Narrowing the Search: Consecrated Life

*Note: It can be very helpful to walk through this process with a guide. If you are looking for someone to help in your discernment, we encourage you to check out our Discernment Mentorship Program.

Discerning which spirituality or religious order would be a good fit for you can sometimes be overwhelming since there are so many different communities and various kinds of consecrated life in the Catholic Church. One way to make this process less stressful is to first spend time getting to know yourself with the Lord, paying attention to how you pray, what gifts and talents you have, and which devotions you are naturally inclined towards.

After you do this, it becomes easier to look at different charisms and religious orders because you are able to more easily identify if a specific community is a good fit with the way that the Lord is already forming you.

One of the first questions of this discernment should be whether or not you feel called to live a celibate life. If you are feeling called to celibacy, and are beginning to look at religious communities, we invite you to consider the steps listed below. You can also access vocation search tools from the Institute on Religious Life and Vision Vocation Network below if you are looking to learn more about religious communities:

Discernment Ideas

*Note: These items are not listed in any particular order, nor are they the only way to discern religious life. These are simply tools to help you move forward and continue to discover the specific way that God is calling you along the path toward Holiness.

  • Most individual religious communities are part of a larger Catholic spirituality. For example, there are many different kinds of Franciscan communities who, though different, are unified in that they follow in the steps of St. Francis.

Some major spiritualties are listed below, along with a very brief description of some of the major attributes of the spiritualities:

          • Franciscan: Emphasis on poverty and serving the poor

          • Dominican: Emphasis on preaching, study, and Truth

          • Benedictine: Emphasis on prayer, work, stability, and monastic practices

          • Carmelite: Emphasis on prayer and contemplation

          • Jesuit: Emphasis on mission, teaching, and service to the marginalized

          • Mercedarian: Emphasis on giving one’s life for the sake of others

          • Norbertine: Emphasis on liturgical prayer and service

This list is not meant to be comprehensive, as there are many other spiritualities in the life of the Church. It is also not meant to be all-encompassing, as the descriptions provided are only meant to give you a broad entry point into each spirituality. You can dive deeper into the major spiritualities with the Vocations Outreach spirituality boxes (available here), videos which feature different communities (available here), or by doing additional research on a founding saint and their spirituality.

      • Consider whether you feel drawn towards more active or more contemplative communities.

This step is best aided by knowing yourself and your relationship with God. There are many different kinds of religious orders, ranging from completely cloistered to active missionary communities. This long list of communities will narrow greatly if you are able to see how God is drawing you along the path of Holiness through an attraction to the active and/or the contemplative communities.

      • If you feel drawn towards an active community, consider what kind of apostolate you may be interested in.

There are many active works which consecrated persons are involved in. One of the most helpful ways to consider what kind of apostolate you are drawn to is to think about the times in your life when you felt most yourself. Look at which activities are exciting and life-giving for you, or consider the activities which make the most out of your God-given talents and strengths.

      • If you are not sure what kind of consecrated life you feel drawn towards (ex: consecrated virginity vs. consecrated religious life), consider whether or not God is calling you to live in community.

Living in community is one of the major differences between consecrated religious life and other forms of consecrated life, such as hermitage or consecrated virginity. The support of a community can be a wonderful aid to holiness, as can the solitude with God of a non-communal vocation. If you are unsure about this point, then visiting religious communities can be a helpful starting place. It can also help you see the difference between large and small communities. Some communities have opportunities for temporary assignments to hermitage as well.

      • If you’re still unsure, feel free to visit different communities!

On paper, many religious communities can look very similar. For example, if you are looking at two different Benedictine communities, it could be difficult to discern between them only based on their websites. It can be much easier to get a feel for a community if you meet their members, see where they live, and witness their ministry and prayer firsthand. It is also true that God can sometimes provide a sense of peace or “home” with a certain community when you go to visit in person.

Final Thoughts

As you go through these reflections, we encourage you to remember that finding a community is not just an intellectual process. Certainly, self-knowledge is necessary for this, and it is always good to grow in your understanding of how God created you. However, it is God who calls people to consecrated life and if He is calling you to religious life, then He already has a place in mind for you. Stay close to God in prayer and simply ask Him to lead you during this process, and He will open up the doors needed for you to continue on your journey towards Him.