Best new discernment resource — from Pope Francis

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”.[10]

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.[11] 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”.[12] For God’s life is communicated “to some in one way and to others in another”.[13] – 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.

A Movie and a Very Special Novena for Holy Week 2018!

Years ago, I dreamed about someone making a powerful film about Saint Paul, my favorite saint. Years later, I dreamed about writing a feature film script about my patron saint. So I was prepared for disappointment when I had the opportunity to screen an early version of the movie releasing in theaters this weekend: Paul Apostle of Christ. One of the film’s producers was a bit hesitant when I told him this before the screening. (After all, if you were making a film about someone, wouldn’t you want his daughters to approve?)

I have to say the movie was not what I expected. And not what I would have written. 

But I wasn’t disappointed, not a bit!  

One reason I’m posting about it here is not just because I love Saint Paul (you can see my other reasons for you going to see the film here), but because:

  • Saint Paul writes about the Holy Spirit and discernment in his letters often
  • In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke writes about St. Paul being attentive to the guidance of the Spirit, especially during his missionary journeys
  • In Saint Paul’s first genuine encounter with Christ, he becomes so receptive to Christ that he immediately asks, “What shall I do, Lord?” He receives his mission at the same moment that he discovers who Jesus Christ really is.
  • Saint Paul could be called “the Apostle of Love,” for the many beautiful passages he wrote about God’s love for us, and God’s love within us. (See his famous passages in Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 13.) Love lies at the heart of any discernment
  • and… I have many more reasons, but I’ll stop here!

We sisters like the film so much that we have been hosting pre-screenings at theaters around the country. Then, a good friend suggested that we ask Sony for film clips to create a beautiful online Cinema Novena that audiences around the world can pray through Holy Week, as a follow-up to the film, as another way to get to know the heart of Saint Paul (and thus to come to know the heart of Christ). 

Join us for this beautiful 9 days of prayer, each with:

  • a clip from the film, Paul Apostle of Christ
  • a passage from the Letters of “The Apostle” (as all the Fathers of the Church call Saint Paul)
  • a reflection by one of our sisters on the passage and the film
  • a prayer
  • a closing quote from the Letters of Saint Paul, read by actor James Faulkner, who portrays Saint Paul in the film

1. Click here to find the showing of PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST nearest you.

2. Sign up today for the Cinema Novena: PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST, and for nine days you will receive a daily email with the theme and a link to the film clip, Scripture passage, reflection, and prayer.

3. As you pray with the #MediaNuns , share the Cinema Novena with someone you love, and make your and their Holy Week a time to ponder how the love of Christ for us can transform our lives.

The world is in such desperate need of the way of love that Christ showed us and that Paul faithfully lived. Join your intentions with ours, and especially pray that the beauty of this film–in the power of  the love of Christ, the humility of the apostle Paul, the brotherhood and profound friendship between Luke and Paul–will transform hearts and minds so that we can become, with St. Paul, Christ’s love in the world.

Wishing you a blessed Holy Week. 

#LearnHowToDiscern: Story of a Jesuit

 

stalphonsusfreelyopenOne 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.

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#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!

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!

DiscernmentRupnik

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.

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

#Discerning the Vow of Poverty

“I couldn’t do without my…car, own place, movie collection, ____________.” In the poll I ran recently, this statement was checked off by a number of people as a main reason that they don’t consider religious life. That’s not surprising in our culture, which is materially obsessed.

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When I entered the convent, I was too young to own a house or a car. But I did give away my music collection, my books, and pretty much everything I owned except a few clothes and some holy cards which I brought with me. Was it easy? Not at first. But it was incredibly freeing. I see the vow of poverty as an amazing trade: as religious, we “trade in” the right to possess material goods, and we receive the gifts of a unique intimacy with and a closer following of Christ.

(As an aside, poverty has many practical benefits for a religious too—for example, poverty helps me to be available to be sent on mission anywhere, because I’m not tied to personal possessions or particular places.)

I think that the vow of poverty is perhaps the easiest vow to understand today. People are more aware of the extremes in the lifestyles of the minority who are wealthy and the vast numbers of people who are poor. The stats for global hunger and poverty are shocking:

  • nearly half of the world’s population (3 billion people) live in poverty
  • over 1 billion of the people living in poverty are children
  • 22,000 children die every day because they are too poor to receive what they need
  • hunger is the #1 cause of death in the world today
  • more than 750 million people do not have adequate access to clean drinking water*

* These statistics are taken from the website: https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-global-poverty, accessed June 9, 2016.

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Sharing what we have with others is the only way that everyone will have what they need. Choosing to make sacrifices—giving up material possessions—in order to provide necessities of life for others is fairly common, but it needs to become part of the everyday life of every Christian—actually, of every person in the world who has a secure place to live, and enough to eat and drink. Religious life is not just a helpful witness to encourage others to share like this, but as religious, we live in genuine solidarity with those who live in material and spiritual poverty.

Other easily-understood motivations for living a poor or simple lifestyle are:

  • Living the vow of poverty is a way of life that preserves or restores the resources of the earth, which is part of the Church’s official social teaching.
  • Pop culture today advocates the wisdom of simplifying or de-cluttering our lives as helpful in living with greater focus and purpose.

The Religious Vow of Poverty

Sr. Carly Paula, FSP, making her first profession

Sr. Carly Paula, FSP, making her first profession

The main reason a religious takes the vow of poverty is to more closely imitate Christ, the Poor One, both in his poverty and in his absolute trust in the Father. For me, the vow of poverty is not always easy, but I have found it helpful and freeing on so many levels:

  • A religious has nothing of his or her own, but shares everything in common with his or her community. The community then provides for the needs of each religious. It’s not that I’m completely free of financial concerns, because I am a responsible member of the community. Rather, it’s that I share this burden with my superiors and my community in discerning expenses together.
  • Most of my community’s resources go into our mission of evangelization with the media, but we share whatever we can with those who suffer from genuine want. With my vow of poverty, I live in solidarity with those who are “on the margins” of life—those suffering from spiritual and material poverty.
  • There’s a certain comfort and security in possessing materials goods, but this very security can become like a fog blinding me, preventing me from taking risks, and restricting my freedom. The vow of poverty clears away the “fog” of  today’s materially obsessed culture and enables me to focus on Christ as my Treasure.
  • On a spiritual level, poverty helps me to continually renew my trust in God, so that I learn to rely on God for everything, in every situation.
  • Poverty is very freeing spiritually: it frees my heart from possessions, from the need to possess, from greedy grasping for stuff, and from attachment to even interior things like my opinions and pride. Poverty helps me to be grateful for the most valuable things in life—which are certainly not material possessions—but my relationship with God, the sacraments, the people in my life, and my vocation.

My Personal Confession

My two biggest ongoing struggles with living authentic poverty are books and tools for our mission. Books—especially books of theology and spirituality—are a real weakness of mine. Not only do I love to read, but we are encouraged to have a shelf or two of books—the writings of our Founder, the resources we need to do our mission, books that we have used in our studies that we foresee using again in the near future. With my work of writing and giving workshops on a variety of subjects, it’s handy to have a large library. So every couple of years I need to re-discern the choices I’ve made with regard to books, and give away what is truly not needed.

By Jorghex (Own work) [ CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jorghex (Own work) [ CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Because our mission of evangelization involves the media, using technology is essential. Our Founder wanted us to have “the latest means” so that we could reach the greatest number of people with the Gospel. But sometimes certain aspects of our mission would be easier with the “latest gadget.” For example, a smart phone is essential for my work in social media. But do I really need the latest iPhone model? The discerning answer to this for me is: I need a solidly functional smart phone to effectively use social media, but I certainly don’t need the latest model.

The Vow of Poverty in 5 Words:

Blessed James Alberione, the Founder of the Pauline Family, said, “Poverty is the greatest wealth.” I have found this to be true because living the vow and virtue of poverty enables me to consistently focus on Christ Jesus as my greatest Treasure—my only Treasure—and to dedicate all my efforts to living my vocation of growing in union with Christ and in serving his people.

“I can’t discern consecrated life because I don’t want to be tied down”

Dlamp1

When I took a poll to discover what prevents readers from considering religious life or priesthood, I was surprised by some of the results. I was especially surprised to see that over 1/3 of those who answered felt unworthy, and so I immediately addressed that in this blog post. I also addressed some of the issues regarding family (about 9% were concerned either about family responsibilities, or the disapproval of family members if they seriously considered religious life or priesthood).

Another obstacle that came up repeatedly (13%) was the fear of commitment (“I can’t be tied down”).

Fear of Commitment
Making a commitment is perhaps harder today than ever before. With massive technological and cultural changes that continue to sweep over our lives, constantly changing the ways we think and do things, combined with a hectic pace of everyday life that makes it difficult to reflect and process our experience, the future seems to be ever-shifting, insecure, and unstable. How can we possibly commit to something in such a shifting environment? Won’t we need to adapt in order to survive?

Commitment might seem like tying ourselves to a tornado, which can ultimately end in our destruction.

But commitment is not tying ourselves to something that is unstable. Commitment is, ultimately, to a person. To ourselves, to another, or, in the case of one’s religious or priestly vocation, to God. In a world that is endlessly changing, God is the Steady, Faithful One whose love we can always count on.

Truly committing allows us to deepen and to grow
in ways that we cannot before we commit.

I had a personal taste of this during my years as a temporary professed sister. The Church only allows religious to profess their first vows as temporary vows—usually for one year at a time. This is to give the religious the opportunity to really experience the life before making a definitive commitment. In our community, the period of temporary profession lasts from five to six years. I remember vividly during the last years of my temporary vows how I felt something was missing. I longed to go deeper, but because every year I discerned whether to renew my vows, I felt I was starting over every year. When I was finally blessed to be able to make my perpetual profession, I deeply rejoiced. And afterwards, I could feel my commitment, my relationship with the Lord as a religious sister, deepen and strengthen in a way that was not possible as a temporary professed. To fully embrace my vocation, I needed to make a lifelong commitment.

Perhaps fear of commitment is really another way of admitting that we cannot yet trust ourselves: we’ve been so busy adapting and responding to our changing world, we do not yet have a deep sense of ourselves and what we truly want. What will we do in ten years if our desires change? What if we grow tired of the life we are living and want to try or do something new?

Just because we make a vocational commitment doesn’t mean that all the doubts and struggles disappear. And making a vocational commitment doesn’t mean we stop changing and growing, but we do so within the gift of our commitment.

Photo: Sr. Mary Emmanuel Alves, FSP. © Daughters of St. Paul

Photo: Sr. Mary Emmanuel Alves, FSP  © Daughters of St. Paul

Limits and Freedom
There is a paradox within the creative life that may be helpful here. Most of the time, artists are seen as “free spirits” who rebel against boundaries and limits. And there is a lot of truth to that. Gifted with seeing reality shaped by their special relationship with truth and beauty, artists are often free of conventional restrictions.

At the same time, art is only created within the boundaries of a specific art form. The boundaries of an art form restrict the artist in a very real sense—and it’s in that very specificity of the restriction that often elicits the greatest creative expressions. Think of the sonnet. One of the most structured of poetic form, the sonnet has precise rules. Yet some of the most beautiful and timeless poetry are sonnets. Pushed to their limits by the sonnet’s rules, poets have been brilliantly creative and expressive. (If you have any doubts, read William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. I have my favorites, but each one is an exquisite masterpiece.)

How many of us have witnessed the “flowering” of a married couple into parents when their first child is born? And yet, their lives are now defined by taking care of an infant, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Our society often views vocational commitments as a restriction of a person’s freedom. But if we truly believe that love is the fulfillment of the human person, then our true vocation—which is when we will give ourselves the most fully in love—is the gift that will give us the greatest freedom.

Our true vocation is not a burden or a restriction,
but a gift and a path to love, joy, and freedom.

Everyone has times when they feel burdened by the challenges of their vocation. It is then that we need to rely on the gift of commitment to strengthen us. First, the power of the commitment encourages us to persevere. It also allows us to discern: what is the essence of our commitment, and what are the nonessential “trappings” that I have added “on top of” that commitment”? Are we perhaps being called to change or let go of some of these nonessentials? How is God calling me now to live my vocation in all its fullness?

* * *

One last thought for those who are fearful of a possible commitment. In discerning a priestly or religious vocation, we aren’t yet making a commitment, but simply trying to discover how God is calling us. The future is impossible to predict. While it is possible that we will make a commitment that we will someday have regrets about, it is also possible that the same commitment will become a source of great joy, strength, and fulfillment. Wouldn’t it be sad if the fear of commitment would prevent us from discovering the deep joy and fulfillment of living God’s call to us?

How Do I Find the Community I’m Called To?

StTheclaArches

(Here is the second in a three-part series of posts about discerning religious life. You can find the first post about discerning religious life here.)

People discover their call to religious life in different ways. Every vocational journey is unique, as we are each unique, and God’s relationship with us is unrepeatable.

Sometimes someone will realize that they are called to religious life and then they will start to look for a congregation. Other people encounter a congregation or order, and on the basis of their attraction to the community’s way of life will begin discerning a vocation to religious life.

Both ways are fine. However, what’s important to recognize is that discerning which congregation or order is part of one’s discernment of his or her vocation to religious life. It’s not that a person receives a generic vocation to religious life in the abstract. A vocation to religious life includes a call to a particular community.

* * *

If someone feels the call to religious life but doesn’t know any religious, or doesn’t think they have met the congregation they’re called to, how do they discern which congregation God is calling them to?

Prayer is essential as always, first and foremost. There are many ways to get to know various congregations. As a discerner browses websites and youtube videos, meets different communities, and starts to read up on them, it’s most important to keep bringing one’s experience to the Lord, always seeking the Lord’s direction.

Tips for Finding an Order or Congregation

* If there is a vocation fair in your area, go to it. Many dioceses have a vocation fair every year or every other year.

* Attend events in your diocese that will have religious men and women present.

* Contact the vocation director for the diocese, or the vicar for religious for the diocese, and ask them if there are any discernment groups meeting in the diocese.

* If there are no religious in your area, visit www.vocationnetwork.com, pick a couple of communities that you feel drawn to, and write, email, or call them.

* Browse the websites and available literature about different communities.

* Ask for and listen to recommendations of vocation directors, spiritual directors, and others who know various religious communities (and you) well.

* Look for priests, brothers, and sisters on social media, and contact them there.

* Once you have found a couple of communities you are drawn to, try to connect over the phone, letters, or email. If your interest persists, arrange for a visit.

How To Discern Between Communities

How does one approach looking for a religious congregation in a discerning way? You may wish to make a list of essential characteristics that you are looking for in a community, such as fidelity to the Church’s teaching, or a particular mission, or a specific way of praying.

It may be helpful to look at the orders or congregations by dividing what you see or experience into three key elements: spirituality, mission, and lifestyle. Many religious congregations seem very similar on the surface, or share particular characteristics, but the Church has approved the rule of life of each order or congregation because it is unique.

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* Spirituality

A congregation’s spirituality is more than their practices of prayer; it’s their whole approach to God, to Christ, to the Blessed Mother and the saints; it’s how they approach the journey to holiness. You can usually get a strong sense of how a congregation’s spirituality is well-expressed by how the community prays together.

Every community approaches prayer a bit differently and emphasizes different mysteries of faith—for example, different mysteries or events in the life of Christ. A community usually fits in with a particular school of spirituality. If you are not familiar with various spiritualities—such as Franciscan, Jesuit, Benedictine, etc.—you may wish to become familiar with them, even trying out a few different prayer styles. You may wish to ask your spiritual director what “school” of spirituality might be a good fit for you. Or perhaps you already know that you are especially drawn to Eucharistic adoration, or to praying the Liturgy of the Hours, or to praying in nature. This affinity may guide your initial choice of visiting a community. (You can also find books and other resources on these different schools of spirituality. Sister Kathryn Hermes has written a wonderful book that I highly recommend.)

Although a community’s way of praying may be new or unfamiliar, if you are called to this community, you will most likely feel deeply drawn to it over time.

* Mission

Every congregation has a particular mission. To be fully engaged in mission is a dynamic sign of the health of a community. The mission of each community has a certain urgency, because the members are aware that no one else will fulfill the mission God has entrusted to them; God’s people need what the community offers, and are counting on them! Usually the mission will entail certain spiritual and corporal works of mercy, done in a particular way. Caring for spiritual needs by teaching, counseling, evangelizing, guiding, instructing, praying, etc., and/or caring for physical needs by providing health care, material sustenance or resources, visiting those who are on the margins—either physically, spiritually, socially, morally, or some combination.

Perhaps you have particular gifts or training that will help you to carry out this community’s mission. Or perhaps you share the urgency of the congregation to respond to the needs of the world in this particular way. Sometimes it helps if you can imagine yourself doing what you see the full members doing. Other times, it’s unimaginable but you still feel deeply drawn to the community.

A visit during which you share in the mission of the community can be invaluable for your discerning for this particular community.

* Lifestyle

The unique way that the community integrates their spirituality, prayer, vows, community life, and mission is a concrete expression of their charism—the gift of the Spirit that animates the community in its life and mission. A congregation’s “lifestyle” is hard to define, in part because it’s a combination of a lot of factors, but it can be the most powerful witness for a visitor discerning that community.

Some communities live a more formal, structured lifestyle. Other communities might have similar structure but more simplicity and expressions of individuality. Some communities could be characterized as having a “family spirit.” Some communities will focus on living poverty in a very strict way; other communities will focus more on hospitality or outreach. Some communities will have a more structured schedule; others will be structured more flexibly around the needs of individuals encountered in the mission.

Every congregation will have its own particular way of living the vows, prayer, and mission. A community’s unique way of life may draw you to feel particularly at home. If you have an experience of feeling that you are “coming home,” this is an important aspect of your discernment to bring to prayer.

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Questions To Reflect on When Visiting a Community

When preparing to visit a community, bring these questions with you, and make sure to take the time to reflect on them daily during your visit and overall afterwards.

  • How did your day go?
  • What happened today that impressed you?
  • What was your experience in prayer today?
  • How did you feel today?
  • What did you find challenging?

DISCERNMENT TIP: Don’t look for the “easy” fit, but for the “deep fit.” Remember to keep bringing your experiences to prayer. It’s not just that someone can picture themselves in this particular community, doing what the members of this community do. No, it’s in discovering or knowing that in this community or this congregation, God is calling us closer to himself.

Often, before someone enters a community, they will recognize certain things about religious life in the community that they know they’ll have a hard time with. But that cannot discourage us from following our vocation. Following God’s call means we are challenged on the deepest levels of our being. Another community may feel “comfortable,” or welcoming, but the community to which we are called should make us feel at home to give our all, to try our very utmost, and to be challenged in ways we never expected or dreamed of.

Connection Between Divine Mercy and Vocation

I usually enjoy the messages for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, but this year’s message by Pope Francis struck me in a particular way because of its connection to the Year of Mercy.

I am very grateful to God for the gift of my vocation—a gift that I never felt that I  deserved, but one that I have always joyously cherished. Before this year, I wouldn’t have described my vocation in terms of mercy, but that’s the exact point that Pope Francis makes in his Message for the 53rd World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which was celebrated April 17th:

The Lord’s merciful action forgives our sins and opens us to the new life which takes shape in the call to discipleship and mission. Each vocation in the Church has its origin in the compassionate gaze of Jesus. Conversion and vocation are two sides of the same coin, and continually remain interconnected throughout the whole of the missionary disciple’s life. – Pope Francis, Message for 53rd World Day of Prayer for Vocations

Isn’t that beautiful? If our relationship with God is shaped by mercy, then our vocation, too, is a gift of God’s mercy. Our conversion and vocation are so connected that Pope Francis calls them two sides of the same coin!

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_(Le_retour_de_l'enfant_prodigue)_-_James_Tissot

By James Tissot – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum

If we think of our vocation in terms of gratefully receiving the mercy of God, then the question of being worthy or deserving one’s vocation disappears, because mercy is gratuitous by definition. (If we deserved mercy, it wouldn’t be called “mercy,” it would be called “justice.”) Whatever love we are able to share in our vocation becomes an expression of God’s mercy for others.