By Fr. Hau Vu
So many people often dwell on the question of, “how does one know if God is truly calling him or her to become a priest or religious?” I often reflected on this question myself when I was a seminarian, and what I found to be true is that there isn’t a straightforward answer. And thank God there isn’t a one size fit all response to that question, because no one is the same.
For example, how a Catholic person encounters God is different for each. One person may encounter God through the meditation of Sacred Scripture and another person may encounter God through art. God really doesn’t limit how we encounter Him, but it must be done of course in the context of what is revealed to us through Sacred Scripture and Tradition. In the same manner, God doesn’t limit the ways in which He may call a person to be a priest, religious or deacon.
One way a person may be called to the priesthood or religious life is through signs, symbols and the use of our faculties. As human beings we use signs and symbols to help us direct our life and make meaning out of it. For example, the sign of the Cross for us Catholics is a reminder that our life is made for God and we are given salvation through the Cross of Jesus Christ. However, the meaning of the Cross isn’t limited to those two meanings. With the use of our faculties, our intellect, emotions, will, desires, senses and intuition, we can derive more meaning from that one sign of the Cross.
However, how we derive those meanings isn’t just solely coming from the use of our faculties; more importantly, it is rooted in our encounter with the Word of God through the Scriptures, the Sacrament, the Sacred Traditions and the Catholic Church. The signs we encounter within our faith journey are the means that points us to Jesus. Therefore, if we want to make meaning out of these signs, we must first encounter God.
So often, when a person is discerning priesthood or religious life, they encounter numerous signs and symbols that they believe is affirming God’s call for them to be a priest or religious. These signs can come in the form of dreams, something they saw or heard on the Internet, a book they read, a homily they heard, or a person they encountered. And all these signs are beautiful ways God reaches out to them, to let them know that He has a vocation for them. However, from my experience, these signs aren’t always clear. We find them meaningful because it invokes within us a strong desire to come to Him and to love Him more, but the question we are often left with is, “Why is He giving me this desire and for what reason?”
I remember when I first started to discern the priesthood, I really didn’t even understand what the priesthood meant or why I wanted to be a priest. But the signs that I kept seeing and experiencing were rooted in my desire to love God more and to learn more about Him. And as I delved deeper into Scripture and learned more about my faith, I eventually realized that what God was first inviting me towards was an intimate relationship with Him. As that relationship grew, I then realized that the greatest sign that Jesus gave me, which made me start discerning the priesthood, was really His love for me.
When discerning the priesthood or religious life, there is no greater sign than the ways God continues to love us. And not just to love us in any manner but to love us to the point of laying His life down for us.
As a Vocation Director, I have experienced so many men and women who are still looking and waiting for “particular” signs to affirm to them that God is truly calling them to the priesthood or religious life. But the sign that is already given to us, which is greater than any other signs we can ever experience in this life, is Jesus on the Cross. “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” We are all friends, so if you are discerning the priesthood, religious life or diaconate; ask yourself, “Are you willing to lay down your life for the people of God, the Church, who are your friends?”
Fr. Hau Vu is Director of Vocations in the Diocese of San Bernardino.