There are five signs that give a candidate fro a state of perfection the certitude that he can advance secure in his conscience and realize a vocation.
What are the “secondary elements” of which the Pope speaks above and which will help one see clearly?
There are five of them. They will show a young man if he has the right, and perhaps the duty, to say: “Here I am, Lord!”
Certainty to serve God better
To understand that, in such a vocation, I will serve the Lord better, I will be more sanctified, I will work more for the salvation of my own soul and the souls of others, and I will give more glory to God both here below and above in Heaven.
Speaking of those who remain virgins for the Kingdom of Heaven, Our Lord tells us that no one is capable of understanding it without a special grace: “All men take not this word, but they to whom it is given” (Matt. 19:11). It is not a question of knowing that, in theory, a religious vocation is higher than the common path; but that I, with my particular qualities, I will serve the Lord better in such a state. If I understand this, I already have the first divine sign.
To have the required dispositions.
In the fifteenth addition, Saint Ignatius tells us that outside of the Exercises, it is “licit and meritorious” to “push” not everyone, but “every person having the required dispositions” to choose: “Virginity, the religious life and every form of evangelical perfection.”
Here is a very precious indicator. If someone does not have the dispositions required for a certain vocation, normally (barring a miracle) one can conclude that God does not call him… But be careful! God might be calling him to another vocation. But normally not to that vocation for which he does not have the required dispositions.
(Examples of the required dispositions:
- a minimum level of intelligence, if there are studies to be done;
- a minimum of health, if it is necessary to do missionary work; etc… and,
- for every vocation: common sense.)
In medicine there is a thing that one calls a “counter-indicator”; for example: if you have heart problems, you cannot be a pilot, a stevedore, etc.; if you have a bad liver, do not eat too much chocolate; if you have bad eyes, that is a counter-indicator for working on the railroad, and so on.
In like manner, there are “counter-indicators” for a vocation. There are some from the natural law; others are imposed by Canon Law. For example: a young man who is the sole support of his poor family, a man who has debts or pending lawsuits, cannot enter the novitiate without having settled these questions. An illegitimate son cannot be a priest. Nor can those with certain sicknesses, certain bodily defects, certain public faults, at least for some vocations. Nor can a young man who has certain habits that he cannot correct.
There is in this third sign an important eliminatory element that can shed light on the existence or absence of a vocation.
You must, in giving yourself to God, accept the renouncements that the evangelical counsels require.
“It is much better not to vow,” says Ecclesiastes 5:4, “than after a vow not to perform the things promised.” Someone who does not want, for example, to observe chastity, poverty, or obedience, should not engage himself in the religious life. A man who has sinned against chastity must not advance before having corrected his wicked habit: “A long period of chastity,” says Saint Bernard, “is a second virginity.”
Acceptance of the Church
Finally, you must find a Bishop or a Congregation that will accept you. We have here the official sign of God’s call. If you cannot find any Bishop or any Congregation that will accept you, be at peace. It is a sign that God is not calling you.
Nevertheless, be careful! Let us not judge too quickly or too summarily. It is possible to be unfitting for one Congregation, yet succeed quite well in another. Likewise, those who judge in a single glance that a child does not have a vocation, can be mistaken. It is permissible to insist and try a vocation elsewhere. This is especially true if the subject has the four preceding signs.
For example: The story is told that a seminarian was sent home from the Minor Seminary for some sort of thoughtless act. The parish priest, knowing the child, sent him to an apostolic school where the young man made great progress, went on to the Major Seminary, and passed his theological courses. Ordained a priest, he soon became a prelate entrusted with high functions and one great day was made a Cardinal. According to the custom, his home diocese, honored to have one of her children clothed in the cardinal’s purple, made a great ceremony for him at the cathedral. A banquet followed which took place at the Minor Seminary. At the end of the meal, the new Cardinal asked the Superior there: “Could you bring me the admissions records?” and he read from a year long ago forgotten: “Pizzardo, sent away for lack of a vocation.” Then the Cardinal took out his pen and added with some humor: “And today, Cardinal of Holy Mother Church!” He was His Eminence Cardinal Pizzardo, today  at the head of all the Seminaries and Catholic Universities of the world. The moral is that we must not judge too quickly. One can be deceived!
Canon Law reduces the signs of a vocation to four:
- The right intention
- The call of the Bishop
- The required qualities
- The absence of any irregularity or impediment.
May one who fulfills these four conditions put himself forward without fear of being mistaken?
Yes! even if he does not have the desire to do so. (Obviously, it is different if there is question of an unconquerable repugnance or of a forced entry due to the pressure of a father or a godmother. In this case, the candidate does not fulfill the required conditions.) The wise theologian Noldin says: “Whoever is suitable and has the right intention, while aspiring to the priesthood, may present himself to the Bishop.” This is also the same teaching that we find in various conciliar decrees.
The Teaching of the Council
In the decree on the formation of priests (Optatam totius), the Second Vatican Council gives the same teaching:
“2. The task of fostering vocations devolves on the whole Christian community… Teachers should strive so to develop those entrusted to them that these young people will be able to recognize a divine calling and willingly answer it… … Such an active partnership between the whole people of God in the work of encouraging vocations corresponds to the activity of Divine Providence. For God properly endows and aids with His grace those men divinely chosen to share in Christ’s hierarchical priesthood. To the lawful ministers of the Church He confides the work of calling proven candidates whose fitness has been acknowledged and who seek so exalted an office with the right intention and full freedom. Her ministers exercise the further commission of consecrating such men with the seal of the Holy Spirit to the worship of God and the service of the Church…”