I know, the title is probably a shock to you. You are saying to me, “Nathan, what do you mean discerning vocations isn’t just for priest or nuns? Oh, do you mean, like, religious brothers and sisters and deacons too?” Nope. No I don’t. Discerning vocations is for everyone (Catholic or not). God has called each and every one of us to serve His Church on earth so we can win souls and save our own to join Him in heaven after death. No, you’re right, this doesn’t mean that every person who wants to serve God has to be a priest or a nun (and for those of you who thought it did mean that: No. It doesn’t mean that because you aren’t/aren’t going to be a priest or a nun you aren’t called to serve God radically!).
Our vocation, simply put, is the calling God gives us which is the best fit for our lives in service to Him. Fireman, Cop, Teacher, or Creative Twenty-Something “Writer” (Barista) are not vocations, these are jobs or careers, but your job or your career is not your vocation (necessarily). You vocational options are as follows: Priesthood/Religious Life, Marriage, Single Life. These are vocations because through these we are called to direct service to Christ.
So now that we know what they are, how do we decide which one is our vocation? Or, to put it another way, how do we discern our vocation? Easy question, complicated answer.
First step: Prayer. Everything in our lives should begin with prayer, especially our discernment of our call to serve God. Of course prayer and the process of prayer are significantly more difficult than I make them sound, to many people. Many people don’t know, or rather don’t think they know, how to pray. For the prayerfully confused individuals reading this, let me quote Saint Josemaria Escriva: “You tell me you don’t know how to pray? As soon as you have said, ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray,’ surely you have begun!” Prayer is a conversation between you and God, and in all conversations you must be an attentive listener if you are going to participate.
Here are a few tips for prayer for the discerning heart:
1. Drop the shopping list and engage God in active conversation. Tell Him what you want and take time in the silence of your heart to listen and reflect.
2. Pray without ceasing! We are called to offer our lives to God and everything can be done ad majorem Dei gloriam, for the greater glory of God. Prayer shouldn’t just happen before Mass and before bed. God often answers us through deeds and those around us.
3. Remember to listen! Prayer is a conversation. Even the most well intentioned discerners are guilty of monopolizing that conversation. You can keep yelling to God that you’re open to His will, but at one point you have to be silent and listen to His answer!
4. BE PATIENT! Prayer isn’t Google; your results don’t come back within .22 seconds of your request. God answers when He is ready and you will hear Him when you are ready. Trust, love, and wait. God will always lead you in the right direction. (It took .22 seconds for Google to generate 250,000,000 results for the phrase, “Prayer isn’t Google”).
5. Receive the sacraments frequently. Closeness to Christ is key to any discernment. We cannot know His will for us if we refuse to be close to Him.
Second Step: Spiritual Direction. [DON'T STOP READING!] Non-religious discerners: seminarians and postulates aren’t the only ones who need spiritual direction. It is a sad reality that there aren’t enough priests or religious to provide everyone with a spiritual director, but don’t let that discourage you from finding one, after all, most people aren’t looking. Yes, it’s free. No, you don’t have to take any vows or oaths to procure one.
Spiritual direction is a vastly important aspect to discernment. It helps you get out of your head and find guidance from someone who was in your shoes and chose to place God first in their life. It is an opportunity for prayer and discussion with someone who knows the teachings of the Church, is familiar with the spiritual life, and familiar with your situation. Here are a few tips on seeking a spiritual director:
1. Find someone who knows the teachings of the Church, is familiar with the spiritual life, and knows your situation. What good is a spiritual director who will lead you astray?
2. You should find someone who can spend time with you building a relationship. If you and your parish priest don’t see eye to eye (personally, not on matters of the pulpit), try seeking someone else.
3. Consult your parish priest or a priest who you know to be obedient to the teachings of the Church to help you obtain an appropriate spiritual director and don’t let anyone discourage you from obtaining one. Some priests won’t believe that there is a need for anyone not discerning religious life to undergo formal spiritual direction. If you find one, politely thank him for his time and look elsewhere.
4. Don’t restrict your search to a priest. If you are female and discerning religious life you may be more comfortable with a nun. If you are discerning married or single life, find a married or single deacon in your parish or community or ask your parish priest for the names of married couples he might recommend as faithful examples of sacramental marriage (or single persons living the single life faithfully). Any of these are good options for anyone discerning any vocation; priests aren’t the only ones who offer direction. The important thing is finding someone who can give the best direction for you.
Third Step: Formation. No, I don’t mean entering a religious order, but the idea is the same. Live the life you’re discerning! No, I don’t mean start offering confession to your friends, wearing a habit, or making babies. I mean learn, understand, and live the virtues of the life you are discerning and prayerfully apply them to your life, today. What does that mean? Here’s another list:
1. No matter what you are discerning, chastity is a must. Every vocation calls us to it and some call us above it. Purity of mind, body, and spirit. Dating or single, this is your calling. Having troubles with it? We all do, but Momma Mary has our backs so long as you ask.
2. Single life: I’ll admit it, I wish I had specific formation tips but I don’t. But the key to vocational discernment is finding the thing which gives you both peace and happiness.
3. Priesthood/religious life: Start to live a regimented life and engage in the prayers of the life you think you’ll be living. Attend daily mass, pray the Hours, increase the amount of service you do in your community and your parish, and start to deny yourself the things you’ll have to sacrifice once you enter that life.
4. Married life: Date. Obviously. If you don’t feel compelled to do that, that’s your first sign you may not be called to marriage.
Discerning your vocation isn’t easy and you will take more than a few trips on the struggle bus and the doubt train. But take heart! God is calling you to serve Him in a vocation, and if you follow these steps the calling will become a little more audible.
Note: I am not a priest or a member on any of these vocational classes. I haven’t said anything here that can’t be verified in the teachings of the Church, but I am not an expert of discernment or any of these vocations. These suggestions are a compilation of the advice I’ve been given on the subjects and are not a complete guide to discernment. The suggestions are meant to guide, not instruct. Take them and start a dialogue with a spiritual director or a priest, nun, girlfriend, etc., and take what fruit is offered in them.
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