I think most of us understand what a vocation is – that it’s a calling from God. That’s not the question here. That’s not the thing foremost in our mind. What usually is foremost in our mind is the “how”, not the “what”. How does God call someone? Are there any rules here? Are there any telltale signs to know His calling? Is there anything that can be said about the manner of this calling?
How then does God call someone?
First of all, to the question of how God calls souls to the religious life, we reply that there are no rules. God calls whom He wills, and in the manner He wills. Period. The frustration one might feel at this answer is misplaced. Think about it. We might say that God breaks the mold in dealing with each soul. And that’s because He breaks the mold in making each soul. Just as there are no cookie-cutter souls out there, so there is no rubber-stamp way of passing out religious vocations. Each person is unique. God alone knows what makes each one of us tick. And He alone knows the way to treat each one. So while there may be some fairly common traits in religious vocations, there are no real rules.
What does the calling to religious life consist of?
There is a call to everyone to this higher state of life. Jesus said, “If you will be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.” This general call to everyone is enough. No special, particular call is needed for a religious vocation. The call is already there. Anyone can answer it. The religious vocation, then, comes down to the response of the soul to this call already given by Christ. Of course grace is needed to respond to the call. However, no extraordinary grace or manifestation of God’s call should be sought. Souls who desire such an extraordinary manifestation of God’s will are probably going to be disappointed. God does not normally give that kind of thing. We should not seek it. We should rather seek to know God’s will by meditating on Our Lord’s words, and our true purpose in life. Christ says, “He who can take it, let him take it.”
Many souls worry about whether or not God is calling them to religious life. Their worry is not needed. It’s very good if they want to do God’s will, but God does not want them to be anxious about this. They should only desire to please Him. If they want to follow Our Lord more closely, then let them follow Him. The door is open. He has already sent His invitation; why wait for another one?
The Goods of the Religious Life
In religious life then, what should be stressed are the goods proper to that life. These goods make the sacrifices all worth while.The first and foremost of these goods is happiness. The religious life normally brings peace and happiness to the soul. This is something that cannot be repeated enough. We all seek happiness. We seek it in this life, at least to a certain extent. It is the generous acceptance of sacrifice that brings happiness. And here we must be reminded of a very basic truth. It is this – that God knows how to make us happy. Whatever He commands, whatever He forbids, whatever He counsels, He is thinking of our true happiness. Those He calls to religious life He has the power to make happy, even extremely happy. Is this happiness not part of the hundred-fold promised to those who leave everything for Christ?
Love and Trust
The “discernment” of vocations to religious life has a lot more to do with love and trust of God than it does with anxiously “trying to figure out God’s will”. God wants us to love Him, dear friends. If we allow ourselves to trust Him completely, His love will grow in us. This is the needed condition to correctly perceive a religious vocation. Jesus tells us to drop our anxieties and learn to trust. “Therefore I say to you, do not be anxious for your life… look at the birds of the air: they do not sow or reap, or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of much more value than they? But which of you by being anxious about it can add to his stature a single cubit? …But seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be given you besides.”