For about the past 50 years or so the Church has designated the 4th Sunday of Easter —Good Shepherd Sunday—as the World Day of Vocations. In recent years this day has taken on a special urgency as we are encouraged to pray the Lord of the harvest to send many laborers.
Personally, I often wince when I hear homiles encouraging us to pray for vocations and encouraging men and women to listen to the Lord's voice but couching this in terms of desperation. Yes, we are woefully short on priests in our parishes (and it's going to get worse before it gets better) and our schools and other ministries have few if any sisters. Monasteries of contemplative monks and nuns, with a few exceptions, are also in need of new vocations.
I wince, because before I entered religious life 18 years ago, this plea of desperation was the last reason why I wanted to become a religious and if I had been unsure of my vocation it would've been the last reason why I'd want to become a Sister. Who wants to rescue a sinking ship?
The fact is that there IS a new surge of vocations right now. Eighteen years ago I only knew one other person persuing a religious vocation (she is now a Cistercian). Now, it seems that young men and women often are part of a small group of like minded people inquiring into religious life.
A call to religious life is about answering the Shepherd's invitation. It is about saying YES with the entirety of ones life. It is responding to the call to become like Christ Crucified in self-sacrificing love. A vocation is about love: Christ's unconditional, total love for us and our response to Him. What matters is this exchange of love. Everything else: the "where", the "what" will follow if we first respond in love.
The question we often get is, "Sister, but how did you know?" Just as each vocational call is personal and unique the "knowing" is pretty much the same. Very few, if any, of us were thrown down to the ground and heard a voice from heaven. For some, there was an immediate inner assurance the moment they first came to the monastery. For others there was a struggle but the key is that each one of us in the monastery had to respond to the grace to give a courageous YES, often not knowing what that YES would mean but knowing that I could and must trust the One who loved me so much He was extending this invitation.
And it IS an invitation. Too often, men and women spend all too much time not moving forward because, "I don't know if this is God's will." Discerning a vocation from that angle implies that a vocation to the priesthood or the religious life is not an invitation but a command. It also can be a way of avoiding taking the next step, a way of putting off my response. One need only to look at Mary at the Annunciation as the model for responding to God's invitation. Gabriel was anxious for Mary's response and St. Bernard in one of his sermons tells Mary to make haste: the whole world is waiting for it's Saviour!
Christ, too says to you, Make haste! I am waiting for your love. I am waiting to give you Myself. I am waiting to give you souls so that together we can lead them to the Father. Nothing gives the Good Shepherd greater joy than when we hear his voice and follow him!