Part I: Stages of Vocation
I am not a terrific fan of collegiate vocation culture as it smacks of "too much, too late." It's no substitute for growing up in a rich Catholic community of married people, devout single people, priests, monks and nuns because we start developing our interests in what kind of life we would like to have when we are children. Although my great-aunt in the IBVM (I believe it was the IBVM) died before I was born, at least I met a lot of the IBVM in my high school.
As far as I know, they were all good women but they were hella old and, to be blunt, dowdy. Giving up the habit was a huge mistake, from a PR point of view, and the one I remember with most fondness is the tremendously scary one who sailed through the halls like a pirate ship, square headdress, black habit, rosary at her belt and all. If they had all dressed like that, your Auntie Seraphic might have been even more tempted to join, especially as I was already dropping hints to the nun in the porter's office. What kills me today is that 900 girls passed through their convent/school in five year cycles, and as far as I know they never made a serious attempt to snaffle us. Perhaps Little Seraphic and her hints were a Sign of the Times Coming, and did they see it? No. And believe me, I was Grade A nun potential at the time.
This is all important because the first moment of vocation is perceiving in oneself a wish for a certain kind of life. A great male religious I know first found in his heart a wish to be part of something bigger than himself when he was ten and saw his cousin graduate from West Point. He also thinks his granny had been praying for him to be given a vocation to the priesthood from the moment he was born. At any rate, he also found in his child's heart a wish to be a priest, and although this wavered a bit in high school, he joined a religious order at 18. He, too, was a Sign of the Times. (Apparently the Vocations Director said something like, "We used to tell guys your age to go away and come back after you've lived a little. But then they never came back. So welcome aboard, squirt.)
The second moment of vocation is found in "Welcome aboard, squirt." In short, your wish has to be acknowledged and accepted as a viable vocation by a concrete person who is not you. There are lots of women, some of them very good, very nice women I know personally, who are under the impression that they have been called to the priesthood. They have not been called to the priesthood. To be called to the priesthood, you need the Church (in the person of a bishop and the seminary director) to say, "Yep. We think God is calling you to the priesthood, and we are calling you, too." (Which, in the case of my wishful female classmates, She ain't never gonna do.) To be called to religious life, you need a concrete religious order to say, "Yep. We think God is calling you to religious life with us, and we are calling you, too." To be called to marriage (the concept of marriage as vocation is a tad controversial--more anon), you need a member of the opposite sex to say, "I want to marry you."
The third moment of vocation is found in vows. After two days of knowing B.A., I thought, I would like to marry this person. (Moment 1: Wish.) After B.A. popped the question, I knew I was called to marry this person. (Moment 2: Welcome aboard.) I was 100% sure of that until, inconveniently, when I got cold feet the day before the wedding, and my nose bled, and I wigged out, and poor B.A. thought I might not turn up the next morning. But I did, although now only 90% sure I wanted to get married, until I took the vow, when I knew that I was completely and irrevocably (being an actual mature adult acting in total freedom this time) called to be married to B.A.
And so I am, both the 90+% of the time it is awesome, and the -10% it is not. I am also called to be a mother, too, although apparently not to infants born of my body but metaphorically to twenty-somethings like yourselves. Again, it's not about wishing; it's about concrete circumstances. God is the Lord of History, as I think Father Bernard Lonergan said. (As did a whole lot of people, I have discovered by fact-checking.)
Part II: Vocations to Marriage and Single Life?
Now, you may be wondering where this leaves Singles, especially unvowed Singles, who get short shrift when priests give their "Vocation" homilies and cram Single vocation in the last thirty seconds before winding up. And where it leaves us is looking at the history of the theology of vocations and saying, "Holy guacamole! This whole idea that even marriage is a vocation is comparatively new, and used to be a rhetorical flourish to encourage married people to take their vows as seriously as religious and priests should take theirs! Whoa!"
In short, the traditional Catholic belief is that ordinary life for most people is that they are born Single and then, unless there is some serious impediment, like all the Single men have been killed in battle, they get married and, unless there is some serious impediment, they have babies. This is is the kind of life you ordinarily live unless you are CALLED OUT of it. Usually you girls were called out of it because you thought the nuns you knew were fantastic, or that their way of life was fantastic, and you wanted to serve the Lord just like them, in peace and tranquility, without some man and kids scrabbling at your body. You took yourself off the marriage market ASAP or never set up shop in it at all.
Of course, that was before the Sexual Revolution, which completely freed men and women forever from having to make the adult commitment to marriage before they got the goodies that go along with adult commitments to marriage. The Sexual Revolution sparked the Divorce Revolution and, probably out of "necessity", the Ab*rti*n Revolution. (The Sexual Revolution began c. 1963. The Divorce Revolution began in Canada in 1968. The Ab*rti*n Revolution began in Canada in 1969.) The Divorce Revolution tore apart the families of my generation, leaving my generation the first to be really cynical about marriage, and the first to divorce really, really fast, e.g. before children are born. The Sexual Revolution removed a very strong impetus for anyone to marry, i.e. unfulfilled sexual desire. And so now we have a growing number of people who are perpetually Single, either from choice or not from choice, and huge anxiety about marriage, the natural end of t---.
Holy guacamole. I just googled "marriage is the natural end of the human person", and the only references to it on the entire internet lead back to me. I thought Thomas Aquinas said that. Well, either look it up in Thomas or take it with a huge pinch of salt. My point is that marriage was business as usual until very recently, and thousands of years of culture have banged it into women's heads that marriage is what we should do, especially if we want children. It was Christianity that gave us the Perpetual Virginity for the Kingdom option.
The Sexual Revolution changed culture so that instead of just being a responsible, respectable adult woman, we are asked to be sexy and exciting from adolescence until death, which is actually much harder than being responsible and respectable, especially when shallow young men brand any woman over 25 "a cougar". But I digress. The Church in the 20th century, John Paul II in particular, probably thought it VERY IMPORTANT to give newly threatened married life the dignity of "a vocation" and perhaps to be consistent, has lumped Single Life (which we're all born into) in as well, details to be worked out later. And certainly adult Single life, and adult Singles, deserve a dignity of their own, for scores of people are called to holiness outside of marriage, priesthood and religious life, for whatever reasons these ways of life are closed to them, e.g. historical accident, deep-seated homosexual tendencies persisting into adult life, illness, mental or psychological incapacity.
The primary reason why most of you over 30 are not yet married, if you have been respectable, responsible women living in the world, making friends and avoiding addictions to booze, drugs and bad boys, is either, I firmly believe, historical accident or God's mercy. Cultural Christianity and cultural Judaism have, almost everywhere, been overthrown by agnosticism and the Sexual Revolution, and now we religious people pay the price. This is what happens when our parents or grandparents lose wars; revolutionaries don't come up with Marshall Plans for the defeated. Our only hope lies in God and each other--faithful Catholics and other Singles of Good Will. Jeszcze cywilizacja nie zgineła /Kiedy nie żyjemy.