How Do I Know?

Discernment: The Call To Religious Life

How do you know if you have a vocation to religious life? First of all it is not the typical experience for God to call in dramatic or earth shattering ways. The call for most people is gradual and organic; a whisper, an inclination, a thought that keeps recurring. You begin to get in touch with God’s desire by taking the time to be quiet and to reflect upon the inner stirrings of your own heart. What are your deepest longings? What is your vision and dream for the future and the kind of person that you want to be? When you think about religious life how do you feel? Are you energized? Excited? Hopeful? Peaceful? Alive? It is also common to feel scared and apprehensive. These are natural feelings for anyone who is discerning a life decision. Feelings of apprehension and fear will come and go, but they are not the predominant feelings.

If God is calling you to religious life, God is not asking you to deny who you are, but rather to become more fully the person that God has created you to be. The congregation that you are contemplating entering, should be a place where you feel at home. It is crucial that you feel connected with the group and what the group is about in their mission and ministry. The community needs to be a place where you can be yourself and use the gifts and talents that God has given you. As Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB states, “It is not about simply going through the motions, it is about the development of self to the point of unbridled joy.” This is what vocation is about. It is about living life to the full.

It is about “what we do with the fire inside of us and how we channel our passion” says Fr. Ronald Rolheiser in his book The Holy Longing.

Does the vision and dream of religious life, and of a particular religious congregation, fit with your vision and dream for the world and for yourself? Do you have the desire, skills and gifts to live that vision well, and joyfully as a religious?

Thomas Merton writes, in New Seeds of Contemplation, “It takes heroic humility to live faithfully and fully, life in all its complexity, and walk and dream and strive to be our mysterious self in the Great Mystery. But that is what sanctity is. (This is what vocation is!) Walking in our own shoes, limping and running, and being formed by the journey. Our ‘perfection’ (fulfillment) comes with each step and each choice to keep moving toward the face of God. It takes heroic humility to be who we are.”

O mysterious Artist, who uses my life to paint new color for the world, give me the courage to receive your unique gifts in my life. Be my sanctuary when I become afraid of becoming that full being that is uniquely your presence within me. Sustain me and help me walk gracefully in the true beauty you call forth from me.Give me the heroic humility to be as you would have me be. Amen. ~Thomas Merton

Helpful Steps in Discernment ~ Trying to figure out if religious life is for you!

  1. Take time for prayer and quiet reflection. Listen for the answer taking shape in your heart.
  2. Journal - it is often helpful to keep a journal. What about religious life is most appealing to you? What are your hopes, desires, fears, concerns? When you think of yourself as a religious sister, how does it feel? What do you think will be some of the challenges?
  3. Begin to gather information on religious life and religious communities. You cannot make a good decision for yourself if you do not have the information. Some good resources are: Vision Magazine -,, Vocations Anonymous, a book on discernment by Sr. Kathleen Bryant, and the video, A Different Path which can be obtained by contacting
  4. You may want to begin meeting with a spiritual director. A spiritual director is someone who can assist you in your prayer life and discernment. Spiritual directors are trained to help people identify the movements of God’s spirit. The director will not give you the answer but will help you to discover the answer to your heart’s longings within yourself. You may contact the Diocese or retreat houses in your area to obtain a list of spiritual directors in your area. It is possible to interview the person before actually asking them to be your director. Be sure you are comfortable with this person.
  5. Be active in your parish, your community or some type of service opportunity, if you are not already doing so.
  6. Visit some religious communities. A visit can be planned with the help of the vocation director. Speak with the vocation director of your diocese or a particular religious community.
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