“Ask a Priest: Must I Follow a Confessor’s Advice About a Vocation?”

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Q: Must a confessor’s advice be obeyed completely — if it is regarding a vocation? Some context: I am unmarried (female). I have discerned and I do not have strong inclinations toward religious or married life. Also, I have to take care of my aging mom, and my job is our only source of income. (My mom grew up in an orphanage, and I don’t want to leave her in a senior home when she becomes very old. I think that would be very ungrateful of me to do so.) The good priest (not my regular confessor), however, told me to choose either of the vocations. And now I am not at peace. He said one should either take up witnessing religious life in community or in the salvific work of a marriage. As a single I do not have a strong ministry in groups, but I do give witness to Jesus at my workplace and encourage people in little ways through my online work. I have always thought I am called to remain hidden and, with God’s help, sanctified in the world. I am open to Jesus’ will if he wants me to be in religious life or marriage, and not the life I have chosen in prayer. At age 31 I do not know which congregation would accept me here (in India) and how I would take care of mom financially for at least five more years. I do believe that it is Jesus in the confessional, and I very much want to obey the priest. It’s just that my circumstances are particular. Please suggest something. – P.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is admirable that you are taking care of your mother. This is a beautiful way to follow the Fourth Commandment and to give Christian witness to the world.

I don’t know the full context of what was said in the confessional, so I don’t want to appear as though I’m judging that priest. Having said that, let me offer a few observations.

First, religious life or marriage aren’t the only options for you. Single life has its place in the Church, too.

Some singles who want to live a deeper life of faith might join a third order of the Carmelites or Franciscans, for instance. But that is an option, not an obligation.

In any case it sounds as though your “vocation” right now is to take care of your mom.

Some congregations, in fact, would dissuade someone from entering religious life who needs to care for an elderly parent.

And the fact that you don’t feel any strong inclination toward religious life is another sign that it might not be your path.

It’s understandable if someone in India might think that a young Catholic woman should either be married or in religious life. Traditional societies might find it hard to accept the notion of a young woman being “unattached.”

However, you do have a strong family attachment to your mother, and it is understandable that her well-being is a priority for you.

As for the other dimension of your question: Advice about vocations is just that — advice. You aren’t obliged to follow what the priest said.

The better place to seek advice about vocations might be with the vocational director or superior of a religious congregation or with a spiritual director. Discernment takes time and a lot of dialogue and prayer. (Our Retreat Guide on vocation might help you.)

In any case you would want to cultivate a deep prayer life and sacramental life. This is the best preparation for being open to God’s will, whatever it might be. Because who knows — maybe the Holy Spirit wanted you to hear something from that confessor.

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