By Melissa Lesieur
(OSV News) — The church has prayed for vocations my entire life. Usually, this intercession is specifically for young people to hear the call to the priesthood or consecrated life.
It is difficult for young adults to discern a religious call amid the breakdown of traditional values in our society. Unlike our grandparents’ time, we have fewer priests, religious sisters and committed Catholic couples around as examples. I was blessed to be raised in a devoted Catholic family and attend college where Benedictine monks were involved in everything on campus. Discerning a call from God to married or religious life was part of my life, but not everyone has that blessing. More guidance in vocational discernment is then expected of the diocese.
My diocese does an excellent job fostering priestly vocations. Young men in the diocese are invited to an annual discernment retreat, monthly spaghetti suppers and occasional volleyball games with the current seminarians. At these events, young men are introduced to what a vocation is and invited to reflect and pray about their own, priesthood or not. They can be matched with a spiritual director to help guide them. There is even a house of studies for young men to practice life in prayer and community while discerning a possible vocation. All of this has been helpful for young men in our diocese, and the rising numbers of seminarians show it.
I would love to see the same thing offered for young women. Through my brother’s own experience of discernment, I was introduced to a good spiritual director who helped me in mine. However, most young women do not know what a spiritual director is, much less where to find one. As for exposure to consecrated life, we have to look online for information and may not know where to begin. Monthly gatherings with local or visiting religious sisters and consecrated virgins would help with that. Like the young men’s gatherings, these meetings with consecrated women could take place within the context of a casual event, such as a pizza dinner or a badminton game. Thus, the exposure to a different lifestyle could occur in a fun, nonthreatening way for young women unused to the presence of religious women. It also would be wonderful to have an annual retreat where women can learn about vocations and receive the space and guidance to pray about their own.
And why not have a house of studies for young women? This could be a place where we could live for a year or two in prayer and community with others also discerning their vocation. Like the young men’s house of studies, one for young women would have to have women solid in their vocations to run it. Perhaps its residents could volunteer at various Catholic charities or parishes in need of hands-on assistance. Then, not only would the young women learn how they can best use the gifts God gave them, but the diocese would benefit from more help, as well. Furthermore, young girls in the diocese would be able to see these young discerning women in action, which might inspire them to discern their own vocations when they are older. I think our diocese in particular, and the church as a whole, would benefit from fostering vocations with women, as well as men.
Of course, I can only speak from my experience in my diocese. Some dioceses in the United States may already have many programs in place to help both women and men in discerning their vocations. Some dioceses may have nothing at all for either men or women. But I think the church, while continuing the intercessory prayers for vocations, would only grow stronger with faithful young people by providing guidance in discernment for both young women and young men in every diocese.
Melissa Lesieur is a freelance writer from Massachusetts who enjoys writing about God’s interaction with people’s lives.