Tip To Become a Better Discerner

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Annunciation by Philippe de Champaigne – Web Gallery of Art:  Public Domain

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.’ ”

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Need Your Help in a New Conversion!

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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.

But I need your help with converting this blog to a book!

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! 

#Discernment Essential: Ongoing Conversion (or Letting God Break Through—a Sister’s Ongoing Conversion Story)

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The view from my outdoor “prayer nook” during my 8 day retreat

I was gifted with a beautiful annual retreat in July, and I also felt very privileged to carry all your intentions “with me” on the retreat. You continue to be in my prayers.

One of the challenges in discerning God’s will for our lives is making sure that we are open to his will. I came face to face with my own resistance to God’s invitation to me during this retreat.

* * *

For a long time, I’ve known that the Lord has been inviting me to trust him more. And I have been working at it and praying about it. I even thought I was growing in trust. But I wasn’t really wholehearted in my efforts or my prayers because, to be honest, his invitation scared me.

For many years, I have trusted the Lord in many ways and about many things. But for some time now, the Lord’s invitation to me has been to go deeper, to entrust to him everything, even those things that I have been holding back. And that has just seemed too hard. So in the past few years I’d prayed about it superficially, occasionally asked for the gift of greater trust and greater fortitude, but mostly…ignored it. I think I allowed fear to harden my heart.

God is unfailingly good, understanding, tender, gentle, and patient with me. Instead of forcing the issue, or giving up on me, he simply continued to work in my life in other ways. But the invitation was there, waiting…and he knew it and I gradually grew more and more aware of it. I started realizing that, when I wasn’t trusting the Lord with these things in my life, I would try to control them instead. (As if I could! ) I was reminded of the New Serenity Prayer that Father James Martin, SJ, wrote a few years back. Sometimes the only form of control I had was to worry about them.

During retreat God allowed me to experience a moment of extreme weakness. Perhaps he did it so that I would remember anew how very weak and fragile I am. It was very uncomfortable to recognize my littleness and fragility in the light of my efforts to control everything around me. But I think I needed this discomfort for my eyes to be opened, and God allowed it for this reason. None of the situations I was worried about were in my control. Wouldn’t it make more sense to entrust them to the God whom I have to come to know as tender, loving, gentle, and faithful—the God who could do something about them? Who probably already was doing something about them?

IMAG0883At a most beautiful moment in prayer, one in which I was simply pouring out my heart to God, God gave me the gift of being able to make that act of trust right then and there. With that act of trust came a great sense of peace and a sense of being loved by the Lord.

Of course, my act of trust was not, is not, a one-time act. It’s ongoing. My trust in the Lord can be renewed every day, every hour, and—in very difficult situations—every minute, if need be.

* * *

In coming back to this blog, I wonder if I have emphasized enough how important it is to be truly open to God’s will for us, an openness which requires living in ongoing conversion! I can make every effort to discern God’s will, but if I’m not listening, if I’m not open, or if I allow fear, grief,  pain, anger, or anything else to blind me, I can completely miss the loving invitation that God is holding out to me in this very moment.

Since I’ve returned to my daily life, I’ve been blessed to renew my trust in my Beloved Master many times. This is one of my favorite acts of trust, found in the journal of Blessed James Alberione. I encourage you to entrust yourself to the Lord frequently on your discernment journey:

I trust in You, Sacred Heart of my Master!

#Discerning Obedience: Path To Freedom

riding-768586_1280Freedom

“No one else can tell me what to do: I value my freedom too much.”

Obedience is not popular today, although everyone is called to practice this virtue. In terms of religious life, it’s probably the hardest vow to understand in our individualistic culture when resistance to or rebellion against authority is so often seen as a virtue. Mistrust of institutions and of authority, due to a heightened awareness of the abuse of power, makes it hard to see the value of promising to obey any superior. In addition, true freedom is often misunderstood, equated with no limitations.

Genuine freedom is not:

  • living without restrictions or constraints
  • the ability to cater to every personal whim
  • doing whatever we feel like doing whenever we feel like doing it.

Genuine freedom is the ability to make choices in accord with our deepest identity as God’s beloved one, no matter what our situation is. Real freedom is choosing to love, no matter what external constraints or inner pressures we face.

The Paradox of Obedience

The vowed obedience of priests and religious conforms us to Christ, who sought only to do the will of the Father. With this vow, we, like Christ, seek to live God’s will.

Ironically, the greatest limits to our freedom often come not from outside of us, but from within us. We are driven by self-serving needs and wants, often without knowing it. We say we’re doing something because “it’s what God wants,” or “it’s the right thing to do,” but actually most of what we do is at least partly self-serving. I may pray and work really hard to prepare a retreat or book that can change lives, and this is mostly a labor of love. But sometimes I find I also have a few motivations “on the side,” including a desire for appreciation. To want a little appreciation is a normal human desire. But when this desire is exaggerated so that we become driven by it to the  point that it shapes our choices, we have become enslaved by our need for the good opinions of others.  Our sinfulness, our pride, our weakness, our greed, the need to be right or useful or to dominate others often drive us to take certain actions. In reality, these interior forces are chains binding us, preventing us from living full freedom!

The paradox of obedience is that, in “giving up” our will, or seeking to align our will to God’s will, we become most fully free.

Obedience frees priests and religious from both external and internal constraints that would prevent us from fully living God’s will. With the vow of obedience, God’s will becomes ours.

JesusMasterCAIMG_20150128_115949266Conformity to Christ

Like the other vows, obedience is a journey, freeing the priest and religious to follow Jesus more wholeheartedly, to do God’s will completely, in every aspect of his or her life. In a most profound way, the vow of obedience enables the religious to live in union with God, completely offering their whole being—including their will—to God.   

In popular culture, a sister’s, brother’s, or priest’s obedience to God directly or through religious superiors is often portrayed as mindless. But mindless obedience is not genuine obedience, which is the submission of our whole being to God–mind, will, heart, and strength! However it is true, as any believer can attest, that God’s ways don’t always make sense to us. Human beings will always experience an element of mystery in God’s plan for creation. In his Letter to the Romans, Saint Paul wrestles with the question of why his fellow Jews rejected Christ, but he concludes his two chapters of anguish and attempts to understand with one of the most beautiful hymns of praise to God’s inscrutable wisdom.

“O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).

It’s also true that obeying God through human authority sometimes doesn’t seem to make much sense. I have to confess that, even after 25+ years of vowed obedience, my opinions and way of doing things almost always seem better to me. The vow of obedience of priests and religious often takes more faith to live, because many aspects of our lives are decided by superiors who speak with the authority of God.* More than once, my transfer or apostolic assignment made no sense to me until later. I’ve also  found that when I’ve obeyed in something that I’ve been asked to do, it may not have been easy, but I’ve learned more and been pushed to be more creative and industrious than I would have otherwise. And, I often see that it brings great spiritual fruit to others.

Finally, there are also the times when the faith and suffering that accompany obedience become a means God uses to bless others. We are the Mystical Body of Christ, and obedience to God is always blessed.

Obedience is still the hardest vow for me to live well. But it’s also the vow that gives me the greatest freedom. And I treasure this vow in a special way because of how directly it helps me to live in union with Christ who said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work” (John 4:34).

*As I’ve covered elsewhere, if a superior tells a sister or priest to do something wrong or sinful, they are obviously not speaking with God’s authority.

Discernment: Listening with Our Hearts

Slide1Thank you for your patience with me while I’ve been “absent” online. Initially, I planned to take a three-week hiatus from blogging, but events conspired to keep me from getting back here for much longer—I haven’t really blogged since February. In addition to trying to complete a draft of the book, I’ve been focused on other things, such as leading a seven-day retreat, etc.

With the end of the Year of Consecrated Life and the almost-completion of the book’s content, I’m going to blog in a way that I can keep up with; I’ll start with a weekly post. I have a few more posts from the book to put up here, but I also want to simply update the blog with new insights, and respond to your discernment questions. (I have a few still to answer—thanks for the patience of those of you who have emailed me!)

Hopefully, starting this week, I can make my weekly posts fairly consistent. I am excited about “being back” online—I’ve missed blogging about discernment! I will be traveling over the next three weeks, but I will try to get a weekly post up.

* * *

Yesterday’s Gospel (for the 4th Sunday of Easter) is particularly relevant for those of us who seek to discern the Lord’s invitations in our lives:

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one” (John 10:27-30).

This past Sunday—Good Shepherd Sunday—was also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, during which Pope Francis offered a beautiful reflection on Sunday’s Gospel about listening with our hearts to the voice of the Good Shepherd, which you can find here. In it, the Pope offers perhaps the best definition of discernment: Listening to Jesus with our hearts.

Listening as a way of encountering the Lord and each other has been a strong theme in Pope Francis. In this year’s Message for World Communications Day (which is celebrated every year on the Sunday before Pentecost—this year falling on May 8), Pope Francis has beautiful words about how we are to listen to each other. But we can apply it also to how we listen to God:

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.     –    Message for 50th World Day of Communications

Yesterday, Pope Francis concluded his remarks with a special invitation to young people to consider if God is calling them to consecrate their lives to the Lord’s service, in the  priesthood or in consecrated life.

May God bless each of us in these days with a heart that is open, that attentively listens, that draws us close to the heart of the Divine Master.

Considerations on Discerning Priesthood

 A Saintly Priest: Father Damien of Molokai Photo credited to Sacred Hearts Archives, Rome - http://www.hawaiimagazine.com/images/content/Damien_Hawaii_Saint_Molokai_Kalaupapa_canonization/Damien%20p1.jpg, Public Domain

A Saintly Priest: Father Damien of Molokai
Photo credited to Sacred Hearts Archives, Rome – In Public Domain

“In the unity of the Christian life, the various vocations are like so many rays of the one light of Christ, whose radiance “brightens the countenance of the Church….’  Sacred ministers, for their part, are living images of Christ the Head and Shepherd who guides his people during this time of “already and not yet”, as they await his coming in glory.” (Vita Consecrata, #16)

“The priestly vocation is essentially a call to sanctity, in the form that derives from the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  Sanctity is intimacy with God; it is the imitation of Christ, poor, chaste and humble; it is unreserved love for souls and self-giving to their true good; it is love for the church which is holy and wants us to be holy, because such is the mission that Christ has entrusted to it.  Each one of you must be holy also in order to help your brothers pursue their vocation to sanctity.” — Pope St. John Paul II, Rome, Italy, Homily on October 9, 1984

“His calling is a declaration of love. Your response is commitment, friendship, and love manifested in the gift of your own life as a definitive following and as a permanent sharing in his mission and in his consecrations.  To make up your mind is to love him with all of your soul and all of your heart in such a way that this love becomes the standard and motive of all your actions.  From this moment on, live the Eucharist fully; be persons for whom the Holy Mass, Communion, and Eucharistic adoration are the center and summit of their whole life.  Offer Christ your heart in meditation and personal prayer which is the foundation of the spiritual life.”  —Pope St. John Paul II, Valencia, Spain, November 8, 1982

“The world looks to the priest, because it looks to Jesus!  No one can see Christ; but everyone sees the priest, and through him they wish to catch a glimpse of the Lord!  Immense is the grandeur of the Lord! Immense is the grandeur and dignity of the priest!” —Pope St. John Paul II, Rome, Italy, October 13, 1979

The Vocation of Priesthood

Priesthood is the vocation of men who are ordained and consecrated to serving the People of God in persona Christi, or “in the person of Christ” who is Teacher, Priest, and King. Priests share in Christ’s ministry, building up the People of God as the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit.

Priests take the vow of celibacy, in order to be more closely configured to Christ and so that they can completely dedicate themselves to their priestly ministry. They also take a vow of obedience to their bishop (in whose priestly ministry they share). The primary areas of priestly ministry are teaching, governing and sanctifying the People of God. Key aspects of priestly ministry include:

  • administering the sacraments, especially celebrating the Eucharistic Sacrifice and absolving sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation
  • preaching the Word of God and explaining it
  • shepherding the People of God,  accompanying them on their journey

Because they are called to lead the People of God on the way of salvation, priests have a special obligation to a life of holiness. Their vocation to love is that of service, but rather than an exclusive service dedicated to their own family, priests are called to be fathers and shepherds to everyone. Their vocation can be summed up thus: A priest is called to be Christ for all whom he meets.

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Here is an excerpt from Vatican II’s document on the priesthood, Presbyterorum ordinis, describing the purpose of the priesthood:

The office of priests, since it is connected with the episcopal order, also, in its own degree, shares the authority by which Christ builds up, sanctifies and rules his Body…. Priests, by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are signed with a special character and are conformed to Christ the Priest in such a way that they can act in the person of Christ the Head…

The purpose, therefore, which priests pursue in their ministry and by their life is to procure the glory of God the Father in Christ. That glory consists in this—that men working freely and with a grateful spirit receive the work of God made perfect in Christ and then manifest it in their whole lives. Hence, priests, while engaging in prayer and adoration, or preaching the word, or offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice and administering the other sacraments, or performing other works of the ministry for men, devote all this energy to the increase of the glory of God and to man’s progress in the divine life. (#2)

To sum up, priests are called, ordained, and consecrated to God’s service, sharing in the very ministry of Christ himself, and continuing Christ’s presence in the world through celebrating the sacraments, proclaiming the Gospel, and shepherding the People of God throughout their lives. They are dedicated in a particular way to the service of the Church.

Particular Graces & Strengths of Priesthood

The framework for priesthood is a celibate life dedicated to ministry. Presbyterorum ordinis highlights several virtues or characteristics that are especially helpful for priestly ministry:  goodness of heart, sincerity, strength and constancy of mind, zealous pursuit of justice, and affability. In talking to priests, Pope Francis often highlights the importance of the priest’s relationship to Christ, the priest’s closeness to the people he serves, his dedication to service, and personal integrity and humility as key aspects of what it means to be a priest.

Pope Francis’s recent reflections on the priesthood are helpful in understanding how important human formation and the family, closeness to Christ and his flock, and the call to serve, are to the life and vocation of every priest. You may wish to bring his thoughts, as well as the Scripture passages below, to prayer.

A good priest, therefore, is first of all a man with his own humanity, who knows his own history, with its riches and its wounds, and who has learned to make peace with it, reaching an underlying serenity, that of a disciple of the Lord. Human formation is therefore a necessity for priests so that they learn not to be dominated by their limitations, but instead to build on their talents…

We priests are apostles of joy, we proclaim the Gospel, that is, the “good news” par excellence; it is certainly not we who give strength to the Gospel — some believe that —, but we can either help or hinder the encounter between the Gospel and people. Our humanity is the “earthen vessel” in which we safeguard the treasure of God, a vessel which we must take care of, in order to properly pass on its precious content.

A priest cannot lose his roots; he always remains a man of the people and of the culture that engendered him. Our roots help us to remember who we are and where Christ has called us.

Answering God’s call, you become a priest to serve your brothers and sisters. The images of Christ that we take as a reference for the ministry of priests are clear: He is the “High Priest”, close in the same way to God and to mankind; he is the “Servant”, who washes feet and who becomes a neighbor to the weakest; he is the “Good Shepherd”, who always has as his goal the care of the flock.

There are three images that we should look to when thinking about the ministry of priests: sent to serve men, to help them obtain the mercy of God, and to proclaim his Word of life. We are not priests for ourselves, and our sanctification is closely linked to that of our people, our unction for their unction; you are anointed for your people….The good that the priests can do is born mainly from their closeness and their tender love for people. They are neither philanthropists nor officials; priests are fathers and brothers. The fatherhood of a priest does so much good.

Closeness, the depths of mercy, a loving gaze: to experience the beauty of a life lived according to the Gospel and the love of God, which is also made concrete through his ministers. God never refuses. —Address of Pope Francis, Nov. 20, 2015

Resources for Prayer and Reflection About the Vocation to Priesthood

Here are a few Scripture passages to pray with, that could be helpful for someone  discerning his vocation to the priesthood.

  • Exodus 3:1-15 Call of Moses
  • Isaiah 42:1-7 “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations”
  • Matthew 9:35-38 “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few”’
  • John 13:1-15 Jesus washes the feet of the disciples
  • 1 Peter 2:4-10 “Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood”
  • Hebrews 4:12-16 “Let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and favor”
  • Hebrews 5:1-10 “You are a priest forever”

If you are reading this blog but not discerning priesthood, join me in taking a few moments to  pray for future priests: those currently discerning, and those who have not yet received Jesus’ invitation to become a priest. 

Tips for the Discerner

PraySeveral people have sent in questions or comments, which I will be delighted to address tomorrow or Friday. But in the meantime, I have run across a number of wonderful reflections and tips for those who are discerning, and I couldn’t wait to share them with you. Check these out!

From Sr.  Margaret Michael’s video, Discernment Tip #2: He who is the Way will show us the way for our life. Pray! (Check out her video on facebook here on our Daughters of St. Paul Facebook Page–and keep checking back all week!) Actually, if you are discerning religious life, I would recommend you visit the discernment section on our Daughters of Saint Paul website, too. No matter what community you are called to, you will most likely find the discernment tips offered there very helpful. (Yes, I wrote some of the material that you will find there.)  

Sr. Christina Neumann, OSF, who has a lovely blog that offers an “inside view” of religious life from the Franciscan perspective, offers her reflection for how we can all live #NationalVocationAwarenessWeek

The Heart of Mary’s Women’s Fellowship occasionally offers “self-studies” or “mini-retreats.” They recently posted a beautiful nine-day series of Scriptural reflections on call, vocation, and discernment, which you can find here. This series of reflections make a beautiful Scriptural novena with lectio divina for anyone who is seeking to discern how to follow God more closely in their life. 

The Coffee Spoons Blog posted a lovely reflection, “Everything is grace,” about St. Thérèse’s Garden: that living our true vocation is not necessarily living whom we think we’re supposed to be, but whom God calls us to be! St. Therese’s words are a joyful reminder of God’s loving call to us to be ourselves–our best selves.

Discernment in Times of Temptation

06_EE Pixabay (2)Sometimes people raise the question how to distinguish the voice of God from the voice of the devil. It’s a good question because the devil truly is the father of lies and an expert at deception. The devil often preys upon our deepest faults, and because of this, his voice can sometimes be hard to recognize.

God allows the devil to tempt us, but God never allows us to be tempted beyond our strength. Jesus has already conquered the devil, sin, death, and all consequences of sin. So in our discerning, we seek to make sure that we are attuned to the voice of God, and not deceived by the voice of the devil.   

The closer we grow to Christ, the more subtle the devil has to become in the ways he tempts us. If we are truly discerning God’s will, the devil may not be tempt us outright, but manipulates us by using our worst faults and sinfulness—especially our negative thoughts—to try to draw us away from intimacy with God. This is where the expertise of an experienced spiritual director can help us recognize a temptation more quickly than we would on our own.

The devil is not privy to our private thoughts and our conversations with God. But the devil is a keen observer of both human nature and our behavior, and thus can deftly nudge us towards thoughts that lead us away from faith and into self-doubt, discouragement, and self-righteousness—thoughts that we might easily fall into or have on our own—without our even realizing what’s happening. And the devil often uses the subtlety of our thoughts to deceive us.

A basic criteria to discerning the devil’s voice is the question: Does this [thought, choice, action] help me to grow closer to Christ and keep my focus on him?

If the thought focuses my attention on myself in an unhealthy or discouraging way, then it is most likely a temptation.

* * *

Here is a personal example of how the devil uses one of my weaknesses—my perfectionism and tendency towards being overly self-critical. For years I thought that this was actually humility, so it took me a long time to recognize the pattern of temptation that happens to me repeatedly:

  1. Relying on God’s grace, I work hard to accomplish something in our mission—for example, perhaps I wrote an article. I know that the article is not perfect, but I did my best with the time and resources I had, and I entrust the results to God, praying that the readers of the article will be touched and feel God’s invitation.
  2. Afterwards, I’ll reflect on the article. How was it received? When I re-read it, what do I like about it? What is missing? How could I have written something that would bring more people to encounter the Lord?
  3. It’s during this reflection—which is actually important to do if I want to improve what I’m writing—that the devil jumps in. Rather than noticing what I could improve for next time and then humbly offering the article and its readers to God’s loving care, I’ll start to focus on the fact that I didn’t do a perfect job. My feelings of dissatisfaction that the article wasn’t perfect will start to grow, and then quickly spread to other areas of my ministry and of my life.
  4. Pretty soon, I’m dissatisfied with everything I do, and with myself overall. All I can see is my faults, my omissions, and what I’m not doing well. Once I’ve started riding this train of thought, I’m focusing not on what actually happened but on myself and everything I haven’t done. This is an express ride to discouragement.
  5. If I don’t recognize that I’ve jumped onto this train of discouragement, I may stay in a discouraged state focused on myself for days or even weeks. This kind of discouragement prevents me from taking risks in my ministry because it has sapped my trust in God and my self-respect. Worst of all, I end up focused on myself rather than on God, even though I started with the good intentions of growing in humility, and of trying to improve in my ministry.

The devil knows that being hyper-critical of myself is a place where I am vulnerable, and so preys on this weakness. Over the years, with the blessings of God’s grace, spiritual direction, and good friends, I can often recognize what’s happening pretty quickly. I still evaluate my apostolic work and efforts, but I’m careful to always conclude by offering each effort and my littleness to God, and even to rejoice in my littleness. In these times, the temptation to discouragement is transformed into an opportunity to grow in true humility.

* * *

Our Catholic traditions of the spiritual life are all helpful in drawing us closer to the Lord and away from the devil. But three guides that are particularly helpful for growing in a spirit of discernment are: Jesus’ gift of himself in the Most Blessed Sacrament, our relationship with Mary, our Blessed Mother, and praying with the Word of God. All three of these topics deserve their own books…but in upcoming posts, we’ll look briefly at them in light of discernment.

Back from Hiatus

hand-226358_1280for being so patient with me these past few weeks!

I’m back from my blogging/mostly offline hiatus. It is a real joy to be back online and blogging again! Posting three times a week has really pushed me to  come quite far writing the book on discernment, but it’s also proven to be quite challenging to keep up with. By the end of summer, I know I was barely hanging in there. I think I finally went into “overload” mode these past couple of weeks—in part because I’d fallen behind posting, but also because of other responsibilities that have arisen.

One benefit to all of this is that out of sheer necessity, I’ve been trying to live in the spirit of discernment even more than usual during these past couple weeks. So I have some more personal experiences and stories to share with regard to discerning day-to-day. Another (probably the best) benefit to you is that when I miss a blogpost, I pray extra for you, that you will receive the insights and graces that you need for your next step in your discernments! You have been in my prayers more than usual.

But I’m really excited to be back here writing. I’m trying to plan things out so that if it once again becomes impossible to blog regularly, I can at least post once or twice a week until I’m able to make time again.

From November 1-7, 2015, we celebrate National Vocation Awareness Week here in the USA. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (the USCCB) designated this week to encourage a culture of vocations specifically for priesthood, diaconate, and religious life. (In general, a vocational culture also includes discerning a possible vocation to marriage or single life.) Here are some recommended resources for parishes, families, and religious education–click on the link for National Vocational Awareness Week, English or Spanish. During that week, I hope to highlight a few other resources for encouraging openness to the call to consecrated or ordained life in the family that I’ve recently come across.

And just a reminder, please feel free to share your insights about discernment and your discernment journey with other readers through the comments. I love hearing from you, and also receiving your questions! The best way to reach me is here on the blog or via email. (Although you can find me on Twitter and Facebook, I am not able to maintain a consistent enough presence to be sure that I will receive your messages in a timely manner.)

Discernment: Praying Our Future

2012-10-11 16.38.21The art of discernment encompasses praying our past, our present, and our future. But we are called to live in the present moment. Does the art of discernment force us into an unhealthy attitude of trying to live in the past, or in a future that is not here yet? Not if we are discerning well.

Discernment is very much a call to live the present moment. In order to attentively listen to and seek God’s will for the next step in our lives, we need to be fully present to ourself, to God, and to our own lives, in the here and now. Discernment is the art of listening to God in the present so that we are open to carrying out God’s plan. The greater our ability to listen, the more we discover—perhaps to our surprise—that God invites us in specific ways to draw closer to him and to do his will in the world. We are not seeking to foretell the future, nor to make our own plans, but to seek God’s plan, so that what God wills can fully become our will. Whether it’s seeking how to approach an important conversation with a loved one, discerning our vocation, or recognizing God’s invitation in the moment, discernment is being present to God right here, right now, and making ourselves available to God’s plan for us. As Father Ivan Rupnik says in his book, Discernment: Acquiring the Heart of God: “Discernment is not a technique for resolving the problems of our spiritual life, but a reality found in the relationship between the human person and God.”

God’s Dream for Us
Up to this point, we have focused more on how to grow in the attitudes that will help us discern God’s will for us. As we go forward, we enter into the concrete practice of discernment, of how to give priority to God’s will in our lives, and how to overcome the obstacles that get in the way of a discerning heart so that we can fully live God’s will.

God’s will=God’s plan=God’s desires=God’s dream for us.

We know from the Bible that God’s dream for us is what is truly best for us. God dreams of our happiness, our freedom, of being in a close relationship with us, of our knowing and trusting that we are loved, of our complete fulfillment. As mentioned earlier, God doesn’t just dream for us, but with us. We can see discernment as our way of dreaming with God, of discovering how we can reach that fullness of happiness and freedom that God desires for us—even more than we want it for ourselves. Since God shares his dreams with us most often in the ordinary “stuff” of our lives, these ordinary things are what we will be praying and discerning with: our prayer, our interior dispositions, our situations, our world, our desires, our abilities, limitations, and gifts.