Narrowing the Search: Consecrated Life

*Note: It can be very helpful to walk through this process with someone guiding you. If you are looking for someone to help in your discernment, we encourage you to look into 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 religious communities and kinds of consecrated life in the Catholic Church. One way to make this process less stressful is to first spend time looking at yourself, paying attention to how you pray, what gifts and talents you have, and what devotions you naturally incline to. After you do this, then it is easier to begin looking at different charisms and religious orders because you will be able to more easily identify what you like or dislike about a certain community.

One of the first steps of 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 suggestions to help give you ideas on how to move forward and continue to seek God’s will for your life.

  • Consider looking at major spiritualities in the Church to see if you feel particularly drawn to any of them.

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 the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to each spirituality. You can learn more about 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 can be aided by knowledge of yourself and your relationship with God. There is a wide variation on this spectrum, ranging from cloistered to active communities, and the list of communities to look at will narrow greatly if you are able to discern how contemplative or active of a community God may be calling you to.

  • If you feel drawn towards an active community, try to discern 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 discern what kind of apostolate you would enjoy is to consider the times in your life where you felt most yourself. Look at what activities are exciting and life-giving for you, or consider what activities you feel 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), try to discern 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 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.

  • Don’t be afraid 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. Oftentimes it is 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 a person is physically present with the community.

Final Thoughts

As you go through these steps, we encourage you to remember that finding a community to discern with 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 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.