Hi Fr. Anthony,
I am currently discerning a call to a religious life, however, I am very confused as of which path to take. I realise what a sacrifice it would be, but on the other hand I recognise [to some extent] what a great gift it would be if I have been gifted with such a vocation. To give you a little background information-religious life has been on/off my mind for about a year now, the first time I ever thought I could be a nun was around spring time and after a while and not finding an answer to my discernment, I kinda gave up on discerning but it was at the back of my mind; whenever some one asked me what I wanted to be when I left school I told them I didn't know because in truth I didn't know whether it was my vocation to be nun or some other occupation. Anyway, I can't quite remember how but it came back into my mind again about two weeks ago and I've vigorously, like the last time it was on my mind, researched it and prayed about over it. I have two questions for you if you don't mind. One: I seem to be getting to no real conclusion in the past two weeks and I was wondering what your advice would be; should I ask the religious at my local parish for their guidance? Is it too soon to be asking for that and should I just keep praying? And two: I can see signs that tell me I'm meant to be a religious and other signs that I shouldn't be. What signs, if you please, would you point out to help me to gain a little more clarity over this matter. Thank you so much Fr. and God bless you in your ministry!
If your address means you're in the UK, greetings from neighboring Ireland!
Regarding your vocation discernment, it is very good that you recognize what a gift it would be, for we are sometimes more inclined to look at what it will cost than the greatness of what God is offering, and so we miss much of its beauty and worth. However, I think perhaps you may be a little too anxious and focused on getting an immediate answer. Some things take time, and while it is good to get started without delay and not drag your feet, it is not good to try to "cook the cake quicker by turning up the heat", as you know what happens then!
So, after the thought of a vocation comes to us, what needs to happen and what takes time? It is relatively easy to get information about a vocation; there are books, and there is this site and others like it. We can pray about it, but the tendency there is to go to prayer and ask God for an answer. Nothing wrong with that except that we normally expect the answer soon. The whole core of what a vocation is, is what takes time, and as a matter for fact it doesn't end when you have found your vocation and start out on it, rather it continues your whole life long.
What then is this core? Knowing and loving Christ.
This is what we have to focus on when feelings and thoughts of a vocation come to us, for it is the core of our Christian life no matter what our individual vocation is. So, instead of limiting prayer about a vocation to those times that we specifically ask our Lord for light to know what he wants us to do, put your whole Christian life into it, but not always thinking directly of the vocation. That might strike you as strange. What I mean is: you prayed and went to Mass before thinking of a vocation, right? Perhaps you didn't realize it, but you were laying the foundation there of your ultimate vocation, for you were giving Christ the place you knew he wanted you to, and you got to know something about him, you spoke to him, you confessed your sins to him, you received him in the Eucharist, you heard his word in Scripture. So, the thoughts of a vocation did not entirely come out of the blue, and when they came you recognized what a privilege it would be to be called by him-because the foundation was laid in your previous attempts to live your faith as you knew he wanted and in the knowledge and love of him that you grew in over time.
The point now is to focus directly on deepening and developing that knowledge and love. That's what takes time. A whole life-time, as a matter of fact. It should never stop. Put him at the center of all your motivation: Why do you behave yourself? Do it out of love for him. Why do you resist peer pressure, why do you study, pray, obey your parents, play and relax? Do it all to please Christ, and do it in the way you think will please him most. Ask him for the gift of knowing him more. Go to Mass and Communion as often as you can, and use the Sacrament of Confession regularly for the same reason. Read the Gospels, look at him there and listen to his words. This personal love for Christ is what is going to make your soul attune to him.
While this is your main focus, you can do all the other things as well. Ask him to show you your pathi in his own time and fashion. Look into the possibilities of consecrated life that you know about, go to some vocation activity or retreat, visit communities you know or that are recommended to you. Get the advice and guidance of a spiritual director. Don't worry, when you come across the path he has chosen as his gift for you, there will be a kind of "click", and you take it from there. So, deepen in your relationship with him with all confidence: he loves you and will lead you. And be active in looking around.