A vocation to the priesthood or religious life in the Church is really something wonderful. There is a long route, however, to discerning whether someone has a true vocation. Even before talking to institutions, you should spend regular time before the Blessed Sacrament. Spend some time praying particularly with written prayers such as Aquinas’ Prayer before Mass and after Mass.
As your prayer deepens, start to look at your life – do I like to serve people? How about getting into some kind of social work? Perhaps you could put in an hour or two a week helping at a soup kitchen? Then reflect on whether you are caught up in sin. We can spend time gossiping, in slurs on other people, and in all kinds of quick judgments. We can waste time talking about or watching things that are unsuitable for us as potential servants in the Church. Now is a good time to purify your time.
The sacraments are crucial: go to Mass regularly but of course you will have to find a parish that celebrates Mass according to the Roman Missal and has priests who preach about the readings. The labor of locating such a Mass will make you aware of a whole set of problems in the Church. Don’t be concerned. If you have a vocation, you have a vocation.
Nevertheless, the Church is no longer as uniform as it might have been back in the 1950s. So please decide early on to pursue an orthodox vocation serving people as a priest or religious in communion with the Church. Lastly, you need to go to Confession regularly. Use one of the printed examinations of conscience.
Going through the discernment of a vocation will, among other things, make you a lot less naïve. Roughly 60 percent of lay people and religious men and women in the Church do not follow Church teaching. The clergy who serve them probably don’t either. This is the landscape where one discerns and will eventually work.
Besides learning actual Church teaching and following it obediently, there is another thing very important to realize: discernment and training are going to include some rough times. These will test the maturity of a vocation. We follow someone who was crucified!
Your faith is going to be tested. You certainly will meet orthodox people but there will be some heterodox people as well, some of whom will have a hand in your discernment and training. There will be times when you will really feel as if you are on your own. This is not true! Regardless of the outcome of the discernment process, Christ is with you, closer than you are to yourself. You will also find like-minded people in the religious order or the diocese that you are interested in.
One big surprise will be the divisions among the people that you have to deal with. Whole groups of clergy and religious do not believe in the teaching of the Church and they often keep very quiet about it. It is like working for IBM and selling Apple on the side. Such people are safeguarding their meal ticket. I find this dishonest but then I come from a different culture.
This is disappointing, but these people are not going anywhere, so you are going to have to learn to live with them. Near as I can judge the aim seems to be to turn the Church into a unisex Congregationalist-Protestant church.
You might also be surprised by how many homosexuals there are in religious life and among the clergy and the whole homosexual subculture. Again, you’re going to have to learn to work in this situation. God has called you! In pursuing a vocation, you are pursuing it in the actual Church not in some idealized version where everything is sweetness and light. If Saint Vincent de Paul could shine in the French Church of his day, then you can do very well today.
Your leisure will change too. You are used to spending your time in certain ways. Some priests and religious try to keep that routine after ordination or vows but in fact this approach is predicated on priesthood or religious life being just a part-time job. It definitely is not; it is a complete way of life with Christ. It is morally better to develop your leisure activities once you have a good grip on what priesthood or religious life is. This proper understanding can then help you choose activities that build you up as a priest or religious rather than just trimming or your waistline or expanding your self-indulgence.
You might instead have to spend unexpected hours actively building a faith community where you are. If you are attached to going to restaurants, etc., that will probably have to be exchanged for activities more in line with being a priest or religious – and that are much more urgent and Christlike.
God bless you in your discernment!