Discernment Part 3b. ARE YOU BEING CALLED? A vocation series by Fr Timothy Radcliffe


The first thing you should do if you think you have a vocation is to try to build moments of serenity and tranquillity into your life. One of the things that stops us hearing God’s call is the fact that there’s so much noise and bustle. You need to be quiet. Even if it’s just for a quarter of an hour a day, you need to slow down and be quiet with God. If there is a crisis of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, one of the reasons is that everybody’s rushing around.
Many people grow up in non-religious homes and rarely, if ever, meet Catholic priests or nuns. Their first contact with the Church is often via the internet. When the Dominican monasteries of contemplative nuns in America put up their own websites, they immediately saw a rise in vocations. The internet is really important, because people are often afraid that if they turn up they’re going to be grabbed.
Don’t be worried if what initially attracts you to the priestly or religious life is something trivial, such as the smell of incense or the beauty of a habit. It could be that you have glimpsed something deeper about the attractiveness of this way of life. In the time of St Athanasius a lot of people were running off to desert monasteries to avoid taxes or conscription. Some said those people weren’t real monks because they didn’t have genuine motives. Athanasius replied that it didn’t matter how God brought them in.
Reading about the priestly or religious life is not enough. You must also get a taste of it. The first thing we Dominicans ask inquirers to do is to come and stay with us. Jesus says to the disciples at the beginning of St John’s Gospel: “Come and see.” It’s important that you can come and stay with priests or religious without any sense of pressure. In an activist world, the primary purpose of joining an Order or being a priest is simply to be.
Later, you may find yourself wrestling with certain questions: can you imagine yourself flourishing here? Can you see yourself being one of the brethren, one of the Sisters or being a priest in this presbyterate? Could you breathe the fresh air of God here? You might want quick answers to these questions. But just give yourself time to find out.
Often people are attracted to a particular order because they admire the people in it. That’s fine. When they live with them, they probably won’t admire them for long. And that’s fine, too, because then maybe they’ll love them, which is much more important.
If you’re attracted to the diocesan priesthood, it’s likely that you will have to live alone. Personally, I could never have survived alone in a presbytery. I’d probably have got married within a couple of years. But in actual fact, diocesan priests are also called to belong to a community – not just the community of the parish, but also the community of the priests of that diocese, gathered around the bishop. In many dioceses there is a growing sense of that community of the presbyterate and that is wonderful.
Some religious orders – of both men and women – find it hard to accept the young, who are different. But we’ve got to let another generation be unlike our own. The other day I met a very interesting young Chinese-French woman who longs to be a religious. She has not yet found a congregation in France where she can have the seriousness of real community life. She wants to live the Gospel radically, to be really poor and to have all the Dominican commitment to preaching and proper theological studies. That young woman is already in touch with a group of other young people who are thinking about how they can launch something new. I was able to identify some people in France – men and women whom I hope can accompany her. Every century you see bags of congregations founded and many of them will die out in 100 years or so. But more that are suited to the moment will be launched.
I think there are many young women out there who really want religious life. And maybe what we have to do is to be prepared to welcome them and their demands. They don’t want a soft option. They want something tough. Religious life and the priesthood make no sense if they’re not an extravagant gesture, where you say: “I go for it 100 per cent.” That means we have to have the nerve to say: “OK, if you join us we’re going to ask everything.”
There are many late vocations to the diocesan priesthood. But if you are going to join a religious community, where you’ve got all the exigencies of living side by side, often not much protected from each other, then you don’t want to leave it too late. So we Dominicans tend to be a lot more questioning when someone gets past the age of 40. But we do accept older candidates. We’ve got a wonderful chap who’s actually our director of vocations. When he was 18 he didn’t know whether to marry or become a Dominican. His brother became a Dominican, but this man married, had four kids and then, when he was in his early 60s, his wife died and he thought: “Well, I thought about the Dominicans 40 years ago. Is it too late?” He was ordained a priest last year. He’s getting on for 70 now, but he’s a tremendous gift to us. Part of it was that he already knew a lot about the order before he joined. He knew what we were like. He wasn’t coming to us with some tremendously idealised vision.
If you leave it too late, your way of life may be too formed. Then you may find it hard to have to share the communal washbasin or not have a car or a lot of pocket money. There are all sorts of freedoms that you have to be prepared to lose, but this has to be in the name of a much deeper freedom that you gain.


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