The D Word: Discernment De-Mystified
Congratulations! If you are a living breathing human being, you have a vocation – that is, you are called by God to unique, deeply personal communion with Him. Paragraph 1 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
…at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the church.
And lest you think that you, hidden in the deep obscurity of internet-world, are far too anonymous to be called by God to anything, Holy Mother Church continues to hammer home this point 542 paragraphs later when She says (emphasis original):
Everyone is called to enter the kingdom. First announced to the children of Israel, this messianic kingdom is intended to accept men of all nations.
So, you understand that you are called by God, and that your calling, vaguely defined is to union with Him in His Kingdom. How about we try and get a little more specific, shall we? Go ahead and flip on over to paragraph 825 of the CCC.
Strengthened by so many and such great means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state – though each in his own way – are called by the Lord to that perfection of sanctity by which the Father himself is perfect.
Did you catch that? All the faithful – yes, even you – are called to the perfection of God the Father. I’ll give you a minute to think about how perfect that is…
And maybe another minute to pick your jaw up off the floor…
Ready? Alright then, you indeed, humble blog reader, are called by God to be just that holy. Nothing less will do. How, precisely, you arrive at that holiness is a matter that is much less rigid. Note the sneaky mid-quote clause that hints at this idea of an individual calling within the universal call to holiness: “…whatever their condition or state – though each in his own way…” Now, that sounds more like it, right? When we talk about “vocation” this is usually what we mean – a vocation to a particular state in life (married, single, religious).
This kind of vocation, in contrast to the universal call to holiness, is very unique and personal. The most important thing to remember, however, is that everyone has one! At baptism, you were given a vocation, a divine calling from God which will allow you to attain the level of holiness to which we are all expected to ascend.
And if everyone has a vocation, then everyone has a responsibility to discern what that vocation is. In other words, discernment is not just for priests and nuns! And unless you’ve been given the grace of knowing your vocation from the age of reason, you need to spend time asking God to show you where He is asking you to go, sincerely seeking His will.
This process of discernment can be daunting, so I’ve gathered all the best discernment advice I’ve received over the years for your convenience. This list is by no means exhaustive. Every vocation is different, and therefore trying to use this list as some sort of a miracle checklist will probably cause much more harm than good – please don’t do that! That being said, I hope you’ll find these tips and resources to be helpful to you in your journey, and that along the way you’ll remain open to whatever our Lord has in store for you.
- Just say yes. Remember in elementary school when you would raise your hand to ask a question, and the teacher would just say “yes” before you even opened your mouth? Believe it or not, that’s a great thing to do in discernment! Before you even know what Jesus is going to ask you to do, just say yes! It’s an undeniable fact that whatever our Lord’s plans for you are, they are completely perfect in every way. He’s not out to get you. If He asks you to do something – whether it’s entering a convent or having 12 kids and a minivan – you can be sure that it’s for your benefit. Start your discernment process by just saying “yes,” and remember to renew that “yes” often.
- Consecrate yourself to Jesus through Mary. Momma Mary knows what’s best for her kids – put yourself totally in her hands, and I promise she’ll guide you to exactly where you need to be. Her greatest desire is that her Son’s wounded Heart be consoled. There’s no chance she’s going to let anyone who bears her name give Him anything less than what He asks for. For more about Marian Consecration, read True Devotion by St. Louis de Montfort, and check out this page on Fish Eaters.
- Pray. This one sounds like a no-brainer, but it can be really easy to get into “I need to figure out my vocation” mode. You don’t need to figure anything out – Jesus knows your vocation. All you need to do is ask Him, and be ready to do whatever He tells you. Our Lord is very smart – He hides our vocations deep in His heart so that we can’t find our calling without drawing nearer to Him.
- Read good books. Aside from daily meditation on Sacred Scripture, spiritual reading is a huge help in the discernment process. I especially recommend that you check out Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales and The Spiritual Combat by Lorenzo Scupoli. Your spiritual director can also help you choose books that are specifically suited to your needs. Speaking of which…
- Get a spiritual director. In case you weren’t sure, trying to base major life decisions off of something you read on the internet is never a good idea. So please, do yourself a favor and find a holy priest who will help you sort through your discernment process and guide you along the path to holiness. If you’re having trouble finding a good director, I can’t recommend the priests of Miles Christi highly enough. They take their vocation to spiritual fatherhood very seriously, and I can tell you from personal experience that they are incredibly good at what they do.
- Make a Spiritual Exercises retreat. Okay, so at this point you’re going to start to think that Miles Christi is paying me to say nice things about them, but I promise you, they’re not! They just happen to preach the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius in a weekend format in many locations throughout the U.S., Mexico, and Argentina. The Exercises are truly a fountain of graces, especially for discerners.
- Keep it secret. Keep it safe. Your discernment is personal, private, and something very intimate between your heart and the heart of Christ. Guard that relationship with a jealous love; keep your discussion of vocation things on a need-to-know basis. Of course, your spiritual director is a representative of Christ, and thus you can (and should!) speak openly and freely with him about everything regarding your discernment, and take his advice. Also, if you’re moving in the marriage direction and then realize it’s not your calling, it would probably be a good idea to talk that over with your significant other J
So there you have it! Discernment made simple? Maybe, maybe not. But just remember that whether the vows you’re called to take are marital or religious, they are for your benefit – Christ would not call you to something if He knew you couldn’t do it. He loves you! Sometimes it feels like Jesus is leading us along to who-knows-where, and something terrible could happen at any moment. I’ll give you a hint: He’s leading you to Heaven, and He’s not going to let you get lost along the way. Trust, trust, trust.