Browse through some important terms for those interested in following their own spiritual path or for those who would like to learn more about religious life.
Each religious community has a charism, which is a purpose, mission and spirit inspired by the community’s founder. For example, a religious order might exist to serve the poor in a spirit of humility. Others may not exist for a specific ministry, but to share a certain spirit of the gospel or a characteristic of Jesus.
Consecrated life is the general term given to men and women in the Church who profess vows and live in a religious community or order. Since the Second Vatican Council, consecrated life has grown to include lay people who follow certain spiritual ways of living based on the Gospel; these are traditionally called secular institutes.
Discernment is the process of discovering one’s vocation – whether God is calling a person to religious life, marriage, priesthood, the single life, or another ministry.
The process whereby a man or woman learns the customs, traditions, prayers and history of the vocation he or she is embracing.
In general, Church service/work and ministry are synonymous. A ministry is some work offered to serve God and God’s people.
A man or woman who is in the initial stages of formation in a religious community is called a novice. This stage is the novitiate and usually takes one to two years.
Brothers, sisters, and religious priests who embrace the spirituality, teachings and customs of their community belong to the category of baptized people called “religious life.” Members of these communities take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. They usually live together in groups, share their possessions, and pray together.
Religious Community or Order
Men and women who profess vows and live as priests, brothers, or sisters comprise a religious community or order. Usually begun by a founder or a group of founders, religious orders offer a specific work/ministry or seek to spread a certain spirit of the Gospel or the life of Jesus. This is called a charism. Generally, orders are contemplative – committed solely to prayer – or apostolic – committed to ministry and prayer.
A sister belongs to a religious community of women. She professes the vows and serves God according to the charism of her community. A sister is not married and works in many different jobs, according to the needs of the Church, the religious community, and society. A nun is a religious sister in a contemplative religious community.
From the Latin word meaning, “call,” vocation refers to the specific way that a person will be the most loving man or woman possible. As the first vocation is to be a loving human, the first question in discerning a vocation is: “What life will make me love best?” Since discernment is ongoing throughout life, other questions remain, such as, “Which ministry needs my talents and gifts?” or “What charism is best for my personality?”
Working for a diocese or for a religious community, a vocation director is someone whose ministry is to help others discern their vocation. A vocation director needs to be skilled in prayer, listening, and directing people’s interest, talents, and passions. If someone is considering a religious vocation, it is best to consult with a vocation director to discuss a method or plan of discernment.
Formal and public promises to God of poverty, celibate chastity, and obedience made by a member of a religious community are called vows. Poverty means that each member shares all things in common; the community takes care of his or her needs. Chastity means that a person promises not to get married or have sexual relations. Obedience means searching for and seeking to accomplish God’s will in the context of Scripture, the Church, and the community. A diocesan or secular priest does not make public vows to God. He makes promises, to his bishop, of celibacy and obedience