A vocation to married life enables us to love more deeply than we can by our own power. It transforms a contract between two people into a way of discipleship and conversion.
Common questions about religious life
A sister or nun is a woman who belongs to a religious order, or community. Many people use the word nun interchangeably with sister, but technically nuns are those who live a cloistered (or enclosed) monastic life, whereas sisters serve in an active ministry. After a period of preparation (called formation) sisters and nuns take lifelong vows. Usually they take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; that is, they promise to live simply, to live celibately and to follow the will of God through their community.
A brother belongs to a religious community of men. A brother takes religious vows, usually poverty, chastity and obedience. A brother's life revolves around prayer, communal living in a religious community or monastery and a ministry within the church and society. A brother is not ordained to the priesthood, and thus does not perform the sacramental duties of a priest. Some men's communities include both brothers and priests, and both have equal respect and status in the community.
A monk is the male member of a monastic or contemplative order. Some monks make solemn vows, sometimes including the vow of stability, to remain in one monastery the rest of their lives. Monasticism is a particular form of religious life built around a rule, such as the Rule of Benedict, and the Divine Office, a set of prayers and psalms chanted or sung at various points in the day.
A friar is a male member of a mendicant order, such as the Dominicans or Franciscans, although the term is sometimes extended to others in the monastic tradition.
All priests are ordained to the priesthood through the sacrament of holy orders. However, a man may choose to be a diocesan priest (sometimes called a secular priest) or a religious priest (or order priest). If he chooses to be a diocesan priest, then he enters the diocesan seminary system, and once ordained typically serves within his own diocese (a geographic territory designated by the Catholic Church). He is appointed to his ministry, most often parish work, by the bishop of that diocese. A diocesan priest is accountable to his bishop and the people he serves. If a man chooses religious priesthood, he joins a men's religious community. While he may perform parish ministry, he generally serves in other ways, typically doing work related to the mission and ministries of his religious congregation. A religious priest is accountable to his major superior and the other men in his community for his religious life and to his local bishop and the people he serves for his priestly duties.
Each religious order decides what their attire will consist of. This is usually linked to the charism of the order.
A vocation director is designated by a religious institute to promote vowed membership, to help others discern their vocation and to oversee the application process of new members entering the community as a postulant. They assist those who are considering the possibility of religious life by providing support, discernment counseling and information. The vocation director for a religious congregation answers to the elected superiors of their congregation.
Trained vocation ministers adhere to a code of ethics that specifically encourages them to allow inquirers a sense of true freedom to choose or not choose religious life or priesthood without any pressure or expectation from others. In fact, extreme pressure to enter religious life is a canonical impediment to admission to vows. Websites, discussion boards and email allow inquirers to seek information anonymously until they feel prepared to make more personal contact. The vocation director’s role is to accompany those in discernment, not recruit them. In addition, vocation directors have a duty to their communities and the church to properly assess and offer honest feedback about a candidate's fitness for religious life.
Typically, someone interested in religious life goes through a discernment process where they prayerfully consider the call to religious life, explore vocation options, contact religious communities and eventually begin a more formal process of discernment with a particular religious institute.
Once a candidate chooses to apply to a community and is accepted, he or she typically begins a formation process starting with postulancy or candidacy, in which the person is introduced to the communal life, ministries and mission of the community. Following postulancy comes the novitiate, where a person is formally admitted to a religious institute. The novitiate is an extended time of prayer, study and spirituality, which usually lasts for at least one year. After the novitiate, the novice is admitted to temporary vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. This period of temporary commitment allows for further discernment before he or she makes perpetual profession of vows within a given religious institute.
Every religious order or diocese can set its own parameters around age limits, although the minimum is usually 18 years old to begin formation.
Religious institutes usually require an extensive process of screening candidates to religious life, which usually includes extensive interviews, background checks and medical and psychological testing. Candidates must demonstrate a lived commitment to the Catholic faith and an appropriate level of maturity and mental and physical health that the rigors of religious life require. Candidates who do not meet specific standards set by both Church law and the individual religious institute are not admitted to religious life.
Religious life in the Roman Catholic Church is reserved for celibates only. Some religious institutes have accepted widowed and divorced people who have had their marriages properly annulled by the church.
The main vows for men and women in religious life are chastity, poverty and obedience. Individual institutes may require additional vows.
Men and women religious have an obligation of personal and communal prayer, including daily Mass. They live in community, usually in one house. Apostolic communities, including missionaries, are engaged in ministries such as healthcare, education and social service. Contemplative communities are committed to daily prayer and some form of manual labor.
“Be not afraid...for I am with you.”
~ Jeremiah 1:8