‘Vocation’ comes from the Latin word vocare, meaning ‘to call’.
God calls everyone to eternal life with Him. Before we get to eternal life, however, we have to live our earthly life. God has a different call for everybody in their earthly life. Following this call will enable us to gain eternal life. God’s call includes marital status, the type of work, and other activities. All calls to life are equally valid; there is nothing superior about the priestly or religious vocation (cf. Lumen gentium 40).
Everyone has a vocation; as St John Henry Newman said:
God has created me to do him some definite service;John Henry Newman, My Life’s Work
He has committed some work to me
which he has not committed to another.
I have my mission… He has not created me for naught.
I shall do good, I shall do His work;
I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it,
if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling
Most people are called to married life. A married couple, keeping the faith and bringing up their children in the faith, is what most people would expect to be doing. Within that family there could be various other activities, such as attending prayer groups, helping the homeless, etc.
Some are called to a life in the lay single state. This means living and working in lay society, without getting married. St Paul says that such people are free of anxieties about their spouses and can instead concentrate on serving God (1 Cor 7:32-39).
A few are called to the priesthood or religious life. Women can be called to active or contemplative religious life. Men can be called to priesthood, whether diocesan or as part of a religious community, or to religious life without priesthood. As with women’s religious orders, men’s orders can be contemplative or active, although there is not as clear a divide as there is with women’s orders.
It is very difficult to be certain what life God is calling a person to. Often, there is a feeling of being called without knowing where God’s call is leading. The discernment process can take quite some time. There are various ways of trying to discern God’s call.
The first step is prayer. Prayer should be the first stage of everything we do. The Prologue to the Rule of St Benedict states: ‘Whenever you begin to undertake any good work, beg Him with most earnest prayer to bring it to completion’ (Rule of St Benedict, Prologue, verse 4).
A call from God will often start with a desire to be more active in your faith, and it is likely that you will become active in your local parish or another Catholic organisation.
If you think are called to the religious life or priesthood, you must have received the Sacrament of Confrmation. If you became Catholic as an adult, Confirmation is included in the reception process, whereas if you are a ‘cradle Catholic’, Confirmation usually occurs in your early teens.
Many dioceses have a vocations discernment group, although these are often geared towards the priesthood rather than religious life. You could also try talking to your parish priest or anyone else you already know in the religious life. Even if their call is different from yours, they can be a source of advice.
If you feel God is calling you to a monastic vocation, the links below will give you more information about the process. Although written with Ealing Abbey in mind, most of what is there is applicable to most monasteries.