Questions and Answers about Priesthood and Religious Life
(Diocesan Priest, Religious 0rder Priests, Sisters and Brothers)
In 1846 Mary, the Mother of God appeared to two young children in the small village of La Salette in the French Alps. She was wearing a unique crucifix and her message was one of Reconciliation.
"Make this known to all my people"
Sinche then, young men and women have served as Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette. We are seeking bold, young men to continue the good works of this important mission as Priests and Brothers and young women to join us as well, serving Christ just as His Mother Mary did.
Are you interested in a religious life dedicated to serving others and spreading Mary's message of Reconciliation?
1) Diocesan Priesthood:
a) An Overview:
The lifestyle of the diocesan priest is shaped by his service to the local Church. He shares with a Bishop the role of service to the Church in a given geographical area.
He ministers by building community, by drawing people together, by challenging them to serve each other, and by urging them to address the social concerns of our times. The diocesan priest ministers by celebrating Eucharist, and by leading the community at prayer, especially in the sacramental moments of birth, reconciliation, marriage, sickness and death.
b) Who is the priest?
• He is the one through whom new members are initiated into the fullness of the life of the church.
• He is the one who brings comfort to the widow, who visits the sick and who counsels the youth with their problems.
• He is the catalyst in the community who works together with his people to build up the family of God.
• He is the one who blesses the bonds of marriage for those who are called to begin a new Christian family.
• He is the one who brings God’s compassion and forgiveness of sins to the people.
• He is the one who invites the community of believers to live as one Eucharistic people, proclaiming and living out the Word of God.
• He is the companion of Jesus who cares for the people of God through the preaching of the Word, the celebration of the Sacraments, and the selfless service of the people.
2) Religious Order Priests:
a) Examining life:
A religious order priest takes vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. He lives out the particular charism and spirituality of his community. Each man learns the history of the community, the spirituality, the way the vows are lived according to the constitutions. The order shapes his priesthood.
Usually he lives in a community. His prayer life is determined by the spirituality of the community. Most of the communities have some time for community prayer and also expect the members to have personal prayer time.
3) Religious Sisters:
a) Is it for me?
Do you want to live with women who share a common vision and have a common mission? Do you want to live in community with women who share the same Gospel values?
All Sisters, regardless of the religious order or community, have three main aspects to their lives. All Sisters are nourished by a prayer life, supported by a community and energized by ministry.
b) Prayer and the Vows:
Each Sister's prayer life is both personal (private prayer time) and communal. This life of prayer challenges sisters to personal growth and spiritual depth.
Every Sister takes at least three vows.
• The vow of obedience is aimed at listening as Jesus did in openness to God's will. Obedience demands openness to the leaders of a community in sharing one's sense of what God is asking as well as listening to the needs of the community.
• The vow of Chastity or celibacy requires loving wholeheartedly and inclusively all God's people. Sisters are called to be warm, loving and vibrant women. Celibacy is another way of loving. It does not allow for genital activity with another person.
• The vow of poverty means living simply in joyful dependency on God. Sisters are called to stand in solidarity with the poor, challenging structures that oppress.
c) Supported by a Community:
Sisters live or are attached to local communities in which they share faith together and support one another. Sr. Sandra Schneiders, I.H.M. defined the goal of community when she wrote in New Wineskins, “Religious should be on the cutting edge in the development of new forms of community life and organization structured by and for justice…Religious should offer a prophetic witness that it is possible for a group of people to live together in love and justice celebrating their own
freedom and equality in the very act of celebrating God's absolute and respectful reign in their lives.”
There are different types of communities:
• Monastic sisters live in communities in which they pray the Liturgy of the Hours several times each day together and often share a common timetable. They live in a monastery.
• Active Apostolic communities are usually involved in diverse ministries with varying schedules and meet to share faith as the community determines. The mission or ministry usually shapes the community life.
• Cloistered Contemplative nuns usually live in the same convent for life. Their ministry is to pray for the needs of the Church and the world. These sisters do this ministry within the convent grounds and often make altar breads, engage in art and music as well.
• Missionary Sisters are involved in bringing the Gospel to people in inner cities, reservations, to people in various needy situations and to the ends of the earth. Their community life is defined by the culture and mission in which they live. (Our La Salette Sisters are such a community.)
Sisters are called to diverse ministries. Not only are sisters teachers, nurses and social workers. There are sisters involved in the arts as sculptors, painters, graphic artists, web site artists. Some sisters are composers, concert pianists, music directors and teachers, choir directors and liturgists. Some sisters are writers, educators, school principals and university administrators.
There are sisters who are doctors, gerontologists, hospital chaplains, lab technicians, occupational therapists, physical therapists, psychiatrists, counselors and nurses. Sisters work in drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Other sisters minister as advocates for the poor, lobbyists, social workers, work with gangs, in street ministry and in shelters for the homeless, the battered and abused. Sisters are community organizers. Sisters are parish ministers, Directors of Religious Education, associate pastors and in some dioceses where the parish has no priests, Sisters actually run the parish. Some sisters are Diocesan Directors of Ministry Programs and
There are Sisters who are lawyers and those who are prison chaplains and work in some form of detention ministry. Sisters work in retreat houses and some are spiritual directors. Some Sisters do retreat work full time. Others are campus ministers on high school and university campuses. The lucky ones are vocation directors! Sisters are engineers, agriculturalists, and architects. Sisters are on the cutting edge of ecological spirituality and its implementation on farms and community property.
Whatever talent a sister has, it can be used for ministry. Whatever ministry a sister does, all sisters are treated with the same dignity and respect. The money earned by a Sister goes into the community account.
4) Religious Order Brothers:
a) A Brotherly Fact:
Did you know that there are over 200 religious brothers working in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles? They serve in diverse ministries such as: Administration, Detention Ministry, Evangelism, Liturgy, Mechanics, Missions, Parishes, Retreats, Social Work, Spiritual Direction, and Teaching, etc.
b) An Overview:
Religious brothers take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and live in community. There are two types of religious orders for brothers. Some communities are composed solely of brothers, like the Christian Brothers de La Salle, the Irish Christian Brothers, or the Brothers of the Sacred Heart. Other religious orders accept men who wish to be brothers or priests, like the Jesuits, Franciscans, Holy Cross Brothers or Benedictines. Brothers are not ordained.
c) Their Life:
Religious brothers take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and live in community. There are two types of religious orders for brothers. Some communities are composed solely of brothers, like the Christian Brothers de La Salle, the Irish Christian Brothers, or the Brothers of the Sacred Heart. Other religious orders accept men who wish to be brothers or priests, like the La Salettes, Jesuits, Franciscans, Holy Cross Brothers or Benedictines. Brothers are not ordained.
Brothers are involved in a wide variety of ministries in ways similar to religious women. A brother ministers through a particular profession or trade. Usually the particular ministry of the brother depends on his talents and educational background as well as the charism of the order. The lifestyle of a brother depends on the community to which he belongs. The different orders of brothers are varied in mission, focus and lifestyle. For example, Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity Brothers minister directly to the very poor and live simple lives in community. Brothers in other communities may teach at a university, run the pharmacy at the Vatican, or counsel troubled youth. There is as rich variety of ministries as the diverse gifts and talents of the brothers.
Brothers live in communities where they pray together and support each other. Having time to relax and enjoy leisure is also part of community life. Brothers gather for retreats together, meetings and to plan their future contribution to the Church.
Prayer is an integral part of the brothers' life. Both private and communal prayer are part of the religious life. The way the community prays together is part of the spirit of the order and differs from one community to the next.
What is the special gift of brothers to the Church? Here is the perspective of one brother:
“The ability of brothers to bond with all peoples, the solidarity and fraternity they have nourished in their ranks, the purification they have experienced in the fires of change, their dream of participating in the refashioning of a broken world into a global family where justice and compassion reign instead of oppression and racism — here may be found the seeds of brotherhood for tomorrow.”
(“Blessed Ambiguity”, by Michael F. Meister, FSC, St. Mary’s Press, Winona, MN)
Discernment is the process by which you discover God’s will. The process enables you to distinguish between movements coming from God and impulses that are not from God. Young adults discern a call to be single, married, priest or religious. Discernment also involves discovering a call to diocesan priesthood, diaconate, or a particular religious community.
In order to grow in your spiritual life, it is recommended that you have a spiritual director. A spiritual director can help guide you in the discernment process.
Often the Vocation Office provides a list of spiritual directors who can assist you in your discernment. A spiritual director does not give advice but listens, affirms and challenges you. A spiritual director gives you feedback on what you share about your relationship with God, with others, your work, ministry and discernment. A spiritual director will help you be accountable in your spiritual life.
6) Questions regarding Spiritual Direction:
a) What is spiritual direction?
• Spiritual direction is a process in which individual Christians are led and encouraged to discover their unique vocation in life. It is a means by which an individual may faithfully correspond to the grace of the Holy Spirit as it is revealed through all situations and events in life.
• Spiritual direction has been a practice in the Christian tradition of entrusting another person with your experiences of God and life. Spiritual direction is a relationship in which a person discloses God's action in their lives and gets feedback from a trained director. Meeting with a director regularly gives you the opportunity to have a human sounding board for your experiences.
b) What is the role of the Spiritual Director?
• The role of the director is to listen and to reflect back to you what may be going on in your life. Sometimes we don't notice the underlying meaning or we can't connect things that are happening to us. The spiritual director is an objective person who can encourage and challenge us to follow Jesus more faithfully. A spiritual director does not tell you what to do or which vocation to follow.
c) When do I go to a Spiritual Director?
• Not everyone is in need of spiritual direction in every phase of life. It is a helpful means of discernment especially when an individual is open to discover the will of God in one's life. A special time of direction may be when a person is searching to discover the way in which he/she is called to live out a Christian call to service. Some spiritual directors are more skilled in ongoing prayer development; others are more helpful in walking with another through the discernment of lifestyle choice.
d) How do I find a Spiritual Director?
• Most dioceses and religious community vocation offices will keep a current listing of spiritual directors available in your area. The diocese or religious community may ask to meet with you to better understand your needs for direction and to help you find a director that is most suited for you.
• The spiritual direction relationship is special and may last for many years. Take your time finding the person right for you. You might interview several directors before making a selection. In general, you should feel comfortable with the director's style.
e) Is Spiritual Direction free?
• Many directors have this area for their full time ministry. The stipends for their services are often their livelihood. Rates differ for one session. Usually a session lasts an hour. Spiritual directors are professionals with degrees and training in spirituality or spiritual direction. Occasionally some directors have another full time ministry and can see some directees without charge.
7) General Questions:
a) What if I feel unworthy ?
Then you are in good company. Simon Peter told Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am sinful man.” Yet Jesus called him. No one is actually "worthy". We don't earn God's call. Jesus said, “It is not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will last” (Jn. 15:16)
b) How do I go about making this decision?
The process of working out where you are called is known as discernment. Discernment is a process of listening to inner movements and learning to sift out what is from God and what is not from God. Please refer to the Discernment materials available (in this same section of our website) for a fuller explanation of the discernment process.
c) Will I have to give up friends and family in order to join?
No, in fact friends and family are a very important support for priests, sisters, and brothers. However, the demands of the people of God or; a religious community get priority in terms of your time and energy. In this sense you “let go” of family and friends. Remember Jesus' promise in the Gospel according to Matthew: “And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.” Mt. 19:29.
d) What if I'm afraid of making a permanent commitment?
Seminary and initial formation give you the time and space to really see if priesthood or religious life fit before you make any kind of commitment. What is most important is to stay in conversation with God. No matter what twists and turns it takes, you will be faithful in the end to whatever commitment you are called to live out.
e) What if one of my personal beliefs clash with that of the institutional church?
Do you think that St. Martin de Porres, the mixed-race Peruvian slave who doctored and fed the poor of Lima, was comfortable with the institutional Church's position on slavery? There are great saints who challenged the institutional Church during their lifetimes, and great Catholics today who do the same. There is a prophetic dimension to our Catholic tradition.
(Picture of Shrine at La Salette in France)
Our Lady of La Salette, Reconciler of sinners,
pray without ceasing for us who have recourse to you.