The title is misleading. There is no such thing as a conditional vocation. But you think there might be if you have some of the conversations that I have had recently. If you are in vocation ministry, you know what I am talking about. If you are a man or woman discerning a vocation, I pray that you do not know what I am talking about and if you do, you find the idea repugnant.
What I am calling the “conditional vocation” is the idea that a discerner has more than a set of things that attract him to a particular order or way of religious life. It’s easy to sort through these with someone discerning. They usually fall into the monastic/mendicant, contemplative/active, or the many ministerial expressions of a particular group, such as those who teach or serve the poor, or those who do so in foreign missions. You know full well the list is extensive.
Where the conditional vocation comes into play is when the discerner asks probing questions about the life we live and his possible future with us should he join. Such as, “If I join you, will I get to go away and study canon law? I want to be a canon lawyer. That is what God is calling me to do!” You can replace canon lawyer in that last bit with anything you want: moral theologian, biblical scholar, social worker, etc…
He may also ask about certain ministries you do and say that he will join you because you serve at so and so parish or campus ministry and that is where I want to go someday. Or you heard that they have a Rome program and you really want to spend some time in Rome, so it makes sense to join this group.
So you join a group that may promise you exactly what you are looking for in religious life and ministry. All goes along very well, until that day when the reality of religious obedience sets in and you are assigned to a ministry that you did not expect nor even consider in your discernment. Or you are refused by the powers that be to enter into a Ph.D. program that you counted on. A crisis arises and you wonder if you really belong to this group. Your next decision is very important. You may decide to leave and follow your heart. (A will vs. passions question…see Aquinas!) Or you may stay and embrace the reality that should have been discerned years before: you are entering this life because it is the life that God has called you to and it is your best path to Heavenly glory. Whatever you do in ministry and study throughout your religious life is not nearly as interesting nor as important as your sanctification by following the path of the order you joined.
So, to sum up: in your discernment, if you place conditions on your vocation, your formation, your future assignments or any other number of things that you can think of, I would have one answer for you: you do not have a vocation to religious life. And probably not to marriage either as you are forbidden from making marriage conditional (i.e., pre nuptial agreements).
I think Jesus said it best in regards to what our attitude should be in vocational discernment: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” Matt 6:33
At the end of the day, nothing is as exciting, important or life giving as our love for God! Seek Him first and you will be surprised with what He will do with you!