We are all called to discernment because a Christian life (vocation) is precisely a response to God's will and call to discipleship. "Be it done to me according to your word." (Lk 1,38) This response to God's call is the only source of my real happiness in this life and hereafter. It is an act of deep gratitude on my part for all that the Lord has done for me—and how he has loved me.
Knowing and Loving Myself.
My personality and personal history are part of my call. It is therefore important that I learn to be in touch with myself and get to know myself better.
- I recall experiences and events in my life history that brought me to where I am now.
- I write these in a personal journal and reflect on them.
- I reflect on the things and activities that bring me life, my likes and dislikes, joys and fears, abilities and limitations, etc.
- I reflect on my work patterns, leadership qualities, and the structures and routines in my life.
- I reflect on the various relationships I have with people.
In all these, I try to see God's active presence in my life history, especially how He has loved me. I also consult with a spiritual director to guide me in getting to know myself and to help me experience myself as the Beloved of God.
Knowing and Loving Jesus Christ.
I try to develop a regular life of prayer, devoting 15-30 minutes daily to personal prayer. I pray over the life of Christ, his words and actions as presented to me in the Gospels. I read and ponder the accounts given in the New Testament. My hope is that his spirit will come into my being. I pray, "To see you more clearly, love you more dearly, follow you more nearly." I seek the help of my spiritual director to find the form of prayer best suited for me. Through this growing personal relationship with Jesus, our Lord, I slowly grow into the Mind and Heart of Jesus Christ.
Making a Decision
- I gather accurate and adequate information on the point of decision. Perhaps this information is about the congregation or order I am considering, its charism, its apostolates, its way of life, and its requirements for application.
- I surrender myself to the Gospel value system. The beatitudes in Matthew 5 might be helpful to consider in doing this.
- I propose the option to myself, the pros and cons of the option. I write these down. I allow all this to sink in prayer. I remain with this in a disposition of complete surrender.
- Then, I propose the opposite option to myself, following the same process as in the previous paragraph.
- At a certain point, a gripping conviction comes to me toward one option and I make this my temporary decision.
Confirming my Decision
After making the temporary decision in step 3, I allow some time for inner confirmation. An experience of inner peace is a sign of God's will in my decision. I confer with my spiritual director regarding the process and confirmation of my decision.
The first is an example of a person who wished to discover the basic state of life God wished for him. In searching out the dream of God for him he came to a conviction that the Lord wished him to be a priest. So he took this choice to prayer asking the Lord to confirm it. At the beginning there was a sense of peace with the choice. Later, however, there was much disturbance in his inner being: zest for life was disappearing, his mind was concentrated on himself, he experienced sleeplessness, life was becoming a burden and there were other interior experiences. In discussing this with his spiritual director, he indicated that the only way open to someone who wished "to live all perfection" was in the priesthood. When the director suggested to him that it was possible to live the life of perfection in whatever state the Lord called him, he replied quite spontaneously that his deepest desire was to be married and have children. Then he spent some weeks of further prayer and checking out his inner experience while considering the married state of life. The results were the opposite of those mentioned above: a lightsomeness of being, zest for life, an excitement at new possibilities and a recognition that he could serve other men and women in the married state. He is now a happily married man with three children and much involved in promoting a lay spirituality in everyday life.
We might consider another example almost the opposite of the above. This person fell deeply in love and through much reflection came to the conviction that she was called to the married state. As the time of marriage approached she was much agitated by the thought of her future life. Upon inquiry, it became obvious that these were not just the normal fears of a bride-to-be. In her uncertainty she did not want to hurt the man she loved so much. Still, this question persisted: "How might I best serve the Lord?" In her being, she sensed a great attraction to be present to and serve many persons. Although she did not feel certain that this meant a call to the religious life, it did indicate to her that she needed more confirmation about the married state. A weekend retreat led her to decide to spend some time in a religious order and experience this other state of life. She entered a house of formation and about a year later was surprised to experience the grace of freedom with respect to both states of life. She realized that she could be happy in either state and serve the Lord well in both. She knew that she was free to choose either and that she was to choose the one that almost fulfilled her deepest desires. She chose religious life and still feels, after twenty years, that this is her vocation in life.