Vocation Basics: Essentials for the vocation journey

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« 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.

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

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

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, Adoration, 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; others in the ministries of their religious institute. Religious strive to share their lives with others and reveal Christ in all they do.

After people enter religious life, what happens if they fall in love?

Sisters, brothers, priests, and nuns 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.


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:

Associates Single 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 or had children, and have lived chaste lives.

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


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


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. Religious priests take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and any additional vows of their community. A diocesan priest is ordained to serve the local church 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, such as education, parish and youth ministry, healthcare, social work, and care for poor and elderly people. Prayer and community are important elements of their life.

Cloistered Cloistered (enclosed) or semi-cloistered communities rarely leave their monasteries or convents, where they work, pray, and share meals. Like contemplative communities, their main charism is typically prayer.

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 direct their prayer and work toward contemplation, though some contemplative communities are engaged in active apostolic ministries.

Monastic Monastic communities place a high value on prayer and communal living, but many in monastic life are also engaged in active ministries, such as preaching, teaching, and spiritual direction. Monasticism centers on common life, work, and prayer, and, often, adherence to a specific Rule.

Missionary Missionary communities focus on promoting the gospel in areas where the church is not yet present in a robust form. Missionaries serve in many different places as preachers, teachers, advocates, social service ministers, among many 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 Men and women in consecrated life 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 institutes new members take temporary vows for a specified time, which they may renew. The final step is to profess perpetual vows.


Discernment The process of reflecting and praying about how to respond to God’s call to follow Jesus in a particular way of life.

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

Postulancy Usually lasting six months to two years, the time the candidate lives within the community while continuing his or her education or work experience.

Novitiate Usually lasting from 12 to 24 months, a time after entrance that typically involves studying the community’s charism, history, constitution, and way of life and learning more about the Catholic faith.

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.


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




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