Discerning Your Vocation: The First Steps
If you are a Catholic young adult, chances are that you have spent some time considering what your vocation is. Whether you are called to marriage, the priesthood, religious life, or the single state, God has a unique plan for you, and it is both your privilege and your responsibility to listen and discover where he is calling you. We all share a universal vocation to live a holy life, and that can be achieved no matter who you are or what your state in life may be. But following your individual path takes some discernment.
If you have ever felt that you might be called to the priesthood or religious life, the thought can be daunting. However, this is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about a state in life that might be unfamiliar and to truly grow in relationship with God. Even if it has just been a passing thought, it is worth discerning consecrated life if you have been inclined in that direction. After all, exploring a vocation is not the same as committing to it, and you will learn something from the experience no matter what your decision is. In honor of Vocation Awareness Week, here are some initial steps you can take to begin discerning your vocation.
- Dedicate time to prayer. This first step might seem obvious, but it is important to intentionally set aside prayer time, even in addition to your regular prayer life, for discernment. If you are considering a religious vocation, there is a good chance this thought has come to you during prayer. By setting aside time for prayer and discernment, you will open your heart to wherever God may be nudging you.
- Find a spiritual director. You don’t have to discern alone. A spiritual director can help you work on your prayer life and understand where God is leading you. While a spiritual director cannot tell you whether or not you have a vocation to consecrated life, he or she can help you work through your thoughts and pay attention to what God is placing on your heart. If you would like to find a spiritual director, contact your local diocese or ask your parish priest for suggestions. Spiritual directors do not need to be priests, but they do need special training, so it is important to find someone who is qualified to direct you.
- Join a group for discerning individuals. While you are trying to discern your vocation, many of your friends and neighbors are doing exactly the same thing. In several areas, there are special groups dedicated to men and women who are discerning the priesthood or religious life. These groups can offer support, allow you to express your thoughts, and introduce you to the realities of consecrated life and the steps to take if you’d like to enter it. Check with your local vocations office to see if your diocese has a group for discerning individuals. In the Archdiocese of Boston, for example, discerning women can attend Fiat meetings to talk to other discerning women and meet religious sisters.
- Explore your options. There is a huge variety of options in consecrated life. If you are a woman, you can join one of the many religious orders. If you are a man, you can enter either the diocesan priesthood or a religious order. It can feel overwhelming to choose a path or even to figure out what your options are. A good place to start is the VISION Vocation Network. This service allows you to fill out a questionnaire and see which religious communities might be a good match for you. It provides information on the charism and apostolates of a huge number of orders, and even helps you get in touch with vocations directors to get more information. Just having a conversation with a vocations director can jump-start your discernment.
- See for yourself what consecrated life is like. No one expects you to commit to consecrated life without knowing what it is like. Dioceses and religious orders often have programs set up to show you what life is like as a priest or religious in that community. One popular event is a “come and see” retreat, which allows you to spend some time with a community and experience the daily life of the congregation. In addition to giving you a taste of consecrated life, these retreats usually give you quiet time to pray and really focus on your discernment. If you are a woman seriously considering religious life, the Archdiocese of New Orleans offers a great opportunity in Magnificat House, which allows women to live in community and receive formation while discerning.
During your time of discernment, please be assured of our prayers for you, and do not be afraid to answer God’s call!