Vocation and Discernment

What is a religious vocation?

A vocation is a call from God to share intimately in His inner life of love. Out of His love, the Lord has created you— and you alone— for a specific mission. Your vocation is His invitation for you to share in God’s redemptive plan as a single or married person, civilian or military, or in such a specialized role as a Catholic military priest-chaplain who is both an ordained priest and a commissioned officer in the U.S. armed forces. The person in such a role is responding to a call within a call—a call to military service within a call to the priesthood.

Sometimes the pull of a vocation is strong, sometimes not. If it keeps coming back—if this call is that nagging tug on the heart—then it must be followed. You are being called by God to do something remarkable, and that call must be pursued, or you will spend the rest of your life wondering about it.

Hearing the call requires that you listen to the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit and learn to sift God’s voice from other voices. Perhaps more so than in the past, modernity offers so many paths to follow that hearing God’s voice in the midst of all this confusion can be difficult. Discerning a priestly or religious vocation can be especially challenging when others, even those close to us, discourage us.

“If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your heart.” -Psalm 95

What is discernment?

Discernment is the process by which you discover God’s will and plan for you. You may discern a call to the single, married, priestly, or religious life. You may discern a call to serve your country in the military. You may discern more than one call at the same time, and in fact, some vocations may overlap. Discernment is the way in which you come to understand how the Lord is calling and inviting you to serve Him. It enables you to distinguish God’s call from your own yearnings, the distractions of today’s world, and contrary voices which might attempt to obscure the gentle promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Discernment is more than just a skill or one-time process. It is an ongoing personal and spiritual journey that allows you to discern rightly for all matters — whether they be of a spiritual or material nature. Through prayer, experience, and a strong dedication to one’s spiritual life, discernment emerges as a gift from God, leading us in the right direction.

What is the priesthood?

The priesthood is a divinely instituted sacrament begun by Christ at the Last Supper in order to continue His ministry in the world. The priesthood is not an occupation, a job, or a profession; rather, it is a life of loving sacrifice and service to God and neighbor.

When considering the priesthood, a trained spiritual director is invaluable in discerning God’s will. A good spiritual director does not “direct” the outcome, but rather accompanies as a spiritual companion the discerner on a journey to a deeper awareness of God’s desired outcome made consistently, but gently, manifest in the persons, places and events of the discerner’s life. One cannot walk that path alone, for arriving at the decision to become a priest is impossible without the counsel and sanction of the Church. At the outset of this relationship, you can expect your spiritual director to listen to you very deeply. Good spiritual direction will also eventually involve aspects of affirmation, challenge, and feedback concerning your relationships with God and others as well as to your work and ministry.

What is a military chaplain?

A military chaplain is an ecclesiastically endorsed military officer commissioned by the President of the United States within the U.S. Department of Defense to serve the spiritual needs of service members and families in the armed forces of the United States, including the Coast Guard, and at times military veterans and others who serve the United States government overseas. Chaplains work in all kinds of military settings, including war zones, hospitals, and installations throughout the United States and abroad. Military chaplains come from a variety of faiths and religious denominations. The Catholic Church requires Catholic military chaplains to be ordained priests.

It is perhaps no coincidence that some men are called to a life in both the priesthood and the military. The two institutions require some of the same basic skill sets and values, including a commitment to a higher calling, self-discipline, obedience to authority, and service to others.

As a sacramental minister, the military chaplain must bring Christ and the healing presence of the Church to women and men serving in an endless range of uncomfortable, stressful, and often life-threatening circumstances. He must be prepared to transfer from homeland ministry to ministry in a war zone at a moment’s notice, and act as comforter to military service members and their families in a way few others will ever experience.

Providing for the spiritual and sacramental needs of men and women in uniform is an essential task, and priest chaplains are in higher demand now than ever before. Christ needs men to answer the call to the chaplaincy for the good of others, the Church, the country, and the world.

What does a call from God sound like?

God calls people in many different ways. You don’t have to wait for a lightning bolt or a supernatural vision. Most often the call from God is found deep within your own heart. It might manifest itself in different ways such as a desire to help others or to know God more deeply. If you enjoy being with people, especially during some of the most profound moments in their lives—their weddings, the birth of their children, the death of a loved one—the priesthood could be for you. No two callings are the same, just like no two priests are the same. If you think you are being called, follow your heart. If you do not, you will be left wondering for the rest of your life.

How do I know if I’m called?

As with every vocation, there are signs which may indicate a call to the priesthood. They include:

  • A deep and abiding love for Christ and his Holy Church.
  • An attraction to service—both to the Church and to the entirety of humanity.
  • A willingness to devote oneself entirely to the service of God.
  • An attraction to priestly ministry, priestly service and life as a priest.
  • A sense of calling to a greater purpose in life.
  • An invitation to consider the priesthood from a pastor, friend or someone close to you.
  • Mental, physical and emotional health necessary for such a vocation.
  • A general desire to serve Christ as a priest.

If you feel these signs have manifested themselves in your life, contact a priest or military priest-chaplain and the AMS Director of Vocations at vocations@milarch.org.

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore I ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers.” -Luke 10:2