A question that young people ask us very frequently: "But how do I know that God is calling me to religious life?" Well the good news is: this is something only YOU can know. No one else can ever do a discernment in your place telling you: "Here is what you should do".
God does speak to our hearts as He has spoken to so many young men and women before us. He doescall, and He calls in a way that you, and only you, can understand. His call is like the whisper of a friend. In order for us to hear the whisper of a friend, we need to first have a friendship with that person, then we need to be close to the other, in order to be able to hear his whisper and lastly, in order to also understand the deep meaning of his whisper, not only do we need to stand close to that person, but our hearts need to be close to that person as well. I need to know him well, to understand the deep meaning of what he is saying.
This gives us the key to understand how we can discern Jesus' call in our lives. The first and most important thing is to spend time with Jesus, in frequent and daily prayer, in Holy Mass and in Eucharistic adoration. Also we need to keep our hearts free from anything that could keep us away from Jesus. Frequent reception of the sacrament of confession will help us with that. And spending time with Mother Mary is a great way to become closer to Jesus; for who is closer to Jesus than his Mother? Taking time for a silent retreat is also an excellent means to come close to Jesus.
The more we become close to Jesus, the more we will be able to hear his whispering and to understand it with our heart as a call of love.
Then, what are some of the signs of a vocation to the religious life? In order to discover some of those signs, we need to know what a call to religious life is.
A call to religious life is a call to follow Christ with one's whole heart, of loving him more than anyone or anything else. Therefore someone who is called to religious life will find deep down in his heart a desire to grow as much as possible in love for Jesus.
Moreover, it is a call to become ever more conformed to Christ, ever more like Christ. Just like two friends, who spend much time in each other's company will tend to develop similar habits, so too by spending much time with Christ in a love -friendship, a religious will become more and more similar to him. Therefore someone who is called to religious life will be attracted to spend time in the company of Jesus.
A call to religious life is a call to follow Jesus: poor, chaste and obedient. And so, besides this attraction to the person of Jesus, someone who is called to religious life might also have the deep desire to observe the evangelical counsels as a commandment.
Someone who is called to religious life might also desire to participate in the Church's mission by participating in the service to the poor, the sick or the homebound. Or he or she will participate in the parish's religious education program or the youth group, and so on.
These are just a few general signs, they should not be taken as a rule. Every vocation is so unique that we cannot take these signs as a rule with which we can "measure" whether or not we have a vocation. Your vocation is very personal and it is truly the secret of Jesus' Heart that He wants to reveal to you.
A second thing is that you can visit a few communities that are living the religious life in a way that attracts you. There are many different religious communities, with so many different and beautiful charisms. You can visit some that particularly appeal to you. It is always good to spend a few days or even a week, because it takes some time to enter into the life those religious are living and to really "taste" it.
It is by spending time with a community and living the life of the brothers or sisters that we might discover that this actually is a life that attracts us, that this life answers all my deep desires, that this is where I feel at home. Or on the contrary: although we might see the beauty of the life and the charism of the community: this is not for me.
These are a few key elements of the process of discernment. A process which always takes time. It is over time, with the help of a spiritual director, that little by little you will be able to hear Jesus' call and to discern the signs of His call with more clarity.
Sr. Theresia Maria Holtschlag,
Associate Vocation Director,
Archdiocese of Newark.