A recent post on a Catholic social media website warned of three faulty motivations of those who were attracted to religious life. The post said that the candidate might see religious life as 1) a refuge from a hostile world, 2) an attraction to something external, as pleasant singing, or 3) as an escape from someone, as from parents.
These motivations have, says bishop and doctor of the Church, St. Francis de Sales, “no value for entering the house of God.”
One reader on the website who responded to this post explained why these three appealing notions seem at first to be correct. The reader wrote,
“The religious life is a refuge, the externals are attractive, and it is an escape. It is only those things, however, for the people who are called to it (by God—not by those things). If you go to the religious life simply because you are looking for a refuge, it will just make you bored—and you’ll just be frustrated because religious life is not for those who want to run away and hide. If you go to the religious life simply because the externals are attractive, in a short time, the newness of it all will wear off, you will long for something that seems more attractive, and you will become excessively critical because nothing is as perfect as it may seem at first. If you go to the religious life as an escape from a less-than-ideal current situation, it may seem great at first—but eventually you’ll just find a new set of problems.”
What then, is the answer?
Saint Francis de Sales, co-founder along with St. Jane Frances de Chantal of the Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary, illustrates the best motivations for entering religious life. He says they include union with God, growth in virtue, and the strengthening of our will to follow Jesus.
Here are the qualities he talks about:
- Union with God, since religious are spouses of God.
- The voluntary mortification of the self; body, heart, and mind must continually serve Him.
- The cultivation of the mind to “root out all the weeds” that spring daily from our wounded nature.
- An invincible courage not to be wearied by evil and sin, “since we are never perfectly cured until we are in Paradise.”
This and other excellent material can be found in the Spiritual Conferences of St. Francis de Sales, Conference XX, “Why We Should Become Religious.”
The spirituality of the Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary grew from the communication — nearly all from letters — between St. Francis and St. Jane. These letters fill several volumes.
An ongoing series of essays on discernment as a Visitation Sister can be found on the website Visitation Spirit, at www.VisitationSpirit.org, which is the site of the Second Federation of Visitation Sisters in the United States.