You are not considering religious life because you have OCD, are you?
This question has been lingering in my mind since I decided to consider becoming religious. Religious means, to become part of a congregation (religious brother or priest) or a diocese (diocesan priest). A friend, who also has obsessive-compulsive disorder also asked me this question. With conviction, I replied NO. My intention is really firm since the day I consider this life.
Doubt is normal for us OCD sufferers. If you are one of us and discerning of serving the Church full-time, there is a possibility that you also question yourself if you really have a call. Come follow along as I dissect how am I discerning with OCD.
Despite my participation in the Church’s Sacraments such as Baptism, Holy Communion, and Confirmation, I was not raised in a religious family. So it was a bit of a surprise when I told my family that I am considering living a life far from my environment.
It was in 2015 when I practiced my faith again. While working as an auditor in a Big 4 Four Firm in corporate attire, the urge to become a lay missionary consistently crossed my mind. I was ready to be one and would be willing to leave my then dream of becoming a CFO. Every day, I would surf the internet looking for a foundation that could accept me. After quite some time, I thought, perhaps, I was just impulsive. I rediscovered my faith that year and maybe I was just overwhelmed. I then refocused myself on pursuing my original desires. But this time, it was not for me, but my family.
In 2016, after resigning from my first job, I completed the Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. On her Feast Day, I saw the whole community. They were tight and joyful despite being simple. It moved me. I realized that’s what I want: to serve the Church. That time, the thought of becoming a missionary resurfaced. But I had a plan and I had to stick to it. I was telling God, maybe next time. Around my 30s and 40s.
For the next few years, my battle with OCD started and continues. But, this does not stop me. This actually pushes me more to pursue that life I have been discerning of living.
In 2019, Holy Week, I finally opened my whole being to my possible vocation. But a few months after, OCD has begun. I was at my lowest mentally and emotionally. I was drained except for my urge to go on with my discernment. Good thing, in spite of my struggle, I never questioned and doubted my vocation. I started searching and inquiring about religious orders. And in 2020, I had my first meeting as a discerning guy. I met a La Mennaise Brother. We had a quick chat but it was meaningful for I had a foretaste of their charism. They are in the field of education. They teach. And as an aspiring teacher, I got interested.
After a month, I attended a vocation seminar of Jesuits. I was late! But got to meet their brothers and priests. It was the first formal seminar I had. There was a Mass. I read the First Reading. And I was determined to continue my discernment with them.
When the pandemic happened, everything that I started has gone. My discernment was left hanging. Secluding myself with my family at home opened a lot of realizations. I got to know myself more. For the very first time, I doubted my vocation.
But, I still went on. After the quarantine period, I was reached out by the very first congregation I contacted. The Augustinians of the Assumptions. I visited their communities and experienced their charism. I appreciated their hospitality and their austere way of living. From then on, whenever I had invites from them, I attended.
Recently, this year (2021), a vocation representative of the latter congregation asked me if I would consider applying. I froze and did not know what to say. I feel like I only knew few things about being religious. For the first time, I felt pressured! It was not because of them but because I had no idea if I really am called.
Overthinking, I said, I don’t think I should proceed for now. He understood. But, I felt guilty that I had to stop using Facebook. I deactivated my account, pausing from my discernment, and decided to slow things down.
I am currently taking a break. My Facebook is still inactive. I feel like, I can hear God more if I rest in silence for a while. I plan to go back to the basics, focusing on Sacraments. And listen to what God really wants me to be.
Tips on discernment for those who have OCD
Find a Spiritual Director
Probably you are scratching your head because this tip has been around for ages, but those who are new to the faith or have plans to discern should know the importance of this advice.
Spiritual direction is powerful.
It’s hard to know your purpose if you do not have someone to guide and mold you.
The spiritual director’s role is to walk with you in every phase of your discernment. Whether to pursue religious life or not, having a companion would lessen doubts and fears OCD individuals experience.
I know some of you are also scrupulous thus already have a spiritual director, but if you do not have one yet, here’s a guide.
Do not let your emotions take over you
Last 2020, I lost a job due to the pandemic. Offered by the College I am currently working in with a full-time job, I declined.
Because as someone who has OCD, I have to save space in my head for my discernment process. I just could not function well with my brains juggling many things simultaneously. My emotions take me over easily. I get burned out with petty things. And this, I realized, is a common challenge for OCD sufferers, emotions.
One day, we are excited about our future as servants of the Church, the next day, we get tired, thinking maybe we can serve the Church and the people even as a laity. We are being played. And it is exhausting.
When I talked to a vocation team member of Rogationists Hearts of Jesus, one thing that stuck with me was, never let your emotions dictate your vocation.
Yes, we cannot just remove them immediately but know that they have to be toned down in discernment so that we would know if we really are called.
One tip of doing this is to stay away from what makes you emotional when deciding. I remember, whenever I play Church songs, my mood easily changes thus, suggesting I might have a calling.
Now, I still listen, but always reminding myself that this does not mean anything and I cannot use it as a factor of entering a religious order.
Quality over quantity
With so many congregations I attended, I noticed that the more options, the higher the possibility of being stressed out. Imagine, you are unsure if you are called yet, you are deciding which one you should enter.
If there is one piece of advice I can give you, it is to get to know your chosen order before attending their seminars.
Use the internet in finding out their charisms. It makes no sense to meet a teaching congregation if you are not interested in educating people. And so is order that cares for the sick if your passion is helping the poor.
It is beneficial to list down the holy orders first and have a glimpse of their lifestyle. Eliminate those that do not conform to your interest. By that, you are only attending few seminars but of quality.
Set a plan
If my family and friends would describe me in one word, it would be disorganized!
My mind is always cluttered with ideas. Just this exact moment of writing this, my brain is wandering.
If only I could get paid based on the number of things I could think of, I might be a millionaire now.
That said, this impulse could highly affect our daily tasks. It will be tough to finish work if we do not know how and where to start.
My last job as an accountant was by far the most unproductive one. I got distracted easily. It was when my friend gave me smart advice that I finally accomplish more. To write your plans for the day. A very simple tip but works!
Same as with the vocation. If your thoughts are cluttered, it is going to be difficult for you to proceed.
Try to write down your goals and plans. Have an ideal timeline. Stick with it. Your mind will be more organized. It deters information overload. And before you know it, discernment will be less overwhelming.
In Catholicism, there are four (4) kinds of vocation, Religious Life, Priesthood, Married Life, and Single Life.
Finding our purpose is an insatiable desire until we lastly figure it out.
Within 2 years of testing out if religious life is for me, I shut down the possibility of single and married life. I thought discernment is the final process.
That once you discern, you are probably called. Until a Redemptorist Brother told me, that discernment is a continuous process.
Be open. Responding to God’s call can be in various ways. His plan our better than ours.
To add, if you are discerning because of fear, that God might be angry if you would not choose religious life, know that it is not of God. You should be at peace.
Those who struggle with OCD usually feel this way. That they are offending God if they would not pursue priesthood or religious life. This should be addressed right away. Talk to your spiritual director for clarity.
God wants you to be at peace.
Do not rush
Vocation should not be rushed. Finding one’s purpose takes patience and perseverance.
Rushing the vocation triggers pressure. And when we are pressured, making decisions is much harder.
Sometimes, it takes years before we find the reason for our being.
There are priests who answered the call late. There are couples who get to know each other and get married in their 30s and 40s. And there are individuals who realized that they are called to single-blessedness after being in a relationship for years.
It is all about God’s timing.
There will come a time that we should make our final decision but know that the experiences we have encountered will be a huge part of it.
So, do not rush!
Take your time. If you need to rest, do so!
I know your thoughts are all over the place right now.
You might feel pressure because of fear of failing people who are expecting you to enter religious life. Or afraid of failing yourself once you enter. I have been there, it is the worst feeling!
Be honest with yourself. Be honest with those who help you discerning.
After all, it is between you and God. If God wills it, it will happen in His time. He will sustain you.
God wants you to listen to Him. To choose Him whatever your vocation is.
For Catholic books on vocation discernment, check this out.