Vocations within vocations
A quick guide to the many different gifts and calls of priests and religious
So you feel called to give your entire life to God and you don’t know where to turn? Sometimes it seems as if you need mapquest to navigate the variety of calls within a call to the religious life or the priesthood. There are so many ways to respond!
The Spirit gives gifts to the church according to the needs of each time. What is the difference, then, between a diocesan priest and a religious priest? Religious men (who could be priests or brothers) and women gather in community life and are drawn together by a specific mission or charism: that is, they could be preachers, educators, missionaries, or contemplatives.
There are many congregations, but all come from three different branches, which developed over the first centuries of church life:
- Contemplative orders are monastic congregations such as the Benedictines, Trappists, and the cloistered religious communities of women. They live in monasteries and constitute stable communities. They are dedicated mainly to prayer for the needs of the church and to study and manual labor within the monastery walls. They keep long periods of silence and contemplation.
- Orders of preachers (such as the Dominicans) are mainly dedicated to evangelization and the study of scripture. The missionary congregations come from this branch. They live in community and vow obedience to their religious superiors, but they don’t stay in the same community for life since they have to attend to the needs of the missions where they are sent.
- Mendicant orders (such as the Franciscans) are itinerant and evangelizers, and their characteristic is simplicity of life and a deep spirituality of peace and harmony with creation.
What about diocesan priests?
Diocesan priests have the same radical call to give their lives to God through the promises of poverty, obedience, and celibacy, but they do not live in religious communities under a superior; nor do they have a charism added to their pastoral service to the local church—in the diocese or parish. They owe obedience to their local bishop whom they represent in their service to the church community.
Where do you fit?
You will have to think about how God calls you to use your personal gifts and talents, your inclinations and your personality. Speak with people who know you and who can picture you in one of these options.
Find out about the charisms of religious congregations near you. Picture yourself in each type of life and see how you would feel. Remember, above all, that God is a God of love who wants you to be fully you and to be fully happy.