A person discerning a call to religious life actually has two important questions before them: Am I called to religious life? And to what community or order am I being called? While religious communities have much in common—the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience; a formation program; and living a life of service and prayer—they also are different.
Each community has a distinct charism, that is the gift they are to bring to the Church, for the good of God’s people. The charism arises through the inspiration of the Spirit when the founding sisters or brothers respond to God’s call to begin a new order. The charism puts a particular focus and spirit within a congregation. When and where the congregation is founded can imprint a culture and personality on the community that gives it a particular “feel.” A community founded in France in the 1800’s might have different customs than a community founded in 16th century Italy or 20th century United States.
To help in your discernment as you ponder whether religious life is your call, visit some different communities to get to know them. Read about them on their website or visit their social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.). Find out how members of the community live, minister, and pray. When you're ready, schedule a time to visit a community. Visit local houses, and especially plan to visit the motherhouse—maybe for an overnight, a retreat, or a “Come and See” event.
As the call to religious life becomes more clear, you will begin to notice that you feel more "at home" with one group than another. It doesn’t mean everyone in that order is alike, or is just like you. One gift of a religious community is the diversity of its members. But usually one order just feels like it “fits.” You can imagine yourself becoming “part of the family” and with God’s grace and a little trust you take that first step of beginning the journey toward membership!
What other questions might you have about choosing a community? Let me know in the comments below.