Am I called to be a priest or sister?
How do I discern whether or not I'm called to religious life or the priesthood? I think I'm called to marriage, but sometimes I also think that God might be nudging me toward religious life. If I get really open, I'm scared God will absolutely call me to religious life or the priesthood! What should I do?
First of all, if you're a boy, consider the priesthood, not becoming a sister. Either guys or girls can be in religious life - guys could be brothers or priests, girls could be sisters or nuns (nuns are cloistered/stay in all the time). So, it's good to know your own sex (boy or girl) before seriously discerning all the options.
I must begin by commending you on even considering anything other than marriage as an option. Although it's important for all Catholics to seriously discern to what vocation God is calling him or her, in our "couples' world", so few people take the time to step back and even wonder if God is calling him or her to religious life or the priesthood. It's too easy to assume what the majority of the rest of the world assumes, "I'll be married, hopefully." Who can blame us for giving so little thought to the religious life? We're bombarded with images of couples and especially sex to the extent that any thought of giving these up seems ridiculous.
For this reason, do not count on this journey of discernment to be unbiased. You will most likely have family members, friends or just the rest of the modern world questioning any thoughts you have toward religious life. If God is trying to call you there, it's an uphill battle for Him. How can he possibly counter all the criticism about religious life and the priesthood? He actually can't do it alone, He needs some help from you - He needs you to be a place where you can hear Him, really hear Him.
In Dec. 12, 2005, I was visited the Sisters of Life in New York City. Although I never felt much of a call to religious life, I certainly thought it was beautiful and wanted to give it a chance. If God was calling me, I never gave him much of a chance in the past to let me know this. I didn't spend much quiet time in prayer seriously considering this option. So, I decided to do more than the normal weekend vocation retreat (although those are great, too). I stayed with the amazing Sisters of Life for four days - long enough to begin to get a taste of their community. And, I honestly fell in love with their lifestyle and adore each of them.
On my last day with the Sisters of Life, I had a great deal of quiet prayer time, which I needed, anticipating that God's call would be difficult to discern. I was completely open and willing to do whatever God called - even excited about the possibility of Him calling me to be a Sister of Life. Since it was the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I asked her to intercede for me, to pray that God would speak clearly to me. And He did.
God answered me through prayer, Scripture, and the book entitled And You are Christ's (amazing for vocational discernment!). I journaled and had spiritual direction with the vocation director of the community. Every part of the day confirmed what He was saying to me in quiet prayer. He not only made it clear to me that I wasn't called to religious life, but He also made it clear that I was called to the vocation of marriage. Deep in my heart and soul, I knew it was His voice and His peace, after years of discernment and waiting. I was REALLY open and He spoke to me, but not calling me to religious life.
My former roommate has a different story. She visited a community in high school, expecting to be called to religious life, but she wasn't. So, she kept dating and was even close to engagement but never settled down with a particular guy. So, to get it out of her system, she visited a different convent, not expecting much, but she fell in love with this community (Nashville Dominicans). And, her love for them persisted. When she came home from that visit, she was glowing. When she talked about going back to visit, she seemed to be waiting like a young lover waits for her groom. She was really in love and at peace. It wasn't easy for her to leave her single life, friends and family, but she knew the tug and didn't want to deny it. She's currently about to take her first vows in the community and she truly loves it! Oh, and she also found the book And You Are Christ's to be a great source of guidance for her.
If you want cool stories of young men and women who were called to the religious life and young men who were called to the priesthood, check out this website - Vocation.com - which has a whole section on testimonies - sweet stuff!!!
The Plan of Action
If you're serious about being open to God, it'll take a little work on your end. You might need to cut back on an activity or two just to find some quiet time with God. A girl I know spent her Friday nights out on a "date" with Jesus, in Adoration, to help her discern. And, it could take years before you are truly confident in your vocation and ready to fulfill God's call. Even though I heard God clearly on a specific weekend away, I had been praying about my vocation for years prior. The following steps will be most helpful as you discern...
1. Pray about all potential vocations - marriage, religious life, the priesthood and even consecrated single life. Set aside time to really focus on this important call. The Eucharist will be an especially great source of strength for you - at Mass and in Adoration.
2. Read about these different vocations. Some stories or descriptions will especially tug on at your heart.
3. Visit communities or seminaries. Even if you feel fairly called to married life, it's only fair to live at least a few days in one of these environments when you grow up in the married environment (unless you're from a divorced home, in which case, I encourage you to spend extended amounts of time with a still-married part of your family one summer). Start by going on a vocation retreat at a community. The community may or may not be the right one for you. If it intrigues you, go back for another visit, maybe longer this time. The same can be worked out in the seminary.
4. Find a spiritual director you can visit on a regular basis. If you don't know of a good one, contact your local vocation office. In St. Louis, go to www.stlvocations.org
5. Listen to what others, who are open to you entering this vocation, say about you. Especially if you're open to the priesthood or religious life, people who understand these vocations will start to say things to you about how you might be good in these vocations.