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Vocation: A Call to Serve God

Of perennial interest and importance is the question: How can I know whether I have a vocation to the priesthood or the religious life? It is a mistake to believe that such a vocation must be so absolute and clear that it scarcely leaves any choice to the free will. There are certain absolute conditions for a vocation to such a life — conditions without which one can be sure that God is not calling him. Other signs are inherent in and dependent upon free will, but inspired by the grace of God as an invitation to follow Him. These are the absolutely necessary conditions:

1. Good health. The demands made upon one’s physical condition by a religious vocation necessitate good health.

2. Ordinary talents. One must have at least ordinary abilities in order to follow a religious vocation.

3. Reasonable independence. If one must care for his parents, for instance, he is not free to enter the religious state.

4. Normal piety. If one is not at least ordinarily devoted to religious practices, he or she can hardly be fitted for the more than ordinary religious exercises of a priest or religious.

Besides these essential qualities, other signs are inherent and dependent upon free will, but inspired by the grace of God as an invitation to follow Him:

1. A spirit of sacrifice: an ability to give up lesser but more appealing goods for greater, but more spiritual ones.

2. A spirit of zeal: that special form of charity that inspires one to the work of saving souls.

3. A spirit of detachment: the power that enables a person to be in the world but not of the world, to control the emotions, and if necessary, suppress them, and to be willing to spend the rest of ones life celibate.

4. A desire to be a priest or religious — or a conviction that the religious state is, for him, the surest way to save his soul.

The presence of these eight signs is an indication that one is being invited by God to be one of His own. Their presence, however, will never amount to a certain mandate: the decision is always left to the free will. A vocation is the voice of God, not commanding, but calling. To follow this calling is to follow God’s special plan. A vocation is the particular path in life which will bring one the greatest happiness on earth and in eternity.

It is difficult to enumerate all the gifts and graces that Almighty God lavishes on a religious. Everything in religious life tends towards personal sanctification and the salvation of others: the frequent reception of the sacraments, religious exercises and pious practices, innumerable opportunities for the practice of virtue, the Holy Rule and the customs of the order or congregation, periods of solitude and silence, the holiness of its occupations, the vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience, numerous spiritual instructions.

St. Bernard tells us that religious live more purely, fall more rarely, rise more easily, live more peacefully, are more plentifully endowed with grace, die more securely, and are more abundantly rewarded. A religious vocation is a magnificent grace from God, but it is only the beginning of a long chain of graces they must cooperate with by serving Him with love and fervor. By fidelity to one’s vocation, a religious is able to a degree to change the world — to win the world for Christ, to restore all things in Christ.

If such be the value of the religious vocation, can we begin to appreciate the merit of the priestly calling? Indeed, what would the Catholic Church be without the priest? The confessional would be useless, the church would be empty, the pulpit would be silent. In a moment of sorrow, at the hour of death, there would be no one there to give comfort and assurance of God’s love and pardon. Never before has there been such a need for priests, and never has there been such a shortage of them!

The religious or priestly life appears to be a difficult one. If we look to our own unaided strength, certainly it is. One needs confidence in the goodness and power of God, Whose grace is always sufficient to accomplish what He asks. This trust will be gained by fervent prayer. We must pray in order to know and do God’s Will, and we must also ask for the grace to carry it out promptly. To delay ones vocation without a very good reason is to risk losing Gods special invitation.

One who feels he may be called to the priestly or religious life should seek the wise counsel of a confessor or priest. In the choice of one's vocation, the essential thing is to understand what is God’s Will, not necessarily what pleases oneself most. The rich young man of the Gospel story certainly loved God, kept the Commandments and was greatly loved by Our Lord. But in his attachment to his riches, he rejected the call to follow Christ and “went away sad.” May God grant many souls the generosity and dedication necessary to meet the crying needs of our times. Behold, the harvest is great, and the laborers few!

Prayer for Choosing One’s State in Life

O my God, Thou Who art the God of wisdom and good counsel, Thou Who readest in my heart a sincere desire to please Thee alone and to direct myself in regard to my choice of a state of life, in conformity with Thy holy Will in all things, by the intercession of the most holy Virgin, my Mother, and of my patron saints, grant me the grace to know that state of life which I ought to choose, and to embrace it when known, in order that thus I may seek Thy glory and deserve the heavenly reward which Thou hast promised to those who do Thy holy Will. Amen.

(Indulgence of 300 days once a day — Pope Pius X)

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