We live in an age of ‘life-style’ choices, in which we often determine our own happiness by our choices about how to live. We’re quite good at this and think we know what will make us fulfilled. And there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with making certain choices like this. I can choose, for instance, to live in London, to have access to theatres if I enjoy the theatre. Nothing wrong in that. I can’t choose to be a monk, however, just because I’m a fan of ‘Cadfael’ or because I like Gregorian chant, because being a monk is a calling from God, not a life-style choice. We’re often less good though at listening to what God wants, and think we know what will fulfil us.
We’re not generally very good at knowing what we mean by our vocation either and often we confuse it with the fulfilment we seek by our life-style choices. Even our choices about a career, though this may be part of our vocation, isn’t the whole story. In general terms a vocation is much more. It’s a calling to fullness of life, and that can only mean the call to holiness that is the unique calling of every human being. Those who are baptised are all destined to this fullness in the glory of Heaven, while Catholics believe we already share in the life of God through the sanctifying grace we receive in the sacramental life of the Church. Everyone, however, by virtue of being created in the image of God, is called to this destiny and is given a choice about how they respond.
A Particular Calling
There are, however, also particular callings to a specific expression of our Christian vocation. Vocation in this sense is the term often used to refer to the calling to be a religious or a priest. By this vocation God calls the individual to serve the Church in a special way, to help build up the church and nurture the vocation to holiness of all those in the Church. How we hear this call is called discernment, but it is not always easy to hear it because God usually calls most people very quietly over a period of time. Often we need the help of others to listen to God speaking in the different ways he chooses in people’s lives.
An Inner & Outer Call
The call often has an inner and an outer dimension. The outer call might come from something other people say to us, or a TV or radio programme, in Scripture or through the liturgy – most especially in the mass. The inner call may simply be a nagging desire for something we can’t put our finger on, or a growing inspiration to consider the religious life and a feeling of generosity that we’d like to be able to say ‘yes’ to such a call. When these two dimensions begin to resonate together in a way that seems to persist over time, it may indicate that God is calling an individual to a vocation to priesthood or religious life.
Indicators of a Call
There are a number of signs that together might indicate that someone is being called to priesthood or religious life. Some of them may be unsettling and difficult, but actually all of them are positive because through them God is speaking to us. The lists below are by no means exhaustive, but are some of the common signs experienced by those who are being called to serve the Church as priests or religious.
- A growing dissatisfaction with my life as it is
- A feeling that I'm not really fulfilled
- A sense that I'm looking for something different from what most people feel will fulfil them
- I am aware of an intangible ‘nagging’ that won’t go away
- I'm restless
- I have a great desire to give my life generously to God
- I desire prayer in a way that I can’t fulfil in my ordinary life, such as praying the Liturgy of the Hours or singing it with others
- I long for community life
- At mass I sometimes ‘daydream’ myself where the priest is standing
- I have a great desire to minister the sacraments to others
- I have a deepening attraction to a particular spirituality eg Benedictine
What is most important is that if you think you recognise these signs in your own life it can be helpful to discuss them with someone with a view to discerning them over a period of time. That way you can begin to hear more clearly God’s call to you so that you can respond in the right way and make the best decisions about the direction of your life.
Want to Talk?
If you would like to speak to someone about God's call in your life, especially if you think you might have a calling to priesthood or religious life as a monk of Douai Abbey, we would welcome the opportunity to explore this with you and very much look forward to hearing from you. You can contact Fr Gabriel.
You might find it helpful to look at the following links, to find out more about vocation discernment, religious life and the different ways you can find support and help.
To find out more about religious life go to UK Religious Life. This website gives information on religious life today. It will tell you more about different congregations, the vows and discernment, with links to religious communities in England and Wales, discernment retreats and educational resources.
If you would like more information about the religious life and discernment opportunities, you can contact Sr Elaine Penrice FSP.
Congregations offering vocations-specific retreats or events can be found at the UK Religious website, Events for Discerners page.
If you are looking for a broader-based discernment group not specifically focused on religious life, you can find a comprehensive listing of them at the UK Vocation website.
If you are between 20-35 (male or female), discerning a possible vocation to religious life, you might like to consider Compass. This is a group that meets for weekends of prayer, sharing and discussion about discernment, religious vows, vocation and prayer. Two groups meet – at Worth Abbey and Katherine House FCJ, and a weekend at Our Lady of Hyning Monastery, Carnforth. Conferences are run by a monk and a nun who are members of the Conference of Religious and the Catholic Vocations Project. You can find out more at the Compass website, or you can email Compass.
Fr Gabriel Wilson OSB