Dear Fr Anthony,
Often in your replies, you seem to go with the idea that if one is considering a vocation, nothing else should be considered. You seem very against dating if one is discerning, for example. This is not criticism but an observation. Could you please correct or explain this? Thanks in advance.
Thank you for your feedback. It is very helpful to get these impressions and I know I am not always the clearest when explaining things, even though I try. Most of the advice I give is the fruit of experience, which I try to connect with valid principles of theology and spirituality as I formulate the answers, being at the same time as realistic as I can. It is good to keep in mind also, the answers are being given to very concrete questions. Now, regarding the very valid points you bring up, I’ll turn them into questions to focus the answer more clearly.
If you are considering a vocation, is it true that you should not consider anything else? I’ll have to start with two of the most useful words in our language, it depends. It depends on what stage of considering you are in. Without attempting to write a treatise on the perception of a vocation, we can describe two basic scenarios. One might be an initial curiosity, or the desire to be completely open, a wondering if perhaps I should check out the vocation, an initial discernment to see if God might be calling me. Another might be the inkling that God may be calling me, and of course there is a sliding scale of clarity going all the way from a simple inkling to a full-blown mega-suspicion that he might be. As you go up that scale, as the suspicion or possibility grows, I think we have a greater obligation to leave the consideration of other possibilities aside in order to give the vocation a chance.
Something to keep in mind here is that the common alternative to a vocation, married life, is something that comes naturally to us; so that we ordinarily don’t have to force ourselves to consider a call to marriage or to create an attraction to marriage, although we do have to make an effort to enter into the full acceptance of everything God has intended marriage to be, beyond the natural attraction. To consider the vocation takes an extra effort.
Should you date if you are considering a vocation? The distinction we made above will help answer this question also. The more actively you want to discern your vocation, or the further along you are on the scale of consideration, the freer you need to keep yourself from those things that could potentially hamper it. For example, if you are really considering a vocation, it would not help to buy a new house and take on a huge mortgage, or sign an employment contract for five years, or start/continue to date. That is the context that I fit dating into. You see, dating is itself a discernment process. If you have the inkling that you are called to marriage, you will do what you need to, in order to meet the right person. Once you meet the someone, you think might be that person, you zero in on an exclusive dating relationship, in order to see if it really is, and if you are serious about it, and have the occasion to go out with someone else, you probably will refuse to. That’s the nature of discernment.
I hope these explanations help a little to see where I’m coming from.