Tips to Discern Your Vocation (Part 2)

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As we consider the different options of what God might want us to do, it can be very overwhelming to discern what is actually His Will. What could help us to find out God’s plan for us? How do we know it’s His plan, and not just ours?

As I am seeking His will for my life, here are some things I have found helpful so far (though I am still on the journey) :

Prayer: of course, the thing that helps the most is prayer. If we want to know what God wants us to do, the best thing is to seek His Will with an open heart. Mental prayer is extremely helpful here. Prayer also develops our relationship with God so that we can more easily hear and recognize His voice. As we pray, we may notice that certain desires of the heart grow and begin to give a certain joy and peace during prayer. A discernment pamphlet I once read made the point that it is normal if there is fear or confusion at certain times, but if we have peace about something in prayer that could be discerned with the help of a spiritual director. According to Ignatian spirituality, it seems best to also discern God’s will during times of consolation rather than times of dryness.

Sacraments: literature for discerners always mentions frequent reception of the Sacraments and attendance at daily Mass if possible. I found that lengthening my thanksgiving after Mass helped me to receive more grace and grow in intimacy with Jesus. God does not force us to receive His grace in Communion, and this depends on our disposition. Making a good thanksgiving afterwards is a great way to help us be better disposed to receive everything that God wants to give us.

Spiritual direction: I also realized that I do not know my soul as well as I thought, and my spiritual director has been incredibly helpful to help me identify areas to grow in. If you do not know where to begin looking for one, I would recommend asking your priest if he is available, and if not, if he has any recommendations. A diocesan vocations director may also be available to be a spiritual director to those discerning their vocation.

Active discernment: with the help of my spiritual director and other Catholics, I realized that we need to discern actively. Prayer is very important, but often God shows us His will as we are taking steps towards it.

Surrender to the Divine Will: It’s often important to surrender own desires, even if they turn out to be God’s plan for us too. This helps us to be more honest and open as we seek God’s Will, and helps us to also grow in holiness in the meantime – especially if we do this during trials in our discernment. This can be accomplished simply through making interior acts of surrender to God, or saying prayers like “Jesus, Your Will be done, not mine” or “Jesus, I trust in You”.

Cooperating with grace: often, it seems that God does not show us His will until He prepares us through many little steps. Each of these steps contains a grace, and these graces form a chain that allows us to advance. In a way it is also like climbing the stairs! I learned (sometimes through trial and error) that it is important to be faithful and responsive to the grace that God is offering right now. This means being open to it but also putting it into practice. This grace could be anything the Holy Spirit knows you need, but some examples could be a desire for more prayer, an attraction to a way of life, or a call to make a little sacrifice.

We only develop a virtue when it is being tested. Often, discerning a vocation can be stressful because of the uncertainty surrounding it, yet precisely in this uncertainty, we can grow in trust. Sometimes it seems like everyone else is finding their vocation, except me! One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to take it a day at a time and live in the present. God’s will is not just something in the future, but also where I am right now. Even if everything seems to go wrong, that gives us a chance to learn abandonment to God, and when it finally works out, we would see that it was clearly His work. A work built on ruins and seeming impossibility shows God as the builder and glorifies His power and mercy.

The vocation that God has for each person is their unique path to holiness and it is where they would be happiest. It is the place where God has prepared graces for them to help them attain salvation and become a saint. Other souls could also depend on their vocation. This amount of responsibility could feel overwhelming, especially as we see our weakness. Yet instead of discernment becoming a fearful search, it can help to prepare us for our ultimate vocation. I believe our job is to simply be faithful and cooperate, and God takes the heaviest part. A vocation is built upon grace, not human strength.

Finally, it is good to remember that God supplies the grace we need! If He calls someone to a certain way of life, He will also enable them to do it, even if it is naturally difficult. This is true for both marriage and consecrated life, and especially in the latter as it is a supernatural calling that we are not naturally drawn to. As Our Lord said, He is the vine and we are the branches, and without Him we can do nothing. Each vocation involves a gift of the self and sacrifice. Each has joys and crosses. Each vocation is also fruitful, as a woman can be either a physical mother to children, or a spiritual mother of souls.

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Discerning a Vocation (Part 1)

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Each person has a unique path and mission from God that He wishes them to accomplish. Their state of life determines many things such as how they would serve God, but primarily, who they are in relation to Him and to others. It is very important to discern one’s own vocation that God is calling them to, and what follows is just a general summary of various vocations available in the Church:

Marriage is the vocation that most people are called to. God had placed a natural desire in the human heart for a family. Marriage in the Church has a beautiful meaning. It is a Sacrament, which means that through it, the spouses receive grace. With the help of this grace, the husband and wife help each other to become holy. God instituted marriage as a visible sign of His love: the love between Christ and the Church, His Bride. This is the reason why the Church teaches that marriage should be “faithful, monogamous, indissoluble, and fruitful” (Scott Hahn, Swear to God: the Promise and Power of the Sacraments). The purpose of marriage is tied up with the (amazing) idea that a man and a woman can cooperate with God in creating a new life: a totally unique person, never to be repeated, whom God wants to share in His own life for all eternity!

However, God does not call all to marriage. He calls some to be consecrated to Him in a special way, which means to be set apart for Him alone. We are all consecrated to God through our Baptism, and “consecrated life” deepens this consecration and points to the reality of Heaven, where, as Scripture says we would be like the angels who do not marry. Earthly marriage involves the spouse leading the person closer to God. In consecrating and perpetually vowing one’s chastity to God, a soul loves Him in a more exclusive way, a way that some Saints have understood to be like a spiritual spousal bond with Christ. This is what happens at a nun’s final profession when she makes her perpetual vows: she can relate to Jesus as her Spouse in a spiritual way. This bond reflects the reality of Heaven where each soul will be like a bride, as part of the Church. In a way, consecrated life enables the soul to begin this reality here on earth (in a limited way of course). The evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience are counsels to perfection that are an imitation of Christ’s own life on earth.

There are several different forms of consecrated life: religious life, consecrated virginity, secular institutes, societies of apostolic life, and eremitic life. The type that most people are familiar with is religious life. Religious life make public vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and usually live in community. There are the older religious orders that are more contemplative such as the Carmelites, Benedictines, and Poor Clares. There are other newer congregations that have an active apostolate, such as the Sisters of Life or teaching Dominican Sisters. Religious orders and congregations differ in the vows they make (solemn or simple) and by name: the first are called nuns, and the second are called Sisters.

Consecrated virgins are women who have received a special consecration by their Bishop. In the early Church, they lived individually and later began forming communities. It is believed this eventually lead to religious life. Early on, there were orders that also did the consecration of virgins but later this practice became rare. Recently, the vocation was revived as a state of life for women in the world. As the name implies, the consecration requires physical virginity to be valid. A consecrated virgin bears an official, canonical title of a bride of Christ and in a way symbolizes the Church, though often religious share in this spirituality.

Members of secular institutes are consecrated persons who live in the world. They work to help sanctify the world and each secular institute has a distinct spirituality. Societies of Apostolic Life do not have vows, but share a way of life in common and may still follow the evangelical counsels. Eremitic life is lived by hermits to devote themselves to silence, solitude, and prayer.

The Church document Vita Consecrata also mentions those who make a private vow to God as a “special consecration”, though this is not listed as a form of consecrated life. These people live in the world and often take a vow of chastity (though some have taken another vow too), preferably under the guidance of a spiritual director. They follow their own rule of life or belong to a Third Order (the members of which are lay people associated with a religious order such as the Franciscans, Dominicans, or Carmelites). Though the Church does not yet offer extensive information on private vows, there are some great Saints who lived with them – St Catherine of Siena, St Rose of Lima, and St Gemma Galgani (who is also counted among the Passionist Saints because she intended to be a Passionist nun).

The next part will talk about how we can start discerning our own vocation!

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