Is Religious life possible with poor health?
Dear Fr. Anthony,
I have been discerning religious life since about 2004 or 2005, which actually is what led me to start RCIA to receive Eucharist and Confirmation (I was baptized Catholic as an infant, but not raised in any religion). However, just before that, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. My symptoms since then have greatly improved, and I am continuing to seek a doctor who may be able to diagnose me differently (something treatable), as has been recommended to me by spiritual directors and religious sisters who have found doctors to help them with their own seemingly insurmountable health problems.
I know that many discernment aides say that if you have an impediment such as mine, this can be a clear sign that you do not have a call to religious life. However, this has never sat well with me, simply because this deep desire for religious life has never ceased even when I try to accept that my health may prevent me from ever entering, and try to close the door to religious life. When I really pray about it, the Lord seems to just keep leading me back to the question of religious life, even when I am in a relationship and discerning a possible vocation marriage.
Is it possible that I am called to religious life, and perhaps (God-willing) my health issues will be resolved to allow me to enter? Or could these recurrent desires be from somewhere else (i.e. not God)?
Thank you and God Bless!
It is beautiful to hear your story and to see your continued desire to give yourself totally to God.
Now as regards your health, you should bear in mind that there are many different religious orders, with varying demands because of their individual spirit, apostolate and rule of life; so, when speaking about a health impediment there is no single, absolute, across-the-board criterion, there tend to be variations from group to group. You mention too that your symptoms are improving and you continue to look for doctors who can help you. Keep on doing this.
With this in mind and turning to the vocation side, (certainly, the insistence of the vocation question/conviction is important to take into consideration) I see two possible lines to follow. One, if there is a particular order you are interested in, all it takes is to get to know them and for them to get to know you, and then they will be able to tell you frankly if your present state of health is an absolute impediment or not. If the result of this first direction is negative, then try the second: with your doctor's diagnosis and prognosis in hand, search to see if there are orders for which it would not be an impediment; visit them, and if you perceive a spiritual affinity with any group in particular pursue it with them further.
There is always the possibility that the result of these searches is negative. Seeing that your desire to consecrate yourself to God is insistent, even when dating and considering marriage, you may want to look into the vocation of a "consecrated virgin". You may find the following website be helpful: www.ordovirginum.info