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Sunday, 14 June 2015

Guides: Opposition to Religious Vocations

When discerning a religious vocation, many people experience some form of opposition. Whether this be from close family, friends, extended family, co-workers, acquaintances or total strangers it can be a very daunting and painful part of discernment. These issues are often as simple as misunderstandings, miscommunications and plain old stubbornness. So this guide aims to help discerners who are having such struggles both understand why they are facing opposition and positive ways to help.

Sometimes when people oppose your discernment, it can be because their fears due to past experiences may surface. Often one of the best ways to combat this is simply to show them that whatever it is they are afraid of, their fears may not be reality, so whether they come for a visit, or talk to the vocations director, try it out, because then perhaps they will come round to the idea after a while.

Section 1 - Parents

The most painful opposition often comes from one's parents - it can be very disheartening to find that your parents oppose the possibility of a religious vocation. However, having a child discern or enter religious life can be very difficult for parents and it is important to understand that. These suggestions are aimed at helping parents understand and come to terms with the reality of discerning religious life.

1. Listen to your parent's concerns and let them share why they are opposed. They may have valid concerns, or be coming from a place of misunderstanding or misinformation. Even if you feel their concerns are irrational or unfounded, they are obviously troubling so be respectful. Stay calm, and respond to their concerns or questions without being angry or defensive.

2. Arrange for your parents to visit a community/communities with you. If you are discerning seriously with a community, see if one of the members or particularly the vocations director can meet with your parents without you present and in confidence. This gives your parents a chance to speak openly with a member of the community and settle some of their questions or concerns. Parents often worry that their children are taking a romanticised or unrealistic view of religious life, so having someone from the community to speak to can be very helpful. Even if you are not discerning with a specific community see if there are any religious communities nearby you could visit with your parents, or visit communities you are interested in with them. Even contact by phone or email could be helpful.

3. Give it time. Don't expect an immediate conversion. Often parents can feel, especially if you have not shown interest in a religious vocation before, that it is a temporary whim and not grounded in reality. It is often true that when one feels the first call to a religious vocation they can be somewhat 'swept up' in it - something that is difficult to see in yourself. So by giving things time and showing, if your feelings of a religious vocation continue, that it is not just a whim then that can allay a lot of concerns your parents may have.

4. Remember that your parents care for you and want you to be happy. Most likely, their concerns and opposition comes from fearing that you would not be happy in a religious vocation.

Section 2 - Siblings and close family members

A lot of what applies to parents applies to siblings and other close family members.

1. As with parents, listen to their concerns openly. They love you and only want what is best for you (even though they may not know how to show it!). Try to explain to them, but bear in mind that it is part of the vocation that you cannot expect those who have not been given Religious vocations to understand.

2. While siblings may naturally be included in parental visits to communities, try to keep family visits to communities you are seriously discerning with - this is simply because you don't want to be flooding communities with visitors.

Section 3 - Close friends

It can be difficult when close friends don't support your decision. It may be because they don't want to lose contact with you - this is one of the biggest fears of those connected with people who enter Religious Life - the significantly less contact they will have with them, especially during the earlier years of formation.

1. Explain the importance of the time you need to discern without influences from elsewhere, hence the less contact with them for a while. Try to help them to understand that this is what you believe God is calling you to, and that you must respond in the most loving way to serve God.

2. Know your boundaries. If you truly believe that it is God's will for you to enter, don't let pressure hold you back. Go with what you know is right. There will come a time where people will try to talk you out of entering, but don't succumb to their requests. Firmly tell them that this is your decision and they need to respect it.

Section 4 - Acquaintances 

Even aside from those close to you, there will be acquaintances who may question your decision. Whether these be classmates, co-workers, neighbours, even people you are not close to can be outspoken in their confusion and opposition. Dealing with this is very different to opposition from loved ones.

1. You do not have to defend your choice. If people are antagonistic and attack you or your choice then you shouldn't feel you owe them a defence. A simple "I feel this is what I am called to and where I will be happy and grow in faith" or words to that effect is more than enough. If you feel able to respond to specific issues they have then feel free to but try to avoid getting into debate because chances are your efforts are futile.

[We may update this at another point in time, but for now, here it is, and we hope it helps!]

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