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Discernment

A question of trust in God: Hearing the call

Over the years as Vocation Director, I have had occasion to speak to many men who have told me that they were discerning if they had a vocation to life as a priest or brother. To several I have responded rather surprisingly that they were on the wrong track; that they should not be "discerning" but doing something else.

It begins with God

The problem today with this buzz word discernment is this: it often turns what should be a vital conversion to God, the experience of the breath of God on one's life, the stirring of our deepest and noblest aspirations, into a cold examination and spiritless calculation of risk, preferences and rewards, and the ceaseless rummaging for signs. Instead of increasing trust, discernment — as practiced by many — stifles it, robs our search of all enthusiasm, and overrides the three virtues of faith, hope, and love as the primary factors in our decisions. I like to use the image of men acting like pilots in an airplane who continue to put their vocation in a "holding pattern" as they wait for that message from the tower telling them: "Everything is clear. You can now proceed to land on the narrow runway of Apostle Airport!"

In the matter of a vocation, discernment is only one element, and believe it or not, the one we have least control of, though it commandeers most of our attention and is the one we are most anxious to embark upon.

Actually, I think this misunderstanding of discernment begins even before we start the process. It goes back to that "desire" we suddenly experience to serve Christ, which we suspect is our own. What we tend to forget is the fundamental truth that this "desire" does not come from us — it comes from God.

St. John tells us: "Love consists in this, not that we have loved God, but that God has loved us first." What he's saying is that without God, you and I have no story to tell, we can't even love. Because each of our stories begin with God coming to us first and loving us first. It is the Lord who takes the first step not because we are who we are, but because He is who He is: a God whose very name is Love.

He takes the first step because, as Jesus declared to His disciples, apart from Him "we can do nothing" (Jn 15:5). He takes the first step because He yearns for us first, which is the only reason why we yearn for Him in return.

It's a matter of trust

Those simple-looking words tell us clearly where it all begins. Therefore, if our desire to follow Christ begins with God, then it follows that God will make sure we receive sufficient indication of what it is He wants us to do. We don't need to worry about that. It is a call that depends completely on our trust in God. As someone once said to me: "We have to let go and let God be God."

What can I do?

You should find a spiritual director who can help you interpret what God is saying to you through the everyday events of your life. That person could be a priest from your parish, a sister who taught you, or another Catholic professed religious person you are comfortable with and respect.

Read the Scriptures, meditate on each passage with the guidance of your spiritual director. You will experience a moment of peace when you realize where God wants you to be.

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For more information, e-mail Father Matthew Allman, C.Ss.R.

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Father Matthew Allman, C.Ss.R.
718-833-1900
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