Helpful Tips for Discerners
Are you discerning a vocation to the priesthood, diaconate, or religious life? Or perhaps you are trying to hear God's voice in your heart in leading you to live a more fulfilled life. Either way, take courage and brave heart - God is indeed with you!
Probably the best advice we have ever heard is from Rt. Rev. Archimandrite Robert Taft, S.J., who, at a retreat given to seminarians a number of years ago at St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Seminary in Washington, D.C., said: "Know your faith; love your faith; live your faith." While we might not have that order exactly correct, these words ring so very true. If you take the time to really learn the faith that the fathers of the Church have taught over the past two millenia, you will be in a position to open your heart to appreciate and love the mysteries of the faith. When you truly love your faith, you will be in a place where you willingly live the faith and integrate it into your every day life with love, patience, and unwavering steadfastness.
Here are some helpful pointers for you to use when discerning your vocation:
1. Pray. Above all else, without prayer, you can do nothing. If you have a good and sensible rule of prayer in your life that you can stick with, this will do you wonders in not only solidifying your faith, but also in enabling you to hear God speaking to you. Ask your spiritual director or confessor for a simple rule of prayer to aid you in your discernment and spiritual growth. Also, follow the KISS rule - keep it simple! Often, we suggest to discerners to have a rule of prayer in this manner: take 10-15 minutes every morning and evening to pray the Jesus Prayer/Rule of Pachomius or read and reflect on 1-2 Psalms from the Psalter.
2. Meditate. We all need quiet from the noise and bustle of the outside world. If the ancient monastics felt that they needed to escape to the desert from the noise of 4th century AD cities of the Roman Empire, with no TV, no internet, and no smartphones, then think of how much more we need silence in our lives! Treat this like prayer and establish a rule of quiet meditation with your spiritual director - generally we recommend 10-15 minutes per day of meditation. Meditation is much more beneficial when done in a church/chapel before the iconastasis, but can be done in a quiet serene place if a church/chapel is not available.
3. Receive the Holy Mysteries Frequently. This one is a no-brainer. How can one really discern that he or she is called to a life of service in the Church when they do not participate in the Liturgical life of their own Church? How can one really love their faith and understand it if they do not regularly partake of the Holy Mysteries of Confession/Holy Eucharist?
4. Establish a Relationship With a Confessor/Spiritual Director. This one is very important to a discerner since a seasoned and experienced priest, deacon, or religious monk/nun can provide invaluable help and advice to aid on one's spiritual journey. The relationship between a Confessor/Spiritual Director and the Discerner often becomes not only a mentoring relationship where they learn more about the Church, service to God and His People, and the holy faith, but also becomes a valued friendship by which the Discerner learns how to hear God's voice and bring His Gospel to others. To find a good confessor/spiritual director, make an appointment with your pastor to locate a good holy man or woman who can help you with your journey of discernment.
5. Take an Active Role in the Life of the Church. As stated before, you want to have an active participation in the Church. This is not limited to only participating in the Liturgical Life of the Church; this includes helping extend your charity and love to other aspects of the Church, such as helping the poor, organizing a clothing drive, pinching pierogies at the Church Hall, or taking an active role in your parish Knights of Columbus or Holy Name Society. You don't want to hoard your faith and God's charity solely for yourself. The soul that truly loves empties his soul to others in humility, love, and steadfastness.
6. Take Time to Participate in an Extended Retreat. Taking an extended retreat at a Catholic monastery/retreat house will provide you with quiet time for reflection, spiritual healing and growth.
7. Never Say Never! What we mean by this is do not try to shoehorn yourself into a particular role in the Church. You never know what God is truly calling you to until you really test it and experience it. You might be called to celibate priesthood; you may be being called to serve as a married priest or deacon. Do not try to force yourself into a calling that was not meant to be. As they say, if you want to make God roar with laughter, tell Him what your plans are for your life.