Partners in Our Discernment

By Photographes du National Geographic ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Photographes du National Geographic Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

We may begin our vocational discernments on our own. But at some point, hopefully early on in our discernment, we start discerning with our partners in our discernment.

Discerning with others who share our call is important because we do not have a right to any vocation: a vocation is a gift, a call from God, a gift. Those who share our calling discern with us if God is calling us to this particular vocation.

If we are discerning marriage, we can only discern on our own up to a certain point. Even if we are pretty sure that we are called to marriage, we cannot truly discern our vocation to marriage until we meet a possible future spouse, with whom we discern our marriage together. Marriage is a vocation undertaken together with our spouse, and that spouse has an equal voice in the discernment. The other person, too, needs to discern if God is calling him or her to marriage with this particular person. The Sacrament of Matrimony is a covenant made with a spouse before God and the Church. The spouse, therefore, has the duty and privilege to discern their call from God as well. And the Church has a responsibility to bless, confirm, and witness to that covenant, ensuring that both spouses are freely entering into this covenant with full understanding of what it means.

If we are discerning priesthood or religious life, the Church is our co-discerner, with equal say in our discernment. At first, this may surprise us. Aren’t we supposed to follow God’s call no matter what? Yes, but priesthood and consecrated life are calls from God to a specific ministry or mission within the Church. The Church helps us to discern if God is indeed truly calling us to this vocation, and entrusts this task to certain people: the bishop and director of the seminary in the case of diocesan priesthood, the superior and vocation director of the community in the case of consecrated life.

Priesthood and consecrated life are gifts, just as marriage is a gift. Having the Church as our partner or co-discerner is a great source of strength and support in our vocation. When the Church, through the vocation director, confirms our understanding of God’s call, this confirmation can help anchor us in God’s will during times of darkness, doubt, and struggle.

When we are concerned about “making a mistake” in our vocational discernment, our partners in discernment offer necessary reassurance. Our vocational discernment is something we are responsible for, and we need to take it seriously, but it’s not all up to us. Our vocation is a call from God, and God will give us every help in discovering and following our vocation, including the support of the Church—through our potential spouse, the bishop or superior, our vocation director, and our spiritual director.

Three ways the Church helps us discern

06H Sr Margaret JosephBelonging to the Church and being active in the Church is one of the best ways to live and grow in our faith, and can be invaluable in helping us discern God’s call. Our faith community can be as small as a prayer group, as large as a parish, or a midsize group that centers around a form of ministry or nurturing our faith and spirituality in every day life. Virtual faith communities can also support us spiritually and help us to grow, although in more limited ways. We may belong to more than one faith community.

Faith communities that really nurture us can be difficult to find, and they take many shapes. If you do not have a faith community—for example, you go to Sunday Mass but are not more involved in living and sharing your faith in your parish or in other ways—I encourage you to actively seek one. Your own parish is a good place to start. (If you don’t feel that your parish is nurturing your faith deeply enough, there are many other ways to connect with the Church.)

Why is belonging to a faith community so important to our discernment?

1. Because we need to be actively involved in building the Church in order to fully live our faith. Jesus doesn’t call us as isolated individuals, but calls us into community, to serve one another and to live in communion with each other. How can we do that if we aren’t actively involved? An essential part of our baptismal call is to evangelize, to witness, and share our faith with others. And the first place that we can do that is within the Church.

We cannot nurture and grow in our faith alone; we need others to help us, to inspire us, to motivate us, to call us to greater self-giving. Finding a dynamic faith community where we are nurtured spiritually can be challenging, but it’s worth the search. If we cannot find a vibrant parish nearby, we can start looking for other kinds of Catholic faith communities. Retreats, lay movements, or connecting with religious communities of priests, brothers, or sisters, are three ways we can find people who are committed to growing in holiness in ways that we can identify with and share. In a dynamic faith community where we truly share the height and depths of our Faith, we can more easily hear and respond to God’s invitations to us—whether they are to a particular ministry or initiative, or a deeper relationship with Christ. Especially if we are discerning our vocation or ministry, Jesus will call us and affirm our call in and through the Church.

2. We often receive Christ’s call in and through his Church: through receiving the Word of God, through our sacramental life, through the Eucharist, in the homilies, in the calls of our pastors, in the service that we give, in the holy examples of the saints and perhaps in the inspiring lives of someone we know. For those discerning their vocations, the Church has the best understanding of how to receive, respond to, and live the call to marriage, single, priestly and religious life.

3. Usually it is in the Church that we can best learn how to serve with the mind and heart of Christ. Despite the reality that the Church is Christ’s Body, we will find many people in the Church whose humanity and sinfulness irritate, disturb, and perhaps even appall us. But we know that Christ died to redeem us and sanctify us, and that the Church’s holiness comes from Christ. If we look attentively, we will also find people in the Church who are truly holy: who are receptive to the Word of God in the Scripture and in the Eucharist, and who humbly serve—often without being acknowledged. We are called to build up the Church—sometimes the irritating or wounded part of the Church that would normally turn us away—with our faith and service. In turn, certain members of our faith community will invite and/or challenge us to serve. And they will also affirm us in our service.

As Catholic Christians, we are called to listen to the invitations the Church makes–because Christ speaks through his Church. Our last few popes have wisely and unapologetically called the Church to take specific actions. Coming from pastors who most clearly represent Christ on earth, these are calls from God. Today, Pope Francis sometimes startles us with the vividness of his invitations of how we are to called to love the world as Christ did. His wise and pastoral invitations to holiness and service are not just for the bishops and clergy, but for all of us Catholic Christians to bring to prayer and discernment.

Can God Speak to Us Through Others?

06G Pixabay choice 3Can God speak to us through others? Yes! Actually, an important part of listening to God is recognizing that sometimes God will speak or invite us through other people. As human beings, we are called to share life together in our family. But we also have other communities that we are part of: our circle of friends, school, work, and other groups of people we hang out with. Our parish as our faith-community is especially important.

We really do not know ourselves well nor mature fully until we experience ourselves as part of a community.

Others challenge us to give fully of ourselves. Without being stretched by others’ needs and demands, we cannot know our true strengths. And we do not truly know our weaknesses until we rub elbows with the people in our lives who push us to our limits and sometimes beyond. Our ego—with our false sense of ourselves—often blinds us to our greatest gifts and our greatest weaknesses. But others can see us clearly, without the blind spots.

I can think of a time when I fooled myself into thinking I was a pretty patient person…but then I found myself in a very irritating situation—and I suddenly discovered that I was not patient at all, it’s just that I hadn’t encountered a situation where my patience had really been tested. Living and working closely with others is one of the best ways to help us to get to know ourselves.

God often helps us to see and understand ourselves and our situation better by speaking through others—friends, co-workers, enemies, bosses, and acquaintances. Sometimes just a random comment from someone who doesn’t like us very much can help us to understand something about ourselves: how we come across, something we are particularly good or bad at, etc. If we are open, sometimes we will discover that God is speaking to us or inviting us through our conversation with someone.

When we are discerning, it can be really helpful to sort things out with someone we trust: a family member, friend, a mentor, or someone in our faith community.