Consecrated Life: Vocations

Consecrated Life: Vocations

Last year I gave a presentation on vocations to a group of teenagers in a Catholic school. At the ‘Q&A’ session one of the pupils asked me, why can’t you just have a job as well as do what you do? I didn’t really have an answer for him, apart from “we’re not allowed to”. The fact is, he did have a point. What is it that Dominicans do all day? Or generally speaking, what is it that consecrated religious actually do? Although that seemed to be a basic question, I did not have much of an answer other than we could not be consecrated religious, if we also had full time jobs, our own homes and personal property.
The vocation to the consecrated life is perhaps a distillation of the Christian vocation in general. We all share in the common priesthood of Jesus Christ. All of the Baptised are anointed with the Holy Spirit, are reborn and consecrated as a spiritual temple and a holy priesthood. Individual members live the Christian life, offer up spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the prodigious deeds of God who called us from darkness into his wonderful light (cf. 1 Peter 2,4-10). The vocation to the consecrated life, is where those ‘called’ to a consecrated live a vocation which is devoted to God, in a temporal way manifested by taking vows. These vows usually mean a visible distinction, like wearing the religious habit and striving to live a cloistered life set apart from the world. This usually means some form of asceticism, that is living simply. The monastic element of the consecrated life is rooted in the lives of the desert fathers of Egypt, who lived a simple hermit existence in order to pray to God, and to isolate themselves from temptation. The desert fathers such as St Anthony lived extremely ascetic lives. Solitary living aimed to focus on purifying the soul, and this assisted with self-denial of luxury food. Even having a bath was a rare occurrence. The desert fathers renounced rich food, lived in very basic accommodation, and denied themselves many worldly things. This was a solitary and austere existence aiming to focus the individual’s energies on prayer, singing the psalms, fasting and almsgiving to the poor, but also in preserving love amongst all of the hermits, whilst maintaining their thoughts on God and the eternal kingdom to come. Monasticism developed from the extreme asceticism of the desert fathers, to the cenobitic life of communities such as those formed by Pachomius in Egypt. Other monastic communities began from these origins, and spread across Europe.

Image: Temptation of St Anthony

Saint Dominic founded the Order of Preachers by starting a community of nuns in Prouille, near Faunjeux in France. This was in 1206, ten years before the Dominican friars were founded as a religious Order. Whether through the deliberate plan of St Dominic or just through the work of the Holy Spirit, it was part of God’s plan that Prouille would be the foundation of the Dominican nuns, and hence the foundation of the Dominican Order. The nuns have been there ever since, engaged in prayer and the consecrated life. Doing all the things the desert fathers strived to focus their energies on. The purpose of the nuns has been described to me, as a life of prayer and contemplation in order to ‘keep the devil away’ from the mission of the friars and the rest of the Dominican Order, and to pray for our intentions.

The consecrated life is one where the immediate benefits are not necessarily seen. Consecrated religious go through the trials that St Anthony endured in the desert to varying degrees, depending on our own faults or weaknesses. I suppose that is part of what it is to grow in faith, whether as a consecrated religious or in the Christian vocation in general, to know and love God. With the benefit of hindsight, the fundamental basis of our Order is (to me, at least) rooted in this life of prayer. The consecrated nuns are historically and currently the women holding things together, in a spiritual sense. So therefore it is difficult to explain the importance of consecrated life, without referring to the inherent value in having people purely praying for our intentions, praying that the Holy Spirit and Grace of God will enable the entire Order and the Church to fulfil its mission. That mission is the salvation of souls through the proclamation of the Gospel.

Fr Luke Doherty is assistant priest at Holy Cross, Leicester, and Catholic Chaplain to HMP Leicester

Comments (3)

  • A Website Visitor

    Would you say that part of it is that while we lay people do pray and study and preach, the consecrated life means being able to do those things full time? Just as some people make furniture or paint pictures or write or teach children (most often their own) in their spare time, after work, others do those activities full time as carpenters, artists, writers or teachers.

  • A Website Visitor

    You do get monks and nuns who hold ‘normal jobs’, They might teach or are nurse, or run orphanages, or youth hostels.

  • A Website Visitor

    Bonjour en France les soeurs et frères des communautés monastiques de Jérusalem ont TOUS UN EMPLOI SALARIÉ ce qui mait a mal votre argumentaire! ! ! Bien a vous Dans l’attente de vous lire Ccj

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