God, who has created all things by His own power, conserves them by an act of His divine love; and by His providence leads them to their appointed destiny through ways conformable to their own nature. He did not create man to live a solitary being, and, consequently, implanted in his heart an instinctive need of society; desiring that the latter should effectively contribute to the development of the faculties of soul and body. And, as society cannot subsist without a certain variety of conditions, and functions, which lend each other mutual aid, He has planted in our souls certain dispositions in harmony with the particular state of life to which He has destined us. This is what is called vocation
It is, as you perceive, only a particular form of that general providence by which God governs the universe, giving to the lilies their eclat and perfume, watching with maternal care over the young brood, preparing its food for the little bird, and not allowing a single hair to fall from our heads without His permission. I purposely make use of the beautiful images that Jesus Himself employed to reveal to us the sweet mystery of providence.
To deny that man has a special vocation is placing him in a rank inferior to the plants and irrational animals. It is denying the variety of dispositions which enter into the combination of character, and which is at once one of the greatest charms of and most precious advantages to society; it is forcing on the mind the conviction that every one is free to choose, whether in or out of season, his post in the world, even when such a course would be contrary to the principles of common-sense, and would entail the subversion of society; for, let each and every one be directed in the choice of his post by the whims and caprices of nature, assuredly society will soon become demoralized, even as an army in which each soldier would be free to choose and take the grade and position that best suited his tastes.
If society is kept in a constant feverish agitation, by the furious contests of ungoverned passion, it is because no one, or at least the vast number never take the trouble to consult God by prayer, or otherwise, before making a choice of a state of life. If there are so many dissatisfied with their state of life it is because they are not where God had destined them to be. If life is blighted with deception, fraught with regrets and bitterness, if our fairest hopes are blasted, if pain and sorrow brood over our existence, it is because the soul suffers the punishment entailed by her levity or negligence in a matter on which her weal or woe depends, both for time and eternity.
Oh, how sadly rare in the world is that sweet and celestial peace, that interior contentment, that pure and simple joy which in holier times families prized as their most precious inheritance; and which they handed down to their posterity as one of their richest gifts: then the thought of God and eternity presided over all the important actions of their life; then the light of heaven was invoked when there was question of any important undertaking; and as grave matters were considered and weighed in the light of truth and religion, due attention was paid to the choice of a state of life.
They knew that, while other proceedings might be changed, and consequently their fatal result averted when foreseen, the step made in the choice of a state of life is irrevocable and a mistake made in that step not only involves our happiness or misery for time but also for eternity. Hence it is said by many that vocation is closely allied with predestination.
It is a most solemn moment in the Christian's life, for it is the beginning of that road by which he must attain his destination. At this juncture it is consoling to consider with the eye of faith, the love and solicitude with which God protects the soul; to behold Jesus offering with ineffable tenderness for her the blood which He shed on the cross. To see the guardian angel redoubling his charitable efforts in the interest of his client, awaiting with pious anxiety the issue of a deliberation upon which must depend in a great measure the success or failure of his labors for her eternal salvation.
Still, should any one be so unfortunate as to make a bad choice, let him not consider his condition irremediable; divine mercy has inexhaustible resources from which to provide us with the means to work out our salvation, and prevent the doleful consequences of those fatal errors.
Yet, it is certain beyond all question, that we render the work of our eternal salvation always more difficult when we have not embraced that state of life which God had laid out for us; for the sins which are a consequence of this want of correspondence to the divine will, will have, if not a decisive influence, at least a considerable share in the work of our reprobation. How many souls now writhing in eternal torments could, on ascending the course of their lives, point out the solemn moment in which they made a choice of a state of life as the time of their departure from the road to heaven.
No Christian who has his salvation at heart will hesitate to say that it is folly to treat with indifference and levity a matter of such vital importance; for he must remember with a sacred awe that, when he makes a choice of a state of life, he pronounces in a certain manner an irrevocable sentence on himself.
When the soul is deprived of the advantages of a rule of life, of the advantages of good dispositions, character and temperament, as well as of those provided by circumstances, men and things on the one hand; and when she is obliged to struggle incessantly against herself and external obstacles on the other hand, the work of her salvation becomes more difficult and less certain. In this deplorable condition, the only pillar left her on which she can anchor her hopes of salvation is the mercy of God; but then a faithful correspondence with divine grace in the most minute details, constant and persevering prayer to obtain strength to bear the trials of life with profit, are positively necessary conditions to escape destruction.
Commencing her career, woman finds for the most part only two roads that dispute the choice of her adoption. Estranged, generally speaking, to the professional life, or at least, acting in it only a secondary role, she scarcely gives it a serious thought; she can therefore give all due deliberation to her choice between marriage and celibacy.
If all were bound to choose the more perfect state, considered in itself, the question would be easily settled, as in that case there would be, properly speaking, no choice to make; for evidently it is the celibate state of life that should be adopted, since it is a more perfect state than that of marriage; and the church, maintaining the doctrine of the Apostle on this point, has condemned as heretics those who teach that the married state is as perfect as that of virginity. But, if all should aspire to perfection, if all are free to choose the kind of life that will better insure the attaining of that perfection, then all are not obliged to embrace the celibate state, since our perfection consists in doing God's will.
When you are about to make a choice of a state of life, you are not only permitted, but even urged, to take into consideration your dispositions and aptitudes for the state which you propose to embrace; and, if they are in good accord with it, you may safely conjecture that they were given you for that state of life. Your imperative duty consists in distinguishing between the call given by God and the voice of passion or prejudice. Hence you should promptly and faithfully follow the attractions and dispositions that God has given you, and nothing else.
If for instance, a woman made her choice with a view of pandering to her vanity, curiosity, worldly love, or some other passion still more culpable perhaps, God would have no part in her determinations, and she would inevitably become the dupe of her own folly; for God gives light only to such as are sincere in their search for it, and they who look for it in this way are such as those, who, in examining the question of their vocation, have chiefly in view the glory of God and their own salvation.
If the natural dispositions should be taken into consideration, it is not indeed with a view to flatter nature and avoid the struggles incident to the Christian life. That would be renouncing the glorious title of Christian, and the incomparable favor that God has conferred upon us in creating us to live with Him forever. If it is useful to consult our taste and aptitude it is because they are for the most part indicative of God's will; hence we ought to employ them for the purpose for which He gave them to us. Then the object of your researches in this matter should be to discover God's will in that state of life for which He has given you a pronounced taste and aptitude; but, because the caprice of nature or character may sometimes be taken for that taste and aptitude, you are not altogether safe from deception without some other guarantee.
It frequently happens that man believes to be an inspiration from God what is only the effect of badly-regulated passion or some bad habit deeply rooted in the soul. In order to be sure that God has given such a disposition or aptitude of the heart and mind as being indicative of the state of life He would have us enter, it should be possessed of the following conditions, namely: The sanction of time, which is the instrument that God ordinarily employs to stamp the impress of His will on the works that He operates in us. It is necessary that this disposition has been constant, that is to say, that it has not suffered from frequent or long interruptions. A transitory taste appearing to-day and vanishing to-morrow, a volatile inclination frequently appearing and just as frequently disappearing, merits no consideration in an affair that involves the Christian's happiness both for time and eternity.
However, if the aptitude which you feel in your soul for a given state of life has lost much of its vivacity, or even when it should have frequently vanished in the course of your life; you are in duty bound to study the causes and circumstances of this change, especially when, with the disappearence of that inclination, piety and fervor in God's service have also diminished in the soul.
If, as often as you felt the sweet impulse of divine grace in prayer and holy communion this inclination became also aroused in the soul; if you felt it increase in proportion as you gave yourself to God, you may safely conclude that it is the indicator of God's will in your regard, and that its vascillating or enfeebled condition was the work of your own perverse will. Hence, in order to ascertain whether the natural inclination or aptitude you feel for any state of life is from God or the effect of a deluded fancy, you need but compare your natural aptitude with those you have received through divine grace; and if you find them in perfect accord you may rest assured that they are from God, for He is the author of nature as well as of grace. On the contrary, should they disagree then you may safely conclude that your natural desire or inclination is a delusion.
This last consideration should not be omitted, especially when there is question of embracing the religious life; for the attraction by which we feel ourselves drawn to a more perfect life is in itself a gift of God, and one of His most precious gifts. As often as this attraction reveals its presence in the heart, it singularly involves the study of vocation. Hence, it is a most delicate and perilous matter to deal with, for if this attraction comes from God and if the soul repels it she prepares for herself lamentable delusions, and a life fraught with bitterness and remorse. God has a reason for frequently saying in the Sacred Scriptures that He is a jealous God, and the church, for the same reason, addresses Jesus in the litanies, jealous of souls.
Hence, after having shown the greatest preference for a soul, in honoring her with the exalted dignity of being His spouse, adorning her with the gorgeous splendor of His richest treasures, and then see Himself basely rejected, or treated with cold indifference; His divine justice should naturally revenge the insult; which is done by delivering her into her own hands, the most cruel punishment that could be inflicted on her.
However, if you feel an attraction for the religious life, it, would be imprudent and rash on your part to decide the matter yourself. You should, in the spirit of humility, after having consulted God by prayer, consult some enlightened persons noted for their wisdom and prudence, piety and learning, who will advise you with a view to secure the spiritual welfare of your soul above all things. Should those to whom you address yourself fail to give all the assurance you should have, be not backward in consulting others; for unlimited confidence in the words of any man, no matter who he may be, will not dispense you from all responsibility before God, nor preserve you from making a wrong choice.
Neither should you lose sight of, or derogate in the least, from the respect and obedience you owe your parents. It is their sacred duty and right to advise you; and to whom should you look for a more disinterested advice? A young girl would indeed be an object of pity if, instead of finding a truly Christian tenderness in her parents, they would be her idolizers so far as to be blinded to her true interests. It is for this blind and foolish love that many parents sacrifice their children, either by ignoring their just claims to embrace the religious life, or by opposing an advantageous marriage through vanity or personal interest.