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How do I choose a religious order?

September 9, 2020

Father Mannara lays his hands on newly ordained Father Rivera

By Fr. Eduardo Rivera, CSB

“Thomas said to him, ‘Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” John 14:5-6

In our world, options seem plentiful. From what we can eat to what we can watch on streaming services and who we follow on social media, we have more than enough options. With so many different possibilities, how are we supposed to decide? If we have trouble deciding between these simple everyday choices, how are we to discern our vocations? How are we supposed to figure out what way of life God is calling us to?

When I started discerning my vocation to religious life, I felt overwhelmed with the number of possibilities. I began to ask myself. Is God calling me to be a Franciscan or a Dominican? Am I called to serve the poor as an Oblate of Mary Immaculate? How will I discern which religious order God wants me to join? After speaking with my spiritual director, he advised me to pray with John 14, and begin talking to different members of religious orders.

In John 14, Jesus is describing how he will take the disciples to where he is going. He is trying to help them understand that he has a place set aside for them. He has a plan for the disciples. St. Thomas does not quite understand what Jesus is trying to tell them. He asks Jesus, “How can we know the way?” (Jn. 14:5). To this question, Jesus responds, “I am the way and the truth, and the life.” (Jn. 14:6). Christ provides the disciples with a blueprint for discernment. I found my religious order, the Congregation of St. Basil by searching for Christ, the way, the truth, and the life.

Jesus Christ, the Way:

The first step to discerning religious life is talking to vowed members of religious communities. When I started speaking with members of different religious orders, I began to realize that there was a common theme. Most religious are drawn to their communities because the way of life or rules of the order help its members follow Christ more closely. Each of Christ’s disciples came from different backgrounds and had unique personalities. St. Matthew was a tax collector, while St. Peter was a fisherman. Both disciples came to Christ in their own ways, yet they followed the same Christ. Similarly, the way of life of a religious community informs the way members pray, socialize, and work together. Each religious order is unique, but they ultimately are composed of members who are at the service of Christ.

It is when you begin to see and experience how a religious community lives that you can began your discernment. In attending retreats at a Benedictine monastery, I discovered that the monastic way of life is not for me. I only became acquainted with the Basilian way of life after I began interacting with Basilian priests at my university. It was through these everyday interactions that I started to learn more about how Basilians lived out religious life. I recommend learning more about a variety of religious orders, talk with members of religious communities, experience how they pray and work together, and ask yourself what attracts you to the way these people live out religious life.

Jesus Christ, the Truth:

Christ brought his singular message of truth to the world. Religious orders work to proclaim that truth; they share Christ’s message with the world through their words and actions. Religious orders evangelize through their particular charisms. In other words, religious orders proclaim the truth of the gospel through their ministries. Each religious order has a particular ministry or specialty. For example, Redemptorists have a particular charism for working with the poor and in missionary service, while Basilian Fathers have a charism in education, and serving in schools as well as parishes. Religious orders have a variety of charisms and apostolates, from contemplative communities that focus on prayer to communities that work with refugees and the marginalized.

As I was discerning my vocation to religious life, I felt called to teaching in schools. I found God most often through my education in Catholic schools. The Basilian Fathers founded and ministered at my Catholic university. It felt natural to join a community that focused on teaching goodness, discipline, and knowledge. In looking at the charisms and specialties of different religious orders, I recommend discerning what kind of ministry you are called to serve.

Jesus Christ, the Life:

One has to realize that religious life is more than just a phase. It is the gift of one’s life to proclaim Christ throughout the world, both in word and in one’s very being. Members of religious orders spread the gospel by their witness, in living out the evangelical councils; that is to say, the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience allow religious the freedom to bear witness to Christ in every aspect of their lives.

Can you see yourself living out religious life as a Basilian or a Franciscan or a Carthusian? Can you see yourself growing old in your ministry? Do you find a home in your religious order, during the good and bad times? Have you found Christ in your religious community?

Choosing a religious order takes time. It is a process of discernment for both the community and the individual discerner. The first step in discerning is getting to know a variety of religious brothers, sisters, and priests. Then, you can learn more about yourself, your talents and interests. Through prayer and the support of others, you can find a religious order, where you can truly proclaim Christ, the way and the truth and the life.

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