When I talk about vocation, many get scared at just the though of it. The first things that come to their mind are religious habits, endless prayers, people living in the same house, having to live far from their families, etc. However, the truth is that vocation means so much more than that. For those of us who have chosen to leave everything and follow Jesus through consecrated life, it’s a great joy. Consecrated life brings us sacrifice and hard work, but also many rewards.
God calls us to make us His: to leave behind the life we were living and devote ourselves entirely to him. Not everyone is called to this type of life, but there are many who, having been called, don’t know how to listen to God. How can you know if God is calling you to follow him through a vocation to the priesthood or to consecrated life? In this post, I will share with you 7 tips to discern, maturely, if God is calling you (or not) to this way of life. Pay attention, because if you take these recommendations seriously, God could indeed be knocking the door of your heart to make you His own, as He has done with us.
1. Pray… pray…and pray
It seems obvious, but it’s extremely necessary. Saint Therese of Lisieux said: «Prayer is, for me, an outburst from the heart; it is a simple glance darted upwards to Heaven; it is a cry of gratitude and of love in the midst of trial as in the midst of joy!» This pretty much sums it all up. Prayer is something simple. Imagine that you come back from school and want to tell your parents about your day: your sorrows and joys, your dreams and frustrations… this dialogue with God is prayer. You talk to Him about everything, with trust and faith. You know He listens to you, so you never get tired of talking with Him.
Prayer is a dialogue, not a monologue. You talk, but must also listen; and in order to listen, you need to be in silence. Yes, silence. And I don’t mean the absence of noise, I mean that you must leave aside your worries (sharing them with God, of course), and calm your soul in order to listen to his voice. Do you remember how, in the Old Testament, God spoke through a tiny whispering sound? (1 Kings 19: 12–14), well, if you pay attention, you will be able to listen to Him and will know what to do; it’s not mysticism, it’s just reality.
«But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you»(Mt 6: 6).
2. Frequent the Sacraments: Reconciliation and Eucharist
If you don’t already go regularly to Mass or to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, this is an excellent tip for you. The Sacraments (especially these two) are necessary to heal and clean the soul. The Eucharist is our spiritual food, the greatest thing Jesus bestowed upon us and, what’s more, it’s accessible to all. Our life must be a constant thanksgiving to God, a perennial praise, and the Mass is essential to this. If it’s daily Mass, even better. If this isn’t possible, you can go every Sunday without fail (as a baptized Catholic, this is your obligation). Similarly, Reconciliation is necessary to “wash” our soul of the impurities of sin, and become pure before God. You need to ask God’s forgiveness of all the bad things you have done.
When one is reconciled with the Father, one’s heart is full of peace, and it’s in this spiritual state that a person can be most attentive and receptive to the will of God, able to respond with generosity. The sacrament of Reconciliation, as Pope Francis says, it’s not a “torture chamber;” on the contrary, it’s the encounter with God’s merciful love. Pope Francis continues: «…The apostles and all their successors — the bishops and their colleagues the priests — become instruments of the mercy of God. They act in persona Christi. This is very beautiful». So, don’t overthink it and frequent the sacraments.
«I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger…This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die» (Jn 6: 35. 50). «…Behold, you desire true sincerity…Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure…Turn away your face from my sins; blot out all my iniquities. A clean heart create for me, God; renew within me a steadfast spirit.» (Psalm 50:8–9.11–12).
3. Find Spiritual Direction
Spiritual direction is a gift. «The Holy Spirit gives to certain of the faithful the gifts of wisdom, faith, and discernment for the sake of this common good which is prayer» (CCC 2690). Priests, nuns, and brothers, can help you see the Will of God in your life, to direct you to the path God desires for you. On this matter, St. John of the Cross said: « the director not only has to be wise and prudent, but also experienced… If the spiritual director has not experienced spiritual life, he will be incapable of guiding the souls God calls, and will even be unable to understand them». So, choose well whom you ask to guide you.
This point is very important because you are putting your soul in the hands of a man or woman to help you find the will God. If you want to discover what is it that God is asking you to do with your life, spiritual direction is a suggested path for you. Pray and ask the Lord to send you a spiritual director, the best He can find for you, and trust Him. God takes advantage of human instruments to shower the Earth with his gifts.
«Associate with a religious man, who you are sure keeps the commandments; who is like-minded with yourself and will feel for you if you fall…Most important of all, pray to God to set your feet in the path of truth» (Sirach 37: 12.15).
4. Have an Open Attitude to God’s Plan
It’s easy to say it when one is not involved, but when our entire life is at stake, this phrase means a whole lot more. Love God and trust Him. Live in His love, in reconciliation with Him; pray a lot, trust the sacraments, and your heart will be available for everything the Lord asks of you. If He asks you to change something, you’ll be able to do it. If He asks you to strive to reach a certain virtue, you’ll achieve it, too, with His help. But always try to cultivate a willing heart, generous to God. Pope Benedict XVI said at the beginning of his pontificate: «Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and He gives you everything. When we give ourselves to Him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ — and you will find true life». We, the consecrated, truly believe in these words because we have lived them. God can work with a willing heart, He can mold your heart as He pleases. But He needs you to do your part. It’s your choice.
«How blessed are those who put their trust in God… Then I said, ‘Here I am , I am coming.’ In the scroll of the book it is written of me, my delight is to do your will; your law, my God, is deep in my heart.» (Psalm 40: 5.8).
5. Get Rid of Unhelpful Habits
It is very important to change our old habits to transform ourselves into new men and women. Partying excessively, going out every weekend, wasting money, using foul language (among other things) might all be called “good habits” or, at least “normal” in today’s world, but they are not good for those who want to do what God asks them. Our life must have the “scent of Christ.” We all know our own weaknesses and how we should improve. Making an extra effort will really help you discern your vocation. It’s time to organize your life and set priorities. Priorities? Yes, for example, spending more time with your family, visiting the sick, helping your neighbor, and many other things. Swap out a vice (something bad) for a virtue (something good).
If before I wasted my time gambling, now I will donate my money to a charity institution. If I used to go out every weekend, now I will dedicate a weekend to volunteer or serve in my parish. Stop lying, get rid of anger, cultivate joy, etc. Sounds easy, right? What’s difficult is to put it in practice, but don’t worry, God will always be by your side to help you.
«Assuming that you have heard of him [Christ] and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth» (Ephesians 4: 21–24).
6. Strive to Live a Life of Coherence
«Agere sequitur esse», in Latin means: «Action follows being.» One acts according to what one is. I am a son of God, therefore I act as such. I am a man discerning his vocation, therefore I act as such. It’s simple logic. This isn’t easy, though. You need to make a serious and mature commitment. Pope Francis says, «it is not easy to maintain consistency between faith and testimony; but we must carry on and be coherent in our daily life. “This is a Christian!”, not so much in what he says, but in what he does, and the way in which he behaves.» Some say that words move, but it’s the example that persuades.
Imagine how much our testimony of faith would persuade the world if we were coherent with our beliefs! Like the first Christians, whose consistency of faith and action carried them all the way to martyrdom…. They didn’t falter when the moment came to give everything for Jesus. And you? Start amending your life from this moment forth. Let your actions, thoughts, and desires be consistent with God’s ways and will. It’s up to you to act according with what you claim to believe, and who you truly are.
«What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?…So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone might say, “You have faith and I have works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.» (James 2: 14.18).
7. Live with Generosity
To live according to the will of God is to live with generosity. We can’t be authentic Christians if we don’t live generosity as one of the guiding principles of our lives. If we are Christians, we are generous. Here we are not talking about giving our money to the whole world, or distributing all our possessions among the needy, nor giving food to the poor. Yes, this is necessary, but there is a kind of generosity that’s more challenging: that of the heart. When one makes a selfless act, it doesn’t necessarily mean it was made with a generous heart. One’s inner attitude is fundamental to make such act an act of true renunciation.
I can give lots of things with a bitter expression no one can bear, but that’s not true generosity. By contrast, I could be very poor and give my time to someone who needs to talk and vent his sorrows. I give my time for free, without anyone knowing, without regretting it, that’s interior generosity. It all depends on the attitude. If you have a selfless attitude, your actions will be generous. Anyone can live like this, but in order to do so, we need to be united with God to not measure in regret what we give to others.
«Consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver» (2 Corinthians 9: 6–7).
These 7 tips will help you discern if priesthood or religious life is for you. It’s important that you have a heart full of love for God. A humble heart that restlessly seeks the Lord in all things, big and small. Let God be the love of your life. Cultivate this seed in the rich soil of your heart, and the results will bear fruit. Ah! And be prepared because God has promised (to those in consecrated life) to give us a hundred times more, and that’s great!, but the verse ends with the caveat: «with persecutions».
In other words, don’t be surprised if someone opposes your vocation, or if someone doesn’t like the way of life God had prepared for you, because it has happened to all of us. What matters is what you discern and your sincere devotion to the Lord.
«Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come» (Mk 10: 29–30).