Called by God: Know in Eight Steps
I pray that the Lord may enlighten you concerning His most holy will. If He allows you to hear His voice, do not block the ears of your heart, but follow the insights and the inspirations of the Holy Spirit, in spite of the reluctance of nature. Tell yourself very seriously: What would I wish I had done at the hour of my death, on the day of my judgment? Right now, do what you need to do so that later you will have accomplished it. It is a question of a happy or an unhappy eternity…
Do not delay too long, and do not be stingy concerning your soul.
-Bl. Hyacinthe-Marie Cormier, O.P., in a letter to a postulant
Consecrated life... Marriage... Ordained life… What comes to mind with these words? Excitement? Romance? Confusion? All vocations start with an invitation by God, rooted in our baptism, to grow in holiness in a particular way of life and to live the mission of the Church – that is, to proclaim the Good News of Jesus to others. All vocations. Your vocation is a gift from God that when fully embraced enables you to become perfect in charity, which is union with Him! Imagine, union with the Holy Trinity! That is the life God wants us to have, for all eternity, and your vocation is His plan for you that leads to Him.
Perhaps you feel apprehensive or think, “I could never be drawn to a life of … I’m not the right type of person!” Yet, because our vocation starts with God, our choice is really whether to accept God’s invitation or not – do we cooperate with His grace, or don’t we? God choses first! And, in fact, His choice is often quite opposite from what we would think it should be. “My ways are not your ways, and my thoughts are not your thoughts,” He reminds us through the prophet Isaiah.
So, how does a person know whether God is calling her to consecrated life or another vocation, such as marriage (or, in the case of men, ordination)? It’s not as complicated as you might think.
Pray daily to God to make His will known to you as to which state of life you should embrace and to give you the strength to do it once you’ve learned it. He has offered you the gift and wants you to be able to accept it. Pray also to Mary, our Blessed Mother. Jesus and Mary will not refuse to answer your prayer, when it is prayed with humility, trust, and perseverance.
Spend time with Jesus and Mary through frequent reception of the sacraments, adoration of the Blessed Eucharist, and praying the Rosary. The more you spend time with Jesus and Mary, the more your relationship with them will grow and you can more easily hear the voice of God through the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
Avoid sin and grow in virtue. Become the person God wants you to be, and the kind of person you would want to marry or live with in community. Also, sin keeps us from fully receiving God’s grace, just as grease and grime clogs water pipes, and mortal sin cuts us off completely. But we need to do more than sweep our house clean of sin – we need to practice the virtues. The two sides of this single coin prepare us to hear and receive God’s word to us and, once we know His will, do it promptly, completely and joyfully.
Consult a spiritual director (or another wise, prudent person). Sometimes we need another person to help us reflect on our motives for a particular vocation, our own disposition and current state, etc. Yet, many of us find our friends and family have strong feelings about our vocation and, though usually they have good intentions, may try to influence (or even coerce) us one way or another according to their desires. Make sure the person you consult is a well-informed and prudent person who is especially disinterested – that he or she desires only God’s will for your life and does not try to introduce their own opinions, tendencies or ideas about the Providence of God. It is up to God to call a person to a particular vocation. It is the director’s role to help the person discern that call. It is the person’s obligation to respond to the gift of vocation generously, once she has learned it.
Consider and pray to God about the reasons you feel drawn to one particular vocation or another. For example, if you are drawn to religious life, do you think about entering so you can:
- devote yourself to following Christ with your whole heart?
- share God’s love with others in a more perfect and complete way?
- follow more freely Jesus and His counsels?
- persevere in following Christ wholeheartedly until death?
- devote yourself to prayer with greater fervor?
- practice certain special virtues which delight you?
- give witness to Jesus and glorify God and a greater love than what this world offers?
- work for the salvation of souls?
If you have prayed to know God’s will for your vocation and you find yourself more and more strongly moved to embrace a particular vocation for proper and holy reasons, do not wait for heaven to dispatch an angel to reveal to you God’s will! He is answering your prayers by the movements of your heart. If you are drawn to religious life, your next step is to find a superior of a community and make known to them your intention to pursue the religious vocation.
A note on Contemplative Vocations: Just as God calls whom He wills to consecrated life, there is no particular type of person He calls to the contemplative life. The cloisters of monasteries are filled with introverts and extroverts, artists and accountants, those who never went to college and those who hold Ph.D.’s. Consider monastic life if you find yourself experiencing:
- a sense of God and a thirst for Him – you have a growing realization God is present with you, in you, and you turn to Him more and more throughout the day;
- a dissatisfaction with everything other than God – no matter your job, friends, family, education, ministries, etc., there just seems to be something missing and you feel torn or divided in your attentions: you have a growing desire simply to be alone with Jesus;
- a sense of the vanity of all activities, even those that are for God – you volunteer and serve others, yet there’s a certain lack of fulfillment: there’s got to be another way to love more, to reach and embrace more people for Jesus; or
- a sense of silence and a need of silence that is almost physical and makes it impossible for the soul to rest anywhere but in silence with God – God speaks to our hearts in silence and you long to hear His voice.
Develop an honest relationship and make yourself known. Because vocation is a gift from God at service of the Church, a genuine vocation is confirmed by the Church. With marriage, both persons must freely give and receive each other and go through sufficient preparation before professing marriage vows before the Church. With a religious vocation, it is confirmed through an order, institute or other recognized religious community. Just as with a dating/courting relationship, through conversation and correspondence, you come to know the community and the community begins to know you. Be open and candid about yourself and your desire. Let the vocation director know your mind, interests, and temperament. This will help both the community and you come to a more prompt and sure answer about whether you should continue discerning with that community or if God might be calling you elsewhere.
For religious vocations, if after you have made yourself known, your attraction remains and the community accepts you to continue in the discernment/formation process with them, then you can be assured your desire for a more perfect life comes from God. Remember, God’s will for your vocation is confirmed by the Church through the community. If the community feels you are not called to their life, that is just as much an answer to prayer as an acceptance would be and should not be taken as a personal rejection – it simply means that community is not a fit for you and God is calling you somewhere else. If you are accepted by the community to continue your formation, your discernment with them will continue and deepen through your formation years, but at this point, you have sufficient signs that you should continue pursuing a religious vocation.
Don’t wait! Sadly, vocation directors often hear from people who now realize they waited too long to answer God’s call, or ran from it completely, and are filled with regret at what “should have been.” God will never take back His call, but we can lose this precious gift by failing to accept it and cooperate with His grace. Take the next steps forward to discern your vocation with confidence and faith in God that He will lead and sustain you and your loved ones.