Four requirements of the Church
The Church in her wisdom enumerates four objective characteristics that are essential for a genuine religious vocation. They are:
- Right motivation
- Sufficient health (physical, psychological, and emotional)
- Sufficient intelligence (to understand the commitment of the vows)
- Freedom from impediment (marriage, debt, care for children or elderly parents)
To enumerate these short characteristics more fully, we list seven signs that indicate that a woman may well be called to be a Bride of Christ in religious life:
First Sign: a call initiated by God
Right motivation is very important. A genuine religious vocation wells up from within one's own heart. It does not originate in an external or circumstantial motive or pressure. Even if something external has prompted the beginning of your discernment, your call comes directly from the Lord of heaven and earth, and that external prompt is merely a confirmation of the desire that already exists in your own heart (buried though it may still be).
Second Sign: personal relationship with God
The call to be a Bride of Christ is a deepening of a relationship that already exists. One of the hallmarks of a religious vocation is a longing for greater intimacy with the Lord, a sense that there is "something more" than your current prayer life. A real friendship with God is the firm foundation upon which religious life can be built. But how do we foster a friendship with someone we can't see? A divine Someone? We get to know God ever more deeply through prayer and sacrament. Regular Mass, frequent Confession, and personal prayer time (especially with Scripture) are the pillars of a strong friendship with the Lord.
Third Sign: Free Response to the Call
What do you want? Is religious life something that you are freely choosing out of your own desire? Or does your heart sink under the pressure of a possible religious vocation? In the beginning of discernment, you may not be able to answer this question. A certain amount of fear and even dread or sadness is quite normal, but somewhere along the road of prayer and discernment, your vocation should be something you genuinely want for yourself, something that brings you great joy and peace.
fourth Sign: Good physical, psychological, and Emotional health
The objective capacity to live religious life is a necessity for any religious vocation. Religious life is an intense and rigorous life, lived closely with the other nuns. You must have the physical, psychological, and emotional health to live cheerfully and generously according to the Rule and the customs of the community you enter. This includes their schedule, diet, work, and penitential practices. In a contemplative monastery, you need to be able to handle a lot of silence and solitude.
Fifth Sign: sufficient maturity
Human maturity is not something that can be measured only by age. We grow in maturity all our lives, but a certain level of maturity needs to be reached before beginning life in a religious community. Community life requires each member to take personal responsibility, to give and receive forgiveness, to see beyond oneself and minister to others' needs, to make a sincere gift of self. You must be ready to put up with yourself and with others for the long-haul; to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.
sixth Sign: Desire and capacity for Living the Vows
If God is truly calling you to be His bride in religious life, He will give you both an appreciation for the beauty of this call, and the capacity to live it. The prospect of being bound to Christ through the wedding vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience is both sacrifice and gift. It makes a total gift to God of the best goods that we humans have: our natural capacity and desire for marriage and family, our right to own possessions, and our right to govern ourselves according to our own will.
Seventh Sign: Interest in the Specific Charism of the Institute
This sign is more specific to particular religious communities, and will likely manifest itself as you become more familiar with various orders. If the Lord is calling you to the contemplative life, He will place in your heart a desire to pour yourself out in prayer and sacrifice for the sake of His glory and His work of salvation. You will discover in your heart a resonance with a particular community's way of living out that self-oblation -- the Carmelite Nuns, the Dominican Nuns, the Benedictine Nuns, the Passionist Nuns....
A genuine religious vocation will be discovered in the depths of your heart. Be not afraid! The Lord will lead you to safe harbor if you but entrust your ship to the gentle wind of the Holy Spirit.
Many thanks to Sr. Clare Matthiass, CFR, for her wonderful book, Discerning Religious Life, which helped us to enumerate this list. Her book is a fantastic resource for any young woman in the throes of discernment!