Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer - Vocations Director Father Walter Szczesny
Discernment is the process of hearing God’s call to a vocation as a priest, sister, brother or deacon and then having the courage to respond to that call.
Discerning that call is not always a simple process. Perhaps there is a little nagging voice in your heart telling you there is something more. Maybe you love learning about your faith, attending Mass, helping others, or have been told you would make a great priest, sister or brother.
Whatever brought you to the point of opening the door to the idea, discernment is absolutely necessary. But how exactly does discernment work? Here are some suggestions to help anyone considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.
Daily Prayer – Make a commitment to daily prayer and be faithful to it, even when it gets dry. Do not be afraid of it. If you feel like you do not know how to pray, keep asking Christ to teach you as He did the apostles. To learn more about God’s amazing love, we have to make room in our day for prayer, silence and the sacraments of the Church. Life is crazy and hectic, filled with activity, noise and productivity. To hear God amid this racket we need to carve out a silent space to sit alone and listen to the voice of the Lord in our hearts. Find somewhere you can be silent each day, talk to the Lord honestly, and give God an opportunity to speak. Ask God to help you learn how to pray, listen and recognize which vocation is the one for which you were created and in which you will be happiest.
Attend Mass daily if possible – The Eucharist is truly and really Jesus Christ. It is His full presence. Make Mass the center of your life and you will grow in the conscious encounter with Christ.
Sacrament of Reconciliation – In the sacrament of confession, we receive the forgiving presence of Christ. It is His precious gift to us. Go to confession. If you have not gone for years, do not be afraid. The priest will understand. He will be there to assist you and guide you.
Talk to a priest or sister – There is an old saying, “Anyone who is one’s own spiritual director has a poor spiritual director.” The point is that we need someone to help guide us, to help us understand the activity of God in us. The work of God is very mysterious, so we often need someone who has walked in our shoes to guide us or we can get lost. Someone who is seriously considering a religious vocation would do well to seek out a priest or sister and talk with them. Ask honest questions. Visit some religious communities or the seminary. Share what you are looking for and what your fears are and ask for advice on how to make a good discernment.
Read the Gospels – Jesus, the Word of God, speaks to us through the Bible, the Word of God. In a special way, Jesus speaks to us and we encounter Him through the four Gospels. I would encourage you to begin with the Gospel of Mark, then Luke, Matthew and John. Read a chapter or two each day. As you read, simply pay attention to where your heart rests, what desires are stirred in you, what jumps out at you.
Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God – Mary is your mother. It is true. In difficult times, ask her to let you feel her tender care, to comfort you, to strengthen you. If you have not yet begun praying the rosary, begin today. This could be part of your daily prayer time. If you are not able to pray it each day, then pray a decade each day. Do not try to do too much at once; it will only become burdensome. It is a good practice to pray three Hail Marys each night asking Mary to help you know your vocation.
Eucharistic Adoration – If there is a parish near you that has Eucharistic adoration, go and sit in His presence. Many men and women who are entering the seminary or convent have mentioned that it was their experience of Christ’s presence in Eucharistic adoration that brought them peace and clarity.
Spiritual Reading – Begin reading books that feed you spiritually; it will help you grow in knowing Christ’s will for you. By just reading a few pages each day, it can make a difference. In fact, one could incorporate spiritual reading with one’s daily prayer. You may want to read the lives of the saints, especially St. John Vianney and St. Maximilian Kolbe.
Hang around good people – It is a simple fact that people often become who they hang around with. We influence one another in good ways and bad. Our relationships deeply affect who we will become. It is important that our friends are fun and enjoy life, but it is also important that those same friends encourage us to do the right thing and to put God first in our life.
Put your trust in God – God wants what is best for you. God also wants you to be happy. God will steer you in the right direction.
Discernment of a vocation is about listening to what God personally wants for me and where I can best be a unique instrument of God’s love in the world. Every vocation is about giving one’s life over to God in unselfish love and service of others. Discernment is about looking at the gifts God has given you and offering those gifts back to God with open hands and a loving heart. Trust, patience, humility and a willingness to let go are very important in any discernment. If you are too attached to a particular outcome or let yourself be pressured into making a hasty decision, you do not give God the opportunity to work. It is God’s way that will give us the most happiness and inner peace. Thinking we have it all figured out and then going to God to get a stamp of approval is not discernment. To truly discern, we have to be open to any outcome and allow God to run the show as God sees fit. Discernment is figuring out not what God wants from me, but what God wants for me.
If you have any questions or comments on this process of discernment contact Father Walter Szczesny at the Diocese of Buffalo Office of Vocations at 716-847-5535 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit the Vocation Office website at www.buffalovocations.org.
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