This week Father Andrew Younan, priest and philosophy professor at JPCatholic, gave an interview about how to foster religious vocations through daily prayer, and shared the pitfalls of high anxiety and “shoe-horning” in vocations.
What would you say to the average person considering a religious vocation who did not know where to start?
Well first, I would tell them to relax. This is not supposed to be a snap decision and it will not be helped by a whole lot of anxiety or worry. Second, I would tell them to examine their own prayer life and improve it whenever possible. Specifically, they ought to really practice silent prayer in a chapel or church. However they do it though, their prayer life should be thought of in the same way one cares for a plant: everyday provide it with a little bit water and sunlight, do not starve it for a week and then dump a gallon onto it.
Why silent prayer, particularly?
Silent prayer is a really good way to practice self-reflection. At the end of the day, this is going to be a question of who you are as an individual. Religious vocations tend to be built deep within yourself. Silent prayer will let you sit before God and explore who you are with Him. Without this foundation, I am worried that people waste their time looking for dramatic signs, or worse, waiting to hear voices. Hearing voices probably just means that you are crazy.
What is one of the common problems you see in people starting down this path?
Mostly just a lot of confusion and stress. People act as if life only has one potential path for them and that if they make the wrong choice now that everything else will be screwed up down the road. Listen, God probably intended for Moses to free his people from Egypt by growing up as a powerful royal, but it did not work out that way. Instead he spent years as an impoverished shepherd but God still used him to fulfill what had to be done. Moses’ mistake did not ruin the rest of his life, and someone’s decision about what to pursue will not either. I also see people trying to force themselves to fit into religious vocations and that can actually be damaging in the long run. Shoe-horning oneself into an office that you are not cut out for will not only hurt you but probably others.
Do you think that a lot of the stress in these choices is related to sin?
I think sin is going to cause confusion and uncertainty when trying to choose a vocation. Sin clouds our judgement and makes it hard to discern rightly. Stress, I think, affects us because we lack trust in God. So when one is confused it is because they simply cannot judge good from bad, but when one is stressed they just have not trusted that God will take care of them through life.
Earlier you said that vocations tended to be rooted deep in who a person was. Are there certain traits you could identify that may make someone more likely to excel in such a life?
Obviously they would have to be a deeply prayerful person, but they should also be a very compassionate one. Priests move around a lot and need to be able to both go into new environments with a good sense of who they are, and learn to care for members of their parish quickly. Thus the need for a constantly prayerful state. They need to know that who they are comes from God and also contain a compassionate side so they are not slow to relationships with others.
With all of that in mind, any final advice for people grappling with a religious vocation?
Just do not force it. Treat it like you would another person you liked- go out and spend some time just getting to know the idea. Pray silently and try and get to know yourself. Make a real effort to live a fully Christian life, and just be less vice-full. Do not tell yourself that you have to become [wholly] religious to be a good person, allow it all to evolve naturally, and if it becomes more serious try consulting with a priest, nun, or vocations director.