How do I discern?
The best first step in this sometimes difficult process is to follow the words most spoken in the Holy Scripture, “Be not afraid!” Whether it was an angel announcing good news, or Christ speaking to His disciples, setting aside your fear is the fist step. Once you are open to hearing the Lord speak to your heart, a message that will most likely come as a quiet whisper, you will be able to truly discern, figure out, ‘Lord, where are you calling me to serve you in this life?’
Discernment must involve prayer, the willingness to seek out quiet in an otherwise noisy world, a desire to know God’s will for your life, and a love for the Church and all Her members. Discernment is the first step in coming to know if the Lord is calling you to serve him as a Roman Catholic priest.
“Christ is knocking very hard at many hearts, looking for young people like you to send into the vineyard where an abundant harvest is ready.” – St. John Paul II
Steps for discernment
While there are several methods of discerning God’s calling in your life, the following steps will hopefully assist you with this process:
You must have a personal relationship with Christ
As Pope Benedict states: “The seminarian experiences the beauty of God’s call in a moment of grace which could be defined as ‘falling in love’….It is only when a young man has had a personal experience of Christ that he can truly understand the Lord’s will and consequently his own vocation.” Have you fallen ‘in love’ with Christ?
Pray for guidance from God
God has a plan for everyone and following God’s plan will lead to true happiness. Allow the Lord to lead you and have trust that He will only desire what is best for you. It is then that you will find true happiness and fulfillment in life.
Pay attention to the gifts and talents you’ve been given by God
God has blessed each of us with many gifts and talents, distinct to every person. Have you allowed yourself the ability to consider that these gifts that you have been blessed with from God could be used to serve the Church?
Pray before the Blessed Sacrament for guidance
The Real Presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is the ‘source and summit’ of our Catholic faith. What better place to spend time in quiet reflection and adoration then in the presence of our living God? “This is Jesus here. This is God. And priests exist to make him sacramentally present to the faithful.” Seek out a parish that has an adoration chapel and enjoy your time of grace in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
“Vocations are born in prayer and from prayer; only through prayer can they persevere and bear fruit.” Pope Francis
Seek advice from a priest
While many people are well equipped to assist you in your discernment of a priestly vocation, there is no substitute for a priest. Whether it is one of your parish priests, a spiritual director, or friend, the advice and direction received from a priest will be extremely beneficial in your discernment of a calling to the priesthood of Jesus Christ.
Receive the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation
Regular reception of the Eucharist, definitely every Sunday and preferably every day if your schedule allows, will afford you the opportunity to stay in communion with the ‘Word made Flesh’. Unlike other food, the more you receive the Eucharist, the more you become like that which you consume. The sacrament of Reconciliation reminds you that we are all sinners and always in need of God’s merciful forgiveness. The more we receive forgiveness for our sins, the better we can configure our lives to Christ.
Know God, know true peace
True peace will be felt in your heart when you come to know God as an intimate friend. This peace will also lead to an affirmation that what you are experiencing emotionally in regards to your discernment of the priesthood is from God. Knowing what and where God wants you to be will come with an overwhelming sense of peace.
Look to Jesus as the model for all decision making.
“Father…not my will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) By seeking God’s perfect will, life to the fullest will be experienced. Jesus always followed the will of His Father, are we not called to do the same?
Be involved in the life of your parish
An excellent way to experience the life of a parish priest is to involve yourself in the life of a parish…..which is the life of a priest. Consider being an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist, Lector, Catechist or a member of a Committee, Commission or Council. The more you know about the life of a priest, the better you will be able to discern.
Why is discernment important?
The process of making a decision about your life with the help of the Holy Spirit is called “discernment.” It is the process of discovering God’s will for you. “Ultimately, our vocation consists in God calling us to consummate loving union with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for all eternity.”
As you begin, remember that both you and God ultimately desire the same thing – your happiness. You want to make a decision about your life that will bring you happiness.
Therefore, you and God are not working at cross-purposes, but for the same goal. Discernment is a gift from God, assisting you in the ability to “come to know, identify or recognize one thing as distinct from something else.”
Discernment begins with the ability to ask without fear, “Lord, how can I best serve you?” Only after you are willing to ask this question can true discernment begin.
Some of the discernment programs that are offered through the Office of Priestly Vocations:
For men who are seniors in high school to 55 years of age older. There are three Discernment Weekends each year and they all take place at Sacred Heart Major Seminary. During a Discernment Weekend you will be given an opportunity to worship with the seminary community, meet the seminarians and faculty, attend a seminary class, meet other men considering the priesthood, learn how to better discern a priestly calling, and spend time alone in prayer.
For young men, high school freshmen-junior. A Discernment Overnight is similar to a Discernment Weekend but is structured specifically for High School students. These events will give a young man the opportunity to interact with seminarians, receive direction about how to best discern a priestly vocation, learn more about the seminary, and spend time in prayer and reflection. We have two Overnights each year and they are also hosted at Sacred Heart Major Seminary.
There are no fees or obligations to come to a Discernment Weekend or a Discernment Overnight. Attending a weekend or overnight is certainly not a commitment to enter the seminary. But it is an excellent opportunity to take an honest look at the possibilities seminary life may hold for you.
The Discernment Retreat is for anyone aged 17 – 55 seeking a better understanding of their vocation from the Lord. It takes place at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. This weekend retreat features presentations focusing on the different aspects of discernment. The featured speaker is Archbishop Allen Vigneron. Other presenters include Detroit seminarians and seminary faculty members. The retreat will also include time for quiet reflection and Eucharistic adoration.
A Discernment Story
Below are a few resources that may be helpful to you in your discernment.
Discernment of the Priesthood
Priests for the New Millennium by Cardinal Timothy Dolan
Men of Brave Heart by Archbishop José Gómez
To Save a Thousand Souls by Fr. Brett Brannen
What Does God Want? A Practical Guide to Making Decisions Fr. Michael Scanlan, T.O.R. with James Manney.
Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos
Catholic Church Teaching
Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Apostolic Letter on Reserving Priestly Ordination To Men Alone Pope John Paul II, May 22, 1994
Sacerdotalis Caelibatus (The Celibacy of the Priest). Encyclical. Pope Paul VI, June 24, 1967
Pastores Dabo Vobis (I Will Give You Shepherds) Apostolic Exhortation On the Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Pope John Paul II, March 25, 1992
Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI
Questions and Answers for Today’s Catholics by Michael Manning
The Priest and the Third Christian Millennium: Teacher of the Word, Minister of the Sacraments and Leader of the Community Congregation for the Clergy, 1999
Soul of the Apostolate by Dom Chautard
Pastoral Presence and the Diocesan Priest by Rev. Paul T. Keyes
When God Asks for an Undivided Heart: Choosing Celibacy in Love and Freedom by Fr. Andrew Apostoli C.F.R.