"Religious life derives from the mystery of the Church. It is a gift she has received from her Lord, a gift she offers as a stable way of life to the faithful called by God to profess the counsels. Thus, the Church can both show forth Christ and acknowledge herself to be the Saviour's bride. Religious life in its various forms is called to signify the very charity of God in the language of our time." - Catechism of the Catholic Church
The call to the religious vocation is a call to total self-sacrifice for Christ and His Church. Although it is a life which requires that you "lay down your life" (i.e. your own personal interests and comforts) in order to serve others and God, Jesus promised that "he who loses his life for My sake will save it." The religious life is considered as the most perfect of the states of life, not because priests or nuns are necessarily any better than married or single people, but because the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience which religious take, involve the renunciation of everything that human beings most prize: possessions, marriage, and power. To dedicate oneself wholly to the service of God and work "in His vineyard," leaving everything for love of Him, is a truly beautiful act, if it is the one to which you are called.
Ever since the early days of the Church, some Christians, both men and women, have practiced celibacy and devoted themselves to prayer, penance, and various apostolates. Some of them remained in the world in the service of the Church, and others left everything and went out into the desert to be alone with God. The beginnings of religious orders came in the third century A.D., when groups of hermits began to be organized into communities with a specific rule and a superior. Eventually, religious orders arose from this basis.
Todays there are many different religious orders or communities of men and of women. Women religious can be sisters or nuns and male religious can be either priests or brothers. Each religious community is like a family with its own Founder and mission, and its own “family spirit” or spirituality. That is why if you are considering religious life it is necessary to get to know particular communities.
There are several types of religious orders:
The cloistered orders emphasize prayer and separation from the world, and, depending on how strict an enclosure is observed, cloistered monks and nuns do not generally leave the monastery. Their lives are dedicated to prayer and penance; they also work around the monastery and often make things to sell in support the monastery.
Active orders, on the other hand, carry out their mission in the world. Each order is dedicated to a particular apostolate, such as teaching, missionary work, preaching, and caring for the sick, the poor, or the neglected. However, prayer is still a priority in active orders, and specific times are set aside for being with God.
Contemplative or Monastic Orders:
The contemplative dedicates much time to prayer each day, lives mostly in silence and also is dedicated to manual labor. There is a great tradition in the Church of both female and male monastic and contemplative life. Their hidden prayer and sacrifice is of major importance for the overall good of the Church.
Lay Consecrated Life:
Lay consecrated are people who consecrate themselves to God through promises of poverty, chastity and obedience, while still remaining lay people. They are usually associated with some group or Movement. As lay people they remain “in the world” and often exercise careers while giving a priority in their lives to prayer, witness and service.
From the beginnings of the Church there have been those who felt the call to consecrate themselves exclusively to Christ in a private manner. In recent times there has been a revival of this vocation, by which a woman makes her private consecration in the presence of her bishop.
Do you feel called to the religious or consecrated life? Please visit the Archdiocesan Vocation Office to get more information on the many ways to serve God as a religious!