How Do I Know if I Have a Vocation?

>> Saturday, March 1, 2008

Before the question, "How do I know if I have a religious vocation?" can be answered, it must first be said that determining a religious vocation is difficult. A religious vocation is a mystery. God respects our individuality and freedom, and therefore usually allows only for the gradual discovery of a religious vocation. In the discovery process, perhaps three basic signs should be considered.

The first sign can be phrased by the question, "Do I have a desire for the life?" Am I inclined toward it? God does not draw us to a vocation against our will. Some young people think they "owe" someone, and therefore become religious like a "pay-back" to a parent, or a grandparent, or because some religious was good to them or the like. God does not work that way. God wants us to freely choose our vocation, whatever it may be, and if we feel inclined toward a certain direction, we should probably pursue it in some way. One virtue that every healthy person should have as he/she works in our world is a certain amount of independence. We can't let others determine what our life choice will be.

The second sign comes from a personal conviction that "I want a religious life for the right reasons." This is a question of motivation; a person discerning a possible religious vocation must ask: "Why do I want to become a religious?" A person desiring religious life must have faith based motivation, that is there must be positive spiritual reasons for choosing the religious life. Something must touch a person at the level of the Gospel. Desiring in some way to profess a life based on solid Christian religious principles, a person will pursue a religious vocation with God in mind.

Although there may be motivation other than God, a religious cannot exist without a personal relationship with God as a basis. Therefore, a person looking for a temporary respite from his/her loneliness will not make a good religious. A person who is having a difficult time with his/her own sexuality, and has not come to terms with the difficult can never find happiness in religious life. Or a person seeking recognition because of choosing something difficult will never find fulfillment in religious life.

Although it is not always a purely spiritual motive that guides a human mind, the primary driving force that brings a person to religious life must be God related. If it is not, a person entering religious life will not last very long, nor will that person have a happy existence. The potential religious must be able to appreciate the life of the Spirit, that is, the life of prayer, or life spent reading Scriptures. There must be a certain taste for this spiritual side of life, a willingness to work at it, a willingness to give it time and honest effort.

There is a third sign that can help determine whether a religious vocation is part of a person's life pattern. It might simply be called "fitness," or placed in a question form, "Am I able to withstand the tensions and difficulties of religious life?" A person who embraces religious life must have the ability to live the life comfortably, cheerfully, generously and graciously without any undue drain on his/her personality.

Being fit to be a religious means a number of things. It means the ability to renounce certain personal desires. One such desire is one's own independence. Granted that it is necessary that every person possess a certain amount of independence, it is also true in religious circles that a person must learn to obey. A religious person will at times be required to renounce a certain amount of freedom in order to bring about the good for the whole. Sometimes, the religious may not agree with the direction the whole may be going, but he/she will yield to the desire of the larger community. If a person is one who needs a great amount of personal freedom in life, and such a person finds it difficult to mesh personal independence with others, he/she may not be a healthy candidate for religious life.

Another area a candidate for religious life must carefully consider is the celibacy issue. It has been documented that this requirement of celibacy is the single most difficult area for candidates to religious life and priesthood. Religious life must have men and women who are able and willing to live celibacy as a positive value and a sign of the Kingdom of God that Jesus preached. If a person can be single and remain free, loving, and generous, renouncing the legitimate pleasures of sexuality, such a person could be a good candidate for religious life.

The potential candidate for religious life must be one who can live in fraternity and be committed to community life. While living in a community can be an absolute joy, it requires serious adjustments in life-style. Renouncing material goods is not easy in today's world. Community living involves compromising and sharing and dialoguing, trying to come to some kind of mutual understanding and acceptance of each member of the community. If a person is a "loner" most of the time, chances are that that person will find it difficult living in fraternity. Or, in the opposite direction, if a person is a domineering type of personality, and tends to boss people much of the time, such a person will find religious life extremely trying. A person in religious life must be one who can relate to people in a pleasant way.

In studying the possibility of a person's having a religious vocaiton, there are two extremes that must be avoided. On the one hand, one should not think that those who are responsible for religious life will take everyone who applies. They will not. Religious superiors are very concerned about the numbers in their respective Orders or Congregations, but they are much more concerned about the quality of the people who come.

At the same time, however, it must be said that the people who enter religious life do not have to be perfect. Everyone has limitations and weaknesses, physically, psychologically and spiritually. Yet if there is a genuine call to be a religious, the Spirit will guide a person with the grace necessary to overcome the difficulties. Every person can develop well, and if such a person is willing to try, and continue trying, religious life can be a reality for him or her.


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