One problem that some people have when considering a religious vocation is waiting. A lot of people don’t like to wait; some don’t even know how to wait. If they are told to wait, they give up and find something quicker and easier to do. Some religious communities may have the attitude of, “Don’t wait. Just come!” Well, not everybody who has a desire to enter a religious community is, frankly, ready to enter a religious community.
In fact, the Church and most religious communities have all sorts of conditions that would make sure that there’s a significant time for waiting. This waiting includes matters concerning: insufficient age or time after entrance into the Catholic Church; working off debt or dealing with other college or employment matters; psychological, social, or spiritual immaturity; or simply a long application process. The Rule of St. Benedict, one of the ancient rules of religious life, says, “Let easy admission not be given to one who newly comes to change his life” (chap. 58). Traditionally, then, a religious community should not be too eager to welcome someone into their company.
So, if you want to enter religious life, but have to wait, what do you do? The Psalmist says, “Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14). When we pray that, we can realize why we’re waiting. We wait for the Lord. How do we wait? The Lord wants us to wait with courage, to be stouthearted. It’s a matter of perseverance, to be strong and steadfast in the heart.
If you’ve been told that you can’t enter religious life for another year, for example, the worst thing to do is simply to ignore that holy desire and concentrate on something else. Waiting does not mean putting the expected out of your mind. It means, actually, to concentrate in your heart on the expected, the One expected.
One way of thinking about this is that you feed your holy desires. Let your holy desires to serve God and offer your life completely to Him grow more and more. Desires are like fires in the heart. If you have a sinful desire, you can ask for the grace to have it smothered or simply to die out because of the lack of stuff that would keep it going. If you have a holy desire, feed it. For those who are waiting to enter religious life, feed that holy desire with a single-minded purpose. Offer up each day with the expectation that you’re one day closer to the Lord in religious life. Ask for the graces to be purified of all that would hold you back from Him. Let your desire unify your life so that your thoughts, prayers, works, friendships, studies, relaxation, travel, and service are all feeding your holy desire. This desire longs for the One who alone can fulfill a heart on fire for love of Him.
Ask your Vocation Director what you should do, and not do, to feed your holy desire. If you’re waiting to enter the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, the Vocation Director has aspirancy guidelines to help enflame your soul in desire through a detailed list of such things as reading, prayer, and service. When the Lord comes on the day of your entrance, He will then find one stouthearted with courage, waiting for Him alone.
Fr. Andrew Hofer OP is the Student Master for the Province of St. Joseph at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC.