Discernment: Just Another Choice?

Before I dive into the meat and potatoes of this post, I just wanted to give a brief update on the Legion, for – as you may have noticed – I have ceased to write allocutios. Praised be Jesus, this is not because I have become lazy or have given up on providing our praesidium with quality work. Rather, the Blessed Mother has provided our little group with a new spiritual director, who has been doing a marvelous job in fulfilling her new roles. Upon occasion I may have to write up an allocutio again, but my blog will now focus back on my usual less-formal meditations and reflections. Thank you all who have prayed for our Legion and its success!

Who can blame us? “Senioritis” had kicked in (even though it was only October) and it was the last class period of the day with a teacher who was about as enthusiastic about teaching us at that time as we were about learning. That afternoon we were each given the ten page current topics magazine and were expected to quietly immerse ourselves in its content for the last 50 minutes of the day.

Yeah, right, like that was going to happen. Something new and unsuspected had taken place and nearly every girl in the room wanted the juicy details.

It wasn’t long before the attention of most of the girls in the room was suddenly on me – a rare occurrence. One of them in particular had moved up to the empty seat next to me, and with a smirk inquired about what was going on between me and one of our male classmates.

So, you and…”

With these words, all of my other friends in the class were hooked, as well as some of the guys in the room, though they did not show their interest by engaging. I began to fill them in on all the details of my budding romantic relationship with our new classmate who had just moved to town this year from out-of-state.

I’ll spare you the details, as my intention is not to bore you with a story on silly teenage infatuation (oh, the lessons I had to learn!), but what occurred during my storytelling that afternoon brings us to the purpose of this reflection. As I sat on the top of my desk, chatting with the girls about my new romantic interest, I overheard one of the guys in the back of the classroom comment to his buddies, “Dude, I thought she going to be a sister.”

Perhaps it was his tone of voice, or my giddiness, or goodness knows what, but I burst out laughing when I heard his comment. On one hand he was correct, I had been seriously discerning religious life since the middle of my junior year. But really, I thought to myself, does he not understand that the path of discernment is not set in stone, that an individual doesn’t necessarily stick with the first vocation they seriously consider?

Later, upon having conversations with others about my “sudden” discernment of married life, as well as the subsequent transitions between the two vocations as life has progressed, it occurred to me that a good number of people don’t recognize discernment for what it is. Heck, before I started going to spiritual direction, neither did I! The best way that I can describe this misunderstood viewpoint is that discerning one’s vocation is seen as something very similar to deciding one’s future career. It’s a lifelong commitment that one is approaching, and discernment is that process of making the decision as to whether or not this is what you want for your life. It’s a question that becomes added to the big choices we make in life. Do I choose X College or Y University. Do I go into business or education? Do I get married or wear a strange outfit every day for the rest of my life? It is true that this is a part of the discernment process. You actually need to be able to picture yourself living that particular lifestyle if it is going to work. But it goes beyond that; it is only the first step!

I think that this is where most of us misunderstand discernment, that is we forget (or perhaps don’t recognize) that our vocation is something that was already chosen for us, not the other way around. God has made us each with a special plan for our lives, a path which He knows will bring us the most joy and that will lead us to a greater level of holiness. This is where one’s discernment differs from a decision like the ones mentioned above. By their very natures, the vocations of married, priestly, religious or consecrated life point us to something that is beyond this world – i.e. our ultimate union with God.

It is through our vocation that God supplies us with the grace to attain that holiness. Because of this, God will not keep secret that for which He has intended us. He desires to share His plans with us: “‘No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you'” (Jn 15:15). It is only up to us to seek out His will: “‘Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you'” (Mt 7:7).

This is what discernment boils down to, the seeking out of God’s will so that one’s life may be pleasing to Him. It is an active decision on one’s part to respond to God’s plan for love.

One last thing must be noted, and all of us have probably experienced this at some point within some aspect of our lives: God does not always give us the answer right away. Discernment is a continual process, and a person can go through years of discerning a certain vocation only to suddenly discover that God wants to take Him a different way. That doesn’t mean those years were wasted; they were more than likely intended in order to teach the individual about himself so that when he does ultimately comes to his vocation, he may make the decision with a more clear mind and a more certain and devoted heart.

In the path of my life, I’ve noticed that these changes have seemed rather sudden to those who don’t recognize the response side of discernment. Perhaps you, dear reader, have been in my shoes, or the shoes of my loved ones. For those who are in the former, I implore you to not to cease in your prayer and reception of the Sacraments, as this is where God will make His heart known to you. Trust in His help to explain to your loved ones the meaning and purpose of discernment. For the latter, I encourage you to have confidence that God has a plan for the discerning individual that they are striving to learn and follow, and know that there will be paths that they will take that may seem confusing but which God still intends.

(Now, as a disclaimer, this is not an exhaustive or expert examination of discernment, rather just some thoughts I’ve been having at this point on my own winding path. Many questions that I didn’t address can probably be raised in relation to this post, and I don’t have the time, knowledge, or experience to consider them all. Rather, the hope is to start the ball rolling in regards to conversation and gaining a deeper understanding of the inner workings of vocational discernment.)

St. Francis de Sales, pray for us! Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!