Berenike asked this question two months ago and I promised her that I would give an answer. She has surfaced the question again with a link to her original post on vocation as the context for the question. To try to arrive at an answer, let’s begin by looking at the specific case of Saint Gemma, rather than vocations in general (-we can do that later). The following quotations show how the question of a Passionist vocation was played out in Saint Gemma’s life. This is a necessary preamble because the lives of the saints, like our own, do not always follow the outline laid down in the manuals, even if we try to do that with them.
In his life of Gemma, Father Germano refers to the first letter he received from Gemma, which she wrote to him on 29 January 1900 (Chapter XII):
Then having related how Our Lord in vision showed her her New Director, she goes on to give him [Father Germano] a minute account of what had happened to her during the previous two years: of her serious illness and miraculous recovery, of Blessed Gabriel [of Our Lady of Sorrows], of her vocation to the Religious State and of her first acquaintance with the Passionists.
In this letter, Gemma explains how she had decided to enter the Order of the Visitation, in gratitude for having been cured through the intercession of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque. (During her illness, she had read a life of Saint Gabriel, who had appeared to her after the book had been taken back by the person who had lent it to her.) Her confessor and her family were happy with her desire to become a religious. She made a retreat at the monastery of the Visitation, after which everything was arranged for her to return there for ever. As the time drew near, she heard these words internally many times: You will never be a Salesian [i.e. Visitation Sister]; another more penitential life is being prepared for you.
It was at this time that the Passionists came to Lucca to give a mission. Saint Gabriel told her to go to the Passionist, Father Gaetano, for confession and to tell him everything: Tell him that you want to be a nun, but that you want a more austere rule. Father Gaetano told her: But there are also Passionist Nuns. In the same letter to Father Germano, Gemma writes: From that moment, my thought was fixed on those words, and my wish was to become a Passionist. I told this to [my] Confessor and he was happy with it, and in fact he said to me that for me a more rigorous rule than that of the Visitation was needed; then after that, together with the vocation I received a great devotion to Confrater [Saint] Gabriel; I began praying to him, and I still do, that God give me the grace to become a Passionist [Nun] soon.
It is clear from this letter, and others to Monsignor Volpi, that Gemma believed that her vocation was to be a Passionist Nun. We know that this did not happen. Father Germano writes (Chapter XXVI):
She thought and thought, asked advice, and resolved to go there [the Passionist Nuns monastery at Corneto, now called Tarquinia} for a course of spiritual exercises. She accordingly with three companions from Lucca made a formal request to that effect. The Superior, although a woman of very large mind and heart, answered, God so permitting it, in these resolute words: “Let the three come, but not Gemma; and mind, if they bring her with them, we shall not allow her to enter.” That good Mother, who had heard much of Gemma in a wrong sense, had probably thought she was one of those hysterical and deluded girls who do not do well in communities. The unexpected refusal was made known to Gemma, who felt it intensely but was not irritated by it; nay, on hearing some of the family grumbling about it, she said: “Oh why should we speak like this? Don’t blame the Mother President,” (this is how the Passionists [Nuns] name the Superior in their houses) “I instead wish her so well that when I go to paradise she shall be the first I will go to meet and salute.” And speaking to a friend of a dream she had she said: “I recognised the Mother President in my dream. She looked at me so severely! I feel so well disposed towards her, and she does not want me.”
Later, when he speaks of the time leading up to Gemma’s death, Father Germano writes:
Finally God made known to her that the requisite conditions would not be fulfilled and that she had to be resigned. “What I have gone through this morning,” these are her words, “I cannot explain. I shall only say that I felt a great impulse to cry. I ran away to my room to be more free there and alone, and I cried a great deal. At last I exclaimed: Fiat voluntas tua!” But those tears were not of grief; they were of perfect resignation.
The fiat was spoken [continues Father Germano]; Gemma thought no more of being a Religious; she ceased to speak of it, and occupied herself solely in preparing for death, which came, as she had foretold, in six months. God was satisfied with his faithful servant’s desire and with the merit of the sacrifice she had so generously made. She had already as an act of private devotion made the vows of Religious Profession. She was a Religious and Passionist in mind and spirit and bore the stigmata of His Passion on her body. She was then fit to leave this world, well satisfied and full of joy at having perfectly attained the end for which God placed her in it.