I wrote this in 2008, and most of it still applies. I'm dedicating it out to every Nice Catholic Girl in the world who has had her heart handed back to her, bleeding, on a tray by some self-absorbed moron who thinks maybe he really does have a vocation to the priesthood after all, oops.
Discern This, Drama Boy ! (Archives)
A younger friend emailed me saying, "Everyone I'm interested in ends up discerning the priesthood! What IS that!!!! Madness! Argh!!! Blaaah!!" I thought that that was a most articulate way of summing up the human condition of actively Catholic girls in their early twenties. Of course, the kicker is that precious few of those "discerners" will ever feel the oil of consecration on their hands. When I was this girl's age, I knew a lot of Catholic boys. And a lot of them discerned. And only two of them became priests.
Now I don't want to kick discernment. Discernment is great. When I was 21 and my boyfriend began to explore a call to the Scalabrinians, I said, "You go on ahead, honey" and fired off an inquiry to the Daughters of Saint Paul. Ha ha! So there.
Where was I? Oh yes, discernment is great. However, it is not so great if your discernment becomes a soap opera starring you. Discerners get the kind of attention that others only dream of. You have special meetings. You have special advisors. You have special weekends away. You get fancy brochures. You get the attention of Nice Catholic Girls, but it isn't scary, 'cause you're discerning. Of course, the real test is if you tell your mother. Actually, I wouldn't take any "discerner" seriously who hadn't told his mother. Of course, the Fear of Telling Mum can be spun into a whole separate drama in the Saga of My Discernment.
I love other people's dramas. It is a great problem. If there is a great dramatic secret that everyone hints around, I go nuts until I find out what it is. And if it is dramatic enough, I hang around the edges, watching the drama unfold. However, then I care too much. It's like beginning to care about the Toronto Maple Leafs at play-off time. The agony! So personally I would keep a strict distance from any discerner to whom I was attracted. Of course, now I am in my mid-thirties, and any guy my age who is still discerning simply cannot be attractive to me. I mean, come on. When at the tender age of 32 I suggested to Jesuit friends that I might become a nun, they burst out laughing and all but rolled on the floor.
Nobody should waste their youth dreaming of men who have no interest in them. Thus, we Catholic girls should hear "I'm discerning a vocation to the priesthood" and translate it into "I'm just not that into you." And at this point, we should drop the discerner like a hot potato. After all, he is thinking of foreswearing the greatest sweets of human love; we should give him a hint of that loss pronto. Once he's actually in the seminary, we can be nice to him again. But not too nice. And if he doesn't go into the seminary (for so few of them do) we should cold-shoulder him until he shows up, weeping, with flowers, at our door. (Incidentally, make sure a discerner really is discerning before shunning him. There are a lot of mums and priests out there who hint to pretty girls of their darlings' precious vocations when these vocations exist only in the minds of the mums and the priests.)
Now my tone might be too flippant for the subject. Apologies in advance. I really do think it is important for young men and women to consider the religious life or ordination. I would even go so far as to say that it is your duty. However, don't let your discernment stretch on for years, and don't bore everyone around you with your internal struggles. In fact, if it's such a struggle, the religious life/priesthood is probably not for you.
The reason why I am so cranky on the subject is that I am tired of vocation-discernment homilies in which the homilist tells us of the Girl He Left Behind. One character even admitted that he dated his girlfriend all through the seminary, and then said, "Honey, I've gotta tell you this. I've decided to be a priest after all." Well, all I can say is that any guy who strings a girl along for three years is a cad. And I want to hear her side of the story. We never hear her side of the story.
Thus, young ladies, treat all discerners as if they are boring and elderly priests, and gentlemen, you're not really discerning until you've told your Mum. Otherwise, spare the women of your circle your vocational discernment highs and lows, thanks. And if you do go into the seminary, stop handing girls your phone number.
--Seraphic Singles Archives, April 4, 2008
Update: I know a girl, a very NCG, who was dumped by two seminarians. The first seminarian left the seminary "for her" even though it was clear to everyone including me (at whom he had made a pass) that he hated the seminary. Then he claimed that now that he was out of the seminary, he wanted to see what dating a lot of women was like. He had lost so much time, etc., etc. The other guy dumped her to go into the seminary. Then, a few years later, he dropped out mere days before he was to be ordained to the diaconate. One of his greatest (male) friends was utterly astonished that he didn't go through with his ordination. Not so Seraphic, not so.
Update 2 (May 27, 2013): Welcome readers from the Callaxaty Files. And thanks to Lizzy B for the kind words.