How do I know if God is calling me to be a priest, or get married, or whatever?

Some people hear the call to religious life when they are in first grade. Others seem to receive the call after they have spent a decade in a professional career. Each calling is a bit different. But whether you hope to get married, be ordained, or live a life offered to God through religious vows, all are ways of serving God. Some people also serve God in the single life. We can know what God is calling us to if we learn to listen to him.

Here are several things you can do to listen to him.

Set a daily prayer time and stick to it. To hear God’s calling, you must listen. To listen to God, we must learn to pray. To learn to pray, we must make time to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to teach us how. Listening to him involves patience and obedience, so be still in your prayer time and allow God to speak in the silence of your heart. This takes practice, but like any good relationship, your relationship with God will deepen according to how much effort you put into it. Sin damages this relationship, so work toward holiness.

Though we may not associate chastity with discernment, it is an essential virtue if we hope to hear our calling. When a young man or woman is indulging in sexual sin, the mind seems to be filled with such dull and heavy thoughts that he or she can hardly recognize the voice of God.

Also, it is wise to find a holy priest who can act as your spiritual director. He probably has been listening to God’s voice since before you were born, so you can benefit from his sanctity. Also speak about your vocation with people whose holiness and joy you admire.

Pope John Paul II advises: “In the first place I say this: you must never think that you are alone in deciding your future! And second: when deciding your future, you must not decide for yourself alone!”[1] “Confidently open your most intimate aspirations to the love of Christ who waits for you in the Eucharist. You will receive the answer to all your worries and you will see with joy that the consistency of your life which he asks of you is the door to fulfill the noblest dreams of your youth.”[2] “The search and discovery of God’s will for you is a deep and fascinating endeavor. Every vocation, every path to which Christ calls us, ultimately leads to fulfillment and happiness, because it leads to God, to sharing in God’s own life.”[3]

If you are considering the priesthood, it is beneficial to spend some time on a good discernment retreat, if one is available. One other method of discernment is to reflect on your life: look at what doors the Lord has opened or shut in your life, and look at what talents he has given you and what desires he has placed in your heart. Often we complicate the discernment process more than we need to, and we lose our peace. Whatever vocation God calls you to, this will be the place where you will have the most joy. Each vocation will have plenty of suffering as well, but all vocations are ways that we can become holy.

Some guys assume, “I think women are beautiful, so God must not want me to be a priest.” But this is not sincere discernment. I know of a mother superior of nuns who gave some surprising advice to a group of young men who were discerning the priesthood. She lovingly said to the seminarians, “If you have no desire to be a father and a husband, we don’t want you here. Good-bye.” In other words, in order to be a good priest, a man must long to become a father and a spouse. If those urges are not within his heart, how can be become a spiritual father? How can he give himself fully for his bride, the Church? When a man becomes a priest, he is not annihilating those desires. He is fulfilling them in a different way. Instead of giving himself to a woman in order to bring children into this world, he gives himself to the Church in order to bring us into eternal life.

During this time of discernment, be patient. Often God does not want us to know his will regarding the future. That may sound strange, but we grow in the times where he seems silent. His will is our holiness, and trusting in him during this time of uncertainty may be all he is calling you to right now. In the meantime I recommend that you pray one Hail Mary each day for your vocation. During your prayer time, be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, who speaks with consistency. During the 2002 World Youth Day in Canada, Pope John Paul II exclaimed, “[I]f, in the depths of your hearts, you feel the same call to the priesthood or consecrated life, do not be afraid to follow Christ on the royal road of the cross!”

May Our Lady guide you to hear the voice of her Son and give you the courage to respond generously. In the words of Pope John Paul II: “My desire is for the young people of the entire world to come closer to Mary. She is the bearer of an indelible youthfulness and beauty that never wanes. May young people have increasing confidence in her and may they entrust the life just opening before them to her.”[4]

Lastly, I recommend you take a few minutes to watch the video Fishers of Men here to see a glimpse of the dignity of the priestly vocation. And, click here to look into some great religious orders for men.

[1]. Pope John Paul II, address, May 31, 1982, Edinburgh, Scotland, as quoted by López, ed., The Meaning of Vocation, 10.
[2]. Pope John Paul II, address, May 18, 1988, Asuncion, Paraguay, as quoted by López, ed., The Meaning of Vocation, 22.
[3]. Pope John Paul II, address, January 13, 1996, Manila, Philippines, as quoted by López, ed., The Meaning of Vocation, 23.
[4]. Pope John Paul II, address, October 16, 1987, Rome, Italy, as quoted by López, ed., The Meaning of Vocation, 33.

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