A Year for Discernment

August 2013 — Vol. 3, Issue 1

Fr Jim Gallagher, CSC

Discerning a vocation to the religious life as a priest or brother can be daunting. The question of whether one is called can seem so big and unwieldy that it is hard to know how to get at it. The sense of call may be there, but the clarity or certainty that we desire is not there. The more one looks at the issue the more complicated it seems to get. So often the temptation is to put off addressing the discernment until later or until it becomes a bit more manageable. 

Yet setting the question of call aside does not lead to a resolution. The best way to find clarity is to engage the question, to wrestle with it, to pray with it, and to talk about it. The key to this is not to try to do it all at once; like any other large project, it is important to take it one piece at a time, and break it down into manageable pieces.

Indeed the first step is to consider your situation. At this time of the year, the question of whether or not to enter into the seminary is not imminent. Applications to the seminary are accepted in the fall and into spring for the following academic year. This means you have plenty of time. You have several months to work over the questions and the options. Indeed if the question of vocation has been on your mind for a while and you are coming to a transition period (senior year, end of a service commitment, possible shift in career or position) then now is a great time to enter into a good solid year of discernment. Use this year well and it is possible to come to a solid sense of clarity about what the next step should be. 

The next step then is to consider the question that you will bring to your discernment. The best question to work with here may not be the great big question of what God is calling you to do with your life. The slightly more manageable question to work with is to ask - what is the next step? The Lord does not often reveal His plan for the rest or our days on earth.  More often He will show us only the next step. Do not worry too much about the rest of your life, focus first on what you might be called to do in the next year.

Then lay out the options.  What are possibilities for the next year – colleges, graduate schools, service opportunities, jobs, seminary, etc. What are the real possibilities, what would it take to move in any of those directions. 

Next narrow in on the options that have the greatest draw for you. Consider the potential that each has in helping you to grow in your relationship with the Lord and in helping you to develop your own skills and abilities. Sort out the ones that you find to be the most exciting and consider why you find them exciting. Do not narrow it down too much; work out the top 3-5 possibilities. 

Start to move ahead with some of these possibilities – put in applications to the schools, visit the seminary, look into the job applications, talk to people involved in each area. This can help provide more information about whether some of these possibilities are even options. It can also help you to clarify what it would look like to follow that path and to see if it would be a good, comfortable, and challenging fit for you.

Take some time with the steps laid out above. It is not something that you do overnight. It is work that you can take the fall months to slowly move through. In taking this time you are giving the Lord an opportunity to work on your heart and through your situation to help provide some clarity and input. As well, you are steadily progressing forward toward a decision on what the next step will be. You are moving along through smaller landmarks so that keep you from getting stuck on the big questions that don’t seem to have ready answers.

Of course, a major part of working your way through discernment is prayer. Continually slow down and ask God for the grace to desire what He has in store for you. Offer up to God this whole process and ask for Him to lead you through, maybe even becoming bold enough to ask for very clear signs along the way, but then let it all go; offer it up. Do not get caught up looking for signs. Often the Lord works through our own situations and actions, be patient and give Him the opportunity to work in His own time.

Keep active in the process of discernment, keep talking to people along the way, and strive to remain open to the Lord through prayer. The work of discernment requires regular effort, patience, and prayer. Through this God may not reveal the whole picture to you, but you may just find what you need to make the next step forward in your journey with the Lord.

Prayer from the Tradition

Act of Desire
From the Holy Cross Directory of Devotional Prayer

Moreau Crucifix

Come, O adorable Savior,
come into a soul that longs for you
as a thirsty deer for a spring.

Draw me to yourself; turn me into you,
be in me, and let me be in you,

as your Father is in you and you are in the Father.

Come and live in me that I may no more be mine, 
and that I may be intimately united to you so as to
be one with you.

I cannot live any longer without you.
Come and enliven my soul;
may I be entirely consumed by your love.


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