Do I Have a Vocation?


This Sunday, April 21, the Catholic Church will observe the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

Of course we all know that our first “vocation” is to serve God in this life in a particular way, so that one day we might be eternally happy with Him in Heaven.

As the Church unites in prayer for vocations, we pray in a special way that generous men and women will offer their lives to be priests and consecrated religious. 

It is important that people take their vocational calling seriously. Through a process called discernment, people can determine how God might be calling them to serve Him.

The term “discernment” comes from the Latin term discernere, which means “to separate by sifting.” In other words, a person is trying to “sift through” the possibilities of choosing one course of life over another. Of course we all want to get to Heaven, but by what vocation will we get there? 

When talking about “vocations,” I’m not referring to “careers” or professions whereby one makes a paycheck. I am referring to the paths of giving our lives generously to God with an undivided heart. 

He will call some men and women to married life, to religious life, or He might allow some to serve the Church as generous single people.

Further He will call some men to serve Him as priests whose job it is to offer sacrifice and be of service to the faithful. 

This discernment process is not something that happens overnight. Regardless of the vocation a person feels God might be calling them to live out, it is important that they take their vocational calling to prayer.

Are you listening to what God might say in response, or are you doing all of the talking in your prayer? Is there some peace in prayer, or does there seem to be constant “turbulence” in your prayer?

It is helpful to have the advice of a spiritual director to help “sift through” the different messages they might hear from God in prayer. 

It is true that God will build on your good desires as He calls you to serve Him.


I Want to Have a Family

As the vocations director for my religious community, the Fathers of Mercy, many young men have told me that they feel a strong inclination to be husbands and fathers and raise a good Catholic family

This is a great desire to have, but I always remind them that all men and women are naturally inclined to that physical relationship of marriage. It may well be that he is called to be a Catholic father, but the same qualities that would make him a good husband and father are also qualities that would make him a good priest.

Thus “liking girls too much” is no guarantee that a man isn’t called to the priesthood or religious life. The same is true for women: just because a woman is “guy crazy” or feels the motherly instinct “too strongly,” is no reason not to seriously discern a possible calling to religious life. 

In my own life, I was inclined towards the sacrament of marriage. I am the oldest of seven children in a Catholic farm family from western Kansas. I lived and breathed cattle, horses, wheat, corn and dirt.

It was a great way to grow up, and in my heart of hearts, I wanted to have a family of my own. I wanted to share with a wife and children the faith and values that I received from my parents. They inspired me with their hard work and in the way they lived out their Catholic faith. 

It was certainly the case that God wanted me to pass on the faith and these values, but it was to a family much bigger than the one I thought I would have.


My Personal Vocation

While I was in college, I realized the importance of my personal vocation. I began to actually listen to what God might want me to do, rather than dictating to God, in my prayers, what He should want for me.

Even though I had a girlfriend, and I strongly considered the possibility of entering into the sacrament of marriage, I realized where He wanted me. He was calling me to be a spiritual father, and specifically, a Father of Mercy

The decision to join the Fathers of Mercy was not something that happened overnight. It took time, prayer, and consultation with those who were spiritually mature.

I joined the congregation in the year 2000, and it has been a great joy to be here. While my time here has not been without its crosses, I would not trade those crosses or challenges for anything. 

These were all foreseen by almighty God when He called me here, and He has allowed many good and challenging experiences for my personal sanctification. 

This is where He wanted me, and this is where I want to be. I take seriously the words spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jeremiah 1:5).

It is the case that God has a plan for each one of our lives. By a process of prayerful discernment, we’ll be able to tell what it is that he has in store for us.


Fr. Tony Stephens is the Vocational Director for the Fathers of Mercy headquartered in South Union, Kentucky. The primary apostolate of the Fathers of Mercy is to conduct parish missions and retreats in effort to re-evangelize and revitalize the faith of those who hear. Fr. Tony’s blog post is a part of a vocation series celebrating World Day Prayer for Vocations.



  1. Mary-1281760 December 30, 2016 Reply

    Father, it is so hard to give up that desire of marriage! It makes me so sad to give it up, yet I feel like I need to belong only to Jesus to be saved. Is this true?
    Thank you, Mary

  2. Catherine-135441 April 28, 2013 Reply

    Father, I am very happy for you that you have found your calling and have responded by saying ‘Yes” to God. However, I don’t believe that your approach to increasing priestly/religious vocations is the correct one. Encouraging men and women, who feel a strong calling toward marriage, to instead embrace the priesthood/religious life, is unhealthy for both the individuals and the Church. Here’s why: At this time, there is actually a greater shortage to the vocation of marriage than there is to the priesthood/religious life. I actually have this information from a priest.

    Some might think a lack of married people is not a big problem. However, a priest in my diocese explained why it is a big deal. Priests, as well as vowed religious, don’t appear out of thin air- they come from families. He went on to say that the number of vocations to the priesthood/religious life began to drop at the same time that the marriage rate began to fall in this country. This is not a coincidence. He stated that there are many who are willing to live together, many who are willing to have children, but few who are willing to make a commitment.

    In my opinion, if we want more priests and nuns in the future, then we need more families in the present time. I realize we need more priests right here and now, but there is a danger in only thinking in the short term. Long term planning is always needed. It is my understanding that God actually calls most people to the married state, that the priesthood/religious life is a rare calling, and the single life an even rarer one. Yet single people now outnumber married people in this country, and even within the Catholic Church singles account for 40% of the Church in this country. This does not bode well for the future of our Church.

    I appreciate your comments about the necessity of discernment. However, once people have discerned their true vocation, shouldn’t they be encouraged to follow and pursue God’s Will for their lives, even if God’s Will means marriage? After all, if your parents hadn’t gotten married and had children, there would now be one less priest in our Church. Your vocation (to the priesthood) and mine (to marriage) need each other to survive. It strikes me as strange that the Church, at least in my area, doesn’t seem concerned with the fact their “food source”- married people with children- is drying up.

    I myself seriously considered the religious life when I was quite young. Later however, I discerned a calling to the married state. I was 15 when I first felt this calling. It has been more than 2 decades since I first felt this calling, and although I might be termed an “older single” I am more sure than ever that God intends for me to marry. I have to say, however, this road that I am on would have been so much easier, so much less painful, if there had been a little encouragement and a few more prayers for those of us in my situation- called to serve in the vocation of marriage yet struggling to get there.

  3. Christopher-576809 April 21, 2013 Reply

    Dear Father,

    You mention that despite feeling in your “heart of hearts” that you wanted to get married you then realised that God was calling you to be a priest – could you elaborate on the process by which you became clear of this – this I feel is the crux of many decisions for people today – to judge clearly the tug between natural inclinations (blessed and sanctioned by God) and the call to serve God exclusively.

    Many thanks.


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