This is a very common question among the young these days. They want to know if their salvation is at stake if they get married when they feel attracted to a religious vocation. First and foremost, let it be known that if anyone feels attracted to the religious life, God is probably calling him/her to it. This never emerges out of nowhere. It is God, who knows us better than we know ourselves, who inspires it in our heart. So, it is worth taking seriously. That means anyone who feels attracted to the priesthood and/or religious life should talk to a vocation recruiter, go on discernment retreats and seek a spiritual director to figure out whether the Lord is truly knocking.
Secondly, we were created for one reason and one reason only: heaven. The French convert Léon Bloy puts it even more bluntly: “There is only one sadness in life: not to reach heaven.” Many of us know that. However, what to do on a day-to-day basis to attain that goal is not always crystal clear. So, God, who knows now what our life will look like in 5, 10, 20 years, knows the best way for each person to get to heaven. Consequently, he gives to each whatever vocation he knows will lead to eternal happiness. He calls some to become priests and religious; he calls others to the married life because he knows what is best for each person.
Thirdly, it is a question of what the easiest way to heaven is. Life since Adam and Eve’s sin is one of temptations and struggles. The flesh wars against the spirit and vice versa (cf. Gal. 5:17). Religious life lived well offers a more perfect way to win the war and a quicker path to the kingdom of God. That is so because a religious person can focus on God with their whole hearts, minds, souls and strength. However, it is the least popular way because it is the hardest to live, but it is the easiest way to heaven. Through the non-religious paths, however, one can still win the war and reach the beatific vision, but it is the hardest path to heaven because our minds and souls are occupied with too many earthly things.
Both religious and non-religious vocations are important for the Church. Religious are not useless citizens of the earthly city. God used them to inspire others to more effectively fulfill the requirements of their own vocations. Being consecrated, they can love God and neighbors with greater intensity. St. Thérèse of Lisieux, dubbed the patron saint of missionaries, and St. Jean Vianney, the patron saint of diocesan priests, are the testimonies of how religious can empower others to live the Christian life. However, that does not mean the other vocations are less noble. Being in the world, the laity (non-religious) can more directly spread the message of the Kingdom through their holiness. They are in a better position to imbue cultures and human activities with genuine moral values. They are the visible Church before the world. In them, the world discovers what the Church is.
Not convinced yet? Think of the Korean martyrs. They continue the Church without any priests despite the fierce persecutions they endured. Think of the Japanese. They maintain the faith for generations although no priests were allowed to come to Japan for decades. They did what no religious persons could do.
So, are some vocations higher than others? What do you think?
“Ask the Deacon” features three Transitional Deacons who will be ordained June 3 to the priesthood in the Diocese of Providence — Deacons Brian Morris, Joseph Brice and Stephen Battey — who respond to questions about the faith from Rhode Island Catholic readers.
Have a question? Ask the Deacon! Readers may submit questions for the deacons to consider by sending them to Editor@thericatholic.com.