If you wanted to be a journalist, it would make sense to talk to someone who works at a newspaper. If you wanted to be a chef, it would make sense to talk to someone who works at a restaurant.
Just so, if you feel an attraction to the priesthood or religious life, sooner or later you have to talk to a Vocation Director about it — especially because these vocations are far more than just a career.
It might make some people nervous to think about contacting the Vocation Director. It feels like a big step, especially if you’ve never told a soul that you've been considering the priesthood or religious life. But it’s really not as big a step as you may imagine, and there’s absolutely no reason to feel nervous about it.
Vocation Directors of a religious order or the Diocese are, first and foremost, available to talk with you and answer questions about any aspect of discernment. They will not try to convince you to become a priest or religious. You don’t suddenly become a “hot lead” when you make contact, receiving daily calls and emails. While it’s their job to direct men and women to find their vocations, they primarily want to help you understand what God wants you to do. Pressuring people into specific vocations is inevitably disastrous. Instead, the Vocation Director wants you to understand your call from Christ in a genuine way.
Also, be assured that the Vocation Director has talked to both better and worse candidates than you, so don’t get all hung up on your unworthiness. If you feel God may be knocking on the door of your heart, you must open up to see if He's really calling. Don’t worry that you’re not perfect; nobody is, religious and priests included.
Eventually (though certainly not at the first contact) you really do have to tell these Vocation Directors your imperfections, even the big stuff. It is important that they get to know you, warts and all, to make a determination if and when you should move forward. But don’t let that make you uneasy. Even though it's difficult, acknowledging your problems will help you to live your life better in the short term and the long term. Moreover, sometimes problems can be worked out more easily than you may think.
Even if you don’t have a burning, must-act-now desire to pursue your vocation, you can still call the Vocation Director. You can be 15 years old, a sophomore in high school, and simply want a few answers to your questions. In fact, if you’re still young, it’s a good idea to contact the Vocation Director, simply to introduce yourself: “Hi Father, this is Justin. I just wanted to let you know I’m praying about the priesthood. Do you have any pointers for me?” or “Hi Sister, this is Janet. I just wanted to let you know I’m praying about the religious life. What did you do to figure all this out in your life?”
Lastly, Christ calls you to your particular vocation through the Church, meaning eventually you will have to approach the Vocation Director to discover if religious life or the priesthood is your true vocation. They cannot tell you what God’s call is or is not in your life, but they are necessary in telling you if you are being called to explore further with that particular order or Diocese. Be encouraged, though, the Church loves you deeply and wants the best for you, so don’t be afraid to make that call.
“If, in spite of your personal effort to follow Christ, you are sometimes weak and do not live in conformity to the law of love, to the commandments, do not be discouraged. Christ continues to wait for you. He, Jesus, is the Good Shepherd who searches for the lost sheep and who tenderly bears it on his shoulder. Christ is the friend who never lets you down.”
—Pope Saint John Paul II, Paraguay, 1988
Fr. J.D. Jaffe
Director of the Office of Vocations
This article is from a previous issue of our Discernment Insights e-newsletter. You can subscribe as well as access the archive for past newsletters on topics like abandonment to God's will, why have a spiritual director, celibacy, and more.