The blog on the Daughters of Saint Paul website for young women who are discerning with us is running a lovely series of posts for Advent that I thought you might find helpful.
Last year at a special meeting in Rome on the apostolic mysticism of our congregation the Daughters of Saint Paul (#MediaNuns), several of the presenters stressed how important it is to be obedient to the inspirations and work of the Holy Spirit. Gradually, this focus on listening and obedience to the Spirit, as well as surrender into the hands of the Most Holy Trinity, has become a key point in my daily prayer, reflections, and examens. This a passage from the document that summarized our two-week meeting captures it well. (Note that all the quotations in the passage are from our Founder, Blessed James Alberione, from one of the key texts he wrote about Pauline Spirituality, Donec formetur Christus in vobis [That Christ Be Formed in You.])
“…It is necessary to detach ourselves from a voluntaristic or moralistic approach to the spiritual-apostolic journey and entrust ourselves to the love of the Father, who, through the Spirit, forms Christ Jesus in us. It is the Trinity that carries out this work of conforming the life of the believer to Christ, to the glory of the Father and for the growth of the Kingdom of God.
As it was for Paul, surrender to God is essential in our journey of adherence to the dead and risen Christ (cf. Ga. 4:19), a process that our Founder loved to call “Christification.” It is up to us to be docile to the inspirations of the Spirit” so that:
* our mind, activated by Jesus Truth, adopts “the thoughts and judgments of Jesus,” in particular his mentality, his way of viewing the various realities and situations of life, so that our thinking will be based more and more on the Gospel (DF 65);
* our will; moved by Jesus Way, detaches itself from selfish choices and does what is pleasing to the Father: “May your will replace my will” (DF 40);
* our heart, in communion with Jesus Life, nourishes the same feelings as his heart: love, mercy…so that this love will become a “fire” that reaches those far away and those thirsting for the truth: “Replace my love for God, for my neighbor and for myself, with your love” (DF 40).” – You Conquered Me as You Conquered Saul Internal Document of the Daughters of Saint Paul, 2017
In keeping with that focus, a good friend and I were talking about our favorite prayers to the Holy Spirit, and she shared this video of the famous advice and prayer to the Holy Spirit written by Cardinal Mercier. It is powerful advice and a powerfully beautiful prayer.
This week, November 4-10, 2018, is National Vocation Awareness Week, with a special focus on discerning the call to priesthood, religious life and diaconate. In these difficult days for the Church, it can be especially hard for young people to discern whether God is calling them to dedicate themselves totally to building the kingdom of God. Please join this week in praying for the holy vocations that the Church and the world so desperately need.
If you are a young person discerning your vocation, check out Pope Francis’ Message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations here. I think these short paragraphs in particular offer much-needed encouragement and insight:
God continues to “come down” to save our human family and to make us sharers in his mission. The Lord continues to call others to live with him and to follow him in a relationship of particular closeness. He continues to call others to serve him directly. If he lets us realize that he is calling us to consecrate ourselves totally to his kingdom, then we should have no fear! It is beautiful – and a great grace – to be completely and forever consecrated to God and the service of our brothers and sisters.
Today the Lord continues to call others to follow him. We should not wait to be perfect in order to respond with our generous “yes”, nor be fearful of our limitations and sins, but instead open our hearts to the voice of the Lord. To listen to that voice, to discern our personal mission in the Church and the world, and at last to live it in the today that God gives us.
May Mary Most Holy, who as a young woman living in obscurity heard, accepted and experienced the Word of God made flesh, protect us and accompany us always on our journey.
– Pope Francis, 2018 Message for World Day of Prayer for Vocations
The National Religious Vocation Conference put together this five-minute video that offers insights into various communities of consecrated life and discernment:
If you need inspiration in praying for vocations, check out this collection of vocation prayers hosted on the USCCB site. There are over 40 prayers—more than enough prayers here to choose a different prayer for every day this week!
A few weeks ago at daily Mass, we had the beautiful reading from Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 about the seasons of life:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance… – Ecclesiastes 3:1-3
This reading from Ecclesiastes reminds us that God guides the events of our lives, and that there is a gift from God in every season, or time, that we live in. The very temporariness of the time we live and the transitions we undergo are a reminder of the timelessness of God and the longing for the eternal that God has put in our hearts. “God has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into their hearts” (v. 11). This line is probably why I most often hear this passage read at funerals—and it is a great choice for a funeral Mass. And yet, this passage has so much wisdom to offer at other times, even as we journey through the seasons of nature.
The seasons of nature can be reflected in our spiritual life. Sometimes, when a great deal is going on in our lives, an “easy in” to reflecting on what is happening interiorly is to look at our spiritual life in this light of what season we are living.Perhaps as you read this—or another time today—you can take a few moments to reflect on what spiritual “season” or “moment” from Ecclesiastes 3 you most identify with at this time in your life.
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I first started praying with the seasons of my heart years ago as a young religious. Recently, I was reminded of how helpful that can be by the last few pages of Parker Palmer’s lovely book on vocation, Let Your Life Speak. (Palmer, who is a member of the Religious Society of Friends [Quaker], talks about failure as an important part of discernment: how failure can be a clear indication from God that we are meant to turn in another direction–or to see what has been in front of us all along.) Quoting Thomas Merton about “the hidden wholeness” in all visible things, Palmer speaks of autumn’s metaphor for our spiritual lives:
In the visible world of nature, a great truth is concealed in plain sight: diminishment and beauty, darkness and light, death and life are not opposites. They are held together in the paradox of “hidden wholeness.”
…Autumn constantly reminds me that my daily dyings are necessary precursors to new life.
– Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, pp. 99-100
The bittersweet richness of autumn in nature has made it my favorite season, because it always seems to speak to wherever I am in the spiritual life. Autumn is a season where change is perhaps most striking in nature. Above all, autumn is a season for the strenuous work of reaping and harvesting, and for enjoying the fruits of the harvest.
All the aspects of the season of autumn are connected to the most stark result at its end: the death or seeming-death of the natural world surrounding us, so much so that it changes from rich shades of green to a dull brownish-gray. What is so powerful about this aspect of autumn is that, if seen as part of the whole of all four seasons of the year, autumn also becomes a time of preparing for new life. Clearing the gardens and even planting the bulbs which will stay buried deep in the ground all through winter, but will burst through and blossom in the spring.
In our spiritual lives, we can be going through “autumn” when we are living a time of transition—with something ending and something else beginning. It is a time to recognize the gifts and graces that we have received—and their transitoriness gives a special intensity to our gratitude. The spiritual season of autumn can be a time for a fresh start, but it can also be a time of loss accompanied by grief and a sense of emptiness. It can be a time of hidden preparation for something that we cannot yet imagine. Spiritually, our season of autumn leads us to live in the spirit of the Cross—the daily “dying to self” that all Christians are called to.
We witness and benefit from this self-emptying love of Christ every time we participate at Mass. And we are called to daily share in the suffering and death of Jesus, the “dying to self” that means carrying the Cross entrusted to us. Following Christ means that we are called, in a way, to always live in the “spirit” of autumn—that generous, self-giving spirit that lets go—when it is time—to whatever is precious and to allow ourselves—like a brilliant maple leaf—to float to the ground, trusting in God’s loving care. For me, the beauty of the falling autumn leaves helps me to recognize the beauty of my living Jesus’ self-giving love: the dying-to-self kind of love. Even when it is painful. Even when I am tempted to cling to what I know I need to let go of. Even when I am terrified of letting go.
Because a really important aspect of following Christ is that we come to know and trust, on a deeper and deeper level, who God is for us: the God who always brings new life. Ecclesiastes 3 is a powerful reminder of who God is in our ever-changing lives: that God provides in each season for us, and that we are always—especially when we don’t feel like we are—cherished and being brought to resurrection. Truly praying this passage from Ecclesiastes is an act of trust, an act of surrender that God will be with us in every season.
Prayer Suggestion: Take some time to read and reflect on Ecclesiastes 3:1-11, and conclude your lectio by praying it as a canticle of surrender to God’s plan for your life.
Below is a video-version of the Letter from the Synod Fathers to young people. (If you prefer to read the text version, you can do so here.) I have not yet been able to find a copy of the final document–I am eager to read it to see how the Synod spoke about discernment–but when the English translation is made available, I will post a link. In the meantime, you can watch or read the Letter, or check out this very quick summary of the final document of the Synod.
We are just beginning Week 2 of the Synod. (It runs from Oct. 3-28.) The more I follow it, the more I have been enjoying the way the Synod is “modeling” community discernment for the Church.
The Synod offers insights that are helpful for anyone discerning how God might be calling them to serve, as the it highlights the needs of humanity across the globe. Here are my current favorite sources for following the Synod. (If you are already following the Synod, please share below in the comments how you are following it, and what has impressed you!)
Archbishop Fisher’s Daily Blog of the Synod This is the first place I check every day. Archbishop Fisher’s blog is accessible and offers real insight into what is happening there on a daily basis.
The Synod’s Official website (with the Instrumentum Laboris or Working Document) If you wonder what IL is, or what “document” everyone is talking about, you can find it here. It’s a bit long for an easy read, but if you download the document and search for discernment (or any other topic you’re interested in), you will see what the small groups are referring to.
Salt + Light TV’s Frequent Synod Updates (including blogposts, 5 minute video updates, and longer TV shows). The link goes to the blog for yesterday, Oct. 9.
Catholic News Service offers fairly comprehensive coverage that offers more detail.
If you are a young person discerning your vocation, I would love to hear from you. Have you been following the Synod? Why or why not? And if yes, have you gained any insights?
You can comment below, on my Facebook page, or email me.
On the first day, Pope Francis expressed his hope that the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment will itself be a real exercise in discernment: above all, in the Church’s attentive listening to young people.
Truly discerning together is an amazing work of the Holy Spirit present in a community. I have experienced communitarian discernment both at international meetings and in my community, but it takes a lot of work, and even when people of good will gather together, true community discernment doesn’t always happen.
Here is how Pope Francis describes discerning together, and some of the obstacles to avoid in this Synod:
The Synod is an ecclesial exercise in discernment. To speak frankly and listen openly are fundamental if the Synod is to be a process of discernment. Discernment is not an advertising slogan, it is not an organizational technique, or a fad of this pontificate, but an interior attitude rooted in an act of faith. Discernment is the method and at the same time the goal we set ourselves: it is based on the conviction that God is at work in world history, in life’s events, in the people I meet and who speak to me. For this reason, we are called to listen to what the Spirit suggests to us, with methods and in paths that are often unpredictable. Discernment needs space and time. And so, during the work done in plenary assembly and in groups, after five interventions are made, a moment of silence of approximately three minutes will be observed. This is to allow everyone to recognize within their hearts the nuances of what they have heard, and to allow everyone to reflect deeply and seize upon what is most striking. This attention to interiority is the key to accomplishing the work of recognizing, interpreting and choosing.
We are a sign of a Church that listens and journeys. The attitude of listening cannot be limited to the words we will exchange during the work of the Synod. The path of preparation for this moment has highlighted a Church that needs to listen, including those young people who often do not feel understood by the Church in their originality and therefore not accepted for who they really are, and sometimes even rejected. This Synod has the opportunity, the task and the duty to be a sign of a Church that really listens, that allows herself to be questioned by the experiences of those she meets, and who does not always have a ready-made answer. A Church that does not listen shows herself closed to newness, closed to God’s surprises, and cannot be credible, especially for the young who will inevitably turn away rather than approach.
Let us leave behind prejudice and stereotypes. A first step towards listening is to free our minds and our hearts from prejudice and stereotypes. When we think we already know who others are and what they want, we really struggle to listen to them seriously. Relations across generations are a terrain in which prejudice and stereotypes take root with proverbial ease, so much so that we are often oblivious to it. Young people are tempted to consider adults outdated; adults are tempted to regard young people as inexperienced, to know how they are and especially how they should be and behave. All of this can be an overwhelming obstacle to dialogue and to the encounter between generations. Most of those present do not belong to a younger generation, so it is clear that we must pay attention, above all, to the risk of talking about young people in categories and ways of thinking that are already outmoded. If we can avoid this risk, then we will help to bridge generations. Adults should overcome the temptation to underestimate the abilities of young people and not judge them negatively. I once read that the first mention of this fact dates back to 3000 BC and was discovered on a clay pot in ancient Babylon, where it is written that young people are immoral and incapable of saving their people’s culture. This is an old tradition of us old ones! Young people, on the other hand, should overcome the temptation to ignore adults and to consider the elderly “archaic, outdated and boring”, forgetting that it is foolish always to start from scratch as if life began only with each of them. Despite their physical frailty, the elderly are always the memory of mankind, the roots of our society, the “pulse” of our civilization. To spurn them, reject them, isolate or snub them is to yield to a worldly mentality that is devouring our homes from within. To neglect the rich experiences that each generation inherits and transmits to the next is an act of self-destruction.
– from the Opening of the XV Ordinary Synod, Pope Francis
In today’s Office of Readings, we are offered some discernment wisdom from a saint. We follow the discernment of a young woman—already a cloistered Carmelite—who seeks to discover the core of her vocation/mission in the Church. She turns to Sacred Scripture—specifically, the Letters of Saint Paul and finds her answer in the Letter to the Romans.
Blessed James Alberione was a man on fire for the Gospel, who, like Saint Paul was constantly discerning where the Holy Spirit was leading him next. He founded the nine religious institutes and one lay association that make up the Pauline Family, and he had a genius for seeing how others could collaborate in spreading the Gospel. Today, the Pauline Family worldwide has thousands of members. I find that his words are always timely:
For many good reasons (and some not so great reasons–like trying to juggle too many things!) I haven’t gotten back to blogging regularly here. Even though I’m traveling quite a bit this month, as I follow the Youth Synod, I will highlight the insights on discernment that might be helpful. (And you may want to follow the discussions of the Synod closely as well.)
This month of August, 2018, I’ll be leading the spiritual accompaniment on My Sisters, an online community devoted to helping people meet Christ and experience his love in their daily life. Created by my community, the religious sisters of the Daughters of Saint Paul, My Sisters is a portable and accessible “sacred space” for asking the big questions, exploring the faith, and nurturing our identity as God’s beloved one, no matter where we are in our walk with the Lord.
The spiritual accompaniment every week includes: a printable (downloadable) reflection guide, two live Facebook sessions—one session on Monday night at 7 PM EST and the second is a Thursday night Q & A/check-in for the week (also at 7 PM EST), occasional posts and polls in the group, and the opportunity to comment and share with other members of the group.
The reason I am letting you know about it is that, in great part, my sessions will be loosely based on the first part of this CoAuthor Your Life with God blog-which-is-becoming-a-book. If you have enjoyed the blog, would like to ask further questions, would like the book to include particular content, or simply want to explore discernment with a group of dedicated Catholics, you might want to join in for the month of August!
Belonging to My Sisters is a paid membership, but the first (trial) month is only $1, and after that the cost is $8.95/month. (This is our special low introductory offer, as the My Sisters community gets off the ground.)
As I mentioned in my last post, for various reasons I put aside much of the writing I was doing, but now I have the opportunity to pick it back up. I look forward to getting back to blogging here about discernment regularly–not weekly, but probably once or twice a month.
I will begin by highlighting some excellent new resources on discernment, and the first that I want to encourage you to look at more closely comes from Pope Francis himself! If you haven’t read On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World yet, you are in for a treat. Not only does Pope Francis mention discernment frequently throughout the document (22 times), he concludes the document with a section on discernment (see Chapter 5, specifically, #s166-175).
The first mention of discernment is found on page 3 of the Vatican PDF of the document. Pope Francis is speaking of the “universal call to holiness,” which is specific and particular in the life of every person:
…With this Exhortation I would like to insist primarily on the call to holiness that the Lord addresses to each of us, the call that he also addresses, personally, to you: “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44; cf. 1 Pet 1:16). The Second Vatican Council stated this clearly: “Strengthened by so many and such great means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord – each in his or her own way – to that perfect holiness by which the Father himself is perfect”.
11. “Each in his or her own way” the Council says. We should not grow discouraged before examples of holiness that appear unattainable. There are some testimonies that may prove helpful and inspiring, but that we are not meant to copy, for that could even lead us astray from the one specific path that the Lord has in mind for us. The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts (cf. 1 Cor 12:7), rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant for them. We are all called to be witnesses, but there are many actual ways of bearing witness. Indeed, when the great mystic, Saint John of the Cross, wrote his Spiritual Canticle, he preferred to avoid hard and fast rules for all. He explained that his verses were composed so that everyone could benefit from them “in his or her own way”. For God’s life is communicated “to some in one way and to others in another”. – from On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World
In Pope Francis’ eyes, discernment is very, very important because every person has a unique, personal relationship with God, and a unique, personal path to travel on this earth with their brothers and sisters towards God. The call to holiness has elements that are common to everyone, but it doesn’t look the same for everyone. On the contrary, to be holy, each of us must be attentively faithful to the unique core of who we are! And thus the importance of discernment, and why it is mentioned so often in this document.
For the next couple of posts, I’ll highlight and reflect on how Pope Francis speaks about discernment in this document. You can purchase a printed copy of On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World from our sisters here, or download it from the Vatican’s website here.