Bishop Iffert on discerning a vocation

November 2021

I have been accompanying young people making life decisions since I was a young person making life decisions. The advice that I offer is simple. RELAX. Be gentle. Pay attention to your joy.

I am always amazed at how permanent and high stakes every decision can feel for a young person. It can seem like life will pass by if you don’t do everything just right — just now.

A countercultural decision like entering seminary or consecrated life can seem especially fraught. The implications — for relationships, career, and even our religious life — appear to be immense. Surely listening for God’s call is serious business, but sometimes the best way to go about this serious work is to relax and pursue the things that give you holy joy.

If you are thinking about priesthood or religious life, first consider if you are in a habit of committing serious sin; the kind that makes us feel deeply ashamed, like we are living a lie that we can’t tell our family and Christian friends about. If you
are in this state, do not even think about seminary or a religious vocation right now. Don’t make any other big life decisions either. Sin keeps us from thinking clearly about all vocations — career and marriage, too.

Start going to confession regularly. Turn to Jesus and pray to be set free from that sin. Find a compassionate spiritual advisor who can accompany you. Then, when you are free from the slavery of grave sin, ask yourself if your desire for religious vocation has grown or lessened. Trust me, entering seminary or the novitiate will not make temptations go away. And you can’t atone for those sins by trying to fit your- self into a life that is not yours.

If, to the best of your knowledge, you are free of serious sin, then begin praying about and contemplating what is important to you and where you find joy and spiritual comfort.

Do you cherish your time in prayer?

When you go to Mass, do you think about how you would preach or teach the Gospel?

Is there a work of mercy that makes your heart go pitter-patter: caring for the sick, accompanying the elderly, teaching the young, feeding the hungry, welcoming the homeless?

Do you look for opportunities to share your faith with others?

Are others telling you that you ought to think about being a priest or a sister?

Do you long to be surrounded by people who share your faith commitment?

Do you feel a hunger to study the Scriptures or the Catechism of the Catholic Church?

When you pray before the Blessed Sacrament, do you feel at home, loved, inspired?

If a few of these questions have you saying, “Yes! That’s me!,” you should be actively considering that God might be calling you to priesthood or consecrated life. Reach out to a priest or religious sister who you know, or Father Conor Kunath, our diocesan Vocation Promoter, or to me. We will help you connect with someone who will walk this journey with you.

Do not worry if you are not ready to say with 100 percent confidence that God is calling you. We are not going to let you drop out of your life and into seminary tomorrow. You will have years of formation to “court” the idea of priesthood or religious life.

Others who have experienced this life will walk with you. In the end, you will not have to rely on yourself to make that decision. The Church, in the person of the bishop or in a community of professed religious, will be discerning right along with you about whether you are being called.

So relax. It’s not all on you. Be gentle, but don’t procrastinate. If you think God might be calling, take the next step. It is a joyful and blessed life. You do not want to miss the invitation!

Gratefully yours in Christ,
Most Rev. John C. Iffert
Bishop of Covington