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.