Vocational Discernment in the Catholic Church
Vocational discernment is the process in which men or women in the Catholic Church discern, or determine, their vocation in the Church. Though one may also speak of discerning a vocation to marriage or to life as a single person, discerning a vocation most frequently refers to a special vocation such as the priesthood or religious life. It has been argued that this common restriction of the term is a mistake, and even decreases religious vocations, because it discourages people who don't immediately feel called to the clerical state or consecrated life from engaging in vocational discernment.
Each diocese or religious institute usually has its own guidelines and advice for men or women discerning religious vocations. Many dioceses and religious institutes encourage men and women with potential vocations to spend time, usually anywhere from six months to a year, praying and asking God to enlighten them. Those who feel they might be called to a religious vocation are encouraged to seek a spiritual director to help them along the way. After the set time, many institutes have a formal discernment process which the candidate will engage in, before entering the ìnstitute as a novice, or the seminary. Candidates should be advised that some traditions hold that a person can feel the judgements of others, and so a perceived vocation may merely be the judgement of one's parish that one ought to be a priest.
For men there are a number of vocations in the Catholic Church. The most well known is the vocation to the Priesthood, as either a diocesan or a religious priest. A diocesan priest serves in a particular diocese and is under the local bishop. A religious priest (in this sense) is a member of a specific religious institute such as the Trinitarians, Holy Cross Fathers and Brothers or Jesuits.
In addition, men may be called to religious life as a non-ordained friar, monk or a Brother. Friars are members of mendicant orders, such the Franciscans or Augustinians. Monks are usually members of cloistered communities. Friars, monks, and religious Brothers all take vows of poverty, celibate chastity, and obedience. Benedictine monks take a vow of stability, which is a commitment to their particular community. Members of societies of apostolic life, without taking religious vows, emphasize apostolic service and are fully active in society.
Since the Second Vatican Council, it has become more popular to consider committed single life, marriage and/or parenthood as "lay" vocations, since each also requires a commitment to Christian faith and practice.
For women, vocational discernment would consist of feeling called to marriage, the life of a religious sister or nun, a consecrated member of a Secular Institute, or a Consecrated Virgin. The Catholic Church does not ordain women to the Priesthood. Religious Sisters are similar to active religious Brothers. Nuns, in the official context are cloistered.
Vocation to marriage
Traditionally the term vocation was used in the Catholic Church only to refer to priestly or religious vocations, the vocation to live a life directly consecrated to God. Thomas Aquinas, e.g., only explicitly uses the term vocation to refer to vocation to grace or conversion, or to enter religious life, though it has been argued that his teaching may be logically extended to include marriage as a vocation. In the twentieth century there has been a growing movement to extend the use of the term more widely. The Second Vatican Council taught that all Christians, whatever their state, are called "to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity". The conclusion drawn from this principle is that whatever way of life can be a full expression of Christian charity, and a means for growing towards the perfection of it, can be a vocation. Pope John Paul II teaches that there are two specific ways of realizing the vocation of the human person in its entirety, to love: marriage and virginity or celibacy.
It has been argued that associating vocation with particular states of life such as marriage or religious life is too narrow and that many Christian vocations do not fit neatly into those categories.
- Catholic religious order
- Institute of consecrated life
- Religious institute (Catholic)
- Secular institute
- Society of apostolic life
- Universal call to holiness
- Russell Shaw, Do You have a Vocation? (This Rock: April 2005).
- Pope John Paul II, Message for the 13th world youth day, n. 8.
- Joseph Bolin, What is a Vocation According to St. Thomas Aquinas.
- Lumen Gentium, n. 40
- Familiaris Consortio, n. 11
- Sherry Anne Weddell, The World Wide Web’s narrow view on vocation.
- Page of a Catholic Priest, portuguese
- The Brothers of the Poor of St. Francis of Assisi, CFP located in the United States, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Brazil, Regular Third Order, official vocational website
- Vocation.com offers Catholic vocation resources for promoting and discerning vocations.
- VocationNetwork.org information and free resources about Catholic religious vocations and life as a sister, brother, or priest.
- Vocation Quest offers resources for women discerning a call to become a Catholic Sister.
- VocationMatch.com helps those discerning a Catholic religious vocation sort through options and find the path that may be right for them.
- Paths of Love: Catholic Vocation Discernment focuses on love as the source for discerning every vocation.
- ConsecratedVirgins.org explains consecrated virginity in the Catholic Church.
- DigitalVocationGuide.org digital edition of VISION, the annual Catholic religious vocation discernment guide.