This week, Nov. 1-7, celebrates National Vocation Awareness Week , a time U.S. Catholics dedicate “to promote vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life through prayer and education, and to renew our prayers and support for those who are considering one of these particular vocations.” We should always promote vocations, but sometimes we need an explicit reminder! We need more than a day or week; we need a culture. This week is about each of us taking a step toward fostering a culture of religious vocations in the Church.
As many priests, sisters, brothers, etc., will tell you, the best way to support and promote religious vocations involves every one of us personally committing to live our own vocation faithfully and joyfully, whether that be in the priesthood, the diaconate, married life, consecrated life, etc. It’s impossible to be truly pro-marriage and be against religious vocations; they harmonize! Discerning and answering a call is our responsibility to the Church as baptized and confirmed members of the Body of Christ.
Many young people who came face to face with St. Pope John Paul II would ask him: “What is my vocation!?” He used to say, “You must choose!” How disappointing in the moment, yet what a true and wise response! God endows each person with a unique vocation and graciously calls each to respond with the gift of his or herself.
You may be thinking: easier said than done. It’s true; discernment is not always easy, especially when immersed in a consumer culture that frequently substitutes success for faithfulness and material gratification for spiritual wholeness. But discerning a vocation is also not an infinitely hard matter of finding a needle in a haystack. It simply is not true that only God’s “favorites” or the exceptionally smart or good looking end up truly happy.
Below are some great practices the Church recommends for anyone discerning a vocation.
Visit a Spiritual Director or Mentor
One of the most important things you can do to discern and sustain your vocation is develop a relationship with a spiritual director or mentor. They do not necessarily need to be a professional theologian or psychologist; look for someone faithful and joyful in their vocation. Focus on finding someone that can offer practical guidance with whom you will be honest and transparent—someone who will consistently encourage you to pray and grow. If you are considering a religious vocation, it would be helpful to meet with a priest or member of religious life.
Make Prayer a Priority
Prayer is the essential element of discernment. This is probably not a surprise. It’s the time we lay out all our mixed thoughts and emotions before Jesus and let him reveal his way in our life. You can begin simply by praying: “God, help me to know your will for my life and desire it.” Practice going deeper into praying with the Bible and reflecting on passages from Scripture, sometimes called lectio divina, or try to learn or incorporate some part of the Liturgy of the Hours into your schedule.
Solid, faithful friendships go much further when discerning a vocation than having a plethora of worldly or romantic relationships. True friends know our identities are composed of both our weakness and our strengths. I often see my friends as a sort of vocational “litmus test;” they know me well enough to detect when choices or relationships seem in or out of step with my true character or wellbeing. Vocational awareness is a fruit of a culture of friendship, as I tried to suggest here.
Develop a Tradition
The Catholic faith has many rich, diverse, and time-tested charisms (e.g., Franciscan, Ignatian, Dominican, Carmelite, Pallottine, etc.) that can inspire and nourish vocations to religious life and marriage alike. While it’s great to explore and incorporate the tools of many traditions, try to become fluent in one. Different charisms have a special resonance with different people.
Learn Their Story
Are you aware of your pastor’s vocation story or the vocation story of any member of religious life around you? What about your own parents, grandparents, and mentors? Maybe it’s simple and straightforward; maybe it’s long and exciting or even difficult. Ask those around you about their own story. A vocations culture lives and grows by these real-life examples. Every story of God’s love is worth sharing.