A goal of the IGNITE internship is to help in the discernment of its interns. Taking advantage of this time for reflection, I have recently contacted a few religious groups/orders to learn more about them. Before I talk about my active discernment, I would like to first tell you about one of my first attempts. It feels all the more appropriate to share as I often use a version of this story for my witness talks.
Initially, I thought discernment was strictly related to vocation. That discernment was simply staying open to any path God might be calling you toward. While openness is probably quite essential for any form of discernment, there is a little more to it. It requires a certain level of action from the discerner. My story starts half a lifetime ago in my high school years with my youth group.
My parish youth ministry program was a life-changing experience for me. In my 4 years of high school, I gained a more intimate love for God and a desire to know Him better through my faith. I always knew the importance of my faith, but I feel it was here in my teenage years that I more fully chose the Catholic faith for myself. I carried this passion to college, determined to study my faith, and develop it to where I could provide the gift of ministry to others. My Catholic university was, unfortunately, unable to provide for me what I needed in this regard. I loved my school, but it had no courses in theology, ministry, or, unfortunately, really much of anything to offer exclusively related to our faith. Feeling my school was not giving me what I wanted, I thought I needed to look elsewhere if I wanted to share the faith with others. So I decided the easiest way to gain an education in theology was to become a priest.
It was not my most thought-out decision. I did very little to discern the priesthood. It was easy to tell everyone I was becoming a priest, but it was much harder to take these thoughts to prayer. I spent half a year putting it off, but I eventually reached out to the vocation director of St. Louis. I pretty much told him I would be entering the seminary by next fall. Fortunately for me (and the church), that is not really how vocational discernment works. Not just anyone can become a Catholic priest, and you certainly can’t just join the seminary on a whim. Vocational discernment requires prayer, contemplation of God’s will, self-knowledge, and a few other things I didn’t have the firmest grasp on at that time. He didn’t give me an application for the seminary, but he did invite me to a “come and see” weekend. This is an opportunity to see what the life of a seminarian is like for a weekend. I went on the weekend but, I didn’t put a whole lot of effort into discernment. I feel I was more there to convince the vocations director that I was ready, despite his doubts. I went to the seminary for a weekend and, to be honest, the lifestyle seemed a bit unappealing. I met with the director again, tried to sell myself a little better, but he still seemed unimpressed. That night I lied in bed depressed and unable to sleep. All of the biggest questions of my life had seemingly become unanswered. Yet, as the night progressed, I began to feel a strange sense of peace amidst my confusion.
I recall a moment of prayer and journaling around this time where I shouted at God in aggravation. I would do whatever He wanted me to do, so why did He not just tell me what that was? It was then that I noticed the leather binding of my journal. On the front was a bible verse I had not given much thought about until that moment.
For I know well the plans I have for you, says the Lord,
Plans to help you, not to hurt you,
Plans to give you hope and a future.
That night at the seminary, I found extraordinary peace amidst my confusion. I had no idea where God wanted me to go in life, but I came to a pretty powerful understanding that God did. He had a plan for me, a perfect plan. One He was probably more excited to reveal to me than I ever could have been to receive, even at that moment. That night I went to bed knowing discernment more than I ever had before.
The next day I had another meeting with the vocations director. I told him that I no longer felt called to the priesthood. I told him I was more than likely just running away from something else. He seemed a little more impressed with this answer. He told me that if I ever needed help in the future, he would be happy to meet with me again.
I would love to say that it was after this weekend that I began to take my discernment a lot more seriously, but I feel it took quite a bit to get where I am now. Perhaps that is a story for another time.
God, please bless us.
Help us in our discernment this day.
May we know that every person, place, and circumstance we find today is a gift from your hands and an opportunity to better participate in your will and providence.
We thank you for these blessings.
Help us to know where and how You are calling us to act in every moment of this day.
Through this, help us to better come to You in knowledge, love, and servitude.