If God is calling me to the vocation of consecrated life, does that mean I would make a bad mother/father or husband/wife?
Does having a desire to have a family mean that I'm not called to consecrated life?
These questions are often asked by those in the process of discerning a call to consecrated life.
If you reflect on the best parts of your life, chances are they have something to do with being loved or loving someone, often in the context of our families and closest friends. As C.S. Lewis observed, "Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives."
While, sadly, many of us have experienced pain and brokenness in our families, that is not the way God intended families to be. God intended — and some of us have experienced this — for the family to be the place where the deepest love we experience this side of Heaven is expressed.
When it is lived out in the way God intended it to be, the love between spouses, between parents and children, and between siblings is some of the most powerful and wonderful love to be found in this world. Close friendship is also a form of powerful love.
So why on earth would anyone choose a way of life which rules out the possibility of being part of a biological family? Isn't life without familial love much less meaningful?
The answer is: yes. Life without spousal, parental, and fraternal love is empty and unattractive.
The truth is, the precious and beautiful realities of spousal, parental, and fraternal love are elements of consecrated life, in a way that is no less real and powerful than the potential for love in a biological family.
We are all called to love and be loved abundantly. God does not will for any of us to miss out on the best thing life has to offer: love, which has as its source God who is love. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says to His disciples,“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12).
Consecrated men and women give and receive love in a way that is different, but no less authentic and powerful, than the way love is given and received by men and women called to family life.
In his Theology of the Body, St. John Paul II teaches that all women, regardless of vocation, are called to motherhood, and that all men, regardless of vocation, are called to fatherhood. Motherhood and fatherhood bring out the best characteristics and virtues of human beings, and result in our most meaningful experiences: intimacy, selflessness, care, generative creativity, and above all, love. The love of motherhood and fatherhood goes hand-in-hand with the love of spouses for one another and the love between brothers and sisters. In this milieu the love of friendship also flourishes.
Consecrated men and women participate in these loves in a genuine and full way. A religious woman is the spouse of Christ. Her children are all the people she embraces in her heart through her life of prayer and her works of mercy. Her many sisters and brothers are the members of her religious community, and she finds friendship in people from all walks of life. A priest, who is known, aptly, as "Father," is a spiritual father to his entire parish or all the people to whom he ministers. In the Person of Christ, he is the spouse of the Church. He experiences love of a spousal intensity from the Holy Spirit. Fellow priests and members of the faithful, both women and men, provide fraternal love and friendship.
Above all, consecrated women and men experience an intimacy with God which is extraordinary. In setting themselves apart for God, they make possible a relationship of love of a depth and intensity that exceeds all other love. They are set apart for Love Himself. In a poignant way, the consecrated person can say, "I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine" (Song of Solomon 6:3).
There is no missing out on love in the consecrated life. For this reason it is sometimes said that those women who would make the best mothers would also make the best consecrated women, and those men who would make the best fathers would also make the best priests.
Yes, the consecrated person expresses and receives love in a different way than those who are called to family life. But the love of consecrated life is immense. It is lasting. It is fulfilling. It is intimate and deep. Setting yourself apart for Love Himself is a path to a life of love, in greater ways than you can ask or imagine.
Be not afraid!