Am I called? The first steps to discerning a vocation

by Susan Moses

North Texas Catholic


Long before ordination or profession of perpetual vows was the question, “Am I called to a religious vocation?” Whether God’s call is heard with clarity or a whisper, the first steps to the diaconate, priesthood, or religious life have many similarities.

Vocations begin at home
According to Father James Wilcox, director of vocations for the Diocese of Fort Worth, parents and their children should discuss vocations early and often.  A critical task of parents is supporting their children as they grow into whom God wants them to be.  A parent might note a child’s aptitude for math and recommend engineering, or observe a compassionate heart and suggest nursing. “Look at the gifts God granted to each child, and talk about how those gifts can serve the Church and how the child can grow in holiness,” he recommended.

Considering religious life
Prayer is the crux of discerning any religious vocation. “It’s in prayer that you hear the call,” said Fr. Wilcox.  Associate Director of Vocations Kim Brown agreed, “It’s all about the conversation with God and growing in that relationship.” 

The next step may seem big — attending one of the diocese’s many discernment events. But Fr. Wilcox countered that these are not recruiting events, but a chance to “really give you time away to pray and listen. They allow you to hear the voice of God in your life.” Another important purpose of the events is to foster relationships with others considering a religious vocation.

Discerning the priesthood
Thinking about the priesthood? Talk to your pastor, said Fr. Wilcox. “Have a conversation and learn what is the priesthood.” 

The next step is meeting with Fr. Wilcox, who will make suggestions to enrich his prayer life, invite him to discernment events, and perhaps introduce a spiritual director. 

Fr. Wilcox said, “We all have to answer the question, ‘What does God want me to do with my life?’ Everyone is called to live life in the fullness of joy that God has planned for you.”

Called to be a religious woman
For women considering a religious vocation, Brown encourages growing in prayer and focusing on the sacraments, including reconciliation.

At several discernment events throughout the year, women visit religious communities and meet other women who are discerning.

According to Brown, selecting a religious order compares to choosing a groom.  All profess vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity, and all live in community, but they have unique charisms and live out their vows in different ways.  Women see this by visiting, first for a weekend, then a week, and later a month.  “Like finding a husband, it has to be a match between the woman, the community, and God,” Brown explained.

Permanent Deacons
Who should be the first to know when a man is considering the permanent diaconate? His wife, said Juan Rendon, director of permanent deacon formation. If his wife is supportive, then the time is right to talk to his parish pastor and deacon.

According to Rendon, the formation process for deacons is intensive and lengthy, with at least six years of intellectual, spiritual, and personal formation. Both the prospective deacon and his wife need to understand the demands of formation and subsequent Church ministry.  In fact, the diocese requires the wife’s formal consent before a man is admitted to diaconate formation.

The 31 men currently in diaconate formation attend monthly group meetings, retreats, and small gatherings with a deacon mentor couple.  

“A religious vocation is a personal call, but it’s also the Church who calls.  You never enter formation alone,” Rendon said.

Long before ordination or profession of perpetual vows was the question, “Am I called to a religious vocation?” Whether God’s call is heard with clarity or a whisper, the first steps to the diaconate, priesthood, or religious life have many similarities.

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