The Religious State can be the portion only of an elite: that is to say, of chosen souls. A special vocation is required of those who aspire to walk this narrow and uphill path. One cannot become a religious, just by wanting. We are now going to study the existence and nature of this vocation; its indications and the moral obligation to follow it.
In the etymological sense of the word, vocation means “call.” The religious vocation, therefore, might be merely a call to leave the world, to enter a religious Order, and there to consecrate oneself for life to the service of God.
In fact this call, when it concerns the priesthood or the religious state, is twofold-a call of grace and a call of Authority; the latter being merely the official verification and, as it were, the authentic confirmation of the former. The first comes directly from God, the second from God’s representatives.
Together, they make up a true vocation in every sense of the term.
Considered under its ascetical and mystical aspect — for there is nearly always, in the history of a soul, a share of mystery — the vocation is the echo of a divine choice. From all eternity, God has determined a state of life for man created by Him; marriage, celibacy, ministry, or religion. It is the duty of each one to keep watch for the message.
The spiritual and physical world is composed of a countless number of beings, each of which has its nature, its place, its function and its end. The daisy blooms in the meadows, the bluebell in the woods, and the edelweiss near the snowy summits of the mountains. One flower is grown for its beauty, another for its scent, yet another for its healing properties. In the sky we see an amazing variety of wonders; sun, planets, satellites, stars lying thick as dust. Heaven too, has its hierarchy rising from the Angels to the Seraphim, through the Thrones, Powers, Dominations and Cherubim.
Diversity within unity is found again in the Church. While all baptized souls have a common origin and an identical destiny, none the less, each has its own particular perfection, its special place and its part to play. Pilgrims of eternity, all are making their way to the Father’s House, but not along the same road. Every Christian has his special vocation.
This vocation is the natural issue of the act of creation. When He drew us out of nothingness, God traced our life’s progress in advance, and it is up to us to carry it out to the best of our ability. He is the Absolute Lord of our being, His is the right to use us, according to the designs of His Providence, for the glory of His Name.
How indeed, could man possibly be entitled to organize his existence to suit himself, according to the whims of his own will and the fantasy of his passions? The Creator has in no wise relinquished His sovereign rights, and He intends to govern His people, mildly, it is true, but none the less strongly, determining for each of His subjects his rank, his position and his work. For a Christian, perfect and loving conformity with the divine plans constitutes the fundamental law and the sole labor of his sanctification: to be where God wants him to be, and to do always what God wants him to do.
What will become of this newborn babe? Will he found another family? Will he become a religious, a priest? None knows, save God who has chosen; and of all possible choices, His is the best, inspired as it is by infinite knowledge, wisdom and goodness.
The vocation is the masterpiece of Providence. God knows His creature through and through, with its qualities and defects, its aspirations and leanings, its aptitudes and failings, and He knows to what use it can be put in the workshop of the world. He knows what we are, better than we do ourselves; He has weighed our physical, intellectual and moral assets, and measured our potentiality of output. The nobleman in the parable did not commit the same number of talents to each of his servants. Taking into account our worth and our ability, God, like a good captain, determines for each his occupation and his task.
This is both sensible and wise. If Providence has care of the sparrow, the lily of the field, and the hair of our heads, how can man, the child of Providence, be abandoned? With greater solicitude than that of a mother bending over the cradle of her babe, the Heavenly Father looks after us, our temporal and eternal destiny, our labors, sufferings and needs. Nothing escapes Him. Not content with showing us our destination and our road, He becomes the faithful companion of our pilgrimage; He is the sun that shines on us, the spring that refreshes us, the bread that nourishes, the arm on which we lean, the smile that cheers our hearts, the grace in a thousand different forms which preserves, forgives, purifies, sanctifies and, at the end, saves.
Happy the man who puts his trust in Providence, and follows its guidance blindly, lovingly, step by step, without evasion or encroachment. Our vocation is the invention of a love that is infinite and eternal. It is a free gift, above price, and comes directly from the heart of God.[…]
There is nothing simpler or more complicated, more luminous or more obscure, more painful or sweeter, more natural or more astounding than the birth of a vocation. Each one has its own history.
Some appear to have known their undeviating path from the earliest years, and thanks to an extraordinary concomitance of providential circumstances. At the age of six or seven, they were already saying, very seriously: “Mummy, I’m going to be a priest; Daddy, I’m going to be a nun.” Their course is like a river flowing from its source to the ocean between flowery banks, through a broad plain, slowly and majestically, without encountering a single obstacle; like a beautiful length of silk or velvet, unrolling without a crease, with its varied and magnificent designs.
Others on the contrary, hesitate for a long time, feel their way, turn back, like travelers lost by night in a trackless moorland, seeking a signpost. At last, day dawns; suddenly the path appears, leading straight toward the sunlit horizon.
Again, a religious vocation may be revealed at the time of some trial, loss, frustration, set-back or illness. The flesh or the heart is bruised; the soul is freed from the futile preoccupations of earth, and suffering, the herald of God, has brought an imperative summons, “Come, follow me.” How many, on the battlefield or in the prison camp, have found the way to the Seminary or the cloister! Disgusted with a mad or criminal world, the soul hastens to find a solitude, where it may devote itself exclusively to those things that are eternal.
— From The Practice Of The Three Vows (pages 21-25)