Discerning religious life is one thing—deciding with which community to live that calling can be quite another! In the United States alone there are over 400 religious communities of women! It can be confusing, but there is a way through it.
Sometimes the call to religious life and a particular community are one and the same. Very early in my discernment, for example, I knew that the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters were for me. As I spent time with them I knew I was “home” and that my vocation was as much to I.H.M. as it was to religious life. Other people feel a call to religious life and then further along in their discernment they begin to consider within which community that call will become incarnate.
Here’s a bit of an analogy to consider. Think about what it’s like when a person wants to get married. Do they need to check every available potential spouse? Thankfully, no! What do they do? They get to know people, befriend them, and sooner or later they hit it off with someone and that may be the beginning of a life-long commitment.
In religious life it is a similar situation because you need to be in relationship with sisters, or brothers for men discerning a vocation, in order to know what they are like and see if there’s a good connection. You can certainly read about them online and in brochures, but to truly know a community you have to know the members. You need to develop real relationships with them as individuals and as a community. You need to immerse yourself in their life and spirituality and at the same time open your life to them.
What are some things you might look for in finding a congregation that fits? First and foremost it is important that the community have a healthy sense of Catholic faith, community, ministry, and spirituality. These will be expressed and emphasized in many different ways, but that they are there is essential.
On a more personal level, take a look at how the community resonates with you. Does the community feel like “home” to you? Can you be fully yourself when you are with the community and as you envision your life with them? Do your values sync up with theirs? Do you feel a sense of joy, of “lightness” when you are with them? These are all questions to carry with you as you are with sisters or brothers, as you pray and discern, and as you talk with spiritual mentors and trusted friends.
My prayers are with you as you deepen your connections with God and with sisters.
Editor’s note: Another good way to sort through all the community possibilities is to take the VISION VocationNetwork Match!