November 20, 2015

Be Our Guest / Kathleen Tierney

Let us grow in vocation awareness of the diverse forms of consecrated life

Zoe Cannon’s “A Call to Love: Vocation Awareness” column in the Nov. 6 issue of The Criterion is an excellent reflection on the diversity of vocations recognized by the Church. There is a wealth of information and guidance for those called to marriage, religious life or ordained life.

However, for those who are called by God to embrace celibacy along a different vocational path, it is a difficult journey marked by debate, confusion, and a lack of direction regarding these lesser known vocations.

Phrases such as “single vocation,” “consecrated single life” or “dedicated single” have become popular in the world of Catholic discernment. But there is debate as to the validity of such a vocation.

There are those who claim that these are not vocations since there is no such language in official Church documents. From their perspective, a person living this life is simply living out their baptismal calling. On the other hand, an Internet search of these phrases reveals an abundance of articles and blogs on Catholic sites that support the concept.

Unfortunately, there is a lack of consistency in what people define as “single vocation.” Some define it as a temporary state prior to entering marriage, ordained or religious life. Others consider it the default vocation for those who fail to find a spouse. Still others see it as a permanent vow of celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Very few sites actually provide solid, accurate guidance on non-religious, non-ordained celibate vocations that are formally recognized, defined and supported by the Catholic Church.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website is a beacon of light in this ocean of browser chaos. Under the page titled “Forms of Consecrated Life,” one can see that there are four consecrated life vocations listed alongside religious life. This often comes as a great surprise to most people, who assume that religious life is the only form of consecrated life.

I’ve even seen “Year of Consecrated Life” renamed “Year of Consecrated Religious Life” in some publications. Yet this celebration is extended to include eremitic life, consecrated virgins and widows, secular institutes, and societies of apostolic life, which all share the common thread of vows of poverty, chastity and obedience along with religious life. For those struggling to make sense of a call to remain single, but not religious or ordained, this page is a valuable guidance tool in the discernment process.

Another invaluable resource is “Vita Consecrata” by St. John Paul II. It is a post-synodal apostolic exhortation that dives deep into the spirituality of each of the various forms of consecrated life. Additionally, for the person who feels called to remain privately vowed, St. John Paul II offered the most comforting acknowledgement, asking the faithful to thank God for all those in formally recognized consecrated life forms “as well as for all those individuals who, in their inmost hearts, dedicate themselves to God by a special consecration.”

During this Year of Consecrated Life, let us grow in vocation awareness of the beautiful and diverse forms of consecrated life. So when someone feels lost and alone in trying to follow this call to love as a single, celibate person, we can provide clear direction and encouragement according to Church teaching.

(Kathleen Tierney is a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis.)

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