Guide To Discerning
Fr. Tim Hepner is the Vocations Director of Recruitment for the Office of Priestly Vocations for the Catholic Diocese of Peoria.
Discernment. What a confusing word in today’s culture. Some people always speak about what they want to do, or what their plans for their life are. Others are in perpetual discernment, blowing with the wind or anxiously awaiting to hear the voice of God tell them exactly what their vocation is. Some think they are the captains of their fate, others think they’re destined to be a ship adrift at sea.
Correcting these extreme views requires some basic principles. First, God loves you. He created you out of love and gave you a unique identity and mission. The only proper response to such love is a obedience. Not slavish, joyless obedience, but wholeheartedly giving back to God what was rightfully his to begin with. God gave us our life, and our experiences, gifts, and talents. We fully “find ourselves” or “become who we are” by giving it all back to him through worshipping him and serving our brothers and sisters. “The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God,” said St. Irenaeus. Our happiness and God’s will are not at odds with each other, they are two sides of the same coin.
Our unique call to self-gift is our vocation, and God will reveal it to us if we have the fundamental disposition to do his will. If you try avoid sin, frequent the sacraments, and grow in holiness, God will not hide or obscure his plan from you. He will reveal it little by little through prayer, experiences, self-knowledge, and the words of others — especially wise spiritual persons. Even when we fall into sin, we always sense God’s call beneath the surface. Even though we haven’t reached the heights of perfection, he will still mercifully allow his will to unfold in our loves.
Another principle is obedience to God’s will, or a continual readiness to take the next step that is revealed to us. We will never be 100% mathematically certain about each move we make, so we ask a spiritual director to help us know when to make the next step. It’s also important to remember that delayed obedience is disobedience. If God is giving us a grace and asking for a response, we have the obligation to respond quickly. He won’t stand around holding that grace forever, and if waiting to act is wasting the grace.
We also need an interior life and attentiveness to the movements of the Holy Spirit. This is a habit that can be developed over time through practice, spiritual reading, and the advice of others. But the most important thing is to set aside time for prayer every day. This is a essential, and without it we are wasting the life that God gave us. Some of the articles below and the books listed in our suggested reading list can help. I am also available to speak personally about this by phone or email.
Humility is another essential element of discernment, in which we make an honest assessment of ourselves and relate that to God. It forms the bedrock for our concept of God, self, and others, and is the best beginning to holiness, discernment, and formation.
To learn more about discernment, please browse through the articles below.