Vocational discernment in the Catholic Church 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 order usually has its own guidelines and advice for men or women discerning religious vocations. Many dioceses and religious orders 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 orders have a formal discernment process which the candidate will engage in, before entering the order as a novice, or the seminary.
Vocational discernment for men
For men vocational discernment could include the Priesthood, which could be as a Diocesan priest or as a Religious priest. A Diocesan priest serves in a particular diocese and is under the local bishop. A Religious Priest is one who is a member of a specific religious order such as the Trinitarians, Holy Cross Fathers and Brothers or Jesuits. A man discerning a vocation could feel drawn to the life of a friar. Friars are members of mendicant orders, such the Franciscans or Augustinians. They take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Some men in the church, when discerning might consider the life of a monk. Monks are cloistered Priests and religious brothers who live simple lives, away from the world in community. Some men might feel called to be a permanent deacon. Others might feel called to the life of a hermit, or to be consecrated members of a Secular Institute.
Vocational discernment for women
For women, vocational discernment would consist of feeling called to 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.
- 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.
- Religious Order
- Mendicant order
- Universal call to holiness
- 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.
- Vocation-Network.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.