What do I do Next?

Moving Forward

Interpreting the signs

There are various signs which suggest the best path for you. On their own, these signs, whether suggesting priesthood, the consecrated life or marriage, are not enough. They are hints that the Lord may be speaking to you and calling you in a particular direction. Like any language, they need interpreting, and you need help to interpret them. If it seems to you that some of these signs are very clear and strong, or if many of them seem to come together and add up and begin to form a pattern, then this can be the clearest sign that the Lord is calling you at least to investigate and humbly take the next step. And if these signs are missing, or they are very weak in your life, then the Lord is probably not calling you, at least not yet.

The overarching sign of a vocation will be an enduring pull in a certain direction, that is accompanied by a sense of peace and joy as you reflect on this attraction. This does not mean the attraction will be without fears and anxieties and struggles (of course you are a bit anxious!). But if the idea of priesthood or consecrated life itself comes with a deep sense of panic or fear or anxiety (this is different from the natural humility and reluctance we feel) it may mean it is not right for you, and you would be much happier somewhere else! Usually, God gives us enough to go on – he does not play games with us.

Trying to move forward

There is no need to be paralysed or stuck. If you are discerning, that’s fine. Follow the advice that we propose elsewhere about how to be open to your vocation. Be patient – things will become clearer. If you are really confused and stuck, and not sure which way to go, with contradicting signs and signals – then follow the advice about how to make a decision, and try to make some kind of provisional decision.

Taking the next step

If these signs grow stronger and come together, then you should take the next step. It might be to talk to your parish priest, or the vocations director of the diocese, or the novice master or mistress of the congregation you are interested in. You move to a new stage in your discernment, which is trusting in the discernment of the Church. This discernment is more objective and ‘public’. It involves other people, and ultimately it involves the Bishop or superior of the congregation. It can be difficult and humbling, because in some sense you are putting your future in the hands of others. These are the people who have the final responsibility of calling people on behalf of Christ. It is no longer just you trying to find what is right for yourself. If you eventually make an application to join, then you are trusting in the wisdom of those who assess your application. If you are accepted and begin formation, then you are trusting in the formation programme and the ongoing assessment process involved. All of these public responses are ‘signs’; they are ways that the Lord helps you and guides you; and ultimately you should listen to them as much as to the personal signs of vocation you have discovered in your own life. It is when your personal sense of calling comes together with the public response of the Church that you can be confident it is the right time to try and move forward.

Trusting the Church

At the end of the day, you can trust the Church to help you discern. If the diocese or congregation encourages you and then formally accepts you, then this is a reasonable sign that the Lord is inviting you at least to take the next step into formation. It still leaves many years to discern and become sure – but you can have the assurance that you are doing the right thing for the moment. If the diocese or congregation holds you back or says no, then this is a reasonable sign that God is leading you to something else, something that is right for you, a different kind of vocation. Deep down, despite some possible disappointment, you can be grateful for the clarity this decision brings. And if the attraction doesn’t go away, and other wise people encourage you, you can try again in different circumstances.

Certain essential requirements

There are certain basic requirements that you normally need if God is really calling you to the priesthood or consecrated life, and if these are lacking then this path is probably not for you at this time in your life – although it may show itself later on. This is just an informal explanation of some of these requirements – you will need to talk to the vocations director or religious congregation to be clear about the official requirements. It is really important to talk to someone about these areas (the vocations director; the novice master or mistress; your spiritual director). If something concerns you here, do not just panic and rule yourself out, as we often judge our situation too quickly or too harshly, and there may be other factors which are greatly in your favour.

The basic requirements that you need usually include: A commitment to your Catholic faith – a love for Christ, for the Sacraments, for the Church (even if you are aware of your weakness and failings). A commitment to the commandments and to living a moral life (even if you are weak and still struggle); you are trying to live a chaste life. Basic physical and mental health (serious medical conditions will make it difficult for you to live and work as a priest or consecrated person). A personal and emotional maturity (it will be very difficult for you to live in seminary or community, and to engage in pastoral work or a routine of prayer, if you have some deep and unresolved psychological issues; if you can’t get on comfortably with different people; if you are really struggling with some kind of addiction or anything else that is dominating your life at this moment). You are not married; you do not have any big responsibilities that would take away your freedom to become a priest or consecrated person (e.g., children; huge debts; etc.).

(Photo: mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)