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:
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.
Prayer To Surrender to Love
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!
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These are some classic, beautiful prayers of surrender and trust in the Lord by some of the saints:
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.
Then the word of the Lord came to me:
“O house of Israel,
can I not do with you as this potter has done? says the Lord.
Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”
I love this morning’s reading from Jeremiah 18:1-6. It fits so well with the themes of my prayer this week: creativity, being open to the Lord working in me and through me, and allowing the Lord to take the lead in all the aspects of my life: spiritually, in my relationships, in my efforts to communicate, in the apostolate of sharing the Word.
As the fruit of my recent annual retreat, I’ve been praying for the grace to live in the present moment. It’s so easy for me to get lost in my plans and to forget that it’s God’s plan that I want to be living fully. It’s not really possible for me to discern God’s will, however, if I am not living in the present moment, taking one day, one hour, one minute at a time. Because God speaks to us and works in us in the present moment.
Our Blessed Mother Mary was an expert in living in the present moment. While I was in Rome for the Apostolic Mysticism Seminar, several of the speakers–all Pauline priests–spoke of how Mary was completely docile to the work of the Holy Spirit. We know this simply by her response at the Annunciation.
The conclusion of my every meditation this week has been prayer to Mary, specifically asking her for the grace of this openness and availability to God, not just in the big occasions of my life, but at every moment. So I pray to her with my favorite title, calling on her as my Mother and Queen, the Queen of every apostle, to teach me how to be aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and to be receptive to his nudges, his whispers, his inner direction.
A final note: Summer has become a bit of a chaotic time for me to fit in regular posts. Responses to the last couple of questions about vocational discernment are almost lined up and ready to post. I also have been reflecting/praying/living some profound moments of discernment in every day life, which I hope to share with you soon. Thank you for your patience with me, as my posting schedule has become a bit irregular.
It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve blogged, and partly that’s because I was preparing to be away for two weeks. This Monday, July 11th, I will begin my annual eight-day retreat. (Some day I need to tweet a retreat…wouldn’t that be awesome to follow a nun’s progress on an eight-day retreat? Retreats are such mysterious and amazing encounters with the Lord. Maybe next year.)
So I will be offline for another two weeks, but I’d like to bring you with me. Send me your specific intentions–or even just send me your name–and I will bring your individual intentions to the Lord while I’m on retreat.
Last week, I was away working on finishing the first draft of my book. Now that I’m back, I’m busy catching up with the stuff that piled up while I was away.
One of the things that I’ve been helping with is getting the word out about the new film opening on Friday (March 11), The Young Messiah (you can find my review here), and also inviting people to make the online Cinema Novena: The Young Messiah, either as a novena to St. Joseph (if you start on March 11th and finish on March 19th, the feast of St. Joseph), or as a novena to the Holy Family which you can make anytime. The novena uses clips from the film, a Scripture reading, a reflection question, and a prayer. You can sign up here!
Since this is National Catholic Sisters Week, through the week I’ll try to post and tweet interesting resources for those discerning religious life as I find them. My favorite so far is Sr. Clare Hunter’s Top Ten Reasons “I could never become a nun”, a wonderful article that briefly addresses some of the reasons I’ve heard most often.
If you’re looking for a Lenten Discernment Retreat, it’s not too late to sign up for our Holy Week Retreat at the Daughters of Saint Paul in Boston, MA.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of an amazing six-week opportunity for a spiritual “makeover,” for deepening our relationship with God, for experiencing anew God’s great mercy.
So many connections between our discernment journey and our Lenten journey are immediately obvious. Any time that we focus on renewing, revitalizing, and deepening our relationship with God, our ability to discern is also going to grow. This Lent, in addition to making the 7 Qualities of Mercy online mini-retreat, I have decided to focus my Lent around listening. Listening is a wonderful quality that is a prerequisite for genuine communication—with God first of all, but also with self and with others.
Pope Francis talks about the importance of listening in our relationships in this year’s Message for the 50th World Communications Day:
Communicating means sharing, and sharing demands listening and acceptance. Listening is much more than simply hearing. Hearing is about receiving information, while listening is about communication, and calls for closeness. Listening allows us to get things right, and not simply to be passive onlookers, users or consumers. Listening also means being able to share questions and doubts, to journey side by side, to banish all claims to absolute power and to put our abilities and gifts at the service of the common good.
Listening is never easy. Many times it is easier to play deaf. Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says. It involves a sort of martyrdom or self-sacrifice, as we try to imitate Moses before the burning bush: we have to remove our sandals when standing on the “holy ground” of our encounter with the one who speaks to me (cf. Ex 3:5). Knowing how to listen is an immense grace, it is a gift which we need to ask for and then make every effort to practice.
You might have noticed that Pope Francis talks about listening as a form of self-emptying love, similar in a way to Jesus’ kenosis in taking on our human nature and in dying on the cross. Listening can be a sort of martyrdom. In truly listening, we can imitate Jesus’ self-giving, sacrificial love for us, by putting ourselves and our agendas aside and becoming deeply receptive to whomever we are listening to. Deep listening enables us to become aware of the sacredness of the other. Even if we are just having an ordinary, everyday conversation, deep listening takes us beyond the surface to glimpse the depth of someone else’s humanity and thus, how beloved they are by God.
Lent is a time to die to ourselves so that we can rise with Christ. Learning to listen better is a concrete way to die to self and to welcome the other in a genuine encounter of love and mercy. When we really hear one another, we are more likely to respond to them with compassion, gentleness, and mercy. As attentive listeners, we can discover God speaking to us—not just in prayer and in his Holy Word, or within ourselves in the depths of our own hearts—but especially in the words and unspoken longings and vulnerabilities of others with whom we relate.
Deep listening will enrich our discernment journey, eventually becoming more and more foundational to our prayer and our daily seeking the will of God.
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Join me in making the 7 Qualities of Mercy Online Mini-Retreat.
Many of us discern our vocation informally through the years. When we enter more intentionally or deeply into vocational discernment, we need a few things already in place in our lives. If we aren’t currently trying to live these already, we will find them of immeasurable help in our discernment. But before I post my list, I want to share about another list, found in a book that I highly recommend:
In his book, Geekpriest: Confessions of a New Media Pioneer, Father Roderick Vonhögen shares the story of his vocational discernment in chapter 2, “Spider-Man’s Day Job.” He compares discerning our vocation with the typical superhero story, and shares a checklist for what we can learn from superheroes in discerning our vocation. (How cool is that! I wish I’d had this checklist when I was discerning!)
Father Roderick’s “Superheroes Checklist” is insightful and a great deal of fun for those with geekish tendencies (like myself) who enjoy superhero stories, but it also makes discernment very accessible to anyone who has seen even one superhero film. Included in his checklist are: seek solitude, study and read, discover your strengths and acknowledge your weaknesses, be humble, listen to your friends, do not fear, and persevere.
Geekpriest is a great, fun read and I highly recommend it for young people, as it offers a fascinating and entertaining “inside look” at the life of a dedicated priest, as well as offering helpful ways for living as a Catholic amid our social-media-inundated world. If you are discerning a vocation to the priesthood, the whole book is a fun read that will also get you thinking and praying! (You can read my full review here.)
Below is my less-fun, not super-hero related list of essentials to put in place in your life as you begin or continue to discern your vocation. (Notice that my list intersects with Geekpriest’s SuperHeroes Checklist in more than one place!) This list also sums up a whole slew of my previous blog posts.
1. A dynamic prayer life and sacramental life. Have a real relationship with God that is living and growing. This means a regular prayer life, not just a “hit or miss” approach, or only praying “when I feel like it.” If you haven’t already, commit to daily prayer.
Becoming an “expert” in prayer is a lifelong journey, but having a genuine relationship with God when we are seeking his will is essential. How better to learn how to recognize God’s invitation in the big decisions we have to make, than to listen to God every day?
The sacraments are the privileged ways that the Church offers us an encounter with Christ. Frequently participating in Holy Mass (Sunday Mass is the minimum) and regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation are the ordinary means for growing in our relationship with God. They might seem “ordinary,” but both sacraments are really hidden miracles in our midst.
At Mass, we adore, thank, offer ourselves with, and receive Jesus himself, who delights in sharing himself with us and inviting us into his own relationship with the Father. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, all of the obstacles that we put between God and ourselves—our sins, woundedness, and flaws—are forgiven and healed in a sacred encounter with Jesus’ merciful love.
2. Strive to live a good moral life. All of us are called to holiness, to grow in union with God here on earth, a union that will be fulfilled in perfect communion with God in heaven. Every vocation is a call to profound holiness. Constantly living in a state of serious sin means we are putting obstacles between us and God. All sin is a roadblock for our discernment, because sin is turning away from God’s will and choosing our will over God’s. Instead, discernment is striving to know and live God’s will. We do not need to be sinless to discern because we are all sinners, but we want to be striving to be upright, sincere about our journey of growing in virtue.
3. Trust in God. We can grow in trust in God by pondering and praying with these truths:
- God loves us
- God knows us better than we know ourselves
- God has a plan for us that will bring about our greatest happiness and in which we will help others in a way that no one else will.
4. Get to know ourselves. This includes not just getting to know our gifts and weaknesses, but also discovering our motivations, which helps us to know what is most important to us. Including a daily examination of conscience in our prayer helps us to discover any area in our life—an attachment to a particular sin, for example—that might prevent us from seeking God’s will. Why are we entering into this discernment? What is in our hearts, what are we seeking? How can we more singleheartedly seek God’s will?
5. Active engagement with the Church. Our vocational state in life determines our role in the Church, as well as in life. Discernment doesn’t just involve God and us; it also involves the Church, the People of God within whom we will live and serve. In order to discern our role in the Church, we must already know the Church from the inside by being actively engaged with our parish or a church group. If we have not been involved with our parish, or other form of ministry, now is the time to get involved!
Especially for those discerning religious life or priesthood, or between one of these and marriage, it is essential to take part in the ministry and missionary life of the Church; otherwise we will not have the experience of sharing our gifts in ministry and the Church’s mission. Without this experience it’s hard to know what it would be like to share our gifts in this way as a lay person, sister, brother, or priest. We don’t always have to do this through our parish—there are other church groups that we can become involved in—but we need to find some way to get really involved in the Church’s ministry and mission.
6. Regular spiritual direction. [For more about spiritual direction—what it is, how to find a director, and what to expect for the first time, visit here and here.] A spiritual director may not be necessary as we begin discerning our vocation, but once we start to get serious, we should definitely start seeing a spiritual director regularly.
The first five areas are so important for discerning that they are, in a way, “prerequisites” to seriously discerning one’s vocation. If any of these are lacking, it might be a good idea to make that our “next step” in discerning our vocation.
Psalm 33:22 is one of my favorite passages from the Bible, because it describes so eloquently in just a few words our relationship with God. On God’s side, ever-faithful mercy. On our side, ever-growing trust.
As we begin 2016 and continue our journey into the Year of Mercy, my hope is to discern how God’s mercy is at work in my life right now, and to renew my commitment to trusting in his loving goodness. This will be the daily prayer that I plan to rise with every morning.