By the time I knew there was such a thing as a “vocation,” mine was completely set and fixed for life. I probably started hearing about vocations when I was happily married for 10 to 15 years. That was when I started attending Mass seasonally (Advent & Lent) with my wife who reverted to Catholicism after a protestant/pagan dalliance due to marrying me.
Because protestants watch movies, they know that nuns exist. (Have you ever noticed that a lot of movies have at least one cameo appearance of some sister in habit? Maybe the costume department likes to keep the nun habits in good form.) But that’s about all they know. Every good protestant is expecting to marry someday and most spend their college years scoping out that eventuality.
After 10 years as an “associate Catholic,” I decided to make it real and entered the Church on my 45th birthday. I’ve met plenty of cradle Catholics who are very engaged with their faith, but converts are well-known to be a little over the top. I toyed with the idea of permanent deacon for about 1/2 a day, but was warned off by some folks who thought it would be better for me to keep doing what I was doing so I could continue to underwrite expensive building projects. What they didn’t know was that I had retired from that lucrative career and what I had was I all was ever going to have. But the “stay lay” advice still was good for me.
I didn’t give vocations much thought for the next couple years while enjoying all those freshly minted Catholic experiences. Then the pastor of my parish tracked me down one day and changed my life: “I know this guy who wants to try his vocation but has $40K in unpaid student loans. You can fix that, right?”
Fifteen years and 250 vocation stories later and the concept of a vocation is never far from my mind. As a person who fell into his vocation by following the default position of his young life, I may not be the best judge of how to go about choosing a vocation. But I do think that there is rather more stress surrounding this activity than there should be. Particularly as the first eight years of religious life involves temporary vows while the one and only vow of married life is only terminated by death.
So if you are free of encumbrances and have any inkling that God wants you in religion, spend a week looking at the communities near you and then start corresponding with one or more of them. You will immediately encounter folks who know a thing or two about vocations and can help you get it right, which may mean going off to find some one person to accompany you though life.
And use this prayer daily, which I cribbed from the Dominican nuns formerly of Buffalo but now of Heath, Ohio:
Lord, my God and my loving Father, you have made me to know you, to love you, to serve you, and thereby to find and to fulfill my deepest longings. I know that you are in all things, and that every path can lead me to you. But of them all, there is one especially by which you want me to come to you. Since I will do what you want of me, I pray you, send your Holy Spirit to me: into my mind, to show me what you want of me; into my heart, to give me the determination to do it, and to do it with all my love, with all my mind, and with all of my strength right to the end. Jesus, I trust in you. Amen.