Rev. Sr. Juliet Ezenwaka SJS
The vocation to the Consecrated Life is a special call from God to follow Jesus more closely. Paragraph 916 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “In the Consecrated Life, Christ’s faithful, moved by the Holy Spirit, propose to follow Christ more closely, to give themselves to God who is loved above all and, pursuing the perfection of charity in the service of the Kingdom, to signify and proclaim in the Church the glory of the world to come”.
The best way to discern whether you are called to religious life is to prepare for religious life. In the same way that an athlete prepares for a competition or a student for university study, you can begin readying yourself now for religious life. For instance, when St. Thomas Moore discerned whether he should become a priest, he did so by engaging in “exercises of piety, looking to and pondering on the priesthood in vigils, fasts, and prayers, and similar austerities.” In other words, his discernment was a form of preparation—he entered deeply into the spiritual life and, in doing so, obtained an answer as to his vocation.
Also, St. Teresa of the Andes discerned through preparation. She entered the Carmel of Los Andes in Chile at age nineteen, having spent four or more years preparing for religious life. On her fifteenth birthday, she wrote “the future hasn’t been revealed to me, yet Jesus has pulled back the curtain and I have glimpsed the beautiful shores of Carmel.” She “embarked on a very structured prayer life,” through which she strove to be a “Carmelite in the world.”
During this time, Teresa often experienced great dryness and aridity in her prayer life. Nevertheless, she attended daily Mass, spent time in prayer, dutifully fulfilled her obligations as a student, served others with love, and cheerfully made sacrifices for the conversion of sinners. She considered herself “betrothed” to Jesus and offered gifts of sacrifice and prayer to Him as part of their courtship:
If you think you have a call, try and practice the following …
- Make effort to attend daily Mass – one who is discerning a call to religious life is encouraged to participate in the daily celebration of Mass so that she can grow in her relationship with the Lord.
- Sacrament of Penance – Make frequent Confessions (at least once a month). The celebration of the Sacrament of Penance is how a woman attempts to live a holy life – through the frequent confession of sins and by the grace of God.
- Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament – Make it a point of duty to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. This is a powerful way to grow in love with the Eucharistic Lord and to grow in the spiritual life.
- Daily Prayer – this is time set aside for God alone, usually in a quiet place at a specific time each day. This prayer time might consist of talking to the Lord in one’s own words or praying the Sacred Scriptures, especially the Gospels. Developing a daily habit and pattern of prayer will help the young woman to hear more clearly the call of the Lord.
- Find a Spiritual Director or Directress – speaking with a priest or qualified individual trained in a direction about one’s prayer life and seeking advice from this person regularly is very helpful as one discerns a vocation to the religious life.
- Discernment programmes – attending a weekend retreat at a religious community, vocation evenings or joining a discussion group of other young women discerning a vocation are invaluable in helping one to come to greater clarity about God’s call to religious life.
- Devotion to the Blessed Mother – praying the rosary daily and seeking the powerful intercession of the Blessed Mother is especially recommended in the discernment process.
- Get involved – in some form of service with the Church. For example, outreach to the poor, lecturing at Mass, joining Mary League or altar girls etc. are ways to give one a taste of religious life and may also increase one’s desire for religious life and service.
- Look into the various religious orders (Benedictine, Carmelite, Dominican, Franciscan, Ignatian, Savourite, Immaculate Hearts Sisters.) and their charisms. You can try talking to people who are already in the field. If you must do that, find someone who is in the authentic religious congregation so that you don’t make mistakes. This is because there are a lot of congregations that are not approved by the Church
- Talk to a Vocation Director or Directress- to obtain further information about religious life. The vocational director may also help through regular meetings to help in discerning with the young woman the authenticity of the call.
Above all, start Visiting Sisters! You can make out time to visit sisters you know and spend time with them, listen to their vocation stories, ask all your trivial and serious questions, and experience their prayer, community life, and Apostolates.