Address Fears and Questions
We wished to abandon all to follow Christ. We learned in time that we still had it within ourselves to hold back. We wish to be wholehearted yet we are hesitant. Still, like the first disciples we know that He will draw us along and reinforce our loyalties if we yield to Him.
— Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross, 1:8
It is in answering God’s call that we find our greatest joy. We can know this truth, we can desire God’s will, and we can be willing to follow, yet there will always be challenges and fears that threaten to hold us back. Fears and doubts may never completely leave us, but they need not hold us back from moving forward with Christ.
Below we address a few of the common fears that can plague those in discernment. Often, addressing these fears is merely a matter of learning more about the reality of religious life and priesthood. The information below may be helpful in addressing some of the concerns that you have, yet they probably do not cover them completely. A more effective way to address these fears will be to contact a Vocation Director.
Celibacy: Is It Possible?
The vow of celibate chastity is a radical act of love and a gift of one’s life to the Lord for the sake of the Church and the world. Questions circle around this vow as to whether it is actually possible for one to live it. Individuals ask themselves: Can I live out this vow? Will it leave me isolated and lonely in this world?
The questions regarding whether it is actually possible to be true to this vow point to the world’s fascination with sex and how much we have become ensnared by that fascination. For thousands of years, men and women have consecrated their lives through a vow of celibacy and have lived out joy-filled lives. Indeed all are called to live a chaste life, whether single, married, or celibate.
This call to chastity comes to us through the pure love of God, a love poured out not for His sake but for ours. This is the manner in which we are called to live in love, through lives poured out for others.This is the love that brings true joy and fullness of life. Rooted in Christ’s love, celibate chastity is not only possible for those who are called to it; it is the path into the heart of Christ’s love and a powerful witness of that love to the world.
If called to the religious life and the vow of celibacy, the Lord will give you the grace and strength to live that vow well. Also through the years of formation in the seminary, you will have the opportunity to grow in your understanding of the vow and receive direction and resources that will help you to live in that vow before you make a final commitment to it.
In Holy Cross our community life provides the companionship that makes sure that our life is not a lonely one. We take time on a daily basis to gather for prayer and meals. As well we gather for major celebrations and anniversaries. Our common life, generously lived, brings us into contact with many students, families, and friends who invite us to share with them the joys and sorrows that life brings.
In Christ it is possible to love God with all one’s heart, putting Him above every other love, and thus to love every creature with the freedom of God!
— Saint John Paul II, Vita consecrata
Poverty: Will I have the basics of what I need?
The vow of poverty is an act of stepping away from the pursuit of material wealth, trusting that the Lord and our community will provide. There is a feeling of security that comes from wealth and ownership, and the thought of foregoing these may lead to uncertainty. Questions that often arise include: Will I have the things that I need? Will my family need to help support me? What if something goes wrong, will I have health care?
In the Congregation of Holy Cross our vow of poverty invites us to live a simple life, detached from the blind pursuit of more. We recognize that to serve our mission well, we will need many of the tools and resources that the modern world provides; yet we recognize that in order to be detached from these possessions we must first root ourselves in a trusting dependence on the Lord. In this too, we recognize that it is not the wealth of this world that will bring peace to our lives; Christ Jesus alone can do so.
Like the first Christians we hold our resources in common. Any remuneration that we receive for the work we do is used for the needs of our community. We draw out what is needed to serve our mission and care for one another. This includes education for our seminarians and men in higher studies. This includes the support of our missions and our direct service to the poor. It also includes proper health care for all members as well as a stipend for the personal needs of each.
We place our trust in one another to provide for the needs of all. We live simply that we may not draw excessively from the common purse and we strive to detach ourselves so that we may freely receive and just as freely give. Our attention to material needs is not meant to create a comfortable life, but to support one another that we may effectively pour out our lives in service to the Lord and the Church.
So do not worry and say, 'What are we to eat?' or 'What are we to drink?' or 'What are we to wear?' All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.
— Matthew 6: 31-33
Obedience: What if they tell me to do something I don’t want to do?
The vow of obedience is an act of turning over the free exercise of the will in imitation of Christ who was obedient to the Father. In our society where freedom and independence are greatly valued – even to the point of individualism – many questions arise about what this “obedience” looks like. Included are questions about how this impacts the individual: Will I have any say in what I am doing? What if I am given an assignment that I don’t want? I have a specific sort of ministry in mind; will I be able to do it?
Taking the vow of obedience is not the same as renouncing all personal freedom. The vow engages the mystery of the obedience of Christ to the Father. The height of our use of free will is the free acceptance of the Divine Will. In this we accept the way marked out for us that truly sets us free and leads us to fullness of life and love.
To offer our will to the Father is not an act of bondage, but an act of faith in the One who knows the fullness of who we were created to be and can draw us into this. In taking the vow of obedience a religious sets his pursuit of the Will of God into the context of the communal pursuit of God’s will.
In practice this vow of obedience connects with our life on the level of personal freedoms, communal discernment, and individual assignments. Each priest and brother is formed in the life and values of Holy Cross, but is expected to take personal responsibility for living this out. The community gives support and structure for this, but each priest and brother is also responsible for their own life.
On the level of the broader community, we gather regularly as a Congregation, as Provinces, and as local houses to consider our common life and mission and plot out our way ahead. When making assignments, religious superiors keep in mind the gifts and skills of the individual as well as the needs of the community’s mission. This requires an attentiveness of the community to the interests and skills of the individual, as well as a trust on the part of the individual religious that the community may see something in him that he does not see in himself.
History has shown that some of the most powerful and meaningful assignments are the ones that the individual religious would not have chosen for himself. We have come to recognize that the plans that God has in store for us are greater than any we could choose for ourselves. Thus we strive to open our lives to the will of God through obedience to our Congregation and to the Church.
Learn more about the vows of Celibacy, Poverty, and Obedience as they are lived out in Holy Cross by reading from our Constitutions - Constitution 5: Consecration and Commitment.
Worthiness: Who am I to receive this call?
One of the great fears that holds some back from answering the call to the religious life and the priesthood is a sense of unworthiness. How could God call someone who struggles in his life of faith? How could God call someone who has messed up so many times? How can God call someone who has come from a troubled background?
The important truth is that God’s call comes not because of anything that you have done, but rather in the realization of who it is that God is calling you to be. In His call, God already has begun good work in you. As you open your life to God, He will bring that good work to completion.
For all disciples the path to holiness is the work of a lifetime. We need to be willing to work with the grace of God as we progress along the path of holiness; yet one cannot expect to complete that path before entering the seminary or religious life. You must simply be willing to continue along the path and commit yourself to the work of growing in God’s grace.
Consider this: all of us lack the worthiness to receive the Eucharist. We recognize this several times in the Mass, most especially just before we move forward to receive. Along with the centurion from Scripture we say, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof…” Even when in a state of grace, we recognize that we are not worthy; who are we to present ourselves to receive the very Body and Blood of our Lord?
Yet we go forward in faith because we know that the Lord has invited us to do so. We trust in that invitation. We trust that He knows what is for our good. It is similar with regard to the invitation that God offers in our vocation. We receive the invitation not because of our worthiness but because Christ has called us. We then place our trust in Him and respond.
Timing: Should I enter or wait a few more years? Will I miss out on something if I enter now?
To make a commitment one must choose one option and forego others. Entering the seminary often seems like a very big step and it seems even bigger when weighed up against other options that would be set aside. This often brings up questions regarding timing: Should I enter as a college student or wait until after college? Should I enter right after college or work for a few years? Should I enter now or wait until I am a little more confident in my call?
Two things are important to keep in mind when weighing the question of timing. The first is that entering into a religious community or the seminary does not mean that one is signing away the rest of his life. To enter the seminary means to begin a focused period of discernment and preparation; the long term commitment does not come until a few years later.
Many have entered, and after a period of time, have come to understand that their vocation lies elsewhere. They are able to then set aside the question of call to the priesthood or religious life and take another path. The time in formation is not wasted. During that time they have a valuable opportunity to deepen their relationship with God, develop their life of prayer, and come to a better self-understanding.
The second thing to remember is that it is difficult to truly discern a path without first walking it. One does not learn whether he is meant to marry without first entering into a period of dating. One is not really able to discern the vocation to the religious life or priesthood without first entering formation for a period of time. Sooner or later you must live the life to find out if it is for you. It cannot be put off indefinitely.
With regard to the question of timing - during college, right after graduation, after working a few years – the truth is that there is no set time that is right for everyone. The timing is different for different people. Some need to experience a traditional college life; others may be ready to enter as undergrads. Some may need a few years out of college; still others may be ready to enter straight away. One key to finding the right timing is to consider when you are ready to engage more deeply the question of a vocation to the religious life and the priesthood.
With some time in reflection you may be able to identify what the primary question on your mind is and where you can find the answer. If your main question is whether you are called to the religious life or the priesthood, the best place to find the answer to that question is in the seminary.
It is also important to ask whether you have the maturity and the preparedness to enter into formation. The answer to this is best considered in conversation with a vocation director. Contact Us
Family: Do I need to leave my family behind? Can I manage without a family of my own?
Entering a religious community and the priesthood impacts family life. Not only does it require one to set aside the pursuit of marriage, but it has an effect on relationships with parents and siblings. Questions that are often raised include: Will I be lonely without my own family? Do I have to leave my own parents, family, and friends behind?
Entering into the religious life does mean that one is entering into a new family dynamic. The religious community becomes the primary community for the individual. Similarly when a couple is married and their new family unit becomes their primary community, their relationships with parents and siblings shift. For Holy Cross this does not mean that family and friends are completely left behind.
Our community was founded on the model of the Holy Family which draws us together as a family for one another. Parents and siblings of the individual priests and brothers are integrated into the larger Holy Cross family. They are welcome to visit the seminary and our religious houses. Priests and brothers in Holy Cross become familiar with each other’s families and will attend weddings, anniversaries, and funerals.
This familial nature of our community life is often felt when our mission carries us to new places. No matter where we are sent in ministry, we will be sent to a community house where our family is already present and ready to welcome us.
If you have questions or concerns that are not addressed here they may be addressed in our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section.
Speaking directly to a vocation director is also a wonderful way of finding answers to your questions: Contact Us