Salt + Light TV did a special broadcast of a unique web forum on vocational discernment, “So You Think You’ve Been Called?” hosted by the lively Deacon Pedro Guevara-Mann. I missed the initial stream, but right now you can still replay it on-demand here.
These past two weeks, I have been preparing content for radio programs, for our website, for our sisters on the theme of Pauline Apostolic Mysticism, and for the Advent retreats that I will be leading in Illinois. Although it’s a huge series of deadlines that can be unnerving at times, I have to confess that I am enjoying being able to “sink deep” into the beautiful mysteries of our faith! I think that my Advent this year will be extra-special.
To find some excellent and free Advent resources, visit my latest Windows to the Soul blogpost here.
By the way, if you live near Chicago or near Mercer County, IL–near Aledo, Matherville, or Viola–I will be there in December. It would be great to meet you! Here are the events:
In Mercer County (Aledo, Viola, and Matherville, IL)
One of the best ways to #learnhowtodiscern is through others’ examples of discernment. This article in America magazine by Patrick J. Ryan, SJ, is a wonderful example of a Jesuit’s discernment that beautifully illustrates the three ways of discerning which Saint Ignatius of Loyola talks about.
For some people, discernment is most important to practice when they are making a major decision in their life, such as their vocation, a job change, etc. But once they have made this big decision, they forget about the practice of discernment.
But because it’s always important to seek God’s will, discerning God’s will in every day life is a very helpful spiritual practice.
Discerning God’s will in big life decisions like following our vocation enables us to set the overall direction of our life in accord with God’s will. But the purpose of doing so is so that our entire lives can be lived in accord with God’s will. Bringing that same spirit of seeking God’s will into the smaller decisions of our lives—even the daily ones—helps us to become more and more attuned to God’s will, to the point that we take on Jesus’ attitude of seeking only the will of the Father.
When we discern God’s will in the smaller things of our lives, then our entire day—and our entire lives—align with God’s will.
Even small choices can shape our lives, though we may not know it. Especially small choices that we repeat, over and over again, can lead to habits, form attitudes, and push us in a specific direction that shapes larger events. This is another motivation for seeking God’s will in everything, in daily life.
Many of the saints wrote about the importance of uniting our wills to God’s:
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” – St. Paul in Letter to the Romans 8:28
“At the beginning of each day, and of meditation, Mass, and Communion, declare to God that you desire to belong to Him entirely, and that you will devote yourself wholly to acquiring the spirit of prayer and of the interior life. Make it your chief study to conform yourself to the will of God even in the smallest things….” – Jean-Pierre de Caussade in Abandonment to Divine Providence
“Perfection is founded entirely on the love of God: ‘Charity is the bond of perfection;’ and perfect love of God means the complete union of our will with God’s.” – St. Alphonsus de Ligouri in Uniformity with the Will of God
“The first end I propose in our daily work is to do the will of God; secondly, to do it in the manner he wills it; and thirdly to do it because it is his will.” – Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
“The will of God is the great sun to which the soul, like the sunflower, has to be always turned.” – Blessed James Alberione
“My God, you are always thinking about me. You are with me and around me. I am written on your hands. I surrender myself to you completely and forever.” – Venerable Mother Thecla Merlo
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 Conversion, which offers insights into how we might need to convert!
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 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:
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.’ ”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Loving God, You know me intimately:
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: