WHAT IS A RELIGIOUS VOCATION?
Rev. John A. Hardon, S.J.
A religious vocation is a special grace that God
gives to certain persons, calling them to a life of
the evangelical counsels.
There is more than passing value in stressing
the fact that a religious vocation is a grace. It
is, therefore, a gift and an opportunity that must
be freely responded to if the grace is not to remain
sterile and ineffective. We used to speak, and
perhaps still do, of promoting religious vocations.
Actually, we cannot promote vocations. Either God
gives them or they don't exist. We can only discover
what God has given and then foster a vocation that
is presumably there.
But how do you discover a true vocation? The
expression "true vocation" is not casual. It is
critically important in an age when so many
once-promising vocations seem to have been lost.
What are some typical features of a true
vocation to the religious life? I would emphasize
(1) a strong faith in the Catholic Church and
her teaching, shown by a firm loyalty to the
Vicar of Christ;
(2) a love of prayer, at least the capacity for
developing a desire for prayer; and
(3) a readiness to give oneself to a life of
sacrifice in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.
The practical question arises of how to
recognize a true vocation to the religious life. The
need for recognizing a vocation is so important
that everything else is secondary. I believe that if
every prospective candidate were to make a private
retreat, even for a few days, under a competent
priest, it would help immensely. The retreat could
be especially geared to a person who thinks that he
or she has a vocation to the religious life. Then,
during the retreat, in an atmosphere of silence and
prayer, ask God to enlighten one's mind as to
whether or not He is calling the person to a life of
Christian perfection. This, in fact, is one of the
original purposes of the Spiritual Exercises of St.
Ignatius: to discover and decide on one's state of
The future of religious life is very promising,
but the promise depends on certain premises, of
which the first and most important is that God has
given not just the initial call but the assurance of
a lifetime of His supernatural grace to those who
want to serve Him in the religious life.
Copyright (c) 1979, Society for Religious Vocations
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