were only 1,853 seminarians studying for American religious orders in 2011.  That’s less than half the number of religious seminarians that were studying in 1980 (4,674), and less than one tenth the number that were studying in 1965 (22,230), according to Kenneth Jones’ Index of Leading Catholic Indicators.  Even the most successful religious orders are suffering.  The U.S. Dominicans boast of increased vocations, but today they have only about 100 student brothers (compared to 343 in 1965).  Dominican vocations may have increased in the past few years—likely as a result of perceived orthodoxy, strong community life, and aggressive promotional efforts—but they are still anemic.  Orders like the Dominicans look successful only because everyone else has hit rock bottom.

According to Jones’ figures, the Passionists went from having 574 seminarians in 1965, to 5 in 2000.  The Vincentians went from 700 to 18.  The Oblates of Mary Immaculate went from 914 to 13.  The Redemptorists went from 1,128 to 24.  The same story holds for the Jesuits, OFM, Christian Brothers, Benedictines, Maryknoll Fathers, Holy Cross Fathers, Augustinians, and Carmelites.  American religious vocations have been decimated, and they remain decimated today.  Religious life in America, therefore, continues its precipitous decline: according to the USCCB, compared to the 214,932 American religious in 1965, there were only 102,326 religious in 2000; 84,918 in 2006; 80,137 in 2008; and now 69,405 in 2013.  Of the 69,405 religious who remain today the average age is close to seventy years old.

What happened to religious vocations?  Some commentators blame heterodoxy within American orders.  Others blame our glitzy, debauched culture.  Still others blame a prevailing spiritual malaise amongst Catholics.  But there is another cause for the vocations crisis that commentators fail to recognize: vocations directors, counselors, and authors, despite their best intentions, systematically undermine religious vocations.

Suppose that you are considering religious life.  Today’s vocations counselors will advise you to search your heart for a desire to live religious life; and they will tell you that if you don’t find this desire you are probably not called.  For example, James Martin, S.J., prominent Catholic author and editor of America, writes in an article for the VISION Vocations Network, “God awakens our vocations primarily through our desires.”  He claims, “Henri Nouwen became a priest because he desired it,” and “Thérèse of Lisieux entered the convent because she desired it.”  Fr. Martin Pable, author of the widely recommended guide to religious discernment, A Religious Vocation: Is It for Me?, also focuses on desire.  He says that we are called to religious life by a “natural desire or attraction toward
the life.”  If we are “repulsed or just not attracted” by religious life, that’s “a sign we are not being called.”  Vocations directors across the country refer young Catholics to authors like Martin and Pable.  They also echo Martin and Pable’s discernment advice.  Sister Colleen Therese Smith, vocation director of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, says that when it comes to your vocation “your own deepest desires do in fact reflect God’s deepest desires for you.”  The Mid-America Cupuchins’ vocation team says that the first sign of a religious vocation “can be phrased by the question, ‘Do I have a desire for the life?’”  Sister Margie Lavonis, vocations counselor for the Sisters of the Holy Cross, says, “One of the best ways to discover what God asks of you is for you to listen to the deepest desire of your heart.”  Other examples abound.  The prevailing opinion amongst those who talk and write about discernment is that God calls men and women to religious life by placing an innate desire for religious life in their hearts.  If you have no such desire, it is unlikely that you are called.

This advice, although it looks harmless on the surface, ends up thwarting religious vocations.  Men and women who prayerfully examine their desires almost never find a strong desire for religious life lodged in the depths of their hearts.  Religious life, in itself, is not a desirable good.  Religious life is a renunciation.  It is a kind of death.  It involves turning one’s back on what is humanly good and desirable.  Consider the life of a Trappist.  A Trappist monk deprives himself of sleep, deprives himself of food, gives up a wife and children, puts aside the joys of conversation, gives up his personal property, rises at 4:00 in the morning every day to chant interminable psalms in a cold church, loses the opportunity to travel, and even relinquishes his own will.  The thought of being a Trappist is not an appealing thought.  It instills a kind of dread—the sort of dread that we feel when we contemplate a skull, or when we stand over a precipice, or when we look across a barren landscape.  All forms of religious life have this repulsive effect.  All forms of religious life, at their very core, consist of three vows—poverty, chastity, and obedience—and each of these vows is repulsive.  The vow of poverty means giving up money and property; the vow of chastity means giving up a spouse and children; and the vow of obedience means giving up one’s own will.  No one has an innate desire to sever himself from property, family, and his own will.  No one has an innate desire to uproot three of life’s greatest goods.  Such a desire would be mere perversion.

Everyone, however, has an innate desire to get married.  Religious life is a renunciation, but marriage is a positive good.  So, if we ask people to decide between religious life and marriage on the basis of their desires, they are going to choose marriage every time.  And that’s what’s happening.  Vocations directors tell their advisees to prayerfully search their desires in order to find their vocation.  The advisees search, and what do they find?  An aversion to religious life and a desire for marriage.  So they choose marriage.  Meanwhile, religious orders shrink and die.

If we want to revitalize religious life, we need to rethink our methodology.  We need to stop telling people to look within their hearts for an innate desire for religious life.  They have no such desire.  Instead of asking people whether they desire religious life, we should ask them whether they desire salvation—whether they desire to become saints.  If sanctity is the goal, then religious life and all its harrowing renunciations begin to make sense.  Although religious life is the hardest, most fearsome way to live, it is also the most spiritually secure, most fruitful, and most meritorious.  Saint Bernard of Clairvaux tells us that because they renounce property, family, and their own wills, religious “live more purely, they fall more rarely, they rise more speedily, they are aided more powerfully, they live more peacefully, they die more securely, and they are rewarded more abundantly.”  According to Saint Athanasius, “if a man embraces the holy and unearthly way, even though as compared with [married life] it be rugged and hard to accomplish, nonetheless it has the more wonderful gifts: for it grows the perfect fruit, namely a hundredfold.”  Theresa of Avila even tells us that she became a nun, against her own desires, because she “saw that the religious state was the best and safest.”  Religious life is daunting, it is tough, and it requires us to give up many good things.  But, according to the Church and her great saints, it is the surest road to holiness.  And that is why we choose it.  The only way to increase vocations is to tell young Catholics the truth about religious life.  Religious life is the most effective means to sanctity—more effective than marriage, and more effective than any other calling.

Vocations directors, however, are unwilling to talk about religious life as the most effective means to sanctity.  One reason for this unwillingness is their fear of contradicting the Second Vatican Council’s universal call to holiness.  According to Lumen Gentium: “All Christians in any state of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love.”  This message is both true and good.  But many Catholics take the message a step farther than it was intended to go.  They infer that because all people are called to become saints all vocations must be equally effective means to sanctity.  This is a great error.  The view that marriage and religious life are equal paths to holiness is contrary to the writings of saints like Bernard, Athanasius, and Theresa, but it is also condemned by the Council of Trent and contradicted by John Paul II in Vita ConsecrataSession XXIV of the Council of Trent declared: anyone who denies that it is “better and more blessed to remain in virginity, or in celibacy, than to be united in matrimony; let him be anathema.”  Pope John Paul II reaffirmed this teaching in Vita Consecrata: “it is to be recognized that the consecrated life… has an objective superiority.”

Today’s ubiquitous assumption that marriage and religious life are equal paths to holiness is not merely bad doctrine.  It is also a deathblow for religious life.  Once you accept that religious life and lay married life are equally effective means to sanctity, you undercut the only compelling motivation for becoming a religious.  If lay married life provides an equally effective means to sanctity, plus the goods of pleasure, family, property, one’s own will, etc., then it is irrational to choose religious life.  Choosing religious life over marriage would mean punishing yourself for no good reason.  It would mean turning your back on—showing contempt for—the goods of God’s creation while gaining nothing from your sacrifice.  If lay married life gets you to sanctity just as easily and reliably as religious life, then all that religious life amounts to is a kind of masochism.  In the words of University of Washington sociologist Rodney Stark, “what does a woman gain in return for her vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience, if she… acquires no special holiness thereby, while spending her working hours side-by-side with married women who now are officially seen as her equal in terms of virtue, but who are free from her obligations?

Well, therein lies the problem.  In order to protect an imagined equality between vocations, today’s vocations directors and counselors are selling masochism under the label ‘religious life.’  No wonder there are so few takers.  Even secular sociologists—after closely examining the data—recognize this as the primary cause for the vocations implosion.  Rodney Stark and Roger Finke, in their joint paper, “Catholic Religious Vocations: Decline and Revival,” claim “the data are conclusive that the collapse of Catholic [religious] vocations was self-imposed, not merely incidental to the process of modernity.”  The decline in religious vocations “was in response to a cost/benefit ratio that had suddenly gone from positive to negative.” “[T]he doctrine denying that special holiness attached to religious vocations transformed the remaining sacrifices of the religious life into gratuitous costs.”  In light of these costs, and “in the absence of the primary rewards of the religious life, few potential recruits found it any longer an attractive choice.”  Young Catholics have been offered masochism under the label ‘religious life,’ and they have wisely rejected it.

If we want to revive religious vocations, then we have only one option.  We must tell the uncomfortable truth.  Religious life is the most effective, reliable means to sanctity and salvation—more effective than marriage, and more effective than any other calling.  This is a tough, unpopular message.  But if we refuse to speak this message, religious life will continue its inevitable decline.  If we refuse to speak this message, then we have chosen to sacrifice religious life on the altar of egalitarianism.

Editor’s note: The photo above, dated June 29, 1951, depicts Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber blessing Joseph Ratzinger during his ordination to the priesthood in the cathedral at Freising in southern Germany.

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Justin Hannegan is a Benedictine brother at the Abbey of Saint Mary and Saint Louis in Creve Coeur, Missouri. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy from the University of Dallas and his Master's degree in philosophy from Northern Illinois University.

  • Siobhán

    In my own discernment, I keep encountering this attitude. I would say I have a great attraction to religious life, but the attraction is to the sacrificial nature of it. I want to renounce my life for the love of God and to unite myself to His will but I’m told to look for where I would feel ‘joy’ and ‘happiness’ when choosing a state in life. I imagine such feelings as by-products of working towards sanctity rather than goals in themselves. If I reveal my views about religious life, sometimes even to priests, I’m seen as having scrupulous inclinations. These views are seen as very ‘pre-Vatican II’, but I am no traditionalist; as far as I can see, there is not a new breed of Saint and there is no new type of sanctity.

    Religious communities that offer this type of life are few and far between, and the situation is particularly dire for women. I think partly the reason that so many Orders are not telling young people the truth, it probably because they are not living it. If a lax community were to reveal that holiness is advanced by suffering for God, they would be re-directing inquiries to more rigorous communities.

    All this is not nostalgia for the ‘old ways’. I am twenty-two and have no experience of times when these attitudes were more common. To me, it seems obvious that to want to make such ‘harrowing renunciations’ stems organically as a reaction to God’s grace and mercy and attitudes such as mine might be suppressed to some extent but will never disappear (Deo gratias!).

    Thank you for this refreshing article, it is a great affirmation for me to stay the course.

    • Sinead

      Siobhan, In my twenties and early thirties I tried my vocation in three different religious orders, the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny, a missionary order teaching in the west indies, the Cistercians in UK, and the Carthusians in France all three asked me to examine my heart’s desires for what it really wanted and sure enough the result was as above…. I really wanted marriage and family…. however, I could not find a husband, someone who shared my faith and virtues, so I proposed that perhaps even though I desired something, God’s Providence had not provided fulfilment to that desire so perhaps I could discern from this that He wanted something else of me which I was willing to give Him if only He would show me what it was….. His Providence had to lead me to the community that would accept me, if religious life was what He wanted of me….. The Novice mistresses all had different advice… at St Joseph’s of Cluny it was; “it’s easy to die young, but the real merit is in carrying the cross for the whole of ones life,” with the Cistercians it was, “Edel Quinn (Legion of Mary lay Missionary) should be my example and guide,” the Carthusian monastry novice mistress examined me for a whole year and I found was the most helpful… she told me to change my profession (teaching), for I would never find a husband that way, to retrain as a Podiatrist (Foot doctor), and to trust God’s Providence, but at the same time she said the community would be happy to receive me if that’s what I chose of my own free will… knowing that it would have to be a daily choice for the rest of my life, never really being 100% sure that this was God’s will for me. I couldn’t live with such doubt so chose to take my courage in my hands and leave the cosy confines of an extraordinarily blessed and grace filled 12 months with them and return to the world… 5 years later I was married, 13 years later I’m still married to the same man… Deo gratias!

    • David Mary

      Your post wounded me! Don’t stop, there is a place for you. Have you tried the Nashville Dominicans of St. Cecilia? I shall pray for your needs and intentions.

    • fRED

      “I want to renounce my life for the love of God and to unite myself to His will…”

      I highly recommend the book, “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence []. If you can’t find a copy, there are free internet versions (I like the audio version on Librivox). (More info about Br. Lawrence is at

      I am also struck by your remark about being attracted to the sacrificial nature of religious life. I would think that the same could be said about marriage (except that it is not being said). Marriage today is being promoted via desire as little more than civilized lust. I think that is why there are so many divorces-the sacramental aspects of marriage are not emphasized.

      Actually, upon reflection of comments on holy orders, marriage, and the mass/Eucharist, it would appear that there is a vast ignorance regarding sacraments in general. Many might chalk this up to V2 but there is probably more to it than that.

      “…it seems obvious that to want to make such ‘harrowing renunciations’ stems organically as a reaction to God’s grace and mercy…”

      I am perplexed with your observation about God’s grace and mercy because if it is organic, then similar reactions should be very common (but obviously are not). On the other hand, if this is a matter of free will, then it is not organic. And if God’s grace and mercy is available to all, how is it that so many of us, despite sincere efforts, seem to be missing it?

      I don’t know the answer but I suspect it has something to do with sacrifice (which our society abhors), not just individually but collective.

      Regarding religious life, I have a high regard for the Benedictine women at the Abbey of Regina Laudis [] in Bethlehem, CT. Perhaps you have heard the story of Dolores Hart.

      • Siobhán

        Thank you for the book recommendation. I have a backlog of books to read currently but that has been put on the wishlist!

        I think perhaps I have not properly clarified the level of subjectivity in my comment. Each state of life calls us to love through sacrifice, I am called to this way of sacrifice. I meant to refer to the ‘kind of death’ the author describes. We must all die to ourselves in some way, but this ‘death to the world’ is something to which I am very drawn.

        In relation to your second observation, you leave out the all-important “To me” that was at the start of that sentence. I did not intend to make a theological point about grace/free will! To put it very differently, the desire to make such renunciations does not stem from ‘medieval’ (a term I am loathe to use to give a negative connotation) masochism but as a loving response to God’s grace and mercy. This grace is helping me to discover my vocation, and I am discerning what I think is God’s invitation to make these renunciations. Does this leave you a little less perplexed? I’ll be the first to admit I should be more exacting when expressing myself.

        I have heard her wonderful story! Monastic life is certainly something I will explore. There are certainly excellent examples of religious communities in the US, however it is a substantial financial investment to discern with them so I think I will have to content myself with European ones, or international ones in Europe for the moment.

        • Sharon S

          The previous poster beat me to it, but I was also going to recommend that you look into the Abbey of Regina Laudis. I visit there a few times a year and am always impressed by the hard work and discipline of the sisters (since you mention wanting a more rigorous lifestyle). They have the option of being an intern at the Abbey for a year’s time, so that might be a good option for you. I have met several young sisters there that began as interns, but are now in the process of joining the community (the amount of younger sisters there initially surprised me).

          I sometimes use to wonder whether monastic life amounted to hiding your light under a bushel basket, but my opinion has changed over time. The sisters there are such a good example of holiness and dedication to their faith. And, as my mother pointed out to me, they provide some much needed rest from the distractions of the world to those who visit them.

          In any case, may the Holy Spirit continue to guide you in your search for a vocation.

    • Br. Justin Hannegan

      I’m so glad to be of help. I will remember you in my prayers.

      Oh, and if I could offer one tip… look to the doctors of the Church, her great saints, and her councils. They will not lead you astray, or leave you wondering whether there is any point to becoming a religious. They capture the true vision of religious life–a vision that is rarely articulated but is still capable of inspiring sacrifice and heroism.

      God bless!

  • Ford Oxaal

    This would seem to be a very important article. I hope it gets republished when folks come back from various holiday activities.

  • publiusnj

    If the choices were only between marriage and religious orders, orders would probably not be in as parlous condition as they are. Marriage is also a choice many Americans are not considering. Religion itself is considered an odd choice by many in what the author accurately calls “our glitzy debauched culture.”

  • jacobhalo

    The 60’s were a time of radical change in America. Civil Rights and the Vietnam War brought many people together to challenge the status quo. The church saw the changes coming and wanted to bring the church into the modern world, ergo, Vatican II. The Council’s goal should had been to bring the modern world into the church. That was their first mistake. Secondly, it water-downed the teachings of the church to make it more palatable to the people. Jesus never water-downed His teachings. e.g. When he was telling a crowd that he who eats his flesh and drinks his blood will have eternal life. Many people began to walk away when they heard these words. Jesus didn’t call them back and say I was only using my flesh and blood as symbols. He let them walk away. So with the church, it should had kept to its no nonsense approach. It should had kept it fire and brimstone sermons. Today, the clerics don’t want to offend anyone. Have you ever heard a sermon on abortion, homosexuality, sin, the devil, hell. Of course, we should also hear sermons on the positives too.
    I’m 67 yrs. old, and I remember well pre-Vatican II when the seminaries,convents, Catholic schools, long confessional lines, and very few cafeteria Catholics. The church was vibrant at that time. There was no reason for Vatican II, except the modernists, had been trying to take the reins of the church since before Pope St. Pius X, who preached and wrote against modernism. Priests had to take a vow against modernism. Since Vatican II, that is no longer the case, because with the election of Pope John after the death of Pope Pius XII. Pope John was a modernist. Pope Pius X knew that the modernists would start the decline of the church.

    • smokes

      Are they modernists or communists?

      • jacobhalo

        I heard a priest say that he didn’t want to read the Gospel of John because of its condemnation of Jews. “If you don’t believe that I am the He [the Messiah] you will die in your own sins.” Could you imagine Pope Francis I saying that to the Jews at a inter religious meeting?

        • smokes

          No. No pope since Pius will adhere to Doctrine and Scripture.

          The flip side is a Jew conceding Christ is (or even may be) the Messiah. Won’t happen. On one side has to play nice.

          • jacobhalo

            If they don’t adhere to doctrine and scripture, should they be popes?

    • WRBaker

      As we are roughly the same age, I second your words concerning how things were pre-VII and for a little while afterwards.
      I can also remember returning from Vietnam and looking at the priesthood. This was during the beginning when guitar masses reigned, priests didn’t wear collars, churches started looking Protestant, Kumbaya was often heard, etc. It wasn’t for me and it apparently wasn’t for the many priests and religious who were dispensed from their vows.
      Today? Seeing a priest having a Holy Water fight on the altar, a Jesuit priest apologizing for a scripture reading to those attending a Mass and another ignoring an overt challenge to Church teachings in an in-service by staff member are but a few recent examples of the caliber of some priests. A priest friend also estimates that over 50% of the priests in this diocese are homosexual. No wonder our youth might have second thoughts about religious life.

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      The Church had been riven by division for sixty years before the Council. In 1904, Maurice Blondel wrote, “With every day that passes, the conflict between tendencies that set Catholic against Catholic in every order–social, political, philosophical–is revealed as sharper and more general. One could almost say that there are now two quite incompatible “Catholic mentalities,” particularly in France. And that is manifestly abnormal, since there cannot be two Catholicisms.”

      Responding to a national survey in 1907, Blondel articulated his sense of the “present crisis”:

      “[U]nprecedented perhaps in depth and extent–for it is at the same time scientific, metaphysical, moral, social and political–[the crisis] is not a “dissolution” [for the spirit of faith does not die], nor even an “evolution” [for the spirit of faith does not change], it is a purification of the religious sense, and an integration of Catholic truth”

      The suspicion under which the Churchs greatest theologians laboured for the next half-century bears this out – Joseph Maréchal SJ, Marie-Dominique Chenu OP, Cardinal Henri de Lubac SJ, Cardinal Yves Congar OP, Cardinal Jean Daniélou SJ, the list goes on.

      • jacobhalo

        Yes, you are correct. Pius X railed against the modernists who had been knocking at the door with their liberal theology. Time has proven had wrong they were. You forgot to mention Cardinal Ratzinger, who was among those theologians that you mentioned.
        The heirarchy was in division 60 years before the council, but the people were united. I don’t remember any (I’m sure there were) cafeteria Catholics during the pre-Vatican days.

  • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

    While I do not disagree with the contents of this article, as far as it goes, the omission of any discussion of the Mass is a glaring deficiency. The absolute degradation of the Mass, the sheer inanity of what Catholics have had to endure since the introduction of the Novus Ordo, is a much greater cause of the decline of vocations than misguided vocations directors or a misreading of Lumen Gentium. Simply put, young men see nothing happening on the altar that they wish to consecrate their lives to, and I don’t blame them.
    Yes, in individual places a restoration of the sacred is slowly taking place. But even if this restoration is permitted to flourish (and that is highly questionable) we will not see the fruits of it any time soon. It is easy to destroy (or “renew,” if you prefer that term) but replanting a devastated vineyard takes many, many years.

    • jacobhalo

      Yes, Dr. I agree. That is why I have been attending the EF of the mass for the past 10 years. We have a 99% attendance rate with a ton of young people. We always have at least 10 altars severs and 20 on feast days. Many young priests want to learn to celebrate the EF.

    • John O’Neill

      During the 1960s I was a member of a religious order preparing for the priesthood. When Vatican II started there was a startling change in the mood of the seminary. In the beginning we were living the lives of medieval monks with office chant and Latin masses as the center of our spiritual lives. Then the changes started slowly in the beginning but increasing as the decade proceeded. The role of priest was being redefined , many thought that the married priesthood was right around the corner and many others thought that the rules of the order were going to be relaxed and they were. Soon all that seemed clear and spiritual had become murky and fickle. By the end of the decade the class I was in had been decimated, only ten percent remained and many of them left after ordination. I left and proceeded to teach as a lay teacher in a Catholic high school where the magisterium was rarely presented; the liturgical dancers, the frowning on the sacrament of confession and the secularized nuns soon erased any sense of the sacred or holy and hence the complete collapse of the religious orders ensued. I became a lax Catholic for years since I could not find anything left; with the papacy of John Paul II things began to change for the better; those who were ostracized for attending Tridentine masses were now being tolerated. With the arrival of Benedict XVI things were starting to get back on track but now we seem to be back into the sixties with Francis I and his apparent relativism and open door policy. Benedict XVI once remarked that in the future we would be a smaller church but one that is more fundamentally spiritual; I only hope he was right. In the end of the collapse of the flourishing religious orders caused irreparable damage to holy mother church and it will be a long struggle to regain that degree of faith and commitment again. May the gates of hell not prevail against ecclesiam nostrum.

      • smokes

        Well said, but I have more Faith in Francis. He’s center stage and has the world’s attention. Let’s see what Act II brings.

        • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

          Let’s pray that Francis is not Bergoglio, whose lamentable record is very clear.

          • smokes

            Ho. As long as he doesn’t let Hans Kung mooch a meal at the Vatican, he’ll do just fine. Have Faith!

          • Marcelus

            Clear as to what precisely?

            • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

              That he is a radical liberal, intolerant of the Latin Mass (which was never permitted in his diocese) and highly tolerant of immorality among his clergy (some of whom were living openly with women, others were performing gay “marriages,” etc, etc.)

              • Marcelus

                Intolerant of the TLM???:



                TML is and has been said in a few Churched is BA, thought it has never become popular or known precisely because people mainly in their 30’s never had a chance to know it.

                As to the rest of the comment “some of whom were living openly with women, others were performing gay “marriages,” etc, etc.)”

                I am 47, born and raised in Argentina, and in all honestyI do not know wheren on earth you are getting your sources or info from.

                Its like as if you are talking about somebody Ive never known.

                Gay marriages???? With the way he fought against the Buenos Aires gvnt precisely on that issue???? In his Church?

                Married priests??? are you talking abut my country????

                Bet you did not know this next one: On a full moon, he turns into a werewolf. !!!

                Inmorality, ?? Oh please, get you info right before you post and do not believe in fairy tales,. You, as well as the rest of the CM fans I take it, will hate the Pope no mattter what he does, but please read before you post.

                PS: pleaseI expect more then 10 down votes this time, will Break my record then

        • jacobhalo

          As Bishop Fellay of Pius X Society, the election of Pope Francis I is 10,000 times worse. Thankfully, Pope Francis is the last of the disastrous Vatican II clerics. I won’t see because I’m too old, but in years to come, you will see a return to pre-Vatican Ii days. The days when the church was vibrant.

      • Marcelus

        Francis arrival is bringing more people to the Church than any of his predecessors. INcluding vocations. Look around. 60s are over and Pope Emeritus is no longer in office

        • jacobhalo

          The pope might be bringing more people in the Church, but do they believe in the teachings of the church. We already have 50% of Catholics who believe in abortion, and gay marriage. The popes, since Vatican II, have water-downed the teachings and no longer teach some of the infallible doctrines, such as no salvation outside the church. I’m sure you will never hear Pope Francis I utter these words.

          • Marcelus

            I do not know where you are but 50% of Catholics believe in gm and abortion? ? Iwhere I live 50% of Catholics in the world reside ,mostly and believe me these pro abortion heretics are but a minority . There is no chance on earth
            Gay marriage will every be accepted by the church. Either with Francis or any other pope.

            • jacobhalo

              I live in the USA and yes over 50% of Catholics believe in abortion. Over 50% of Catholics voted for the most pro-abortion president in history.

        • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

          This assertion is simply idiotic. There is not a shred of evidence that people are flocking to the Catholic Church under Francis. His predecessors converted the world to Christ through holiness, orthodoxy and, sometimes, martyrdom. Francis has won over Time magazine and the gay Advocate. Bravo.

          • Marcelus

            As I have said in other post, you have to look outside of the USA. The battle is being fought in Brazil for instance, where the evangelical groups have harvested Catholics by the millions and…. one of the reasons, not my words, was that papacies as the that of Benedict were felt as very distant and away from the problems of the every day simple catholic.and we are taking about millions here. If you stay locked within your theological shell, it will be very hard to understand some of the reasons why Francis was elected

            • Jennifer Minor

              I agree Marcelus. Francis (not Francis I since there is no Francis II) is not teaching anything new or different. If you are going to believe the way that the media presents Catholicism, Catholics, and our Pope, you are sadly mistaken. Yes, he is living a different life than Benedict XVI or JPII, but there is nothing wrong with his teaching or lifestyle. In fact, he is the perfect example of following not only a vocation to the priesthood (or marriage or religious life as other examples), but a personal vocation and charism.

              If you are going to tear down the leader of our Church, you are not defending her very well, whether you agree with His style or not. Please defend our Mother Church.

              • Marcelus

                Yes Jennifer. I do agree with what you have said, it’s only a post humbly triying to explain from another point of wiew Francis election from somewhere else in the world. But believe me, nothing further from my intentions than not loving the Pope Francis and the Church. Bless you and stand by Peter.

          • Marcelus

            And there is no need to use words like idiotic. Insults seem to spring up like mushrooms in CM

    • NickD

      Speaking as a young man discerning a vocation to holy orders, I consider celebrating Holy Mass in the extraordinary form to be the most exciting part of priestly life. If God wills me to be ordained, I will offer it often and devoutly

    • musicacre

      I “see” what you are saying, just in the short time I have been attending the Traditional Latin Mass. Very small group of people, but already there is an altar boy (very mature, and very intellectual) already setting his sights on the priesthood. I feel I am entering a different and mysterious world when I enter this church! I’m thankful it alone survived the iconoclasm the rest of the churches in this city suffered…it still has a high altar; humble, but high and ornate! I think being born in the 60’s has made my heart long for the extraordinary, beautiful and historical Mass that connects us to the past and present at the same time. You’re right, the Mass is definitely a pointer to religious vocations!

  • poetcomic1

    When I was a boy Catholic children and youth had examples of heroic religious. Boys would see tough WWII veterans who became priests or teaching brothers and were gloriously Catholic and and utterly committed to Truth, not passing ‘desires’.

    • smokes

      You’re right! The Church needs to train Deacons for chaplainlike service in the military. There’s a terrible shortage. There’s more rabbis in the military than Jewish soldiers, while Catholics seek them out because there aren’t enough chaplains. The pay is very good, the rank fine as an officer, and the experiences incomparable. An active Diaconate in the military would spur vocations within the group and also spread the Faith to those in service.

      Nothing like a twofer.

      • Adam__Baum

        And having Deacons would negate the possibility of what surely will be coming. Chaplain, marry those two gentlemen, and that’s an order. Of course that means no Reconciliation and no Mass…

        • smokes

          Catholic military deserve Catholic clergy, not a nice rabbi.

      • Deacon Ed Peitler

        I appreciate your endorsement of the role of the deacon but I do not see a place for our ministry in the military. We do not serve as chaplains which tends to be a catch-all for anyone vaguely doing religious things. The need in the military is for priests who serve the sacramental needs of those in service.

        • smokes

          After 911, my son joined the military and had only rabbis for religious services. The RCC has to do SOMETHING for Catholic troops. My son changed his name from Patrick to Moises…just kidding! Think “Paddy” Cheyefsky and chuckle.

        • Austin

          In my town one of our best deacons is a chaplain so you’re wrong. It is open to what God needs

  • David Mary

    I agree with the premise of this article and concur on it’s salient points, however another glaring omission is that those practicing sterility in a contraceptive marriage do not breed self sacrificial love in their own sacrament and will not be fertile grounds of education for such love. The proliferation of the contraceptive mentality has killed the fostering of vocations by parents who have themselves truncated their own self denial and chastity and pure love. Perhaps this has also opened the door for a creeping mindset among vocations directors to one choosing ones own path, based upon “ones feelings and desires” rather than self sacrifice born for the love of God with an underlying premise built upon a hatred for sin and a love for virtue as the driving force? To be sure, sanctity can be found in both sacraments and to an extent they conjoin and support one another in the joint effort of Sainthood. Are we not only reaping what we have sown in license and disobedience to God and His Church?

    • smokes

      Good points. Most “Catholic” women have to work and make sure they have 0 to 2 kids. In the old days, a child in a family of 10 or12 took a vocation out of a true vocation but also out of an opportunity to become an educated member of an elite institution. Instead of digging “pratties” or going into the spinning mill, they saw more of the world ( and often the better side of it) in service to God. Today, the 0 to 2 kids go to college and go to work to pay off their student loans and don’t even get married. It’s a problem brought on by contraception and a government antagonistic to traditional families. The Sebelius has arrogantly replaced our God.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Vocation should never be about personal desire. Vocation should be about need- about what you would do even if you lose everything else to do it.

    • Deacon Ed Peitler

      I agree. Vocation should not be so self-referential that it is about doing what I want. It should be about what God wants. Holiness comes about not on account of doing my will but by conforming my will to God’s. The only true happiness comes from the latter. The problem with our modern Church is that God is made to conform to our will. Vocation directors better get this one right because if they accept candidates to religious orders or to ordained ministry on the basis of whether this is the individual’s personal desire, we are going to continue running amok as a Church. Same goes with married life. I do what God wants; He supplies the grace necessary for me to be faithful.

  • hombre111

    Is this a return to “marriage as the inferior way?” I tell young people to pray to know what God is calling them to. From my observation, marriage is harder. If an intelligent, multi-talented young man wants to be a priest, I tell him to consider a religious order, because the modern diocesan priesthood is a one note song: you will run a parish.

    • Is this a return to “marriage as the inferior way?”

      No, because the teaching of the superiority of consecrated life never went away. It helps to read the article instead of skimming until offended, then launching tangential salvos.

      • hombre111

        I am not offended. I just disagree. For instance, he talks about religious working side by side, being treated as spiritual equals, when the married woman doesn’t have the obligations of a religious woman. Apples and oranges. But I think married women, especially the good women who read Crisis and have many children, carry far heavier obligations. A religious is holier? Mmm. Maybe not. Just different. It also just occurred to me: A religious is living out the sacrament of baptism, but lives no other sacrament. A married person lives two sacraments. As a priest, I live two sacraments, but I have never been tested as my mother was, with an alcoholic husband and seven kids.

        • Cui Pertinebit

          No offense, father, but if you are able to live more comfortably as a priest than a woman with only one family and a difficult husband to take care of, then perhaps you are not challenging yourself to live as a priest should. Who is in your spiritual care? Are you doing your utmost for them? Are you saying Masses for them regularly? Are you up late at night praying rosaries for them or keeping vigil to become holy? “Acquire the Spirit of God and thousands around you will be saved.” Are you doing that? Someone who has been a priest or a monk for ten years should certainly be more saintly than someone who has been married for ten years. If he isn’t, that’s because he is allowing himself to coast on the easy circumstances of his religious life, which certainly are easier than the circumstances of married life. But that is why religious will be judged more severely. The married man’s circumstances have him focused almost entirely on his worldly life and those immediately dependent upon him for material needs. But the religious, who have easier circumstances, are called upon to use their easier circumstances to go above and beyond – to become holy themselves, and to labor for others according to their office.

          This is the point. We have such a low view of religious life, as Br. Justin points out, that our religious have sunk to the level expected. If one looks at the lives of good priests and bishops like Bishop Sheen or Fr. Hardon, then one sees very clearly how a good cleric’s life should indeed be harder than that of a wife with a drunk husband and a big family… because the good cleric has a world full of drunks and families to kill himself for, every day and every night.

    • jacobhalo

      Yes, being a diocesan priest makes you more of an administer than a religious priest.

      • smokes

        Pastors I’ve known did both well. they were grand shepherds to their flock.

  • TJ

    When I was in grade school (late 1960s) we had a priest who assisted the Pastor of our local parish. As a kid I just liked this priest whom I barely knew. His full time occupation was principal in a Catholic High School he helped establish. There he later taught me Religion, English and Canadian History. As a student I witnessed that this man had a hard to define quality consisting of integrity, a sense of humor, discipline … which made him the favorite of many of the students. A few years after I graduated (1976) he founded a religious order of priests. He officiated, along with several of his brother priests at our wedding.

    Currently there are 36 ordained men in the community, 31 of which are new vocations and 5 others who joined the community after ordination. Today there are 15 seminarians living in the community in various stages of preparing for ordination. I know of at least 5 vocations to the priesthood which started in the community under Fr. Bob’s guidance and found fulfillment in an other experession.

    A modest success over the past 25 years perhaps, but a success just the same at a time where the authors statics indicate quite the opposite in our society. Why?

    Fr. Robert (Bob) Bedard was a “mans man”. A very successful basketball coach, an great teacher and a man of strong faith, an amazing preacher with a heart to help young men discern their vocations. He was available for spiritual direction or a game of squash, often a bit of both. Of all who sought his assistance there were certainly more weddings than ordinations but there were quite a few ordinations.

    The name of the community is “The Companions of The Cross” and they certainly talk to applicants about sacrifice. But in my opinion there is a little more to it than that. A Priest makes the sacrifice of family, worldly goods and their own will but they lead that part of the body of Christ in serving society as well as directing those who ask in their personal journey to holiness. In order to do this they themselves must develop an authentic holiness of life which is evident in their persons. They must preach the gospel in their daily continence most ofter without words. So yes consecrated religious give up much, and embrace a heroic life in order to serve the Church in a unique and essential manner.

    The Companions of the Cross are a Roman Catholic community of priests committed to living and ministering together as brothers in the Lord. God has called us to labour boldly for the renewal of the Church through a dynamic evangelization centered upon Christ crucified, who is God’s power and wisdom. Spurred on by the love of God, we desire all people to come into the fullness of life through a personal and ongoing encounter with Jesus Christ.

    Love for Christ Crucified, a Spirituality of God’s power and wisdom

    Jesus’s death on the cross and resurrection saved the world. Therefore, we fully commit ourselves to him; seek his will in all we do; and trust in his power to do it.

    “We proclaim Christ Crucified…the Power of God and the Wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24)

    We are: Men of the Eucharist

    When we celebrate the eucharist, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is made present to us today. Therefore we live and promote a deep reverence for our Eucharistic Lord.

    Led and empowered by the Holy Spirit

    Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit with charisms (gifts) to build up the Church. And so we seek to be completely surrendered to the action of the Holy Spirit within us, and open to receiving any spiritual gifts the Lord might want to give us.

    Truly devoted to Mary

    As Jesus gave us his mother to be our mother at the cross, so we consecrate ourselves entirely to him through her.

    Loyal to the Magisterium

    To fulfill the Father’s will, Jesus founded the Church. We are to be loyal to the Holy Father and the Magisterium of the Church (its official teaching authority), a loyalty that will be lived out in obedience to our local bishop.

  • Christophe

    Br. Justin is spot on. Young people will not become priests
    and religious if offered only a naturalistic opportunity to be “helpful” and “of
    service” to others. But they will sacrifice their lives if given a chance to be
    heroes and martyrs for the sake of Christ and His Church (and the service to
    others will inevitably follow). Post-Vatican II church leaders have intentionally
    blurred the lines between religious and laity, especially when it comes to the
    ontological difference between priest and people. That is the reason for the
    vocations dearth – and it is so obvious that one begins to think the result is
    intended by those in charge.

    A similar mentality has caused the precipitous fall in the
    number of converts and corresponding steep rise in the number of Catholics
    leaving the Church – that is, the ecumenical mentality. If there are multiple
    paths to salvation (which is what ecumenism really means in practice), then why
    should I be Catholic? Why should I give up so much, when I can get to heaven
    (if there is a heaven) as a Methodist, or a Muslim, or a Hindu, or even an
    atheist of good will? It is simply not logical. Until the Church returns
    seriously to the solemnly defined doctrine of extra ecclesiam nulla salus est, and
    preaches it, non-Catholics will continue to ignore the Barque of Peter and Catholics
    will continue to flee it.

    Kudos to Br. Justin. I’ll pray that you continue to find your vocation at St. Louis Abbey.

    • jacobhalo

      I agree with you. But the church will never get back to “no salvation outside the church” because of ecumenism and inter religious dialogue. As you said, since Vatican II why would anyone want to convert to Catholicism, since anyone can get into heaven, including Atheists. Do you think that the pope will quote Jesus to the Jews, “If you don’t believe that I am He [the Messiah] you will die in your sins. Or “He who believes and is baptized will be saved. He who doesn’t believe is already condemned.” You will never heard that quotes from any Novus Ordo Cleric.

      • ME

        Unfortunately, people that leave the Catholic church after having been brought up in it, will most likely be judged in a different way than someone born into a Protestant group, where they never had a chance to hear the Full Truth. People don’t want to acknowledge that someone leaving the Church for the “easy” route becuase they don’t agree with what they are taught, or they haven’t bothered to learn enough about it, are going to be held accountable for those decisions. May God have mercy on them, and help them to understand their decisions.

    • Sharon S

      Your post struck me because just today at Mass the priest mentioned the doctrine of “no salvation outside the church” in his homily and went on about how radical it was (ie, outdated) and how it certainly is too harsh to be in line with the true intent of the Gospels. I admit to being disgusted enough by this wishy-washy nonsense to have considered leaving in the middle of Mass.

  • Deacon Ed Peitler

    Vocations will increase when the Church (especially the Church in America) gets back its missionary zeal. Zeal -, a word you have not heard spoken in the last 60 years of Catholic Church history.

    • Marcelus

      Francis maybe??

  • elarga

    I am not sure I get this. The author rejects the idea that anyone considering a vocation should feel a strong “desire” to be a religious. Instead, he argues that one should feel a strong desire to become a saint. Either way, there has to be a desire for something. I think he is insisting on a difference without a distinction.

    • Cui Pertinebit

      His main point, so far as I understand it, is that “egalitarianism” – “the spirit of making things equal” – tries to say that there is no qualitative difference between married life and religious life. This makes the renunciations and mortifications of religious life meaningless. What we are then left with, is the idea that someone with a vocation plainly and simply will “want” to be in a religious order. This has two effects: 1) most healthy people would rather keep the sex and cookies if that path also gets you to Jesus just as quickly and as well as the religious life; 2) people who embrace the religious life knowing (even if only subconsciously) that the renunciations are nonsense, tend to embrace it for the wrong reasons and also tend to live very tepid lives as religious, and the calibre of religious life suffers enormously.

      I think he is entirely correct.

  • Art Deco

    Not buying it. An alternative explanation…

    When you move the probability distribution a few notches in a given direction, the number in the tail falls dramatically, and given the decline in the share of nominal Catholics attending Mass each week and going to confession, it was moved a good deal more than a few notches. The effect is exacerbated by the corruption in selected orders, which are chock-a-bloc with sexual perverts and heretics who deter authentic vocations and induce others to seek incardination elsewhere. (Fr. Paul Mankowski, SJ once estimated that about 55% of those with whom he entered Jesuit formation in 1974 were homosexuals hiding in the tall grass and without an authentic vocation).

    • ME

      I think those that are answering the call to religious life are much more sincere in their devotion and leadership than those in the previous generation. The new priests I’ve seen ordained in the last few years are so much more different than those I grew up with. I’m only 35, but I’ve been in 2 parishes where we’ve had the letters read to the congregation about past abuse issues with the priests that were involved. One was an active priest in the parish, and in the other case, the priest had not been there for a number of years. There are so few “REAL” vocations lived out in the world, whether it be in the Married life, Single life, and for a long time there has been even the question of “real” vocations in the religious life that people don’t have many good examples to follow. There are lots of reasons for the decline, and although the author may be right to a portion of the decline, I think its a much more complicated set of circumstances than he wishes to address.

      • Art Deco

        I think those that are answering the call to religious life are much
        more sincere in their devotion and leadership than those in the previous

        About eight years ago I saw some social survey research which tried to gauge the degree to which orthodoxy had been discarded by the American priest corps. The descriptive statistics were broken down by sets of ordination cohorts. IIRC, of the youngest set, 39% did not have any responses which conflicted with orthodoxy; about 24% of those ordained during the 1950s had no such responses. So, pound for pound, it is a reasonable wager that the younger priests are more in tune with the Magisterium. (And, by the way, 28% of the whole sample had responses which suggested they were “Jungians, Unitarians, or goofies” in the words of Fr. Joseph Wilson). The thing is, the Church in America was ordaining about 1,500 priests a year ca. 1965 and 450 a year ca. 2000, so the raw number of orthodox priests entering each year has declined. (The number ordained into the religious orders each year has dropped by about 90%; given the scandals out in California, I tend to doubt the 30 Jesuits ordained each year are ‘much more sincere’).

        • ME

          Those are interesting stats to know. I was just going off of personal experience. However, I have noted that your information is already 8 years old, but I’m sure its still not too radically different today. Do you have any idea where you saw this study for reference?

      • Liberty

        There is NO vocation to “Single life,” with the exception of perhaps some people who cannot be married for physical reasons or SSA or a small number who God calls to some other sacrifice. All single Catholics who have a desire to get married are not by default called to single life.

  • Benedict Croell OP

    Well, we certainly do not mince words on the “objective superiority” of religious life – it has always been the Church’s teaching. I am sure more of our friars will sound in here on this article. For the record US Dominican Friars do have 125+ in formation. Below are photos of just those of the Eastern Dominican Province. If we look to other specific Dominican Sisters’ congregations and even some of our Cloistered Dominican Monasteries of Nuns, there is great reason for hope!

    • slainte

      You also have a rock star as a member of your Order…Fr. Thomas Joseph White whose intelligence is extraordinary and whose ability to explain the Faith, to which he is very dedicated, is without parallel. The Dominican Friars will be at the forefront of the New Evangelization and the reawakening of zeal for the faith among the laity.

      Look out Jesuits….the Dominicans have arrived.

      • WRBaker

        Jesuits? By the actions/inactions of their schools and some of their priests, one wonders if they should be called a religious order anymore?

        • slainte

          The Dominicans and Jesuits have been rivals since the 1500s having engaged each other on a spectrum of issues including competing theories of Thomistic thought. Both groups were giants in the Catholic intellectual tradition and were responsible for the coherent Catholic response to the Protestant Reformation by, among other things, educating Catholic laity in the faith in the wake of the Reformation. The Dominicans appear to be ready once again to take up the mantle of promoting the Faith through a New Evangelization….a most impressive and worthy endeavor….and ironically under the auspices of a Jesuit Pope. Pray for their efforts.

          • Michael Paterson-Seymour

            For a rather amusing description of their rivalry, one should read the first and second letters of Pascal’s Les Provinciales.

            • slainte

              Thank you for your recommendation…a great idea for a snow bound weekend in Connecticut.
              Happy New Year!
              May 2014 bestow many blessings upon you and yours.

            • slainte

              Who would have thought that in the year 2014 one might find hilarious a spoof written in the 1600s by a very serious Jansenist (Pascal) about efficacious versus sufficient Grace, alleged non-existing heretical statements which may or may not be contained in a very short treatise purported to contain them, “morally
              lax” bad boy Jesuits likened to outlawed pelaganists in need of a
              super-abundance of Grace, and their erstwhile nemisis and arch-rivals in Thomism, the Dominicans?

              Blaise Pascal’s first two letters of “Les Provinciales” prove that one need not insult a single Protestant when post Reformation-era battling Catholic clerics are prepared to intellectually duke it out.
              If the Dominicans and Jesuits actually do re-engage for the New Evangelization, Catholicism will need a new comedy writer to record the modern day conflagration.

              • Michael Paterson-Seymour


                Ah! « Le pouvoir prochain »

                Glad you liked Les Provinciales – the 4th letter on “actual grace” is also very good and Nos 5 to 9 are a merciless dissection of casuistry. The 65 propositions condemned by Pope Innocent XI in 1679 are almost all among those satirised by Pascal; it is as if the Pope had the Provinciales at his elbow.

                • slainte

                  Thank you. I printed the first eight letters and am reading them seriatim. I find Hillaire Belloc’s commentary helpful as I navigate through the letters.

                  I also sequed into Pascal’s Pensees”, Section VII, “Morality and Doctrine”, 425 (1669) and Section VIII, “The Fundamentals of the Christian Religion”, 556 (1669).

                  In particular, I found the following passage illuminating:

                  “Only the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of Christians, is a God of love, and of comfort, a God Who fills the soul and the heart of those whom He possesses, a God Who makes them conscious of their inward wretchedness, and His infinite mercy. Jesus Christ is the end of all, and the
                  center to which all tends.” “Pensees”, Section VIII, “The
                  Fundamentals of the Christian Religion”, 556 (1669)

                  I understand why the Jesuits might have concluded that there were strains of Calvinism in Jansen’s interpretation of the Faith; however, it was also clear that Jansen, Pascal and the religious sisters that embraced Jansenist thought were all pious and devoted Catholics. The destruction of the Port Royal Convent and the humiliation of the sisters was inexcusable.
                  I am learning a great deal, and am grateful to you for your valuable suggestions. It is especially interesting that the evolution of Catholic thought differs so much in Catholic countries, vis a vis. France and Ireland. In the wake of the Reformation, I cannot even begin to imagine what it would have been like to live as a Catholic anywhere in Scotland given the dogmatic Calvinism of that era.

        • smokes

          There are many fine Jesuits, but the order could become a religious disorder.

        • jacobhalo

          One wonders why they should be called Catholics.

  • Sr. Mary Catharine, OP,

    Poorly written article on a faulty premises. The statistics of religious life of 1965 compared to 2014 have nothing to do with the theology of a religious vocation.
    It seems that the quotes from the articles referred to were taken out of context. In fact, the point of Fr. Martin’s article is that Religious Life is one way a person is called to become a saint! Unless I missed something, none of the articles said that there is an innate desire for religious life in the human person.
    St Thomas, following Aristotle says that the fundamental desire of the human person is happiness. And he says that our happiness can only be found in the possession of God. That innate desire for the possession of God is what continues to draw people, despite living in a world culturally and morally adrift, to give themselves totally to God.
    A person embraces the religious state–to use the language of St. Thomas and because I think it is stronger than saying a “religious vocation”–not because it is a grim life of renunciation or to quote the author, ” religious life is the hardest, most fearsome way to live” but because a person is so in love with God that nothing else is enough. Religious life is not “hardest, most fearsome way to live”. Just a quick read of our prayer board outside of our chapel tells us otherwise.
    Perhaps Dominicans continue to attract vocations because of JOY. Leaving all things just for the sake of leaving all things to live a grim, hard live is not Christian. Leaving all things, even the joys of a husband and children for Christ is another thing and a source of much joy!
    If we do not know our true desires we cannot choose well and we bounce from one thing to the next, unable to make a commitment. In fact, for St. Thomas, one of the signs that one is given the grace to embrace the religious state is not attraction but a firm resolution to serve God in the religious life with the help of His grace.

    • Benedict Croell OP

      very articulate – great response Sister!

    • Br. Justin Hannegan

      Thank you, Sister, for your thoughts.

      You say that we should “leave all things” and become religious because we desire union with Christ. I agree. But you leave the central question unanswered. Why should our desire for union with Christ prompt us to “leave all things”? Why not choose the joy of union with Christ plus the joys of a spouse, a family, property, and one’s own will? Aquinas gives the answer. We renounce the goods of this world, including a spouse, children, property, and will, because doing so is a more powerful means to perfection: “Since the three [evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience] seem most definitely to prepare one for this detachment, they… belong quite appropriately to the state of perfection; not as if they were perfections themselves but that they are dispositions to perfection, which consists in being detached from care, for the sake of God” (De perfectione, ch. 1). The evangelical counsels, in other words, are not goods in and of themselves, but they are excellent means. They help us to reach our goal of union with God more quickly and reliably.

      Once we understand that religious renunciations are powerful means to union with God, then we can desire them. Our end (God) is desired primarily, but the means to our end (religious vows) can be desired derivatively, even if the means are not in and of themselves positive goods. Desire, therefore, can make its way back into the picture and displace the revulsion that we feel towards religious renunciations. We desire to give up good things because doing so leads us more effectively to joy and union with God.

      Choosing religious life is analogous to spending money. No one has a desire to part with their money. Yet, we can desire to spend money if doing so means getting something we desire more in return. If spending our money gets us nothing more than we can get by keeping our money, then we have no desire to spend it. The same holds for religious life. If giving up a spouse, children, property, and will, gets us nothing more than keeping a spouse, children, property, and will, then we have no desire to give them up. Nor should we.

      So I would ask you, sister, how can we expect anyone to desire religious life if we are not honest about its character? Why desire or choose religious life if it is not a more powerful means to union with God?

      • musicacre

        I’m a little late to this discussion but I agree with what you are saying. Logically, you could apply it to the sacrifice (the final one) of Maximilian Kolbe, and say he didn’t greatly desire to starve to death, but was moved by great love to renounce his very life for another! He was gritty and determined! ( We named one of our sons after him…Gabriel Maximilian)

    • MarytheDefender

      Thank you Sister! I was really bothered by the article’s premise that no one has a desire for religious life! Mostly because I do have a desire for religious life! And so do a number of my friends. Most of us are in our 20s…
      And yes, it is because we are so in love with Jesus that nothing else will do! 🙂

      • Br. Justin Hannegan

        I’m afraid that you and Sr. Mary Catharine have misunderstood my article. I should have been clearer about the role of desire. I apologize. Let me clarify here.

        I recognize that people, like yourself and myself, eventually come to desire the evangelical counsels. But we don’t start off desiring them. Because they are renunciations, they are not desirable for their own sake. We only begin to desire the evangelical counsels once we realize that they are not ends in themselves (like marriage and family are), but means. The evangelical counsels are only good–and therefore only desirable–because they help us to become saints and to love Christ more. We don’t desire to renounce the world just for the sake of renouncing the world. We desire to renounce the world because doing so draws us closer to Christ.

        But what if staying in the world draws us just as close to Christ as renouncing the world? What if staying in the world is just as reliable a means to salvation and holiness? This is the sort of thing vocations directors often imply. If this is true, then suddenly renouncing the world, and renouncing the goods of marriage, family, property, and will, seems pretty pointless. Why say “no” to marriage, for example, if saying “no” won’t bring you any closer to Christ? Marriage is good. If it affords just as powerful a means to Christ, then why reject it?

        Once the evangelical counsels are not more powerful means to union with Christ, they become pointless. Rational people don’t desire to do pointless things. Therefore, if the evangelical counsels are not more powerful means to union with Christ, rational people will have no desire to live them. So in order for religious life to be desirable to rational people, it must offer a more powerful means to union with Christ.

        • Sr. Mary Catharine, OP,

          Brother, with much respect, you have some good thoughts and insights but you need more time and study and living religious life before writing about it. There are quite a few logical fallacies. Perhaps you are trying to say too many things in one short article.

          The choosing of any good involves the renunciation of other goods. One chooses religious life because one is moved by GRACE to follow Christ more intensely, more perfectly. The counsels are the means toward that.

          While the Evangelical Counsels are the essence of religious life it should not be reduced to them. It is a life that is so much more than that–a whole way of living in and through Christ as a response of love for love.

          • Cui Pertinebit

            Sister, you are saying the same thing as Brother Justin here, and his article is not logically flawed (I say that as a man with some experience in the field of philosophy and logic). It’s just that you are saying it in a way that tries to avoid exposing any sharp edges, and he is saying that, too often, in attempting to avoid exposing the sharp edges, we wind up softening the whole message. People in general are not drawn to soft-soap, and (masculine) men in particular are repelled by it; the attempt to always phrase things in as neutral and nice a way as possible is not Christian, and Jesus appears never to have bothered much with that approach in the Gospels! We see the fruit of “nice” nowadays: a banalized Church with no vocations and a culture in the sewer. Anathema sit to this approach! Christ was charitable, not inoffensive.

            That’s not to say that calculated offensiveness is necessary… just a direct and unashamed confession of the full scope of the Tradition, in and out of season, sharp edges and all.

            Sin makes trouble for people. People living sinful lives should certainly have a tougher road (at least in their inner lives) than a celibate striving to live his or her vows well, because the latter’s crosses should be embraced and aided by the grace of God, whereas the sinner errs in his heart and resists God’s help. But if a religious doesn’t have a tougher time than a more or less observant married person, the religious is living his or her life the wrong way. If a religious voluntarily mortifies Himself, God will still send mortifications, but not to the degree He sends them upon religious who neglect this duty. A religious should be persevering in prayer more than the married, and should have sacrificed his ability to dispose of his free time in pleasantries and indulgences to the same extent as the married. A very good religious will be fasting and keeping vigils and generally exhausting himself for the salvation of those around him, voluntarily. The married are called to do this too, but the whole context and intensity is different. And indeed, I agree with Br. Justin, when he says that many orders and vocations directors dislike this message, because their religious life is often a walk in the park, living a generally pleasant life with all their needs provided, having long since come to regard the old monastic labors as a Medieval barbarism, rather than a demand placed upon him even in the sunny days after the “Church has grown up” since Vatican II. They therefore resent the implication that more has been required of them, or that their life should be more strenuous and more honored than the married path.

            All Christians are called to the same perfection, and Christian perfection consists in the cross. As you point out (and as does Br. Justin), religious life follows Christ “more intensely, more perfectly.” This means it follows Him in bearing the Cross more perfectly and more intensely than does the married life. That is why all the Fathers speak of the married life as being a life that keeps one foot invested in this world, albeit while walking towards salvation, while the religious life is spoken of by all the Fathers as being “winged with divine Eros” (to quote a Greek Patristic phrase), swiftly making a “more perfect, more intense” pursuit of Christ in interior joy through the voluntary renunciation of licit goods. This necessarily requires what Br. Justin has explained in this article: that the greater renunciations of the religious life are means of pursuing Christ “more perfectly and more intensely” than the alternative affords, and that, therefore, we should not shy away from making it clear to those considering a vocation, that the religious life makes harder demands because it is a more strenuous path with greater rewards.

            Br. Justin was not equating religious life with a mere resignation to the Evangelical Counsels. He was saying that the attempt to render religious and married life equal, obliterates the entire rationale for the Evangelical Counsels existing in the first place. Nobody doubts that grace has motivated us to love Christ and embrace the religious life. But none of the Fathers of the Church told people to “listen to their feelings” about a “vocation” to religious life. All of the Fathers that wrote treatises on Virginity – Ss. Methodius of Olympus, Theodore of Gaza, Augustine of Hippo, Ambrose of Milan, Gregory Nyssa, John Chrysostom, etc. – teach exactly along the lines of Br. Justin’s comments: namely, that the religious life is inherently superior to married life because the Evangelical Counsels are radical and extremely effective means of pursuing Christ (even going so far as to teach that marriage is an hold-over from the Old Covenant and that celibacy is the normative Christian life, since “in the Kingdom of Heaven they are neither married nor given in marriage” and the Kingdom is already amongst us). They teach that religious life (which they usually call “celibacy” or “virginity”) is not so much a “vocation,” as a challenge to be embraced and a voluntary renunciation to be offered by especially devout souls. St. Dorotheos of Gaza says that it is for those who want to give a gift to God; whereas moral living, generally, is simply what is owed to God, voluntarily embracing celibacy, poverty and obedience is a free gift and a renunciation of licit things for the sake of the love of God. St. Dorotheos, therefore, says that he became a monk because he wanted to give something “extra” to God, something that went beyond mere obedience of the commandments; it should not be a scandal, therefore, to tell people considering a vocation that they are embracing something “supererogatory” and definitively surpassing of the married estate – not that every monk lives his vows well, or could ever think of himself as “better” than the married; only his estate is better, and he should therefore fear to live a life worthy of its surpassing excellence.

            St. Cyril of Alexandria preached to the *Catechumens,* for Pete’s sake, that those whose hearts burned with special fervour should resolve to preserve their virginity from the baptismal font and give themselves to God. He didn’t say “listen to your heart, and see what it tells you you should do.” He set forth the beauty of celibacy, its nature as the normative Christian life (since Christians live in the realized eschaton already), and then simply encouraged them to give themselves to God in this way as it was the best thing to do, albeit not the required thing to do. The Fathers, and the Tradition, have always advanced religious life as a challenge and a voluntary mortification to be offered to God, out of a burning desire for closer union with Him. If marriage was just as direct a path, as Br. Justin says (and as your comments also require), then the Counsels and the Religious life and the Fathers’ teachings, are all nonsense. Far from being illogical, Br. Justin’s presentation is the only logical view to have. Why do we have Evangelical Counsels and voluntary mortifications and the renunciation of legitimate goods, if none of these things allow for a “more perfect and more intense pursuit of Christ” (as you put it)? The answer is, There would be no good reason. Therefore, logically, people considering a vocation should be told that the sacrifices procure something of surpassing value.

            I certainly felt a desire for religious life, because I wanted to give all of myself to Christ and to know Him as well as possible. But I simultaneously felt the dread of the natural man, which looked at the renunciations of religious life and knew the fear of death in them: no wife, no children to love, or to carry on my name; less time spent doing as I pleased, pursuing my own hobbies, buying my own books and cds and going camping when I liked. I would embrace a life where I did as I was told, and went where I was commanded and never had the consolation of a wife by my side or a weekend in the woods with the family. It would be insane, to neglect to tell someone with a vocation that these supererogatory renunciations also come with correspondingly excellent rewards. When we equate marriage and celibacy, that is exactly what we are doing.

        • Alex Navarro

          Br. Justin, I believe you make perfect sense.

          In my experience, there are those who desire virtue/sanctity even for it’s own sake–to possess it for themselves and their own personal gain (in order to achieve happiness for themselves, wanting to posses Christ for themselves rather than to belong to Him) or as a goal to be accomplished rather than to love our Lord as He ought to be loved. With this definition of sanctity, I can see why some people would raise their voice and say, “No, love draws us to religious life!” But if someone seeks sanctity because they’re in love–if someone only wants to be virtuous in order to love our Lord better–then this person would see in religious life a means to love their Lover better (to be drawn closer to Him). Desiring to achieve holiness/sanctity/virtue ought to mean exactly “being in love”. Obviously, after the moment of our first initial conversion to live the faith, when we hear that the goal of our life is to be saints, we strive for “sanctity”. That desire for “sanctity” is a different desire than the desire for sanctity you were speaking of in your article because the desire you spoke of presupposes a profound encounter with our Lord, whereas the previous definition of sanctity could simply be a goal to be achieved (with Christianity meaning more of a lifestyle fueled by hunger for success rather than a romance). In other words, sanctity as a hunt for personal fulfillment rather than sanctity as a consequence of being in love.

          I read your article with this in mind. Therefore, it made perfect sense when you described the hypothetical scenario of marriage and consecrated life being equal. Especially when you clarified your statement with the example of money.

          Lastly, though you never explicitly stated it, I don’t think you intended in this article to insinuate that everyone is called to the religious state–that it’s completely left to our free will unaided by grace.

          For my own personal use, this article and rebuttals have been fruitful in the sense that now I see clearly a few concepts that need to be clarified:
          “sanctity” and the pursuit of virtue: sought with the intention to love our Lord better (and happiness as a consequence).
          “desire”: the difference between the natural inclinations towards pleasures in which, when properly ordered, are good and the supernatural desires inspired by grace (especially when they promise no physical/natural reward in this life). In the first we recognize we’re human. In the second we recognize God’s will.
          “call”: modern technology has destroyed this word. Rather than the call of the Bridegroom to the Bride in the Song of Songs, which in love is more of a gaze that moves someone interiorly to respond, today we expect a call to be an immediate communication of instruction/information made explicitly clear to a particular individual.

          Personally, I think vocation directors have removed love from the equation. I can’t say, “I want to consecrate my life to our Lord because I’m in love.” I simply get the response, “Lay people love Jesus, too.” But I was loved radically, and I desire to make my response as radical…that’s where the counsels come in.

    • Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouve

      Well said, Sr Catharine. I love St. Thomas too. He also makes the point that “It is the good rather than the difficult which makes up the notion of merit and virtue.” (II-II, q. 27, a. 8, ad 3). Brother’s article here seems to stress the renunciations of consecrated life as if they are its essence. They are not, and I think Thomas would agree on that point. The essence of religious life is love.

  • smokes

    While the thoughts expressed in the article and responses are outstanding, I don’t see a vocations “problem”. Rather, there’s an opportunity for fewer religious to do more. Does the Church need a podiatrist who’s a nun or a hospital administrator who’s a priest? Do we want a man who’s fighting homosexual urges or a woman who can’t find a man? No.

    Let’s look at the likes of a Billy Graham, who really succeeded Bishop Fulton Sheen in delivering the message of Christ in larger forums like TV and football stadiums. The Church never replaced Sheen and left a vacuum in the public square. So, each person who dedicates themselves to Christ, who want public ministry, should paint that Faith on a larger canvass than a priest, brother or sister might have done in 1950 when they were all tripping over one another.. Let’s have some larger churches, TV shows, rallies, parades, inter-parish activities, and marches to confirm the principles of our Faith in all the public squares of the nation.. This is a most exciting time for the Church with a vibrant leader who speaks to millions with his public Faith. The vocations, as always, will take care of themselves.

  • miguel

    The author is confused about the difference between the desire for holiness and how that desire is lived. In both cases it is a desire but the universal call to holiness is external while how that desire is actualized is internal hence the desire to follow Christ is for all but how that desire is enfleshed is particular. What’s the difference? Vatican II reminds us what the Apostle Paul reminds the Church in at least 4 areas beginning with Romans 12 that we are all called to holiness (because it is our true nature) but that we are each called to this holiness differently. To claim that one part of the Body is “superior” to another part of the Body because of its different function is rejected by the Apostle (a fact I remind Latin Catholics when I inform them that as a married Melkite Catholic priest I have a different set of functions-and a different set of sacrifices). Vocation directors are helping people discern if the individual is being called to a particular way of “working out our salvation” by specifying the desire to holiness. That is why the question asked to potential religious/clergy is so personal. The author needs to give up that superior/inferior approach to vocations that has plagued the Western church.

  • slainte

    “On Joy”

    “The joyous man is the strong man—ready to sympathize: to appreciate: to help: a comfort and a light to others. Into a world where there is a surplus of sadness, of despondency and of despair, he brings something of the power and presence of God that in turn warm and cheer the hearts of men. Joy is the power and presence of God—the interior sense that we live in Him.”

    From blogger Pat McNamara at Patheos, November 29, 2013 quoting Monsignor John J. Burke, C.S.P. (1875-1936)

  • Will Buttarazzi

    First, I want to thank the author for his vocation. In a culture that can be seen as more and more dismissive of religious life, those who respond to their call are to be commended. But our thanks pales in comparison to knowing you are doing God’s will. And this is where desire comes in…I believe the basis of your article weighs too heavily on the word desire without the context of the authors who are writing…Having experienced the positive and life giving affects of Ignatian prayer I understand how that word desire is used. This is not a shallow sense of what are you going to do with your life but you are with God. The deepest desire resonates with your union with God which, when found, is to be lived out as a joyful response to God’s call and sustaining love for you. Coming to this knowledge for me was found through sound spiritual direction and with scriptural reflection. For those called as priest and religious the gift of their call is superior in one way, they’ve accepted Christ/the Church as their bride. This unique relationsip is kept healthy through prayer and in such a way their vocation leads/guides gives the world a witness to God’s sustaining love. But make no mistake those called to live celibate lives are also called to be fruitful. The fruit of the love between the celibate and God is shared with the Church through those that they introduce to Christ through the sacraments religious education or other ministry. I don’t doubt that vocations offices may be missing the mark as to how to bring to fruit those who come to their door. In fact, I strongly believe that a diocesan Vocations Office needs to be better equipped to guide their diocese’s vocations vs solely administering to diocesan priest vocations. Instead of trying to play pin the tail on the donkey, vocations offices might better serve their diocese and find a more bountiful harvest through the promotion of a Church culture based on “the universal call to holiness”. With this as our basis, every person of the Church is called to respond to God’s call. A Church challenged regularly to live in such a way could be encouraged to take on our s ecularized culture, affirming what we see in one another as gifts to be used in the service of Christ and His Church. May God bless your vocation and may it be fruitful!

  • Isaac S.

    I think this post makes some very good points. As a married Catholic father of four, I find as I look back on my single/discernment days that I seriously underestimated the extent to which marriage and family can actually hinder progress in the spiritual life. Certainly I have grown a lot in the cardinal virtues and become stronger morally through married life, but when it comes to spiritual growth I find that I have significantly less time for prayer, daily mass, spiritual reading, retreats, and the like than I once did. In college and shortly thereafter I was involved in various lay apostolates that emphasized living holiness in the world, and I certainly found that as a single person I was able to find the time for spiritual growth fairly easily. Now that I’m married with four children under five and a demanding career, I’m lucky if I can squeeze in a quarter of the daily prayer time I could when I was single. I think this is a reality that needs to be made clear to young men and women who desire to give their lives more fully to God. As this article points out, marriage is simply not the equal of a religious vocation as a path to heaven. The demands of balancing family and career with faith mean a lot of perilous tradeoffs and seemingly desirable “off ramps” from the narrow way that a cloistered, contemplative religious wouldn’t have to worry about.

    • smokes

      You’re just giving yourself to God in a different way than the celibate, not a less idea way at all. I think your tired…and understandably so, Isaac. Been there and survived it, most of the time. Enjoy the moment!

      • Isaac S.

        Ha, don’t get me wrong, I’m not regretting my own decisions. I definitely felt called to marriage. I just think that in programs targeted toward young people, the Church should make clear that living as a contemplative in the midst of the world isn’t quite the piece of cake that some make it out to be. I would imagine diocesan priests (as opposed to religious priests) struggle with this as well; I’ve heard more than one pastor complain that he spends a lot more time in meetings and budget-related activities than he ever imagined.

        • smokes

          The good news and the bad news is that they kids will grow up in about 2 winks…or so it seems in retrospect. So, enjoy the NOISE!

    • Cui Pertinebit

      Isaac, you are right in what you say. My brother and I almost ran off to join monasteries together; I was able to break things off with the woman I loved, though, and he was not. So, I found out a few months into my novitiate that he had moved back to town and was engaged to his girlfriend!

      Several years later, I am very happy as a monk while he is indeed swamped with worldly cares and finds that many of his higher aspirations are continually frustrated. I also agree, that the Church needs to emphasize more clearly that those who choose to get married – if they also plan on obeying Church teaching and having a truly Catholic marriage – are choosing a life that will fall very far short of their romantic ideas about married life and involve many weary burdens that, because they are involuntarily and tied to this world, don’t have the same rewards that the voluntary embrace of supererogatory renunciations in the religious life would have.

      Still, have this one consolation: many religious, such as myself, coast on their easy circumstances and fail to develop the virtues and exercise charity as they ought, living easy lives without sacrificing themselves on the altar of the Cross with their Lord. On Judgment Day, your charitable labors for your family will reap a greater reward than the laziness of such celibates! It is certainly true that a religious who lives his life well, can do more and be aflame with more zeal and scale the heights of heaven and acquire a greater mansion for himself in the heavenly kingdom. But those religious who live lives that make a mockery of their vocation, will only barely be saved, if they manage not to finally fall away from the faith altogether. We live in sad times! But God is good. May He bless you and console you in your struggles. Your love for your family is commendable, and may God reward you for it. It is good indeed, to lead the married life well. Know that God is pleased with it.

  • Sophia Mason

    Hm … kudos to the author for speaking an unpopular truth: the religious IS objectively better than the married life.

    But. That said. I have two sizeable problems with this article.

    (1) How on earth is one to determine what vocation to follow, if not by desire–desire purified by much earnest prayer, consultation with a spiritual director, etc., etc.–but desire still? It cannot simply be the case that those who marry or fail to enter the religious life have no desire for holiness. Off the top of my head–Joseph Moscatti, Gianna Molla, and the parents of St. Therese of Liseux all seem to have been lifelong aspirants to sanctity–and yet this aspiration did not, for them, entail taking the objectively more perfect way. But they did take the way God laid out for them.

    (2) Granting that the religious life is OBJECTIVELY more perfect, it does not follow that it will be more helpful for a given individual pursuing sanctity. (See examples above.) Indeed, it was my understanding that the Church taught that it is possible to save oneself in either state, but that it would be more difficult to achieve salvation in the state to which one was not called (i.e., one called to marriage would encounter more impediments to salvation if they chose the religious life instead, and one called to the religious life would encounter more impediments to salvation if they chose marriage, than if either one had entered that state which God had intended for them, and in which he had prepared for them particular graces).

    In any case, it seems that an investigation of “desire” is in order.

    • Br. Justin Hannegan


      Thanks for the thoughtful objections.

      You say: “It cannot simply be the case that those who marry or fail to enter the religious life have no desire for holiness.” I agree. Although, it seems to me that everyone, if their desires are properly ordered, should desire to live religious more than the other options. Even a great married saint should, in one sense, desire religious life more than marriage. This is because religious life is the most effective means to union with God, and the desire for union with God should trump all other desires.

      Does this mean that everyone should become a religious? No. But we should be open to the possibility that many, many, many more people are called, and have been called, to the religious life than actually become religious–just as everyone is called to become a great saint and very few become great saints. Perhaps even most people should choose the more perfect means of religious life. This view is not without precedent. The Syriac early church expected almost everyone to be celibate for the sake of the kingdom. Also, in Jerusalem the entire community lived out much of what characterizes religious life today.

      But surely some people are called to marriage. How do we explain their call, and consequently their discernment, given that they should desire religious life more than marriage? My answer to this question is that many people must choose imperfect circumstances for the sake of the good of others. Vocations to marriage, I suggest, are almost always for the sake of others, rather than for the sake of the person getting married. Perhaps the reason to choose marriage over religious life is not that you have a stronger desire for marriage than for religious life, but the fact that your being married could, in your circumstances, be a requirement of charity, thus forcing you to forgo the greater means to personal sanctification. In many non-western countries, for example, children have a duty to marry for the well-being of their larger family, so their vocation becomes fixed in marriage, despite the fact that religious life is more desirable. Even in western nations, Catholics as a group have a duty to grow their ranks through bearing and raising children. Perhaps this duty falls not to those who desire it more than religious life (since religious life is more desirable), but to those who are able cope best with–to suffer least from–not being religious. Circumstances, duty, and charity to others, therefore, are the factors that might cause you to marry rather than join religious life, even though religious life would be better for your personal growth in holiness.

      Once circumstances make it clear that you need to be married rather than religious, however, you can, in a sense, desire being married more than being a religious because it is the path that God has laid out for you and you desire God’s will. But minus the circumstances that necessitate marriage, you should desire religious life more. I believe that this in fact the experience of many married saints.

      All this is very hard for moderns to swallow. How can God call people to marriage if marriage is a less effective a means to their salvation? Isn’t that unjust? This is a difficult problem. It does not, however, mean that what I’m proposing is false. God has placed entire races of people in circumstances that prevented them from even hearing the Gospel. Such people were called to live a life without the sacraments, even though the sacraments were obviously a better means to sanctity than not having the sacraments. This is a dramatic example, but we find this sort of situation in much less dramatic forms all throughout the world and throughout history. Some people are forced, because of their circumstances or their duties, to live a life with fewer means to sanctity. Perhaps the call to marriage is an example.

      A final thought about your second objection. You say that “granting that the religious life is OBJECTIVELY more perfect, it does not follow that it will be more helpful for a given individual pursing sanctity.” I’m confused about the use of “objectively” here. Suppose that the majority of people are called to marriage, as many vocations directors claim. Then suppose that marriage is a superior means to sanctity for these people. How can religious life be objectively more perfect than marriage if, in the majority of cases, it is an inferior means to sanctity? If such a situation is possible, then religious life must have its perfection in something other than its being a more perfect means to sanctity. In what then does it have its objective perfection?

      Also, it is hard to imagine too many people for whom all the aids of religious life (which are designed to bring fallen human beings to holiness) are less helpful than circumstances in the world. And we should remember that the overwhelming proportion of canonized saints are religious, even though religious have been a mere fraction of the Catholic population throughout history. A sociologist would take this data as evidence that religious life is the more effective means to sanctity for people in general. Perhaps we should too.

      Let me stress that these are tentative, exploratory thoughts (even though they match up well with a more traditional view of vocations). Thanks for the thought-provoking considerations! Pleas let me know if you find fault with any of this. All the best!

      • Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouve

        Br. Justin, this is an important discussion because the true nature of religious life is at stake. I believe that the answer is in the TOB that Pope John Paul taught to the whole Church.
        You ask: ” In what then does it have its objective perfection?” In the past, many Church statements have taught the objective superiority of the religious state. Yet I think we have a true development of doctrine in JP’s teaching, because he explains exactly in what sense.
        First, he is very clear that this superiority has nothing to do with a supposed inferiority of marriage because it is based on the body and sexual union. That would be Manicheanism, which is a heresy.
        When JP talks about the “superiority” of continence for the sake of the kingdom (and he puts the term in quotes), he is talking about it in a very specific sense. It is this: that continence “for the sake of the kingdom” is an eschatological sign and anticipation of the kingdom of heaven. It “is a charismatic orientation toward that exchatological state in which human beings ‘take neither wife nor husband’:…Continence for the kingdom of heaven, as the fruit of a charismatic choice, is an exception with respect to the other state” (ie., marriage in the case of our present historical situation.)

        JP is clear that such continence is “a kind of exception to what is, by contrast, a general rule of this life.” I can’t rewrite all his audiences here, but I would suggest that you study them all in their whole context. I say that because what you say above is really not at all tenable in light of the Pope’s whole teaching. The idea that everyone, even married people, should desire religious life because it is a superior means to holiness is really a kind of utilitarianism, albeit a spiritual one. JP goes on to explain that continence is a value in itself not only because it is a means to holiness. More deeply, it is a value because it is rooted in the spousal meaning of one’s body, and by means of it, one makes an authentic gift of self to Jesus Christ in a spousal way. He says both vocations, marriage and continence, are complementary because both of them are rooted in the spousal meaning of the body, and are a means of making a gift of one’s self.

        And he makes the important point that continence thus understood is also a value for the kingdom of God, even on earth, because it is linked with the mystery of the redemption of the body. He refers to Paul’s quote in Col 1:24: “I fill up in my body what is lacking to the sufferings of Christ, for the sake of his body, the Church.” This is so important because continence, then, is not just about our personal holiness, but about mission. It is also for the sake of the Church and the salvation of others.

        With all this I am not trying to argue with you, but I want to bring out these points because it is important for you as a young monk to have a deep understanding of your own vocation, in the way that the pope has made clear.

        • Br. Justin Hannegan

          Sister Marianne,

          This is how I see religious life represented in tradition:

          “As shown above (Question 188, Article 1), the religious state is
          a spiritual schooling for the attainment of the perfection of charity. This is accomplished through the removal of the obstacles to perfect charity by religious observances; and these obstacles are those things which attach man’s affections to earthly things.”

          (Summa, Second Part of the Second Part, Q. 189, art. 1)

          Aquinas also says that the counsels belong to the state of perfection not as perfections themselves, but as “dispositions to perfection” (in other words, as means). It seems to me that religious life is very much about what best leads to holiness. But you can also add to this the part about the life being a sign of our lives in the world to come. That’s fine. But the fact that it’s a sign of the world to come would certainly not be enough to motivate me to live the evangelical counsels. I live them to become a saint.

          • Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouve

            Thank you, Br. Justin, for your response, even though you really didn’t respond to the points I made, but that’s OK. I probably won’t be posting anymore. Just a couple observations.

            1. I agree fully with St. Thomas’ take on religious life. He also makes the point that perfection consists in perfection in charity (184, a. 1), and that this perfection in charity is primarily a matter of precept, not counsel (184, a. 3). The perfection of the counsels is a secondary and instrumental perfection, as you mentioned earlier. He also makes the point that just because someone is in the state of perfection (ie. religious life) doesn’t necessarily make them perfect. “It happens that some obliged themselves [ie by vows] and do not observe these things, while others observe them without obliging themselves… Nothing prevents some from being perfect who are not in the state of perfection, and others from being in the state of perfection who are not perfect” (184, a. 4).

            2. Thomas’ treatment of religious life was very much connected with the historical context he lived in, namely, the anti-mendicant controversy at the time. The mendicant orders were severely attacked and Thomas wrote in defense of them. That accounts for some of the particular questions he asks in the Summa. My point in saying this is that just as Thomas wrote in response to the needs of his day, Pope John Paul treated the subject in light of today’s needs. Also, what Thomas says needs to be read with that historical context in mind, too. Jordan Aumann, OP, in a note to q. 189 says that “in the entire question on entrance into religious life, Thomas does not expound a theology of religious vocation.” Q. 188, a. 1, which you quote above, was written as a “treatment of matters that were hotly disputed at the time.” In that article Thomas was actually asking if a person needs to be perfect in observing the commandments before entering the religious life, and he says no, they don’t have to be, because the counsels are a help to observing the commandments, etc.

            3. John Paul says that continence as a charismatic sign also carries with it “the imprint of a likeness to Christ himself.” So it has a deeper meaning than perhaps what I was able to express in a short comment. Such configuration to Christ is of the essence of holiness, and that is a great motivation. And I also stress that this holiness is not just a matter of personal sanctification, but must reach out to others in some kind of mission, whether of action or prayer, to bring others closer to Christ too. Much more could be said but I think I have said enough. Thank you and I pray that you will arrive at your goal of holiness!

            • Br. Justin Hannegan


              I am sorry about not being better with my response. I do appreciate the insights that you’re offering. For instance, I agree entirely with your point 3. JP II’s theology of the body seems to be a good complement to what Aquinas says about superior means. These two things go together. We need both tradition and new developments, like TOB, working in tandem with one another.

          • Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouve

            Thank you, Br. Justin, for your response, even though you really didn’t respond to the points I made, but that’s OK. I probably won’t be posting anymore. Just a couple observations.

            1. I agree fully with St. Thomas’ take on religious life. He also makes the point that perfection consists in perfection in charity (184, a. 1), and that this perfection in charity is
            primarily a matter of precept, not counsel (184, a. 3). The perfection of the
            counsels is a secondary and instrumental perfection, as you mentioned earlier.
            He also makes the point that just because someone is in the state of perfection
            (ie. religious life) doesn’t necessarily make them perfect. “It happens that
            some obliged themselves [ie by vows] and do not observe these things, while
            others observe them without obliging themselves… Nothing prevents some from
            being perfect who are not in the state of perfection, and others from being in
            the state of perfection who are not perfect” (184, a. 4).

            2. Thomas’ treatment of religious life was very much connected with the historical context he lived in, namely, the anti-mendicant controversy at the time. The mendicant
            orders were severely attacked and Thomas wrote in defense of them. That accounts
            for some of the particular questions he asks in the Summa. My point in saying
            this is that just as Thomas wrote in response to the needs of his day, Pope John
            Paul treated the subject in light of today’s needs. Also, what Thomas says needs
            to be read with that historical context in mind, too. Jordan Aumann, OP, in a
            note to q. 189 says that “in the entire question on entrance into religious
            life, Thomas does not expound a theology of religious vocation.” Q. 188, a. 1,
            which you quote above, was written as a “treatment of matters that were hotly
            disputed at the time.” In that article Thomas was actually asking if a person
            needs to be perfect in observing the commandments before entering the religious
            life, and he says no, they don’t have to be, because the counsels are a help to
            observing the commandments, etc.

            3. John Paul says that continence as a charismatic sign also carries with it “the imprint of a likeness to Christ himself.” So it has a deeper meaning than perhaps what I was able to express in a short comment. Such configuration to Christ is of the essence of holiness, and that is a great motivation. And I also stress that this holiness is not just a
            matter of personal sanctification, but must reach out to others in some kind of
            mission, whether of action or prayer, to bring others closer to Christ too. Much
            more could be said but I think I have said enough. Thank you and I pray that you
            will arrive at your goal of holiness!

          • Cui Pertinebit

            Brother, have you considered that “the fact that celibacy is a sign of the world to come” is one and the same thing with living the celibate life in order to become a saint?

            Christ taught that “in the Kingdom of Heaven they are neither married nor given in marriage.” The Fathers all taught that in Baptism, the Kingdom of God is already reigning inside of us. The Church is the Kingdom – the Church Militant is currently “occupying” some territory in the world, but in the eschaton the Church, with Christ as Her Head, becomes All in All and the Kingdom is realized. The Fathers therefore also taught that, in living the celibate life, a Christian is actually living the life proper to the citizens of heaven and of the age to come. Marriage continues to be allowed because we are still living in the fallen world, and the blessing upon marriage in its current form was given to fallen man as an aid to morality. But those who want to most perfectly conform themselves to Christ will live the life of Christ, the life of the Kingdom, which is already here amongst us – the celibate life, also called the “angelic life” by the Fathers, for all the reasons I’ve been discussing.

            Therefore, the reason you live this life to become a Saint, is closely related to the fact that this is the life of the Saints. It is easy to speak of this life as the life of “the age to come,” for in a certain sense most of us will never live that life until then (if we make it there, which may God grant us). But in a very real sense, that life is already in us, put in us in embryo in Baptism and available to us all, now, in the flesh. One of the Desert Fathers, when asked what more a man could do beyond being a good monk, stretched his hands to the heavens and became surrounded with a celestial fire and brilliance. “You can become all flame,” he said. We have been made partakers of the Divine Nature through baptism. We are nourished upon this in the Eucharist. We are confirmed in it at Confirmation. Through penance and ascesis and contemplation and charity, we can become perfect images of this heavenly life now, in the flesh, even working miracles and bilocating and being wreathed in heavenly light (like St. Columba) or sharing the wounds of Christ (like Padre Pio). The Saints live as angels, as celibates, now. They will continue to live so in the age to come, which is already upon us in the Sacraments and life of the Church. Therefore, the same principle underlies both the fact that religious life is the life of the saints and angels in heaven (and is the life of heaven), and the fact that you want to live it to become a Saint.

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  • john654

    I trace it back, IN PART, to the pill. I don’t think that religious vocations will become real strong again until the whole body of Christ realizes that marriage is a martyrdom, for that mater, life must be a martyrdom. I call the birth control pill the “Death Pill”. I’m 63 and when I lived through the explosion of selfishness on the late 60’s I realized just how horrible things could get. We are seeing the fruits of the “Death Pill”. Contraception, In the headlines on Drudge today, amazing! There are too many Protest-ants in the Catholic Church. BUT, the Devil will NEVER kill the Priesthood!

  • Benjamin Switala

    I think that the idea that each person has an innate desire to get married is a simplification that misses the mark. Doesn’t the divorce rate in the United States indicate that people do not want to be married? Doesn’t the fact of co-habitation indicate that some people do not want to get married? Doesn’t the sometimes anguished “discernment process” of young people show that the desire to become married is not so simple?

    Also, doesn’t Saint Paul call the married life an “affliction” in 1 Corinthians 7:28 (it seems to me that that whole section casts a somewhat negative pall on marriage)?

    Isn’t marriage, like religious life, a renunciation of its own? In marriage, each spouse must renounce everyone else for the sake of the other spouse. Marriage is a challenge; I recall that Paul VI said that the effort to persevere in the married life may sometimes require “heroic” virtue in the encyclical Humanae Vitae. It doesn’t seem to me that people would innately desire to struggle under the grave condition of marriage any more than people innately desire to enter religious life.

    • Cui Pertinebit

      The Patristic view is that, since the fall, people have a desire to have sex which is eager to transgress all propriety. Therefore, we now have marriage under its current form, as a curb on fornication and a way of disciplining people through commitment, so that spouses help each other to save their souls, rather than just becoming selfish fornicators. The divorce rate doesn’t prove that people don’t want to be married; it proves that they want to be married, but don’t want to make marriages work.

      The religious life is for those willing to renounce the desire to have sex, as also the desire to be free to acquire goods and dispose of them and their time as they please, for the purpose of being conformed to Christ as closely as possible. Married life often results in having to use our goods otherwise than we would like; but because it still clings to the hope of using things as we would like, it falls short of the ideal of complete renunciation.

      Certainly nobody innately desires, on the natural level of the flesh, to be married or to serve God as a religious. As St. Dorotheos of Gaza and others put it, though, we all owe God obedience to the commandments, at the very least. On the assumption that a decent Christian wants to at least obey the commandments and avoid deliberate sin, marriage is the way that allows them to retain the maximum amount of their personal goods and desires while still giving God all due obedience. Religious life goes beyond obedience, and renounces things that are good and permissible, for the sake of a more perfect pursuit of Christ. Marriage renounces sin and selfishness, to be sure; a well-lived religious life goes beyond renouncing sin and selfishness; it even renounces good and permissible pleasures for the sake of making a gift to God beyond mere obedience.

  • Marty

    It is good to finally see someone laying at least part of the blame for the lack of vocations at the feet of vocation directors. As the parent of a priest, I would say you’ve only just barely scratched the surface. Satan is alive and well inside our seminaries. Seminary faculty members drive out a large number of good, holy men based solely on their own prejudices and personality conflicts. Men who show a devotion to the Blessed Mother, who are faithful to the Magisterium of the Church, and have a love for the Latin Mass are particularly targeted.

    • smokes

      It’s still going on? What’s Cardinal Dolan doing about it? He;ll have another pedophile scandal! Or worse.

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  • ppeter

    It’s hard to believe that such an article could be written in our day without mentioning the tremendous corruption of contemporary religious life. Must I name names to demonstrate that not all corruption these days consists in egalitarianism or laxity, but often comes in the form of elitism and rigorism? The Council set out a path of reform for religious life, but nearly all communities are running aground on the shoals to the left or to the right. Traditional communities that refuse authentic reform fail because they should fail.
    Furthermore, when St Thomas talks about the state of perfection, he is speaking of religious life as it is willed by God, not as it is actually practiced or proposed in this or that community. It is simply too obvious to young Catholics today that the evangelical counsels ought not be used as a cover for tyrannical self-absorption.

  • Chantal Chauvet

    I think living the catholic vision of marriage in the day and age is as difficult and rare as the religious life. In marriage, your possessions and money go towards your children. Their needs and desires are imposed on your will. Religious life makes this more evident because it is chosen. In marriage and parenting there is always the struggle between your will and needs of others. Choosing to let go of your will is more hidden and you hope the others around you (spouse and children) will recognize your sacrifice. Many times they don’t. I think it can take longer to let your will go. I think this is reflected in family life. Many parents with large families will tell you that the first 3 children are hard. You are learning to let go of your will. After 4 you understand what it entails and there is an acceptance of the sacrifice. You just do what you got to do. You also get a little help from your older children.
    In many ways to live the catholic vision of family life now days seems to me as harder. I think in family life your will and your desires are still seen as a possibility so you hold on to it a little longer. In religious life you make a conscious everyday choice to set it aside. The sacrifice of your will are not always immediately there. People have children for themselves forgetting that parenting is for the child. “I want a child, I have the right to a child” It is all about the adults’ wants and desires. Judging by the rate of divorce and cohabitation, marriage and children is a very difficult vocation.

  • Marie

    These generalizations about a choice that is so incredibly unique to each person is narrow, affords no depth, and puts both marriage AND religious life in an improper light. Each path is meritorious, and each path is very, very challenging. Or not. It depends on the person, and how they take each vocation on. There is no benefit to ‘coaxing someone on board’ to either marriage or religious life. Can you imagine guiding a person considering marriage by saying “it’s an effective means of (fill in the blank) – but your heart is anything but joyous about making those vows?

    A vocation is a choice, made freely, by knowing thyself. Marriage can be painfully difficult for someone who is called to a life of singleness (or a religious life). Same goes for someone choosing religious life when their true pathway to union with God is through the love of a partner (or on their own). And to state that: ‘Religious life is the most effective, reliable means to sanctity and salvation—more effective than marriage, and more effective than any other calling’ seems to lay claim to the mind of God. Who can rightfully claim this? Are they 100% sure this is the case across the board? Of course not.

    There is no ‘pithy sales strategy’ or promise that should ever enter into the equation when guiding someone who is discerning a vocation.

    Ultimately, let God be your primary guide.

  • Therese Jacobs

    As a Catholic parent of five children, I can tell you one huge problem that I don’t see being addressed is a lack of authentic Catholic education. A majority of diocesan schools lack any real theological instruction. Mass and the sacraments have taken a back burner. Half the teachers and half the students are not even practicing Catholic. Our youth cannot fall in love with the Church and desire a vocation serving her if they don’t know her. I’ve had my children enrolled in diocesan Catholic schools and the environment is grossly disappointing, even appauling. I’m grateful now to have a supportive Catholic homeschooling community where my children can study apologetics, Latin, etc. and attend Mass and confession frequently. They are surrounded by peers that share a love of our faith. My boys speak often of the desire to possibly pursue a religous vocation.

  • Matt O’Rourke

    There’s one thing this article is missing –
    lay people doing what religious once did. Lay people need to get the
    hell out of the parish office and the chancery and into the world. The
    world is the proper place of the laity. We desperately need Catholic politicians, doctors, engineers, lawyers, government employees, etc. It’s one thing to
    teach CCD, serve a mass, or help out in the sacristy in your spare time. It’s another for a
    lay person to make a career working for the Church. If you are
    discerning enough to think about working as a youth minister, just man
    up and go into the seminary or novitiate instead. Far too many young
    diddle around working a chancery or a parish and never really challenge themselves by entering the seminary.. Until they grow
    up and get serious about discernment, they’ll stay there and the whole
    Church will suffer.

  • lucho gatica

    I AM ABOUT TO GIVE UP WITH “TRADITIONAL”, “CONSERVATIVE” “RIGHT WING” CATHOLIC BLOGS AND WEBSITES..Frances remind us again:… “In this sense, we can once again listen to the words of Blessed John XXIII on the memorable day of 11 October 1962: “At times we have to listen, much to our regret, to the voices of people who, though burning with zeal, lack a sense of discretion and measure. In this modern age they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin … We feel that we must disagree with those prophets of doom who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand. In our times, divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations which, by human effort and even beyond all expectations, are directed to the fulfilment of God’s superior and inscrutable designs, in which everything, even human setbacks, leads to the greater good of the Church”

    • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

      John XXIII didn’t live to see the disaster unfold. What do you expect him to see or to say?

    • Cui Pertinebit

      Lucho, take one look at the world we live in, and ask if John XXIII’s optimism was justified or not; clearly, every major social institution and basic morality has completely imploded.

      I will agree with you that there should be more joy amongst traditional Catholics – but you must cut them some slack, when they see the collapse of their culture around them. I mean, the very idea that John XXIII expressed – “a new order of human relations” – is absurd and unchristian. People are made in the image of God. We relate to Him and to each other in the same way at all times – through charity, family and decency. There can be no “new order of human relations.” The idea that there could be, has led to what we see around us. People tried to re-write the rule book on “human relations” in the 60s, and it destroyed our basic humanity. Clearly John XXIII did not live to see what was coming.

      I bring joy into my daily Catholic life by gladly praying the Office, by sharing good conversation and meals with people I love, by doing works of charity, by enjoying great folk music and Classical music, by chanting, by praying and conversing with the Saints. There should be more about such things on Traditional blogs. It is sad that there is so much negativity. But the “positivity” in non-traditional circles is a bunch of misguided fluff that ultimately doesn’t satisfy, either. We live in tough times. I’m sorry!

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  • Benedict Croell OP

    one of our student friars at the Dominican House of Studies has responded to this article today on their blog, check it out:

    • Br. Justin Hannegan

      This response is good. It gives some needed qualifications on the topic of desire, which I failed to include in my article.

  • Wally2004

    A young person who hinted that they are interested in joining a religious order because they want to be holier than people who are married would be rightly shown the door. If they said that they want to be holy (not holier than) and of service to the Church and the world, then they might rightly be shown an application.

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  • Agnes

    Vocation discernment need not be difficult, complex and agonising for the aspirant. Open yourself to whatever God calls you to. Be alert to His promptings. If you have certainty then go for it. If you’re not sure then take the first tiny step towards what you think God is calling you to and wait to see what develops. If nothing develops then drop it. If something develops then take the next tiny step. Be prepared to let go of your plans and preferences and ideas and go where the Holy Spirit leads. We can’t force a religious vocation. We can only request entry and do what we have to do on our part. The real discernment is carried out by the religious authority responsible for accepting the aspirant. If we are rejected, then receive that humbly and with trust in the Lord. Yes, it could be extremely painful. But all is gift, as St Therese said. So receive the painful gift graciously and peacefully. Just keep taking the next step. May God be with you all!

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  • Br. Justin Hannegan

    I am afraid that many readers have misunderstood my point about desire. Desire is still an ineliminable part of the equation. Religious life is very desirable and very enjoyable, in the sense that praying, being united to God, loving others, and living virtuously is desirable and enjoyable. The evangelical counsels, however, which differentiate religious life from lay life, are not desirable for their own sake. They are only desirable derivatively, as a means to the end of contemplation, union with God, love of neighbor, and virtue. So desire is still at the center of the picture. But the desire at work here is really the desire for sanctity, not the desire for the practical realities of discipline and renunciation that characterize religious life. We only seek the practical realities because they give us a more fertile soil for the growth of sanctity (life’s truest joy, and our foremost desire).

    • Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouve

      Br Justin, the vows certainly involve a renunciation. But to say that they are not desirable for their own sake does not do justice to them, especially chastity. How do you square your view with what John Paul says here:

      “In this call to continence ‘for the kingdom of heaven,’ first the disciples and then the whole living tradition of the Church quickly discovered the love for Christ himself as the Bridegroom of the Church, Bridegroom of souls, to whom he has given himself to the end… In this way, continence ‘for the kingdom of heaven,’ the choice of virginity or celibacy for one’s whole life, has become in the experience of the disciples and followers of Christ an act of particular response to the love of the Divine Bridegroom, and therefore acquired the meaning of an act of spousal love, that is, of a spousal gift of self with the end of answering in a particular way the Redeemer’s spousal love; a gift of self understood as a renunciation but realized above all out of love.” TOB 80.1

      JP says that yes, there is a renunciation, but the choice of celibacy in itself is an act of particular response to the love of Christ. And I for one see something very desirable in that for its own sake!

      • Br. Justin Hannegan

        Sr. Marianne,

        It seems to me that Pope John Paul and I are saying the same thing. He calls the vow of chastity: “continence ‘for the kingdom of heaven.'” The word “for” here shows that we are not merely giving up marriage, but giving up marriage for the sake of realizing a greater good. Turning our backs on human relationships would not be an appropriate act to show our love for Christ, unless turning our backs helps us to love him more. Merely turning our backs is not valuable. It only becomes valuable if it allows something better.

        It seems to me that what you are saying is that there is something intrinsically valuable about giving up a lesser good for a greater good. I can agree with that. If that is how you characterize the vows (e.g. giving up the lesser good of marriage for a more perfect relationship with Christ), then I have no objection. All I was arguing is that renouncing the lesser goods without gaining greater spiritual goods (like greater intimacy with Christ) is senseless, and hardly an act of love.

        • Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouve

          Yes, Br. Justin, I agree with that. It is certainly true that the point of giving up the lesser goods is to gain the greater ones. No. 21 of Vita Consecrata speaks to this beautifully.
          I think of it also in the sense evoked by St Catherine of Siena’s words: “All the way to heaven is heaven, because the way is Christ.”
          I will pray for you too!

  • Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouve

    Br. Justin, while you make some good points, there are other aspects you need to consider. You say in a comment below that “The evangelical counsels, however, which differentiate religious life from lay life, are not desirable for their own sake.” This is something I disagree with, especially in regard to chastity. Religious chastity is not simply a renunciation. Yes, it involves that to some degree. But at a more fundamental level, the choice of chastity is a preferential love for Jesus Christ as one’s spouse, and that is a very great good!

    Also, John Paul’s theology of the body throws light on this whole subject. The fundamental vocation of every person is to love, and that is rooted in the spousal meaning of the body. Each person, even those called to consecrated life, have this spousal meaning of their body. It is not so much about sex as it is about love and self-gift. John Paul stresses very much that the choice of chastity “for the sake of the kingdom” is a positive good, one that each person called to must discover and embrace as one’s own vocation.

    I think your whole approach to the vows is essentially negative. I hope you will be able to see the positive meaning of the vows. St. Catherine of Alexandria said, “Jesus Christ chose me as his spouse. He is my joy and all my delight!”
    Bl. James Alberione, the founder of my congregation, said, “Poverty is the greatest wealth, obedience is the greatest freedom, and chastity is the greatest love.”

    My full response to your article is in this blog post, which while critical is meant in a friendly spirit:

  • Lobi

    I am largely in agreement with you, but two points stand out as being lacking somewhat:

    1. I think some of your language, and I know this is not your intent, has a certain Pelagianism attached to it. Lots of “earning salvation” feelings come from some paragraphs.

    2. I don’t think you went into why the religious life does in fact provide the highway to holiness that I would, tentatively, agree that it may. I discussed this point here:

  • Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouve

    The deeper issue here that goes unmentioned is that marriage is in trouble too. Young people aren’t ignoring religious life in favor of marriage. Many are ignoring marriage in favor of sex without commitment. Statistics show the percentage of Catholics who receive the sacrament of marriage has also fallen drastically. Ultimately, we are dealing with a crisis of faith. It’s not the fault of the poor vocation directors. They can only work with the few people who come to them in the first place. Marriage and religious life are complementary vocations, both rooted in the fundamental human vocation to love, to make a self-gift. And marriage has its own set of renunciations and self-sacrificing love. To see religious life as pure renunciation and marriage as an idyllic good in comparison is terribly skewed.

    • Br. Justin Hannegan

      The crisis of faith is surely a problem. But it’s not the whole problem.

      Perhaps what’s happening with marriage is similar to what has already happened to religious life. Marriage requires sacrifice (though not as much as religious life does). Today Catholics don’t see what they have to gain by making the sacrifices involved in marriage. So they don’t marry. Many Catholics are wondering: if we can love Jesus, get to heaven, and avoid hell just as easily cohabiting and contracepting than we can marrying and having children, then why bother with marriage and children? Marriage, like religious life, is under-motivated. In the eyes of so many ordinary folks, the cost-benefit analysis just doesn’t add up.

      The problem of under-motivation doesn’t just apply to marriage and religious life. It seems to operate underneath all of the implosions of Catholic practice. People don’t do the old devotions because doing so is inconvenient and no one has told them that the devotions are efficacious; people don’t become missionaries because it requires great sacrifice, and because we tend to assume that people can have a relationship with Jesus and be saved without us preaching to them and without us bringing them into the the Catholic Church; people don’t go to mass because for many going to mass is often dull and inconvenient, and people have no sense that they will be punished by God or lose a pathway to heaven by staying home instead. Perhaps we have demotivated all Catholic practice by dissociating the practices from their rewards and by giving people the impression that they won’t be punished for their failure to practice.

      Finke and Stark make an excellent sociological case for all of this in their book, “The Churching of America, 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in our Religious Economy.” Their explanations are especially compelling when you consider that the number of people who say they believe in Christ and the Church is still quite high. But the practice of most of these self-identified believers is, tellingly, quite low. Thus, it seems that an enormous problem in today’s Church is that believing Catholics have been given no compelling reason to practice their faith. To correct this problem, we need to start by paying attention to a basic cost-benefit analysis.

      • Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouve

        Those are some good points and I agree that Catholics have not been motivated to practice their faith. But it’s not just a matter of carrot or stick. I still think the demotivation ultimately stems from a crisis of faith. Perhaps some Catholics do believe that the Mass is what the Church teaches it is, and they still don’t go. But then, how deep is their faith really? It’s certainly not a living faith; it’s more like a dead letter faith.
        Also, the role of culture is very important. It makes a huge difference if a person is living in a culture where the practice of faith is expected, or in a secular culture. In the latter, a person has to go against the tide and practice the faith not because there is external pressure but out of inner conviction. If you want to think in terms of a cost-benefit analysis, the reward of eternal life is the ultimate reward. But human nature is such that it is hard to make sacrifices based on delayed gratification.

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  • Michael

    The reason I personally dislike religious life is because I do not want to be a victim of the narrow-minded ideologies of a crazy, stupid or merely ignorant superior. I will present the current issue with the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate as an example. Why the hell are they forbidden to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass? Is it as if all of that extra praying was somehow “harming” the Church? We all know it is because there is an underlying ideology dominating the thoughts of these, I will call them “CRAZY” superiors who abuse the obedience structures and mentalities that they have power over.

    I’m probably not alone in thinking this, and there is probably not one present day religious who regrets getting involved in religious life for this very reason. It’s not that one wants to be disobedient, its just that the sins of these people are crying out in the hearts of the people being abused for vengeance! There is such a thing as holy anger, and yes, St. Thomas DID counsel to disobey one’s superiors if one’s conscience was being deformed and manipulated. But I wonder why they don’t teach THAT teaching in religious orders? Is it too controversial? Controversial, perhaps, to the ineffective ideological leaders.

    Furthermore, it’s not a matter of sacrifice. I would sacrifice my life for God any day, and I do, but I know that I have parents to take care of when they get older and I simply do not have time for the petty and narrow-minded struggles of seminary or religious life. The real world is simply much more efficient and much less concerned about “controling” others through un-merited power. Leaders in the business world have to PROVE that they have the people-skills to be good leaders. They are not appointed merely because they are quiet and know how to submit to status quo, which I guess is important, but not if it is harming the Church (or the company!)

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  • Mike Smith

    Br. Hannegan,

    I think this was an excellent article. A lot of your critics are just nitpicking. Pursuing a religious vocation is about sacrifice, guts, and FAITH! This heroic ideal has been lost in our culture. Perhaps if more vocations directors followed Br. Hannegan’s advice, they would be surprised at the results.

  • Anonymous
  • MJD

    This is the truth. Excellent work, Br. Hannegan!

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  • Br. Justin,

    I decided to reread your article because I recently heard about the controversy it started. When I initially read your article I was pleased to see that you risked proposing the traditional understanding of consecrated life. I decided to take a second look because some of us Dominican brothers in the western province were debating the merits of the traditional position. And, as usual, for every Dominican there were twice as many opinions. A similar thing happened to me in a similar article I wrote for Catholic Exchange a while back. I think, however, you have done a better job than I of articulating the matter at hand. Good job!

    The only concern I would have is where you say “They have no such [innate] desire.”

    This is very true for the way we experience our nature, bound, as it currently is, by the effects of Original Sin. But Original Sin is foreign to human nature, properly speaking. Thus, one could say that we do have a natural/innate desire for the objective good and adjunct goods of consecrated life. This is because the will is always ordered to the good. However, we are unable to perceive consecrated life as the higher good due to our blindness because of sin. The disordering of the passions and the dulling of the intellect create an obscuring mist that shrouds the good that we ought to be clearly perceiving.

    • Br. Justin


      Thanks for reading. And thanks for the thoughts. I think that we desire perfection itself. But we do not desire the evangelical counsels themselves (understood as renunciations). We only come to desire the counsels derivatively when we realize that they are superior means to perfection. Just as we don’t desire to part with our money just for the sake of parting with our money, although we can have a derivative desire to part with our money if doing so is the most effective means to obtaining a desired car, or a new watch, etc.

      • That’s what I gathered from your second article. I think that what you say is correct to some degree. But, I’m not sure that’s the whole story. I think that, at least, Aquinas’ account of human action is making a stronger claim than this. Perhaps this is what my brothers are reacting against.

        It seems to me that even the means chosen to attain an end are chosen under the aspect of the good/desirability and not simply for some foreseen good attained by said means. My read of Aquinas makes me want to say that the means chosen to attain the object desired must itself also be chosen under the aspect of the good, and hence it must be desirable. Granted, there are three distinguished sorts of goods under which the means are chosen, viz., the useful, the valuable, the desirable. However, all three, under a general consideration, fall under the genre of desirable.

        So, maybe one nuanced way to phrase the question at hand would be to say that when we chose to dedicate our lives to the universal call to holiness we should chose the consecrated state because it is the most sure means to attaining evangelical perfection. The renunciations that are intrinsic to the consecrated state are not necessarily chosen because we desire them (here I’m using desire in the colloquial sense). Rather, all we need to do is recognizes the usefulness of the evangelical councils for attaining the perfection we desire.

        Does that make sense?

  • Br. Justin Hannegan
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  • Disciple with Joy

    Onward white knucklers serving a distant God!! Let us earn salvation with this logical decision to the repulsive life!!

    Might there be desires seeper than those for sleep, food and companionship with a spouse? What about the deeper “intimate and unceasing union” the Church speaks of for priests. Is this not ultimately the only satisfaction?

    If we believe what is implied in this article, why are there so many smiling saints? That is not what the Lord meant when he spoke of the 100 fold in this life.

    I pray that we may listen to Pope Benedict who holds that “the intellect is not enough.” The “encounter” he always spoke of is deeper than the shallow goods spoken of in this article.

    • Jake

      Is becoming a saint a shallow good? The article is about pursuing sanctity, which is the only true joy.