What are the signs that God might be calling me to the consecrated life?
A Consecrated life is the way of life embraced by those who dedicate themselves to the Lord by making lifelong vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience that are recognised and accepted by the Church. So this includes monks and nuns in enclosed monasteries and convents; religious brothers and sisters living in community who serve others through their apostolic work; and many other forms of consecrated life. The life of a missionary sister, a Carthusian hermit, an enclosed nun, a parish priest, or a teaching friar are vastly different, and the particular pull towards each way of life will be very different. But the way God stirs up these vocations in our hearts can be quite similar. Here are some common signs and common ways of discerning a vocation to the priesthood or consecrated life. You don’t need to tick every box here, but just pay attention to some of these areas and see if there are some recurring themes.
A desire to be consecrated person. Maybe you can’t explain why you have this desire, it’s a part of you, like falling in love. You just know that this is what seems right. You imagine yourself as a priest or consecrated person and it seems to fit, even if it makes you afraid or you think it would be impossible. There is a joy and excitement when you think about it, a sense that this is the right path. The idea keeps coming back – in your prayer, your daydreaming, your imagination. Some scripture passage or sermon seems to be directed at you – about the priesthood, or the call of the disciples, or service. These passages seem to stand out for you and have a kind of clarity; as if a light comes on; or it warms your heart; or it feels as if someone is pointing at you.
The desire may be long-term or gradual or recent. There are different kinds of desire.
(i) Some people have always wanted to be a consecrated person: they cannot remember a time when they did not have this desire; they pretended to be consecrated persons when they were kids; it seems to be a part of them.
(ii) Some people have gradually wanted to be priests or consecrated persons: it has grown over time; or it has come and gone; but now seems to be a bit stronger and a bit more enduring.
(iii) Some people have always wanted NOT to be a consecrated person. This might sound strange, but there are people who have always been fighting it, resisting, walking away, giving excuses why not; and this is because deep down they have always known it is a part of them; and at some point they realise that, in fact, people without vocations do not normally go around thinking about why they don’t have a vocation!
(iv) And some people suddenly want to be consecrated persons: they have gone through a life changing spiritual experience; it has never occurred to them before but now it does; the priesthood or consecrated life is something new and sudden and unexpected, but very real and almost overpowering. This can happen, but these people need to be very cautious, because after a big adult conversion experience it is easy to confuse a desire to live a radical new Christian life (which is important for all people) with a desire to be a consecrated person (which is only one way of responding to this new life, and perhaps not the right one). This is why the Church asks new converts to have time to settle into their new Catholic life for a few years before seeking consecrated life.
An admiration for consecrated people you know. You sense a goodness and holiness in their lives. You have an attraction to something they have or something they represent; even if you can’t imagine being one. They seem to be living a life worth living, in a way that speaks to you. You are drawn to them. Or perhaps you do not have any explicit desires to be a consecrated person, but you are attracted to many of the things that are involved in their lives. You have a desire to serve people in different ways, or to pass on the faith, or to pray with and for others. Maybe you find less satisfaction in your work, not because it is wrong, but you feel it is not enough.
Sense of being pulled or pushed toward consecrated life. This can be true even if you do not seem to have any real personal desire. In fact it might seem like something you don’t want to do, something you are fighting against. The will of God and not your own will. It is a nagging feeling that you should or could become a consecrated person, that seems to come from nowhere, uninvited; an idea you can’t get out of your mind. It might leave you cold, or even repel you – in the sense that your instincts and gut fight against it. You may find yourself making excuses to yourself (and even to others) about why you shouldn’t follow it, raising a list of objections, making clear all the signs that show you couldn’t possibly do this. Perhaps you couldn’t! But it is strange that you keep fighting and resisting it (when other people just don’t bother thinking about it). It’s as if part of you knows you should; there is an inner sense of duty, or call – even if it is reluctant.
An inner desire to pray more and to take the faith more seriously. You just find that you want to pray more and to deepen your faith. Your love for Christ is growing, and your love for the Church. More and more you desire to give your life to God completely. Of course this is true for many holy lay-people! But it can often be the beginning of a vocation to consecrated life. You are not sure why, but you have a feeling that you can’t hold anything back. For some people the idea of celibacy comes to mean more and more – not because they dislike marriage, but because they feel called to give their life wholeheartedly to serve God and others, in a way that would be difficult within the commitments of marriage and family life.
Other people affirm your vocation. When you talk to people about the possibility of consecrated life, especially committed Catholics, they don’t look as if you are mad. They affirm it, and say ‘Of course, I could have told you that years ago’. They encourage you. In other words, from the outside, this vocation also seems to make sense – it is not just a subjective sign for you, but it is beginning to be a more objective sign to others too. Perhaps people who don’t know you even come up and suggest the priesthood or consecrated life to you, out of the blue! The simple fact that someone unexpectedly suggests it to you, or jokes about it with you, may be the first sign of a call. They may see something you can’t see, or something you are not prepared to admit that you see. You shouldn’t assume that every person speaking to you is a messenger from God, and other people can sometimes get things wrong – but the suggestions others make might sometimes help you to reflect in a more open way.
Fr Stephen Wang, How to Discover your Vocation, CTS