Are You Called?
What is a vocation?
The word vocation is derived from the Latin word vocare, “to call,” and so a vocation is a calling. Above all, everyone has a vocation to holiness, a universal call to holiness, which Christ gives to us in the Gospel (John 13:34):
I give you a new commandment: love one another.
In particular, as Christians, our vocation, no matter what it is, has the same goal – we are called to love God and neighbor with sacrificial love, the very love Christ has for his Church. But we all realize this according to the different states of life. Some will build up the Mystical Body of Christ through a life of prayer as single people. Others will be called to sanctity through the life of marriage and family. But some will be called to the life of spiritual perfection by becoming a consecrated religious, a brother, a sister. While some men the Church will call to be her priests.
The importance of family life in fostering a vocation cannot be overestimated. Catholic families, trusting on the intercession of St. Joseph, should remember that no greater blessing can come to their family than to have a child called to the religious life or to the holy priesthood. In his encyclical Sacra virginitas, Pope Pius XII said:
“Let parents consider what a great honor it is to see their son elevated to the priesthood, or their daughter consecrate her virginity to her Divine Spouse.”
But Our Holy Mother the Church is both wise and prudent and she does not allow one to be ordained to the priesthood after one semester at seminary or to take final vows after one week in the convent. Just because a person may desire to be a religious or a priest does not mean that they have a true vocation.
And so, religious and priestly vocations must be tested through a process of formation before final profession or before ordination to the priesthood. For religious congregations, such as the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, the postulancy and novitiate introduces the young person to the religious life giving intellectual, spiritual, human and moral formation. Those who exhibit the qualities to be good religious then advance to take temporary vows and ultimately final profession.
The vocation to the holy priesthood is tested in a similar manner. A seminarian studies for at least six years before Ordination, receiving formation in philosophy, spirituality, liturgy, and theology. Meanwhile, the seminarian’s vocation is fostered by his spiritual director and confessor. And if it is God’s will, the seminarian advances through the minor orders to the diaconate and finally to priesthood.
One great mistake made by those discerning a vocation is to think that if God is calling them to His service, He will manifest it to them in some extraordinary way. While an angel appeared to Mary and to Joseph to reveal God’s plans for them, for most, God calls by an interior voice within the deep recesses of the human soul. We may notice that we have a certain spiritual attraction for the religious life or the priesthood. Perhaps we hear a very faint whisper that one occasionally hears from God: “Come, follow Me.”
The most important disposition our young people must have is the simple desire to do the Will of God. Thus the Blessed Virgin Mary prayed at the Annunciation,
“Be it done unto me according to thy word.”
If our young people have this attitude of conformity to the Will of God, they will find the vocation to which God is called them in life.
It is also very important that young people interested in religious life receive counsel from a spiritual director or confessor who spiritually knows them very well and can give credible advice. Starting is simple. If you want to know more about priesthood talk to a priest. If you want to learn about religious life, talk to a religious.
Rev. Scott A. Haynes, S.J.C.