Answers to your questions about relationships and religious life

By Carol Schuck Scheiber

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I’m dating somebody I really care about, but I also feel drawn to religious life. What can I do about this dilemma?It’s not unusual for people who are considering religious life to be in romantic relationships. What it means in your particular situation depends on many things, and it might be helpful to discuss it with a spiritual director. To find one, try asking a campus minister, your parish priest, or a vocation director. If your attraction to religious life remains strong, then it makes sense to bring this up with your significant other.

The meaning of your interest in religious life should become clearer over time as you pray, discuss, possibly visit communities, and otherwise discern who you truly are. Greater self-understanding will help you figure out which life path is your true calling.

My parents are worried that I won’t be present for family gatherings if I enter religious life. How should I address their concern?Married couples face this same conflict and must decide how to divide their time between their families of origin, their in-laws, and the new family they have formed as a couple. Any life commitment requires that you make it the primary one in your life. As a member of a religious community, the community comes first, and all of your other commitments—personal and professional—flow from this one.

Not being present for some family gatherings can be difficult, especially in the beginning, when you and your family are adjusting to a new reality. Most Catholic sisters, brothers, and priests say that the shift is not pain-free, but as different expectations and roles develop, it gets easier. Most also find that as their family members get to know the community and see their loved one thriving, they feel a greater sense of trust and acceptance.

Do religious communities allow someone with sexual experience to enter?Prior sexual experience does not automatically rule someone out. Keep in mind, however, that religious communities expect men and women to have lived a celibate lifestyle for a number of years prior to joining. The community will want to know that you can live a balanced celibate life.

If you have conceived any children, however, you might not be able to join a religious community.

I was once married. Would religious communities still consider me?Multiple factors come into play when a religious community considers a person who has been married, but it’s not impossible for a previously married person to join. Prior Catholic marriages that did not end with your spouse’s death need to be formally annulled before entering, and even then there may be restrictions. The best way to learn what is allowable in your particular situation is to contact communities that interest you.

If I am homosexual, can I join a religious community?Of primary concern is your ability to live a celibate life in a healthy, joyful, productive way. Religious communities want incoming members to be mature and what psychologists call “sexually integrated.” Most communities desire that their members accept and embrace their sexual identity and orientation as a foundation for living the vow of chastity.

My friends are important to me. If I enter a religious community, can I still spend time with them?Click here for 8 secrets to healthy celibacy.There is no simple answer to this question because the parameters of your life as a religious will be set by the particular community you join. You will typically be part of the conversation about parameters, but they will be set in community. What is true in every case is that your primary commitment is to the community. Members of an enclosed (cloistered) community will have fewer opportunities for visiting with friends than will members of an apostolic community that ministers in more public settings. When you talk with religious communities that interest you, bring up your concern to them.

Do members in a religious community have to treat everyone the same, or is it OK to be close friends with some people and not with others?It would be unrealistic for communities to expect that members would not form certain close friendships. Religious communities want their members to have good friends and confidantes, and many religious have those both inside and outside of the community. What religious institutes discourage are relationships that disrupt a sense of communal harmony by creating divisions.

Do you have a question for the VISION editors? Send it to contenteditor@VocationGuide.org.

Carol Schuck Scheiber
Carol Schuck Scheiber is the content editor of VISION Vocation Guide and editor of HORIZON, the journal of the National Religious Vocation Conference.
2016 © TrueQuest Communications

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