Your Vocation: A Personal Calling From God
“There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord—but the Lord was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the Lord was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.” This passage from First Kings is what I often think about the process of trying to discern a vocation. The Lord comes in silence, not in the loudness of the wind or earthquake or fire but rather in silence. But cultivating this silence, discovering the voice of God speaking in our lives, and then mustering the courage to follow the call are all difficult in and of themselves. Here I hope to give you a path, some hope, and a little guide to discerning your vocation.
To Be Called
First off, a vocation cannot be chosen. It is a call from God and thus the initiative begins with Him. We find this in the very word vocation, which comes from the Latin word “vocare” which means ‘to call’. God makes the call, it is up to us to discern this call and answer it. Discerning or discernment is also a word that needs a little explanation. It is not simply making a decision but rather it is a word used to describe the entire process of figuring out what we should do and then doing exactly that.
Often we speak of discernment only in terms of the priesthood or religious life (monks, friars, sisters, nuns, etc.) but discernment is used to describe one considering marriage and even married men considering a possible call to serve as a permanent deacon. All of these require proper discernment. Here are some steps to discernment that will help you discover the will of God for your life and have the courage to begin to follow it.
Steps for Discernment
First, if you are serious about this get a spiritual director. A spiritual director is like a personal trainer but for the spiritual life. Somebody who listens to us, prays with us, and has the maturity and spiritual development to help us figure out what movements of our heart were placed there by God and which were not. If you have somebody in mind, ask them. If you have no idea where to begin to find a spiritual director call your local parish and ask a priest there for their suggestion. Many people think that every priest is a good spiritual director. This is not the case. Spiritual direction is a gift given by God and one that not every priest has and one that is not limited to the priests alone. Be open to having a spiritual director that is not a priest. If you have a particular vocation that you think you may be called to that you are considering, possibly find somebody already living that vocation. So if you think you may be called to the priesthood, ask for a priest. If you are a woman and think you may be called to join religious life, consider a religious sister for your spiritual director.
Secondly, make sure your relationship with God is strong. This should go without saying, but I want to make sure it is said. Personal prayer and frequent celebration of the sacraments are the bare minimum.
Begin to develop a habit of time spent in personal prayer, especially prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament if you have the opportunity near you. This will involve silence. Silence is vital as we read in the passage from First Kings. And silence does not just mean absence of sound. There are a lot of things in our life that make a lot of noise without making a sound. Cell phones are one. Anxiousness about things is another. Worry is one. If we can begin to carve out time away from these things we can begin to enter into the silence that is required to begin to properly discern. Try turning your cell phone off Saturday evening as you go to bed and not turning it on until after Mass on Sunday, or even better, all day on Sunday. Give Sunday to God and to the Mass. The emails, social media notifications, and phone messages will be there Monday morning. But remove the cell phone for a while, remove the source of a lot of noise in our life that gives God the silence he needs in order to speak so we can begin to recognize his voice. Try other ways to give yourself some silence. Fast from TV for a dedicated period of time or find some other activity that you often fill empty time with and decide that you will not do that activity and instead you will offer that time to God.
Make sure you are taking advantage of frequent celebrations of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and confession. Every two weeks or even more frequently is not too often to go to confession. And, if you can, daily Mass. If your job or other responsibilities don’t allow daily Mass try to make it at least once or twice IN ADDITION to Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation. Receiving the Body and Blood of Our Lord will put you more in union with him and allow you to more easily hear his voice.
Be open to the ways that God might speak to you. A recent study of priests being ordained in the spring and summer of 2018 indicated that those being ordained were highly encouraged by somebody to consider the priesthood. Almost 90% of them reported that either a parish priest, teacher, friend or family member, or somebody else encouraged them to at least consider the priesthood. God uses other people in our discernment. Take some time to consider what others have been telling you. This certainly is not a be all and end all, but it is certainly worth something and is something to talk to your spiritual director about.
Go and check out what your vocation would entail. If you are considering joining religious life ask various orders if they have "come and see" days or overnight or weekend retreats so you can at least experience a little bit of what the life might be like. Or if you are considering the priesthood ask if you can shadow a priest for a weekend or if you can visit the seminary for a few days. You’d be surprised at how much a short little visit like this can help make clear if God is calling you to pursue this life or not.
Finally, act! Saint Pope John Paul II was fond of saying “Be not afraid.” This piece of advice applies in spades to discerning a vocation. Don’t be afraid of making a mistake. If, after meeting with a spiritual director and deep, intense prayer begin to pursue what you think God may be calling you to do. Some people think that if they enter the doors of the seminary that first day they have signed on the dotted line for ordination. No way. Just like you don’t buy a wedding ring on the first date over coffee so to when you enter a seminary or novitiate. There is no failure in taking a leap into what you think God might be calling you to do and discovering that you are not called to it. Don’t let the thought that you might be disappointing others leave you paralyzed either. This is between you, God, and the Church.
Prayer, the sacraments, a spiritual director, silence and the courage to leap and give it a try. These are the keys to properly discerning a vocation, be it marriage or religious life or the priesthood. May God bless you as you pursue your vocation or if you are living your vocation now, that you may live it in such a way to give glory to God!