PRAYER & YOUR VOCATION
Are you asking, "How do I KNOW my vocation? How do I know this is really a tug in my heart and not the whim of a moment?" It is during times of prayer that you will discover the answers to these questions. In prayer, you will grow closer to the Lord and you will find meaning and purpose in your life. The tug of a calling to a vocation in the church requires both direct honesty and individual attention. Vocations do not come out of stamped molds; on the contrary, we are all unique, possessing a wide variety of talents.
In scripture, the wilderness motif is often found. This is the place where Jesus was led after his baptism in the Jordan river. Alone in the desert, the Lord experienced a time of testing and purification as he examined his life and prepared himself for his earthly mission. Clearly the wilderness was an uncomfortable place! He was hungry and thirsty; he was alone and isolated, cut off from the support of family and friends; and he was tempted to follow an easy path away from the mission of his heavenly Father. In the desert Jesus confronted his life with brutal clarity and truth, and when he left the wilderness he knew who he was and what he had to do.
The example of the Lord reminds us that we, too, sometimes find ourselves heading out to the desert. There are times when we need to see ourselves clearly, away from distraction and noise, and discover who we really are. We need the time and space to gain our sense of focus and perspective.
If you have not discovered that sense of peace and joy in your vocation, if you are still unsure, you may need to set more time aside for serious reflection and prayer. You should never be too busy to have time to pray. When our lives go in too many directions and we are hopping from one hectic situation to another, it is almost impossible to see where you are going.. Such non-stop activity does not give you the time to reflect and pray about your path.
The many different ways to pray: Reading the Word of God, praying the rosary, spending time to be alone with the Lord in front of the Blessed Sacrament, retreats, Mass, and other forms of prayer offer us moments to be still and listen. Click on the links at right to learn about the different ways you can take time and pray about your vocation.
This type of focus is essential when beginning a vocation. It only makes sense. How can we give our hearts to a calling, unless we truly know ourselves? All vocations have powerful blessings and sacrifices. All vocations are holy expressions of life here on earth. But until we see ourselves clearly we do not truly know how to share the gift of our lives with those around us.
In the stillness of the wilderness we are challenged to see ourselves with sincere honesty. We ask the hard questions about our values, priorities and desires. We seek to know ourselves and God's will for our health and happiness. It is a time of searching, sometimes testing and sifting our hearts in a difficult and painful process. Yet this time in the wilderness can be profound. When we search our souls we sometimes discover rich and fruitful opportunities of growth. We can open our hearts to powerful experiences of truth, beauty, goodness and love that transform us. In the desert we come to know ourselves in the Lord -- who we are, and what we are called to do!
Not every type or moment of prayer will offer such incredible spiritual insights. However, in the awkward moments of our aloneness and isolation we can still call upon the Lord and ask that we see ourselves in clarity and truth. May your prayer help you to focus on what is essential, and may you apply the insights you gain into the daily actions of a rich and vibrant vocation.
QUESTIONS FOR YOUR DISCERNMENT
General Fitness for Ministry
- Do you display robust health?
- Do you manifest balanced mental health?
- Do you display sufficient maturity?
- Are their risks concerning your health and maturity?
- Are there negative family precedents concerning your physical or mental health?
- Are you honest?
- Do you want to engage in hard work?
- Are you prudent in what you say and do?
- Are you consistent in what you say and do?
- Do you have a firmness of convictions?
- Are you capable of self-sacrifice and service to others?
- Can you get along with others and work with them toward common purposes?
Doctrine of Faith
- Do you have knowledge and an adherence to the Catholic Faith?
- Is your understanding of the doctrine of the faith correct and free of error?
- Do you have firm convictions about positions contrary to Magisterial teaching?
- Are you free of radical ideologies?
- Do you hold correct positions concerning the ordination of women, questions of sexual morality and ecclesiastical celibacy?
- Do you understand the nature and purpose of ecclesiastical mininstry?
- Do you exhibit an interest in ecclesiastical studies?
- Are you objectively successful in your pursuits in these fields?
- Do you witness a love for sacred scripture?
- Do you show interest in formative reading?
- Do you show a knowledge of the documents of the Magisterium?
Habit of Obedience
- Do you show a readiness to accept the decisions of your superiors?
- Do you show a confidence in the hierarchy of the Church?
- Do you show a tendency toward the observance of Church laws?
Use of Material Goods
- Do you show respect for the goods of the Church?
- Are you properly detached from material things?
- Do you show moderation in the use of money?
- Are you sensitive to the needs of the poor and those who suffer?
- Are you clear on what celibacy is and why the Church asks that you embrace celibacy?
- Are you positive about celibacy and its significance for the Church?
- Are you fully accepting of celibacy and not see it only as a requirement for ordination?
- Do you display emotional and effective maturity?
- Do you manifest a clear masculine identity?
- Are you balanced in your attitude and behavior toward women?
- Are you prudent in matters concerning your celibacy?
- Do you display emotional self control?
- Do you manifest propriety in your behavior?
- Does your language and conversation show maturity?
- Do you manifest a spirit of faith?
- Is your love for Christ and the Church obvious?
- Do you manifest a spirit and practice of prayer?
- Is there in you an obvious love for the Blessed Virgin Mary?
- Do you show a love for the Eucharist and celebrate it daily?
- Is the Liturgy of the Hours a clear part of your life?
- Do you recite the rosary?
- Do you go frequently to the sacrament of penance?
- Is there in you a spirit of apostolic zeal?
- Do you have a love for the liturgy of the Church?
- Do you practice penance and self-denial?
- Do you regularly engage in spiritual direction with a qualified director?
- Do you manifest an openness and honesty about your spiritual direction?
- Are you able to get along with others?
- Are you able to work with others?
- Are you able to accept rational planning in your work?
- Are you sensitive to the sufferings and misery of others?
- Are you duplicitous?
- Are you selfish?
- Do you display greed?
- Are you unduly ambitious?
- Is there in you a disregard for chastity?
- Are you arrogant?
- Do you lack in honesty?
- Do you have a difficult character?
- Are you lazy?
- Are you irresponsible?
- Are you stubborn?
- Do you have socioeconomic resentment?
- Are you personally untitdy?
- Are you excessively active?
- Are you too concerned with your own comfort?
- Are you unduly concerned with the advancement of your family?
- Are you too aggressive?
- Do you display hypocrisy?
- Do you abuse alcohol or drugs?
- Are you too affective or emotional?
- Are you too effeminate?
- Do you have inordinate pride?
- Are you too individualistic?
SIGNS OF A VOCATION
Desire to be a priest
Perhaps you can’t explain why, but you feel you would love to do this or that thing that a priest does: You wish you could celebrate Mass, or preach, or baptize, or visit the sick. Or maybe you can’t explain why you have this desire. You don’t want to ‘do’ anything priestly, but you just know that you want to be a priest – it’s a part of you, like falling in love. You just know that this is what seems right, this is what you feel. You imagine yourself as a priest and it seems to fit, even if it makes you afraid or you think it would be impossible. And this desire is different from just an ambition. We can be ambitious for the priesthood – we can turn it into a possession or an achievement; ‘wouldn’t it be great if…’ But this is not the same as a vocation. Ambition in this sense turns the priesthood into an external possession; but a vocation is more like a deep personal desire to become what you feel you should be. There is a joy and excitement when you think about it, a sense that this is the right path, and it will lead to the place you are meant to be.
The desire may be long-term, gradual, or recent
There are different kinds of desire – let me list four: (i) Some people have always wanted to be a priest: they cannot remember a time when they did not have this desire; they pretended to be priests when they were kids; it seems to be a part of them. (ii) Some people have gradually wanted to be priests: it has grown over time, perhaps as their faith has grown; 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 priest: 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 priests: they have gone through a life changing spiritual experience; it has never occurred to them before but now it does; the priesthood 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 priest (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 ordination.
The idea of priesthood keeps coming back
In your prayer, your daydreaming, your imagination; in your reading of the gospels – you find yourself coming back to ideas about the priesthood. Some scripture passage 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. You hear a sermon about the priesthood, or read something, and it seems personal; as if a light comes on, or it warms your heart; or as if someone is pointing at you.
Admiration for priests you know
You admire certain priests you have met and 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.
Sense of being pulled or pushed toward priesthood
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. It is a nagging feeling that you should or could become a priest, 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 become a priest, raising a list of objections, making clear all the signs that show you couldn’t possibly become a priest. Perhaps you couldn’t! But it is strange that you keep fighting and resisting it (when other men 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.
Attraction to things associated with priesthood
Perhaps you do not have any explicit desires to be a priest, but you are attracted to many of the things that are involved in the life of a priest. 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. You find yourself becoming more involved in the life of the parish as a reader or Eucharistic minister or catechist, etc. You are giving your life in service more, in the SVP, or helping the poor or the young. Lay people and religious also feel these pulls, but perhaps for you they are pulls to something priestly.
Inner desire to pray more; to take the faith more seriously
You just find that you want to pray more and to learn more about your Catholic faith. You have a new attraction to the Mass (or you have always been attracted to the Mass; and drawn to go to Mass during the week). The Mass seems to mean more to you. You have become more honest about your faults and failings, and desire to go to confession more often than in the past. You are reading more about the faith, or the priesthood – it inspires you; your interest grows. Your love for Christ is growing, and your love for the Church.
Basic 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 priestly vocation, even when there is no idea of the priesthood at the beginning. You are not sure why, but you have a feeling that you can’t hold anything back. It is not enough for you just to work and plod along and say a few prayers and be nice to people – you want to give your whole heart, and you are not sure how or why. For some people the idea of celibacy comes to mind even before the explicit idea of priesthood, and before the Church explains how important it is – 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. There can be a feeling that for me I couldn’t be free to serve the Lord if I were married with children.
Other people affirm your vocation
When you talk to people about the possibility of priesthood, 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 you talk honestly about your feelings to a priest, and he encourages you too. Perhaps people who don’t know you even come up and suggest the priesthood to you, out of the blue! The simple fact that someone unexpectedly suggests it to you, of 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. Sometimes it is as if they are offering you an objective call from outside, like Christ calling his first disciples. This doesn’t mean you become a priest because Mrs Smith on the back row at Mass pushed you into it – but Mrs Smith may help you to see or appreciate something that had remained obscure until then.
Support from your ‘spiritual director’
You may not have a formal spiritual director, but perhaps there is someone wise and trustworthy that you have chatted to about your vocation over a period of time; you have talked things through with them and they know you quite well. If they affirm what you have said, and it seems to them that you may have a vocation, then this is another more public sign that it may be true. At least it is a sign to take things further forward.
Certain essential things
There are certain basics that we normally ‘need’ if God is really calling us, and if these are lacking then a priestly vocation is probably not for us at this time in our lives – although it may show itself later on. I am just explaining some of them informally here in my own language, but you would need to talk to the vocations director to be clear about the official requirements of the Church for priesthood. It is really important to talk to someone about these things (your parish priest; the vocations director; your spiritual director). If something concerns you here, do not just panic and rule yourself out, as we often judge our situation too quickly or too harshly, and there may be other factors which are greatly in your favour. But the basic things that we ‘need’ include:
- a commitment to one’s Catholic faith – a love for Christ, for the Sacraments, for the People of God (even if we are aware of our weakness and failings)
- a love and respect for the Catholic Church and for her teachings, and a desire to share that faith with others (even if we find some things more difficult to believe than others)
- a commitment to the commandments and to living a moral life (even if we are weak and still struggle); you are trying to live a chaste life
- basic physical and mental health (serious medical conditions will make it difficult for us to live and work as a priest)
- a reasonable academic ability (we may not have many qualifications, but we need to have a basic ability to study)
- a personal and emotional maturity (it will be very difficult for us to live in seminary, and to engage in pastoral work, if we have some deep and unresolved psychological issues;
- if we can’t get on comfortably with different people; if we are really struggling with some kind of addiction or anything else that is dominating our life at this moment)
you do not have any big responsibilities that would take away your freedom to become a priest (married, children under 18; huge debts; etc.)
How to ‘Interpret the Signs’
On their own, these signs listed here are not a guarantee of a vocation; they are different hints, small signs that the Lord may be speaking to us and calling us to priesthood. Like any language, they need interpreting, and we need help to interpret them. If it seems to you that some of these signs are very clear and strong, or if many of them seem to come together and add up and begin to form a pattern, then this can be the clearest sign that the Lord is calling you at least to investigate and humbly take the next step. And if these signs are missing, or they are very weak in our lives, then the Lord is probably not calling us, at least not yet.
The overarching sign of a vocation will be an enduring attraction to the idea of priesthood, that is accompanied by a deep sense of peace and joy in reflecting on this attraction. As I have said, this does not mean the attraction will be without fears and anxieties (of course we are a bit anxious!). But if the idea of priesthood itself comes with a deep sense of panic or fear or anxiety (this is different from the natural humility and reluctance we feel) it may mean it is not right for us, and we would be much happier somewhere else! Usually, God gives us enough to go on – he does not play games with us. If we listen and look carefully, over a period of time, patiently, then usually a pattern will form, and things will become clearer or less clear. In this sense we do not need to ask for supernatural signs, visions, dreams, angels. We should certainly pray for help and guidance, but usually God will guide us in these ordinary ways.
SOURCE: Fr Stephen Wang - The Diocese of Westminster