Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Discern This, Drama Boy!

I wrote this in 2008, and most of it still applies. I'm dedicating it out to every Nice Catholic Girl in the world who has had her heart handed back to her, bleeding, on a tray by some self-absorbed moron who thinks maybe he really does have a vocation to the priesthood after all, oops.

Discern This, Drama Boy ! (Archives)

A younger friend emailed me saying, "Everyone I'm interested in ends up discerning the priesthood! What IS that!!!! Madness! Argh!!! Blaaah!!" I thought that that was a most articulate way of summing up the human condition of actively Catholic girls in their early twenties. Of course, the kicker is that precious few of those "discerners" will ever feel the oil of consecration on their hands. When I was this girl's age, I knew a lot of Catholic boys. And a lot of them discerned. And only two of them became priests.

Now I don't want to kick discernment. Discernment is great. When I was 21 and my boyfriend began to explore a call to the Scalabrinians, I said, "You go on ahead, honey" and fired off an inquiry to the Daughters of Saint Paul. Ha ha! So there.

Where was I? Oh yes, discernment is great. However, it is not so great if your discernment becomes a soap opera starring you. Discerners get the kind of attention that others only dream of. You have special meetings. You have special advisors. You have special weekends away. You get fancy brochures. You get the attention of Nice Catholic Girls, but it isn't scary, 'cause you're discerning. Of course, the real test is if you tell your mother. Actually, I wouldn't take any "discerner" seriously who hadn't told his mother. Of course, the Fear of Telling Mum can be spun into a whole separate drama in the Saga of My Discernment.

I love other people's dramas. It is a great problem. If there is a great dramatic secret that everyone hints around, I go nuts until I find out what it is. And if it is dramatic enough, I hang around the edges, watching the drama unfold. However, then I care too much. It's like beginning to care about the Toronto Maple Leafs at play-off time. The agony! So personally I would keep a strict distance from any discerner to whom I was attracted. Of course, now I am in my mid-thirties, and any guy my age who is still discerning simply cannot be attractive to me. I mean, come on. When at the tender age of 32 I suggested to Jesuit friends that I might become a nun, they burst out laughing and all but rolled on the floor.

Nobody should waste their youth dreaming of men who have no interest in them. Thus, we Catholic girls should hear "I'm discerning a vocation to the priesthood" and translate it into "I'm just not that into you." And at this point, we should drop the discerner like a hot potato. After all, he is thinking of foreswearing the greatest sweets of human love; we should give him a hint of that loss pronto. Once he's actually in the seminary, we can be nice to him again. But not too nice. And if he doesn't go into the seminary (for so few of them do) we should cold-shoulder him until he shows up, weeping, with flowers, at our door. (Incidentally, make sure a discerner really is discerning before shunning him. There are a lot of mums and priests out there who hint to pretty girls of their darlings' precious vocations when these vocations exist only in the minds of the mums and the priests.)

Now my tone might be too flippant for the subject. Apologies in advance. I really do think it is important for young men and women to consider the religious life or ordination. I would even go so far as to say that it is your duty. However, don't let your discernment stretch on for years, and don't bore everyone around you with your internal struggles. In fact, if it's such a struggle, the religious life/priesthood is probably not for you.

The reason why I am so cranky on the subject is that I am tired of vocation-discernment homilies in which the homilist tells us of the Girl He Left Behind. One character even admitted that he dated his girlfriend all through the seminary, and then said, "Honey, I've gotta tell you this. I've decided to be a priest after all." Well, all I can say is that any guy who strings a girl along for three years is a cad. And I want to hear her side of the story. We never hear her side of the story.

Thus, young ladies, treat all discerners as if they are boring and elderly priests, and gentlemen, you're not really discerning until you've told your Mum. Otherwise, spare the women of your circle your vocational discernment highs and lows, thanks. And if you do go into the seminary, stop handing girls your phone number.

--Seraphic Singles Archives, April 4, 2008

Update: I know a girl, a very NCG, who was dumped by two seminarians. The first seminarian left the seminary "for her" even though it was clear to everyone including me (at whom he had made a pass) that he hated the seminary. Then he claimed that now that he was out of the seminary, he wanted to see what dating a lot of women was like. He had lost so much time, etc., etc. The other guy dumped her to go into the seminary. Then, a few years later, he dropped out mere days before he was to be ordained to the diaconate. One of his greatest (male) friends was utterly astonished that he didn't go through with his ordination. Not so Seraphic, not so.

Update 2 (May 27, 2013): Welcome readers from the Callaxaty Files. And thanks to Lizzy B for the kind words.


Sparkless said...

Seraphic, since you're looking for blog fodder this week, can you go over that part again of what to say when you've given an NCB the required 2-3 dates but don't feel a spark? I thanked him for his thoughtfulness but said I was sorry, I didn't feel a spark. He said he DID feel a spark, and I repeated that I DIDN'T. Could I have said something more gracious, but still been clear that I was calling it off? Is this the part where you say "Bless his heart"?
Input from readers? I'm not good at this - help!

Seraphic said...

Sparkless, you are awesome! No, in my not-so-humble opinion, you could not have said something more gracious. You said the one thing that a guy can't argue with and then, completely clueless, the guy actually did. I am having a good laugh at Mr Spark right now, bless his little heart.

Sometimes, no matter what you do or say, some men are clueless and don't know how to take No for an answer. You just have to keep saying No while looking for the Exit sign. Other men, though, would be grateful (they say) to have it laid out on the line like that, instead of being left guessing.

The only addition that occures to me goes like this:

Girl:...but I don't feel a spark.

Boy: But I feel a spark.

Girl: Oh, that's very flattering , but I don't feel a spark, and unless we BOTH feel a spark, this isn't going to work.

But say Mr Spark is THAT clueless and keeps arguing:

Boy: Why not?

Girl: Because this is not just about you. It's also about me. And I just don't feel attracted to you romantically.

Boy: Why not?

Girl (loses): Look, Sparky, don't make me say 'we can be friends'.

And, of course, now you can't tell your mutual friends about your little conversation. Leave him his dignity, and hopefully he'll appreciate your classiness.

Seraphic said...

(loses it), I mean!

hip2bsquare said...

As far as I can tell, Sparkless, you've done everything correctly and graciously. It's certainly how I'd want to be treated, if I were in his shoes. This boy is just dense. I concur with Seraphic's follow-up advice.

Also, turning down all future dates from this guy should make your feelings clear, if he persists in his pursuit of you.

Seraphic said...

Incidentally, Hip IS a boy, so there's a guy's-eye view, for you!

Kate said...

This post was great - as I am one of those victims who has had her heart handed back to her by a (now) seminarian. I'm pretty sure men shouldn't lure women in with discussions about baby names if they're seriously contemplating a religious vocation. Bless their hearts.

Seraphic Spouse said...

Baby names?!?! Yarg! Yarg!

nicecatholicboy said...

Letting someone know that you are not interested in them is not easy. I had a similar incident with a girl as sparkles. I met her in a Catholic group and asked her out. After 3 dates, I realized there was no spark. I felt I should let her know. She didn't take it well. She obviously felt there was a spark, but I didn't. I know how you feel.

Sparkless said...

Thanks Seraphic, hip, & ncb! It's just hard to hear disappointment in someone's voice...makes you feel like a real jerk. I appreciate the encouragement.

Ginger said...

Sigh... Seraphic, you nearly made me cry right in the middle of a public library with this one.

I just-so-happen to be going through this EXACT drama. I fell for a boy, boy fell for me, but boy feels called to the priesthood, and will be joining the seminary in about 2 months. Thus, our very close friendship has ended and despite the fact that we practically live at the same place and I see him multiple times every day, we don't make eye contact, and we don't talk. He sometimes leaves the room when I walk in. I don't know if I've ever felt this kind of pain.

Worse, I work at the church where the seminary is. So, even when he's a seminarian, I will see him on a daily basis. It couldn't be a worse situation, until you get to the fact that it got out and the whole entire world knows. So, this drama is unfolding under the watchful eyes of our bishop, priests and the other seminarians.

Again, I say, "Sigh."

nicecatholicboy said...

Sparkless, since we are on this topic, here is a quote from the movie 'Meet Joe Black':

Love is passion, obsession, someone you can't live without. If you don't start with that, what are you going to end up with? Fall head over heels. I say find someone you can love like crazy and who'll love you the same way back. And how do you find him? Forget your head and listen to your heart. I'm not hearing any heart. Run the risk, if you get hurt, you'll come back. Because, the truth is there is no sense living your life without this. To make the journey and not fall deeply in love - well, you haven't lived a life at all. You have to try. Because if you haven't tried, you haven't lived.

Cordi said...


Ouch! You have my sympathy!

Kate P said...

Here's one that's related but a bit outside the box (happened to me in college):

1. Boy who repeatedly said he was discerning develops crush on girl, professes crush to girl.
2. Girl is encouraged by mutual friends to give him a chance.
3. Boy ends relationship after six months by saying he still feels he's being called to the priesthood.

About 8-10 years later, girl sees announcement in alumni newsletter that he married another classmate from the same college. (I'm not saying he didn't enter the seminary, but if he did I don't think he was there long.)

So, not to sound cynical, but is it possible that boys are using "I'm discerning" as an out?

Seraphic said...

Oh, poppets! So much drama. My heart aches for you all. And what makes it all so stupid is that so many seminarians drop out of the seminary, just like the guy who ditched Kim P.

If it is at all practical, Ginger my dear, I would suggest you quit and find another job. Either that or you sit down with Mr Seminarian-to-BE and say, "Look. This avoiding each other is stupid. We are going to be in close proximity for the next X years, and I like my job too much to quit, so let's talk about how we are going to work this out." If this plan is Just Too Scary to do alone, go to one of the nicest priests you work for, and ask him to mediate the situation.

The fact that the Discerner is avoiding you does not suggest that he is abounding in the maturity seminarians are supposed to have--unless you did the dial and weep thing, which I hope you haven't. If you have, don't feel bad because I have too, albeit many years ago.

What I want to stress is even though we have an idea that seminarians are rare and precious jewels, SO ARE YOU A RARE AND PRECIOUS JEWEL. You are a NCG and all young NCGS are rare and precious jewels (so are NAGs, incidentally, as I am adding for my lovely NAG readers). You deserve a comfortable and healthy workplace. You deserve to be treated with as much consideration and respect as any seminarian on earth. So make sure that is how you are being treated. If not, have a talk with that nicest priest I was imagining above.

Ginger said...

Actually, I happen to know the nicest priest on the planet. I've talked this over with him a couple times, actually. And as far as "dial and weeping" goes, happily I have done none of that. In fact, I have remained surprisingly unemotional when I've spoken to this seminarian-to-be.

It's just a mess right now, and this priest has talked to us both separately and I think we're just in a transition phase of awkwardness (all this drama has only just happened over the past month or so) and once things cool down, interractions will probably become more... normal. I hope.

Seraphic said...

Ginger, I hope so too. And I'm glad you've already spoken to the nice priest.

It's amazing how often this kind of thing happens! You are definitely not alone.

Seminarian said...

Auntie Seraphic,

I just found your blog through a friend. Your posts on dating ex-seminarians are fascinating, especially since I have come to the same conclusions sitting on other side of the fence. I'm a Catholic seminarian who has a very high degree of moral certainty that I'm called to the priesthood. I have been in seminary for six years, and I've seen many people leave seminary for a variety of reasons, and I give the same general advice to ex-seminarians as you give to the women they attempt to date. Here's a summary of what I've learned:

1. Guys who leave seminary for The Girl rarely get The Girl. The only exception I know of (i.e., my sister's husband) left seminary so quickly and decisively that my sister was left with no doubts about his state of discernment, and he had been in seminary for such a short time that he didn't need a long detox period. The rest of the guys I know have been far less successful. I try to inform ex-seminarians that their chances of ending up with The Girl are slim; it's easier to tell them this as preventative medicine before they ever meet The Girl, because after they've met Her they aren't thinking straight. Thus, your advice for the ladies about not dating such people is also healthy and sound advice for ex-seminarians. Take some time to cool off from seminary, for your own good.

2. Part of the reason seminarians are so bad about leading girls on is that they are going from a one-way discernment process to a two-way discernment process. In seminary, it is common to see newer seminarians really want to be priests one minute, and want to leave the next. This is normal and understandable because the adjustment into seminary is a big one: in my experience, it takes a guy about a year in seminary before he's adjusted enough to his circumstances to even begin the discernment process. When a seminarian expresses his doubts to his superiors, his superiors do not immediately throw him out onto the street, nor do his superiors get anxious and worried that their hearts are going to get broken. God will let the seminarian know his vocation in His own time and in His own way, so up to a point it's okay to be in seminary and be uncertain. What seminarians don't realize is that if they discern marriage with some particular girl the same way they discern the priesthood, they are going to hurt someone's feelings. They need to take time to figure out that discernment is not all about them anymore--more on this later.

3. It's my experience that seminarians in their 20's figure out their vocation around the same time he matures from being a boy into being a man. Guys who leave seminary for good, mature reasons do so with moral certainty, genuine happiness, and gratitude. The immature leave because they don't know what they want and mistake the unhappiness that comes with this state of affairs with not being called to the priesthood.

Seminarian said...


I realize that I'm writing to a lot of women who have been burned by ex-seminarians, and so my audience is not as sympathetic to their plight as I am. This might sound paradoxical to some of you, but the following statements are both true: a) all ex-seminarians need to learn to discern in a new way, a way in which discernment is not all about them; and b) Many/most ex-seminarians are not selfish people learning to be unselfish.

Entering and leaving seminary are transitions that turn every aspect of a guy's life upside down. There's a brotherhood among seminarians that is rivaled only by that of the military, firefighters, and the police; that entire support system is gone. They leave with philosophy and theology degrees which have little short term prospects for stable work. The routine of their day and their access to the Sacraments is radically altered. Having had involuntarily to spend time out of seminary for about five months (it's better not to ask), I bitterly remember a group of people calling me selfish for having to take massive amounts of time to put my life back in order. That's not selfishness: that's merely working towards the stability that every person needs in their lives.

I hope that helps understand My Kind a bit better, and perhaps makes the sometimes exasperating behavior of the Recently-Departed a bit more understandable. One last thing. The advice not to date ex-seminarians right after they leave is wonderful advice for both the girl and the guy; but don't be afraid to befriend an ex-seminarian after he gets out on account of bad experiences with past ex-seminarians. When I was out of seminary I had two wonderful friends whom I had no intention of dating that gave a degree of stability to my life that I couldn't find elsewhere. I'm glad I have those friendships, although both--in their own ways--set up very clear boundaries with me to let me know exactly what sort of relationship I was getting into.

Seraphic said...

Seminarian, thank you for your comments, and I am very sorry about your five months of exile. I'm glad you're back in the sem. We need priests; you want to be a priest. It's win-win!

My only eenie-weenie reservation is your expression "My Kind," not because it smacks of clericalism, but because I've known too many seminarians.

IMH(?)O, seminarians are just ordinary Catholic blokes being trained for something amazingly special; the ol' ontological change that makes you something more than just an ordinary Nice Catholic Boy doesn't happen until you're ordained.

I don't know why I feel the need to say that because you obviously have your head on straight. I think it might be because I've met too many seminarians who were overwhelmed with the awesomeness of themselves.

Thank you very much for the feedback!

Christine said...

@Seminarian - Good info & advice. Thanks for posting.

Ginger said...

I think it might be because I've met too many seminarians who were overwhelmed with the awesomeness of themselves.

Ooooh, Seraphic. I KNOW what you mean. "My" seminarian's best friend is also joining the seminary and I had a chat with him where he expressed his frustration like this:

"X is going into the seminary, and obviously that's great. But he's going in as secular. I am going in as religious. I'm giving up *ever*thing: my family, my friends, everything, for God. No one seems to understand how huge that is."

Yeah. I wanted to slap him.

Thank you, seminarian, for your post.

Seraphic said...

"No one seems to undestand how huge that is." Wah ha ha ha ha!

You know, I don't remember Jesus muttering anything like this on the Cross. And I definitely don't remember saying this when I got engaged to a guy who lives thousands of kilometres from my family, friens and alternative work prospects.

Since presumably you didn't slap him, what did you say? :-D

Seminarian said...

Auntie Seraphic,

Actually, I think you should interpret the "My Kind" comment exactly opposite than what you did. Yes, My Kind is meant to convey a sort of solidarity, but in a "mea culpa" kind of way. Each vocation offers its own unique opportunities to show off fallen human nature, and I think you rightly identify some of the ways seminarians fail. If I'm going to identify the faults of my brothers, might as well include myself while I'm at it. It's that splinter/log in the eye thing that Jesus talked about.

Sarah said...

Something like, "Ah, well we should all send you thank you cards, then, I think!"

Nothing terribly biting, but we had just finishing arguing about discerners, (my thoughts being similar to those expressed here and your last post about seminarians) so I didn't feel like rehashing things I had already said. ;) But he didn't have a very articulate retort, either, so I guess it served its purpose.

Laura said...

You have NO idea how much better this post has made me feel. As a Catholic girl in the exact same position at this moment (my boyfriend of almost a year and a half / best friend of three years) has decided that he needs to discern again, and it has shot us into drama-land like you couldn't even imagine! He's all up in my business, shouting down to me from his high horse about how if I just let Jesus into my heart, this wouldn't be so hard for me, etc., etc., etc.. He's even trying to convince me that our relationship would be better if we were "emotionally chaste," which in my opinion isn't something that an emotionally rich relationship can successfully regress to. It doesn't even feel like a relationship anymore, and what he's doing seems awfully selfish and un-humble (especially for a possible future priest!).
I know that this comment is on a much older post, but if you could respond with your thoughts for me I'd really appreciate it.

Seraphic said...

Laura, my dear, I am glad this makes you feel better. My thought is that you should tell him that it may be that the Holy Spirit wants you to give him so much space for him to discern, that you should completely withdraw from his life right now.

You'll be praying for him, as you discern your possible vocation for married life by meeting new boys. Actually, don't tell him about the new boys part. Stop at the praying part, but do get out there and meet new people.

Then he can have his discernment time all to himself. He has no right to expect you to be around as his security net in case he doesn't discern a call to the priesthood. It's too bad he's your best friend, too. Sorry about that. Definitely pencil in some girl time with girls.