When we come to talk about vocations there are several questions that need to be answered. These are:
• What is a vocation?
• How do I know if I have a vocation?
• Should I try my vocation?
• When will I have security in my vocation?
A vocation is a call from God to follow a particular way of life and to save one’s soul by following that path. The problem of which vocation to follow usually becomes acute when it is a question of a religious vocation, a call to follow Christ more closely in the priesthood or religious life. Here we will talk about vocations to the religious life.
So we need to ask, How do I know if I have a religious vocation? The answer to this question needs to be split into, fitness, inclination and willingness. To take fitness first: The person considering a vocation must look at her own fitness for such a life. Is she physically fit enough for convent life, which is reasonably strenuous? Is she mentally fit enough with no history of mental illness? Not being able to match up to these basic criteria could well indicate that the person is meant for a different path of life.
Then, there is moral fitness. The way to find out is to be completely honest with the superior of the Convent in which one is interested. Generally Contemplative orders are stricter about difficulties of temperament or items from the past than active orders are. The reason is not hard to see: in a fully enclosed contemplative order a woman is stuck with her own temperament and her own past for the rest of her life, whereas in an active order there is a legitimate outlet from the self.
We move on to inclination. Do I, being physically, mentally, and morally fit for convent life, find in myself an inclination towards following the way of life of a nun? Of course, feelings are not everything, but if there is something that really puts you off convent life, and this feeling cannot be overcome by better knowledge of the convent, then it is probably not for you. On the other hand one could be under a really serious obligation to investigate religious life rather than just leave the question because of an initial and perhaps frivolous distaste.
The last point in recognizing that one has a religious vocation is willingness. It is a simple question to ask oneself. “Have I the willingness, relying on the grace of God, to live for with Christ in a relationship of love, for the good of Holy Church, for the rest of my life”. One can weigh up the great promises of our Lord to those who follow Him more closely, but in the end it does come down to a leap of Faith.
So, we come to the point, should I try my vocation? The answer is that one should. No amount of thinking or wondering can equal the experience of spending a few days in a convent. Things will certainly come clear after that and points the convent my not have told you about, like a silent refectory, will become obvious.
There is another point about this trying of the vocation which is important. Putting it briefly, I would say that one owes it to the Church to try one’s vocation. Here is the Church deteriorating on every side. Here is tradition trying to hold firm. What is the answer? The answer is the same as it has always been in the Church: set up religious orders which will preserve the truth, teach it to others and gradually create outpo
sts of Catholicism and civilization with the capacity to rebuild Christendom. We can look at the time after the Barbarian Invasions when the Benedictine monasteries re-civilised Europe. The religious orders can do the same in this distressing modern era. Religious life is not a flight from the world but an engagement to rebuild the world. If there is a possibility that you are meant to be on the front line of this fight, how can you hang back? At least find out what your place in the fight is.
The final question I would like to deal with is the matter of “security” in one’s vocation. Young women ask, “When will I know for sure?” When will I be secure in my vocation? One answer is that half of your vocation depends on a frail human being damaged by original sin, so you will never have total securing at that end. On the other hand as you depend on God over the years a bond forms between yourself and the ever-dependable so that you become more and more secure, with prayer, as the years go on. The initial trusting is harder but the process builds on itself and on grace so that you can have a sweet security even from your novitiate days.