Do religious communities offer a trial period?

Religious communities offer a number of opportunities to test if that particular life is for you. A person who feels drawn to the consecrated life within a particular community must first discern, in the company of good guides, if these attractions or feelings point in the direction of a calling.

The very first ‘trial period’, if you like, is a close examination of a candidate’s inner desires to see if they seem to be God-given. If the candidate feels that this is indeed the case, then he or she will apply to enter the community.

If accepted, he or she will continue to the next phase – a second trial period – such as introductory studies (a ‘propaedeutic’ year) or a novitiate, which normally lasts two years. Usually, at the end of the novitiate, the candidate will take vows – either temporary (as is the case for most religious communities) or perpetual (as in the Jesuit Order).  The candidate then enters a further trial period in which his or her vocation continues to be tested. At the end of this, he or she will take solemn (perpetual) vows. In other words, they will make a permanent commitment, bringing the trial period to a close.

The point is that ‘trial period’ with respect to vocation is an on-going process of discernment, a ‘testing’ of one’s deepest desires against the life-style and demands of the religious institute one wishes to join. It is not a glib ‘sure I’ll give it a try and if it doesn’t work out I’ll leave’, it’s a serious commitment to see if there is a ‘fit’ for you.

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