#Discernment Essential: Ongoing Conversion

The Conversion of Saint Paul (Murillo)

The Conversion of Saint Paul (Murillo)

In a recent post, I wondered if this blog has emphasized enough the spiritual groundwork that we need to live in a spirit of discernment. I was especially thinking of the challenge of living in ongoing conversion as a discernment essential.

Do we really need “ongoing conversion”? We tend to think about conversion as a big event, something that happens when we become baptized, or make a huge change in our lives. But we need conversion in daily life, too, because no matter how dedicated we are to follow Christ, there are always very real obstacles to our union with him: temptations of this world and from other people, temptations from the devil, and, perhaps most confusing, temptations from within us—which are the effects of original sin. No temptation is more powerful than Christ’s grace at work in us, but when we give any of them attention, we start to let them drown out Christ’s invitations. Whether it’s a particular temptation, a moment of weakness, or a situation that leads us to sin, when we are no longer attentive to living God’s universal will of avoiding sin, our discernment becomes extremely difficult.

When he began his public life, Jesus invited everyone to conversion—the holy and the sinners. Conversion is a turning towards God, away from ourselves. This process is described beautifully by Jesus in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), and there is a short commentary on this parable in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which has a nice section on Conversion, Repentance, and Penance in the Article that treats the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Penance). I especially found #s1427-1439 helpful with regard to ongoing conversion.

The Pauline Family received a special invitation to live in ongoing conversion. In a time of great doubt for our Founder Blessed James Alberione, Jesus appeared to him and confirmed him in the Pauline vocation and spirituality that he was beginning in the Pauline Family. Jesus told him, “Do not be afraid. I am with you. From here,” and Jesus pointed to the tabernacle, “I will enlighten. Live with a penitent heart.”

The Founder gave these words to us; they are a concrete expression of how we are called to live our vocation as Paulines. If you enter a Pauline chapel any where around the world (and we are in over 50 countries), you will find these words there, in some form.

Our Founder wrote an account of this event at least twice in Italian, and they were not “word for word.” In particular, that last phrase has been translated several way into English:

“Live with a penitent heart.”

“Be sorry for sin.”

“Live in continual conversion.”

What I love about all three phrases is that they all express ongoing, daily conversion as essential to our life and mission in Christ, in our obedience to the Father’s will. How would you describe Christ’s call in your life to ongoing conversion?

You may also wish to check out this Litany of Ongoing Conversionwhich offers insights into how we might need to convert!

Prayers for #Discernment

The Annunciation

The Annunciation

The past few weeks, I keep running into some wonderful prayers for discernment, so I thought I’d share them here:

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe has a lovely collection of Prayers for Discernment from a variety of Catholic spiritual traditions (Francis of Assisi, Carmelite, and one of my personal favorites by St. Thomas More).

The USCCB site has over 40 prayers for vocations, as well as another page with some excellent resources on discerning one’s vocation.

The Archdiocese of Boston has a short selection of prayers for discerning one’s vocation, including one written by our Founder, Blessed James Alberione, and another beautiful prayer written by another Daughter of St. Paul, Sr. Nancy Michael Usselmann, FSP

IgnatianSpirituality.com has many wonderful resources on discernment, but this is a page that I frequently send people to: it is a list of prayers by St. Ignatius of Loyola and other Jesuits. There are many wonderful prayers here–not all about discernment–but most of them reference seeking to know or follow God’s will in some way.

Finally, I’ll close with a short prayer for discernment that I wrote when I was vocation director,  and which is included in our Discern It! App for discerning vocations:


Tip To Become a Better Discerner


Annunciation by Philippe de Champaigne – Web Gallery of Art:  Public Domain

October is the month of the Rosary, with October 7th being the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary. One of the things that we do when we pray the Rosary is reflect on all the “major events” in the lives of Jesus and Mary. Meditating on how Mary was so completely and constantly receptive to the work and invitations of the Holy Spirit within her can be very helpful in learning how we can better discern and respond to the invitations of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Rosary is one of the best prayers to pray frequently–not just during times of deeper discernment–but all the time.

It’s fitting that the feast of Pope St. John Paul II, whose motto was “Totus Tuus” falls during this month as well, on October 22nd. One of my favorite books is an early compilation of his writings on Mary: John Paul II’s Book of Mary, compiled by Margaret R. Bunson. (It is currently on sale in paperback!)

This excerpt from Pope St. John Paul II’s address at Caracas in 1985 is one of the quotes that gave me the courage to continue this blog–I hope it can offer some inspiration for our discernments:

“It is the Virgin Mary who invites us to consider history as an adventure of love in which God keeps his promises and triumphs with his fidelity. A history is which God asks us, as he asked the Virgin, to be his associates, his collaborators, in order to carry out his plan of salvation from generation to generation. This requires that we respond to God, like Mary, with a total and irrevocable ‘fiat.’ ”


Wonderful Resource for Discerners Available Again!

I’m delighted to announce that the best resource that I know of for learning and understanding in-depth the spiritual art of discernment is once again available!


Discernment: Acquiring the Heart of God by Jesuit priest Marko Ivan Rupnik is back in print!

So many people have been requesting this marvelous book that our editorial team  were able to put it back into print. Discernment: Acquiring the Heart of God is the most complete, all-in-one guide to learning how to discern God’s invitations in our lives that I have found. (Other books are very, very good, but I have found nothing so complete, in one small—but densely packed!— volume.) In addition, this superb book is a wonderful guide to the spiritual life.

This book has been so valued that, even though it only went out of print early this year, amazon sellers were selling individual used copies for over $50 each.

Contents include:

  • Discernment as relationship with God.
  • Understanding temptation.
  • How to surrender to Christ.
  • Practicing discernment.
  • Discernment one’s vocation.
  • Discernment in community.

If you have been enjoying this blog, but are interested in going deeper into the spiritual life and the practice of discernment, you certainly want to consider reading this book.

Need Your Help in a New Conversion!


This blog has been an amazing opportunity to explore with hundreds of readers the beautiful and essential spiritual art of discernment. It’s been incredibly helpful for me personally, as I’ve reflected on how discernment has become so essential to my life, as well as how sometimes I fail in living the depth of availability to our loving God. I usually find that if God wants me to grow in a particular way, he gives me a book to write!

I will continue to post here weekly, but my focus is going to shift from posting here to “converting” this blog to a book which can be published. So my posts will be shorter, more reader-based, more responsive to your questions and insights (whether here or on Facebook or Twitter). I will also include more quotes from my favorite resources on discernment, as well as develop lists of great sites that can help us in discerning God’s will.

But I need your help with converting this blog to a book!

What would you like to see in the upcoming book? Is there anything I haven’t covered that you would like me to explore here or further in the book? Do you know someone who could use a book on discernment–and what do they need to see in it?

My favorite part of this blog has been to interact with you, so please contact me any time! 

Prayer To Surrender to Love

After last week’s very personal post about my journey to greater trust in the Lord, I thought I would share this prayer of surrender from my journal.

By Artotem [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Prayer To Surrender to Love

Loving God, You know me intimately:

my fears,

my inability to trust You,

my grasping for those things over which I have no control,

my blindness to the reality of Your love and Your presence,

my stubbornness in never trusting the experience of Your love that You continuously shower on me.

I am a mess of contradictions: I want to witness to You,  while emotionally I am locked into overwhelming fear.

In Your time, in Your way, free me!

Let Your Presence fill my prison until its bars burst open

Let Your Love give wings to my desperate heart

Let Your Gentleness soothe my ego’s frantic efforts to control

Let Your Truth root my fluttering doubts

Let Your Light show my faltering feet the Way

Let Your Banquet nourish my weakness into Life

Let Your Faithfulness encompass and embrace me until…

     I am transformed from a being bound by Fear

          into a being transformed by Love. 

Jesus Master, my Way, my Truth, and my Life, I trust in You!

* * *

These are some classic, beautiful prayers of surrender and trust in  the Lord by some of the saints:

Suscipe by St. Ignatius of Loyola

Prayer of Abandon by Bl. Charles de Foucald

An Act of Oblation by St. Francis de Sales

Photo by Artotem [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

#Discernment Essential: Ongoing Conversion (or Letting God Break Through—a Sister’s Ongoing Conversion Story)


The view from my outdoor “prayer nook” during my 8 day retreat

I was gifted with a beautiful annual retreat in July, and I also felt very privileged to carry all your intentions “with me” on the retreat. You continue to be in my prayers.

One of the challenges in discerning God’s will for our lives is making sure that we are open to his will. I came face to face with my own resistance to God’s invitation to me during this retreat.

* * *

For a long time, I’ve known that the Lord has been inviting me to trust him more. And I have been working at it and praying about it. I even thought I was growing in trust. But I wasn’t really wholehearted in my efforts or my prayers because, to be honest, his invitation scared me.

For many years, I have trusted the Lord in many ways and about many things. But for some time now, the Lord’s invitation to me has been to go deeper, to entrust to him everything, even those things that I have been holding back. And that has just seemed too hard. So in the past few years I’d prayed about it superficially, occasionally asked for the gift of greater trust and greater fortitude, but mostly…ignored it. I think I allowed fear to harden my heart.

God is unfailingly good, understanding, tender, gentle, and patient with me. Instead of forcing the issue, or giving up on me, he simply continued to work in my life in other ways. But the invitation was there, waiting…and he knew it and I gradually grew more and more aware of it. I started realizing that, when I wasn’t trusting the Lord with these things in my life, I would try to control them instead. (As if I could! ) I was reminded of the New Serenity Prayer that Father James Martin, SJ, wrote a few years back. Sometimes the only form of control I had was to worry about them.

During retreat God allowed me to experience a moment of extreme weakness. Perhaps he did it so that I would remember anew how very weak and fragile I am. It was very uncomfortable to recognize my littleness and fragility in the light of my efforts to control everything around me. But I think I needed this discomfort for my eyes to be opened, and God allowed it for this reason. None of the situations I was worried about were in my control. Wouldn’t it make more sense to entrust them to the God whom I have to come to know as tender, loving, gentle, and faithful—the God who could do something about them? Who probably already was doing something about them?

IMAG0883At a most beautiful moment in prayer, one in which I was simply pouring out my heart to God, God gave me the gift of being able to make that act of trust right then and there. With that act of trust came a great sense of peace and a sense of being loved by the Lord.

Of course, my act of trust was not, is not, a one-time act. It’s ongoing. My trust in the Lord can be renewed every day, every hour, and—in very difficult situations—every minute, if need be.

* * *

In coming back to this blog, I wonder if I have emphasized enough how important it is to be truly open to God’s will for us, an openness which requires living in ongoing conversion! I can make every effort to discern God’s will, but if I’m not listening, if I’m not open, or if I allow fear, grief,  pain, anger, or anything else to blind me, I can completely miss the loving invitation that God is holding out to me in this very moment.

Since I’ve returned to my daily life, I’ve been blessed to renew my trust in my Beloved Master many times. This is one of my favorite acts of trust, found in the journal of Blessed James Alberione. I encourage you to entrust yourself to the Lord frequently on your discernment journey:

I trust in You, Sacred Heart of my Master!

If I enter religious life, do I waste the “gifts” God has given me?

Slide2Another question from a reader:

I am currently in the process of discerning a call to the religious life. However, of late, I am experiencing a deep-seated struggle over what feels like a “locking away” of my gifts.

I have been an actor, writer and poet since I was a child, and I am passionate about music and the arts, theatre in particular. The thought of being unable to do these things, or at least participate in them fully, is painful to me, but I cannot decide if these are legitimate obstacles to a religious vocation, or merely commitment fears.

I thought I might put the question to you, as a writer and communicator. Did you ever struggle in this way with your discernment? Can you offer any insights that might help me in my attempt to be more sure of what it is God is calling me to?                                                                                 – L

Dear L.,

You have raised an excellent question that I’ve heard before and which I certainly understand. When I first entered the convent, I naively thought I was giving up writing altogether. It was a difficult choice, a letting go of a cherished dream. I never imagined that I would go back to writing and eventually become a published author as a Daughter of Saint Paul. Of course, I was too young to be sure that I wanted to be a writer, or even that I could be. But I’ve never regretted choosing to be a sister over writing, even when I thought I would never write again. Following Christ in God’s call to me was and is more important to me than anything else.

Here a couple of insights that I’ve received as I’ve lived religious life as a writer:

  • I have discovered that, whether I’m “assigned” to writing or not, I love our Pauline mission, which is an even deeper call. I didn’t enter the Daughters of Saint Paul to write or to “do” anything else. I entered to become a bride of Christ, an apostle, and a saint (insofar as God works in me). I entered religious life to become a better lover of God and of souls.
  • Living religious life calls forth a deep level of creativity—both life in community and in the mission. Religious life is a very demanding lifestyle, and calls us to use all our gifts, even gifts that we don’t know we have! (For example, I had no idea that I could be a good teacher until I started giving conferences and workshops as an author.)
  • One time, when I was asked to give up a form of writing that was really hard for me, I discovered that I’m most passionate about my writing because of how it allows me to live the Pauline mission. Writing is one way—an important way—that I live my Pauline vocation.
  • Even now, there are times when I’ve wanted to go in a particular direction (with writing) or write a particular project and, in obedience, I’ve had to let go of what I thought was best. I’ll probably never stop writing entirely…but with the demands of our ministry, it’s not always possible to write when, how, and what I’d like to. For example, right now I’m assigned to Pauline Digital, which is wonderful, but also a sacrifice because it means:
    • Most of the writing I do now is “short form,” which isn’t my preferred (or best) form. But I am getting better at it, I hope!
    • I have to “squeeze in” the time to write any new books in free moments, so instead of taking a year to write, now a book will take 2.5 years to write
    • Much of the time I’m not writing at all but focused on collaborating in projects in which I am doing other kinds of work, such as editing, technical, managerial, etc. All of this, however, feeds my writing.
  • When we are truly committed to our art, it grows and develops over time, and our needs and desires as an artist also change over time. I truly believe that God uses my desires, and blesses my obedience as a religious, even when obeying means greater sacrifice. If your state in life changes, you may discover that the very gifts that you brought to the theater arts will be called upon in another way. Or, you might be surprised as I was, and discover that God is giving you a new opportunity to use your gifts for theater, poetry, or music…

I would definitely suggest talking to a sister from the community you are discerning with. Find out if some of the sisters work in the arts, even in an adapted way. (But don’t decide to enter based on the fact that you would only be doing a particular ministry, unless the sisters assure you that this is the case. In our community—as in many others—we are called to obedience especially in our apostolic assignments.) This will give you more information that you need to discern this particular question. 

Also, you may want to look more closely at a community in which the arts has an important role in their ministry. There are a lot of communities where the arts are important to the sisters’ lives and mission (including my own, the Daughters of St. Paul). Music is important to many communities, including contemplative communities.

Finally, have you brought this specific question/fear to Jesus in prayer, and really laid out to him your hopes, your dreams, your fears, and your desire to do his will?  Don’t be afraid to entrust your questions and fears to him. Sometimes when we are really wrestling with something, we forget to bring it to him. Jesus will give you the light—and strength and desire—which you need to discern and respond to God’s call for you.

Whatever you discern his call to be, I encourage you to follow him in the vocation he gives you. You will not be disappointed!  May God bless you in your discernment journey. 

Is getting married selfish because you’re not giving your whole heart to God?


A question from a reader:

“I am recently, as of a few days ago, feeling this strong pull to investigate the option of the religious life. But it really freaks me out. I never seriously considered it as an option, ever in my life; it honestly never felt like it fit me at all. And it still doesn’t, to be honest. I am having the hardest time, because I know that I would do it, if God asked me, because I love Him too much to say no. I would have to say yes. But I guess it boils down to this: I feel like if I get married, I won’t be giving myself completely to Him. I would feel like I didn’t give Him my all, which is what I should do, right? Is getting married selfish, because you’re reserving part of your heart for someone else other than God??

But on the other hand, I feel like if I become a nun I won’t be able to not feel sorry for myself all the time that I’m “missing out.” (I know I wouldn’t really be missing out, but I don’t know if I could stop myself from feeling that way). I feel like if I become a nun, a part of my heart will never come alive… The part of me that longs to love someone else and be loved and romanced by them, and the part of me that wants to have kids. I know that all of this could be fulfilled in a different way, like in a spiritual way, if I became a sister, but it wouldn’t be the same. And then I feel guilty and selfish for feeling that way.

I guess it’s just becoming very clear to me that I need to arrive spiritually at the point where I could become a sister joyfully, and not be afraid to let go of my dream of falling in love/marriage, but I don’t know how.

Any advice on how to deal with those obstacles? Because all He has been telling me in prayer is how much He loves me, and how good His plans are, but I am still scared of what that means.”  – M.

Feeling “freaked out” is an appropriate response when someone is first considering a vocation to religious life. A religious vocation is a beautiful, awesome call—and if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we are fragile, vulnerable “earthen vessels.” Feeling awed or overwhelmed by the thought of being called to religious life means that someone understands the vocation to religious life on a more-than-superficial level. So that’s a great first step in discerning our vocation.

But we need to have a good understanding of marriage, too. A couple of clarifications might be helpful at this point: in both marriage and religious life, we are called to offer our entire selves and our entire lives to God. The difference between these vocations is not in how much we give from our heart, because we are to give all in both. Rather, the distinction between the two vocations is in how we give our hearts.

In marriage, the spouses retain their individual identities, vocations, relationships, etc. But in their covenant of love with each other, they have a new way of living and loving. From now on, their journey through life is with, and often through, their spouse. Their love together—a gift from God to remain centered in God—bears fruit in their children and in nurturing in their family.

For a religious, God is the primary “Companion” or “Spouse” on their spiritual journey. The religious brother or sister’s love for God and God’s love for them bears fruit in their mission for their spiritual children, to be for them the face of God.

In both vocations, the overarching human vocation to love God and neighbor is a call to give all of one’s life to loving. There’s nothing selfish about either.

It’s really important to be open to God’s call. But if we are seeking to be open to God and, after praying about it, find that we are continuing to think about religious life simply because we think being married is selfish, then perhaps it would be helpful to shift the focus of our discernment from religious life to marriage. Perhaps what we are calling “selfishness” is simply an indication that we deeply desire marriage. (We are still discerning between the two vocations, but we are focusing on the discernment in another way.) Many times, a young woman is discerning a religious vocation because she thinks she “should” become a sister, due to expectations of others or even of herself that aren’t really discerning God’s will for her.

You may find it helpful to read (or re-read) these two posts: What is the Connection Between Desire and Discernment, and Discerning with Deep Desires. 

light-person-woman-fireIf, after serious thought and prayer, we truly, deeply feel that we will only come “fully alive” in one vocation, that is a positive indication towards that vocation! All vocations involve “missing out” on some things—that is the nature of making a choice! For example, I would have loved to be a wife and mother, but in not following my vocation to religious life, I would have “missed out” on something more important to me: the exclusivity of my relationship with God, and my availability to serve the people of God. (I want to note that these are more important to me precisely because I am called to religious life, whereas I am not called to be a wife and mother.)

Part of discernment is indeed becoming holily indifferent to both options. The reason for this indifference is so that we can hear God’s invitation and fully embrace it. If God is already giving someone a strong indication of their vocation, at that time it’s more important to pray with that than to put aside the possible inspiration from God aside to pray with the other choice. For example, someone discerning marriage could pray with some of the following questions.

  • What are my dreams for marriage?
  • Are my dreams of marriage idealized (for example, based on a romantic movie I watched), or are they real, similar to faithful, beautiful marriages that I have witnessed in real life?
  • Am I discerning the vocation to marriage with a full realization that both vocations I am discerning between (marriage and religious life) are good and holy; but that God is giving me the gift of one of them?
  • What attachments do I have that are preventing me from freely discerning marriage? (For example, am I afraid to give up my independent lifestyle?)
  • How do I feel living the vocation to marriage will help me to live life fully, that is, live the fullness of my vocation to love?

(Reflecting on questions about who our future spouse will be is also an important part of our discernment to marriage, but that’s another post.)

Finally, I want to affirm the importance of prayer and trust in God in all of this—especially the way of praying and listening expressed in the question. God does love us, and God’s plans for us are always good. God wants what is best for us. We may still feel scared because we don’t know what the future holds, and because our vocation is not something we can control. It is important to remember that, as much as we try to actively discern, God is going to guide us in the concrete circumstances in our lives. For many of us, our vocational discernment gradually unfolds over time. We can trust in God’s loving guidance.

The wonderful thing about discernment is that, growing in our relationship with Jesus, we come to realize that our vocation is a gift: a gift to embrace, a gift uniquely suited to us individually, and a gift that will lead us to the greatest love, and thus to great joy and fulfillment.

Mary as Model of #Discernment, Vocation & Mission

The devotion to Mary, Queen of the Apostles, is one of the oldest devotions to Mary in the Church. One of our sisters recently let me know about a youtube video of the song, Queen of Apostles, composed and sung by Nancy Krebs, which beautifully offers reflections and prayers about two key events in Mary’s life associated with this particular title of Mary.

A key in discerning and living our vocation is devotion to Mary. Devotion to Mary as our Queen of Apostles is more than asking Mary to help us discover and carry out the mission God has entrusted to us. It also means entrusting ourselves and our spiritual journey to her. It means imitating Mary in how she shared her Son with the world, taking on her attitudes of humility, of receptivity to God (especially her docility to the Holy Spirit),  her obedience to God’s Word, and her union with her Son in his mission. If we entrust every effort that we make and everyone whom we seek to serve to Mary’s motherly care, all our efforts will be blessed.

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve, on her blog Thomas for Today, posted an introductory reflection on this ancient devotion: Mary and the Holy Spirit.