The disciples followed the Lord Jesus in His ministry of proclaiming the kingdom and healing the afflicted. Jesus also spent long days alone with His disciples, speaking to them of the mysteries of His kingdom and forming them to the point when they too could be sent on His mission.
— Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross, 6:56
The work of discernment cannot be broken down into a set program that will guarantee results. Yet there are tried and true aids to discernment that will draw us closer to God and assist in opening our hearts that we may know and desire God’s will.
The Sacraments are concrete moments where we encounter God’s grace. The more that we enter into these moments, the more this grace permeates our life and can then draw us into closer communion with the Lord. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our life in Christ, it is imperative that we attend Mass every Sunday. Frequent participation in daily Mass also greatly assists in our growth in God’s grace. Also important is regular confession. Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation we receive the grace that frees us from the sin that becomes an obstacle to hearing and following God’s call.
Through time spent in prayer we encounter God and allow Him to work in our hearts and make His will known. Dedicating time every day to the Lord, even a few minutes, is an essential investment in our relationship with Him and our ability to know and follow His will. Several forms of prayer that are particularly helpful in discernment are praying with Scripture, praying with Mary, praying with the Eucharist, and reflecting on the Holy Cross Constitutions.
Often those in discernment keep their thoughts to themselves, afraid to let anyone else know they are considering a vocation. Yet this approach isolates them from an important aid to discernment. Often those who know us well or those who have been through the process of discernment can provide valuable insights that can help. If a vocation to the priesthood or religious life has been on your mind for a while, talk about it with someone you trust. It is also helpful to bring your vocation discernment to a priest, brother, or a vocation director. A good vocation director does not expect everyone he talks with to enter the seminary; rather he helps you come to a deeper understanding of God’s call.
A reliable indicator as to whether you are called to a religious or priestly vocation is that you find energy and joy in serving others. Seek ways to offer some of your time in service. Through this you will gain insight into whether you can offer your whole life in such service. Many find it helpful to become involved in liturgical ministries such as lector or altar server; in teaching ministries such as RCIA or Religious Education; and in direct service to the poor. It is also helpful to seek out opportunities for leadership, as a vocation to the priesthood and religious life will require an ability to organize and lead others. Through service and leadership you can develop your abilities, grow in an understanding of your gifts, and develop a greater understanding of how God is calling you to serve the Church.
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Visiting a seminary program or religious house gives a real and concrete experience of what it is like to take a step in that direction. There is a good bit of discernment that happens in prayer, contemplation, and conversation. Yet this can only take you so far. To know if you are called to enter a seminary or religious community you have to visit. Visiting a seminary is an opportunity to meet the people and to see what the rhythm of life is like. Often such a visit can dispel misconceptions and give you an idea of whether it is the right next step for you.