Vocation Basics: Essentials for the vocation journey

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Essentials for your vocation journey


View and download Vocation Basics Spanish version | View and download Timeline French version

« Vo.ca.tion \vō-´kā-shən\ noun: a summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action, especially to the religious life; a response to one’s baptismal call to follow Jesus as a disciple in a life of holiness and service. From Latin vocatio (summons) and earlier vocare (to call) from vox (voice). »


How can I enter religious life and how long does it take?

Joining a religious community takes time—typically three to nine years—and involves several stages. While these vary, the basic stages include: candidacy, novitiate, and vows. In addition, becoming a religious priest generally takes four years of college, followed by several years of seminary, a college for preparing men for priesthood.

How important is prayer?

Prayer is central to religious life both in solitude and in community. Many in religious life spend about two hours a day praying at Mass, saying the Liturgy of the Hours and the Rosary, holy reading, or reflecting on scripture. Whatever shape it takes, prayer is a way to stay in communication with God and offer praise and thanksgiving, seek forgiveness, and petition for the needs of the world.

Do men and women religious work?

Just like most adults, religious sisters, brothers, priests, and nuns spend a portion of each day working—some in paid jobs related to their community’s charism, or spirit of the community; others in the ministries of their religious institute. The work of those in religious life often centers around serving others. Religious strive to share their lives with others and reveal Christ in all they do.

After people enter religious life, what happens if they are attracted to others in a romantic way?

Sisters, brothers, priests, and nuns experience normal human needs, feelings, and desires. As celibate people they choose to channel those feelings into other healthy directions. They work at remaining faithful to their vows of chastity through prayer, closeness to Jesus, good friendships, and physical exercise. It isn’t always easy to remain faithful to one’s vows, no matter one’s life’s calling. Dealing with challenges honestly can make a vocation stronger.

Can I spend time with family and friends after I enter religious life?

Each religious community has its own policies, and some, particularly cloistered, are fairly restrictive. However, all communities recognize that the support of loved ones is crucial for novices as well as vowed members and encourage contact with family and friends.


GOD CALLS all of us to be true to ourselves and live in ways that bring us the greatest joy, whether that be within marriage, single life, holy orders, consecrated life, or other vocations, such as:

AssociatesSingle and married laypeople who have a close bond with religious communities that offer this form of membership. Associates commit to integrating the community’s charism, or spirit, into their way of life and usually take part in some activities of the community.

Secular third orders Laypeople who follow the inspiration and guidance of a religious institute in their daily lives. Third order members are usually received into the religious community in a particular ceremony and pledge themselves to certain prayers and religious practices.

Permanent deacons Men ordained to minister in preaching, liturgy, counseling, and other forms of service in a diocese after a formal period of formation. Deacons may be married at the time they receive Holy Orders.

Diocesan hermits A relatively rare but ancient form of life that involves living a life of prayer and contemplation in solitude with the approval of the bishop.

Secular institutes A form of consecrated life in which members commit to a life of celibate chastity, poverty, and obedience while providing Christian witness wherever they live and work.

Consecrated virgins Women who commit to living in perpetual virginity supervised by the local bishop. Candidates for consecration must be women who have never been married, had children, or lived in violation of chastity.

Lay ecclesial movements Church organizations focused on a particular ministry or spirituality, or both. Examples include Cursillo and Focalare.


Prayer for discernment

LORD, help me to:

BOLDLY take charge of my life, aim for the most beautiful and profound things, and keep my heart pure.

RESPOND to your call, with the aid of wise and generous guides, and realize a proper plan for my life to achieve true happiness.

DREAM great dreams and always have a concern for the good of others.

STAND with you at the foot of the cross and receive the gift of your mother.

WITNESS to your Resurrection and the hope it brings.

BE AWARE that you are at my side as I joyously proclaim you as Lord. Amen.

—Pope Francis

Prayer for focus

DEAR LORD, focus my faith on you. Like Mary, Blessed Virgin, help me to see the great things you have done for me. By your mercy you lift me up and satisfy my hunger.
I give you glory.

DEAR LORD, focus my hope on you. Like Paul the Apostle, help me to concentrate on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and gracious.
I give you praise.

DEAR LORD, focus my love on you. Like Julian of Norwich, doctor of the church, help me to rest assured that all shall be well. Show me your meaning in all things, which is Love.
I give you thanks. Amen.

— VISION Vocation Guide


Find more information on religious vocations, religious life today, and discerning a vocation as a Catholic sister, nun, brother, or priest at VocationNetwork.org/en/articles/archive


Sister A woman religious who professes public vows to an apostolic, or active, religious institute, distinct from a nun, who lives an enclosed, contemplative life. Sisters have a legacy of dedicating their prayer and ministry to serving wherever the need is greatest, particularly with the abandoned, neglected, and underserved.

Nun Although the terms nun and sister are often used interchangeably, a nun belongs to a contemplative order, lives in a cloister, and devotes the majority of her time to prayer for the good of the world.

Brother A brother publicly professes vows to God and models his commitment by serving others as a minister of mercy and compassion in ways that express the charism of his religious institute. Striving to imitate Christ, a brother relates to others as Jesus did, as a brother to all.

Priest A religious priest professes vows in a religious institute and is ordained through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. A religious, or order, priest is accountable to his major superior and the other members of his community, as well as to the local bishop and the people he serves in ministry. Religious priests take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and any additional vows of their community. A diocesan priest is ordained through the Sacrament of Holy Orders to serve the local church primarily through parish ministry in a specific diocese/archdiocese. He is accountable to his bishop and the people he serves. A diocesan priest makes promises of obedience and celibacy to his bishop, but not vows of poverty or community living.


Apostolic Apostolic religious communities are engaged primarily in active ministries. While prayer and community are important elements of their life, members serve in many ways, including education, parish and youth ministry, healthcare, social work, and care for poor and elderly people.

Cloistered Contemplative religious communities are often cloistered or partially cloistered—that is, they live separated from the rest of the world to be more focused on prayer. As cloistered religious they rarely leave their monasteries, and all or most of their work is done within the monastery itself.

Contemplative Contemplative religious communities focus on daily communal prayer, especially the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours, and individual prayer, such as lectio divina, which is the prayerful reading of scripture. They live in relative solitude so that they can better direct their prayer and work toward contemplation, though some contemplative communities are engaged in active apostolic ministries.

Monastic Monastic men and women place a high value on prayer and living in community, but many are also engaged in active ministries, such as preaching, teaching, and spiritual direction. Monasticism centers on community life, work, and common and individual prayer.

Missionary Missionary communities focus on promoting the gospel in other countries or areas of their own country where the church is not yet present in a robust form. Missionaries serve in many different places in such ministries as preaching, teaching, advocacy, social services, and other forms of witness.


Charism A religious community’s spirit, way of life, and focus, which grows out of its history, traditions, and founder. From the Greek charisma meaning “gift,” charism guides decisions about mission and ministry.

Vows Members of religious communities—priests, sisters, nuns, and brothers—and others in consecrated life, such as members of secular institutes, take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Many communities add a fourth or fifth vow related to their charism, such as stability, hospitality, or service to the poor. In most religious communities new members take temporary vows for a specified length of time—and they may renew those temporary vows. The last, binding step is to profess perpetual vows. 


Discernment The process of reflecting and praying about how to respond to God’s call to follow Jesus as a disciple in a particular way of life. This time often involves prayer, spiritual direction, wise counsel, and holy reading.

Formation Education and spiritual development that takes place after joining a religious community.

Postulant A candidate requesting membership in a religious community before becoming a novice. The period of postulancy usually lasts six months to two years, during which time the candidate lives within the community while continuing his or her education or work experience.

Novice A new member taking part in the initial stage of entering a religious community. The novice is typically involved in discernment and formation activities, including studying the community’s charism, history, constitution, and way of life and learning more about themselves and their faith lives. This novitiate period usually lasts from 12 to 24 months. Novices then may go on to make their first profession of the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Profession The religious rite in which a person formally enters a religious community by making public vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, among others. Typically, religious make first profession and then three to nine years later perpetual profession, or final vows.




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