This month, Pope Francis’ prayer intention, according to the Apostleship of Prayer, is “that young people may respond generously to their vocations and seriously consider offering themselves to God in the priesthood or consecrated life.”
What makes young men and women want to offer their whole life to God in this way?
Discerning “the call” to a religious life is different for each person. Sister Jennifer Barrow, who professed her first vows last year, said that she first thought about religious life in high school and in college. “I really did not know what it meant,” she said, reflecting on her journey.
After college, she completed a year of service with Mercy Volunteer Corps, a volunteer program of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. While volunteering in Texas, she realized she was attracted to “the joy of the Sisters (of Mercy), their prayerfulness and the care they show in community, the way they engage in service.”
Afterward, Sister Barrow went to law school while embarking on a discernment process with a spiritual director and a vocation minister. During this time of inquiry, she also visited the Mercy community and went on retreats. The charism of the Sisters of Mercy resonated in her heart, and after law school, she applied to become a Sister of Mercy, a process that takes at least seven years.
Like many other religious and priests, Sister Barrow prayerfully engaged in discernment during this process. Discerning the voice and call of the Holy Spirit from other calls or desires in life can help people, especially young people, to become who they were created to be.
God calls people with different backgrounds, personalities and life experiences.
As a reporter, in addition to meeting diocesan priests from across the world, I once met a Capuchin Franciscan brother who used to be in a gang, later pursued a career in finance and then realized that his vocation was to serve God and don a brown Franciscan habit.
I also met a young new member of the Poor Sisters of St. Joseph, who had wondered, “How do I know God is calling me?” and, “Is God calling me to live a life for him as a religious person?” soon after emigrating from El Salvador.
Recently I talked to two young men who, after a long process, are about to become Maryknoll priests and will be sent to any of the 20-plus countries where the missionary society serves.
All of their vocation journeys are unique and God’s hand is evident in the events that led them there. Once they discovered their vocation, they freely responded to God’s call; but this, too, was a process of continuous discernment and then life-giving commitment.
Scripture, prayer and the Eucharist are also common themes in their journeys to discover their vocations — and remain a constant while answering their call.
Sister Barrow, who now ministers as a public interest attorney practicing housing law, tells young people: “Don’t be afraid to start the discernment process,” which can be done with a diocesan vocation office or with a religious community or seminary while working with a spiritual director.
“Discernment is really just a commitment to deepening your relationship with God and being open to (wherever) that leads,” she said.