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A Good Fit
for You?
Life as a Priest, Brother or Sister

by Catherine Bertrand, S.S.N.D.

Ready or not, here we come! Right now, this seems to be the spoken—or unspoken—cry of young people who are members of what is being called the "millennial generation," those who were born in or after 1982. That includes you, the teen readers of Youth Update.

You form a large part of the U.S. population. You are getting more education than people your age in earlier generations. You represent a wider cross section of the human family than any generation before you in this country.

I work with young men and women (and some who aren't so young) who want to explore the possibility of being a priest, brother or sister. My experiences with people your age convince me that you are good news for the Church and for our world as well. Believe me, not every generation that comes along inspires such confidence!

I see a real openness in you as you make choices today and plan for your future. For some of your generation, that includes seriously looking at and even choosing to be a sister, brother or priest. It would seem that you are well suited for such a life choice.

Who, Me?

You may be uncomfortable with being the subjects of sociologists (experts in the study of the characteristics and behavior of groups). When you hear how these experts see you, you often say, "it doesn't sound like me, but it sure sounds like my friends." (I suspect it gives you some breathing room to pin it on the young person next door.)

See if any of these things are true of your high school friends and others you know who are already in college: You seem to have a real sense of teamwork. You value achievement. You have a strong sense of what's right and wrong and your conduct is based on that understanding.

I like this description of you myself: "There's a revolution under way among today's kids—a good news revolution. This generation is going to rebel by behaving not worse, but better. Their life mission will not be to tear down old institutions that don't work, but to build up new ones that do" (Millennials Rising: the Next Great Generation, by Neil Howe and William Strauss).

What to Make of Your Moment?

Since good news isn't always reported in the big headlines, I want to share some of it here. Fewer members of your generation are likely to commit suicide, to kill someone else by murder or abortion or to get pregnant. You tell those who question you that you are happy, confident and positive, that you believe in your own power as a group and your ability to make a difference.

You don't seem to be put off or discouraged by boundaries, rules or hard work. You may even believe that your parents and other adults have wisdom that's worth hearing. The events of September 11, 2001, touched the minds and hearts of people all over the world, but had the most tremendous impact on those of us living in this country. One Newsweek poll indicated that, in light of September 11, young people understand in a new way that the future is unpredictable and that long-held beliefs and assumptions will be severely tested in the next few years.

Inspired by the poll results, Newsweek raised the question, "What will you make of your moment?" What difference has this good news—and this bad news—made in your life? How does it impact how you see the future—and your future?

Three Deep Desires

When I listen to young people talk about their deepest desires, they usually mention three key things: 1) They want to grow spiritually; 2) They long to make a difference in the world, and 3) They desire a sense of belonging.

These deepest desires move a person to action, to make choices. In a sense, that is what vocation is really about, following that God-given pull or leaning that seems to come from deep within. It isn't always clear what might be asked of you but, if you keep listening, seeking, trusting that God is at work in it all, the direction will become clearer.

God doesn't play games with us. Even though a few lightning strikes might get your attention, the fact of the matter is that God seems to work most often through the ordinary. I encourage you to trust that God's desire for you is being revealed in the people and events of your life.

I once saw a billboard that read, "If you are looking for a sign from God, this is it!" Don't miss the simple ways God works because you expect something more profound.

You're Invited

Your future is beginning now. I invite you to consider the possibility of becoming a brother, sister or priest. It is different from a job, a ministry or a career. It is a whole way of life, a way of being in relationship with yourself, others and God.

Many of the qualities the experts say characterize your generation are qualities that will serve you well in priesthood or religious life.

To be a priest, brother or sister is not for everyone, but it is indeed a great choice for some. I can guarantee that you will never be bored.

I remember a sister saying to me when I was considering this way of life, "I can't think of a more noble and exciting thing to do with your life, but it will cost you everything." In other words, I was being challenged to be the best that I could be for someone and something greater than myself.

The number-one reason why anyone considers priesthood or religious life is because someone issued an invitation. So, consider yourself invited! If, in fact, you see yourself as part of that millennial-generation profile made up of team players hopeful about the future, serious about a relationship with Jesus Christ and convinced that you can make a difference in the lives of others, this could indeed be for you.

What Does It Take?

Good candidates for ordained ministry or religious life are people who are good at life, people with options. It certainly is not for someone who has tried everything and, in discovering that nothing else works, decides to look at being a sister, brother or priest.

It is for someone who loves God and the Church, someone who has a passionate desire to serve others, even when it is costly. It is for someone who relates well to others, who doesn't always need to be the star of the show. It is about having a sense of integrity, yet being flexible and adaptable. It means being a leader, but also a follower. You need to be able to study and learn.

It is for someone who experiences celibacy (a free choice not to marry) as a positive and healthy decision. It is for people who are basically happy, well-balanced people and who want to share life with others. And you definitely need a sense of humor.

It is no secret that there are fewer sisters, brothers and priests than there were years ago. But just because there are fewer doesn't mean that we can be careless about who becomes a sister, priest or brother. I am convinced, however, that there are young people for whom this calling is a good fit but who, for a variety of reasons, put off doing anything about it.

I'd like to suggest a few reasons why that happens and a few thoughts on what one can do. These are certainly not in order of importance.

Lack of information: You can't choose what you don't know. So you may need help in getting information to read, or suggestions about how to connect with a sister, brother or priest. Trust me, what you see on TV about sisters, brothers and priests is usually anything but accurate.

Talk to your pastor, parents, teacher, youth minister or the vocation director for your area about ways to get information. Plenty of online resources are available to you. Many religious communities and dioceses (the division of the Church over which your bishop has responsibility; it could be compared to a county within a state) also offer opportunities for young people to connect with priests and religious for an evening or weekend.

Fear: If you don't know anyone else who might be considering priesthood or religious life, it can be pretty scary. But I must say, you would be amazed if you knew who else might be thinking about it and is just as nervous as you are in saying it out loud.

Try not to let your fear keep you from taking action. Talk to an adult that you trust who may be able to connect you with others who are considering this.

Sense of Self: Many young people don't see themselves as being good enough to be priests or religious. Some think because they've been sexually active or have used drugs or alcohol, that they are too sinful to consider this way of life.

Yes, our actions do carry consequences with them, but God is loving and forgiving. Besides, the life of a priest or religious is not retroactive. It begins when you begin.

It isn't that your life doesn't count up to this point. It's important to know what you want to do, what you want to be from here on out.

Commitment: What if this doesn't work? What if it is a mistake? I hear these concerns often from people who want to explore religious life and priesthood. All I can ask is this: What other way of life gives you so much time to discover if this is a good fit? You'll have years to prepare before ordination or final vows.

When we say, "Come and see," we mean just that, not "Come and sign." Forever only happens one day at a time.

There aren't many sources of encouragement around us that assure us that commitment is possible. Instead we are bombarded by the message that we can have it all. The truth is that, in choosing one thing, we eliminate other possibilities. You can't go wrong, however, in at least checking out your options.

Loneliness: No healthy person chooses a way of life that was created to make one lonely. To make a choice not to marry and have a life partner means loving in a different way, but it is indeed a way to love, a way to relate, a way to bring life to others.

Every way of life has periods of loneliness. Ask your parents. No one on this side of heaven is ever completely satisfied. And every way of life has built-in challenges and sacrifices. Do you trust that God can be enough for you, even when it doesn't feel like it?

Opinions of Others: To make a decision that is not understood or supported is very difficult. Your friends and sometimes even your family may not be the most helpful or supportive. You don't want to disappoint them or have them think there is something wrong with you. At the same time, you may underestimate how supportive they could be if you tell them the whole story. In the end, it is your life and your decision.

Know Your Options

There is no time like the present and this pres ent is unique. Like never before, we need people of courage, hope and generosity. Young people who are exploring religious life are doing so for a variety of reasons.

Many of them are already involved in some type of service to others. Others express a desire to be a part of something greater than themselves and to do something as a team player. Some find a response to that desire in community life.

What continues to be very clear in it all is that God still invites young women and men to priesthood and religious life. At the heart of your response must be the desire to be a follower of Jesus Christ in a radical way. Without that nothing else makes sense.

Pope John Paul II said it best when he addressed the young people in Kazakhstan on September 23, 2001. He said, "Realize that each one of you is of unique worth, and be ready to accept one another with your respective convictions as you search together for the fullness of truth. Open yourselves to the One who created you out of love and wants to make you worthy, free and good people. Learn to listen in silence to the voice of God, who speaks in the depths of every heart; build your lives on sure and solid foundations; do not be afraid of commitment and sacrifice, which today require a great investment of energies, but which are the guarantee of success tomorrow. Discover the truth about yourselves, and new horizons will not cease to open up before you."

God's design is that we might be happy. We aren't always the best judges of just what that might look like. It probably takes a lifetime to discover what that means.

I've met people who seem to think that if there is something I really don't want to do, it must be God's will for me. I don't think God works that way. I believe when it comes to choosing between two or more good things, God wants what we want. Can we trust that such an inclination comes from a loving God?

It wouldn't work out well for all of you to be brothers, priests or sisters. But God may be asking you to consider all your options for the future—and this is a live one. And don't be so sure that it is only your friends that God would invite to be sisters, brothers and priests.

Now is your moment. What will you make of it?

 

Catherine Bertrand, a School Sister of Notre Dame, is executive director of the National Religious Vocation Conference and head of the program committee for the Third Continental Congress on Vocations in April 2002.

Sam Garvey (15), Bridget McGoron (15), Samantha McGoron (16), Mike Murray (17) and Katie Schneider (14), of St. Cecilia Parish in Cincinnati, Ohio, met during Sunday School to discuss this issue and suggest ways to make it even better. Chris Frede and Tom Schimian teach the class. Emily Resnick (16) was unable to be present.


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