The Church regards certain elements as essential to religious life: the call of God and consecration to him through profession of the evangelical counsels by public vows; a stable form of community life: for institutes dedicated to apostolic works, a sharing in Christ's mission by a corporate apostolate faithful to a specific founding gift and sound tradition; personal and community prayer; asceticism; public witness; a specific relation to the Church; a life-long formation; and a form of government calling for religious authority based on faith. Historical and cultural changes bring about evolution in the lived reality, but the forms and direction that the evolution takes are determined by the essential elements without which religious life loses its identity (EE 4).
Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M., in his classic "...And You are Christ's," reflects on the call of God, the first of the essential elements of a vocation to consecrated life. He gives four signs that together indicate an authentic call from God. First, the soul called by God has a greater than usual bent toward Him. It readily sees that a worldly life is insufficient and unfulfilling. The pleasures of this life are attractive and enjoyable, but the heart is yearning for more, much more. It may for a time plunge itself into seeking the goods of this world, but eventually if it is true to itself and to God's beckoning, it joyfully casts them off as unsatisfying.
Father continues, "This first sign will be accompanied by a second: an attraction to a particular celibate lifestyle and/or a persuasion that God wants them in that form of dedication." Some young people know immediately whether they are called to the strictly contemplative or active contemplative life and even to what community they are called. For many others, however, the call is fundamentally the intellectual persuasion that God desires them to fulfill His holy will in a particular form of consecrated life and their reciprocal desire to give themselves fully to Him.
"Sound motivation is the third sign of the virginal charism." A religious vocation is to be head over heels in love with the Divine Person as a result of His personal invitation. Religious life can never be an escape, or a despising of the good of marriage, but a renouncing of that very real and tangible good for Good Himself. She is by her choice completely free for Him, available to do His will and to serve His kingdom. She lives now as all will live in eternity and is entirely enthralled by the goodness, generosity and fidelity of her Spouse.