What is Discernment?
The word discernment comes from two Latin words: ‘dis’ (apart) and ‘cenere’ (to separate). To discern means ‘to separate apart’. Any time we choose between two or more options, we discern. If both options are attractive, the best choice might not be obvious. Vocational discernment is an action of self-discovery, and an action of discovery of God. Discerning your vocation is not primarily about choosing something you will do for life but about discovering who God made you to be, discovering your deepest identity. It is more than an intellectual weighing up of options, or applying a technique to find an answer. The question of our vocation is not a problem to solve, but an adventure into who God made us to be and how we can best glorify God in this life. Discernment is a process of becoming aware of what’s in our hearts and minds, listening to God, gaining clarity and taking the next best step toward the call. It involves asking the question: “What is it that God desires me to do with this life He has given me?” The answer to that question always involves not only ourselves, but also takes into consideration the needs of the Church and of the World. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once said: “Where our personal passions intersect with the needs of the Church and of the World, there we find our vocation.” One of the primary aspects of discernment is to first simply ask God for the grace to be called.
Discernment 101 with Fr. Mike Schmitz
Discerning my Vocation: How do I make a gift of self?
A vocation is all about love. And Love is all about making a gift of oneself. Jesus said: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” (John 12: 24-25) In these words, we see the essence of vocational discernment because we see that the way to understand God’s call is through the Christian lens of a true understanding of love. When we give of ourselves, we come to know who we are, and we come to the greatest joy and happiness we can have in this world. And we come to know I what way we can glorify God the most in this world. It is through giving that we receive.
In the Gospel according to St. John, Jesus said: “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). His choice for us is what makes a vocation different from an “occupation” or a “career”. We can choose an occupation or a career for ourselves, but a vocation (from the Latin verb vocare, “to call”) is HIS choice for us and which He invites us to accept, embrace and undertake for love of Him. His choice for us will never be contrary to our true happiness. Often, we are taught to ask, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” or “What life will I choose?” The better way to think is, “What does God desire for me?”, “What life will bring God the greatest glory?” and ultimately to say, “I want what God wants because I know that what He wants is going to give His the greatest glory and give me the greatest joy.”
4 Helpful Rules for Discernment with Fr. Mike Schmitz
Turning Discernment into Action
Proper discernment leads us to hear and understand which vocation the Lord Jesus would like us to choose for His greater glory and the salvation of our soul and the souls of others. At some point the discernment about your vocation is supposed to end, and you are asked by Jesus to make a life long choice for a state of life. This is the natural progression of discernment. The saints, and all those seeking to follow Christ, have been doing this for millennia. You and I are not the first Christians to have to make a life-long choice.
Facing such a choice can make us afraid, especially when we live in times where people are scared about making a life-long commitment. This can be especially difficult if you come from a family broken by divorce or filled with dysfunction or resentment. There are many examples around us of people breaking their life-long commitments or being unfaithful to them. However, we should look not to the broken examples but rather to the saints – they are our model for how to live well in this life. To commit ourselves entirely to Jesus necessarily involves a life-long commitment. Love commits itself; true love cannot give itself only temporarily, or half-heartedly. It wants to commit itself. It longs to unite the lover with the beloved. We may avoid making such a choice, but the choice not to commit is a choice not to love.
It may seem obvious but we aren't supposed to remain in a state of perpetual discernment of our vocation. Of course we are always discerning the will of God in our daily lives, but the choice for our state of life in the Church should come to an end. In making a choice we move from discerning our vocation to preparing for our vocation. The choice brings the discernment to an end, and with that comes a new found freedom to begin living with clarity and hope. There is no other way to serve the Lord than by stepping out in courage and proper discernment, and by making a definitive choice for your life. We become holy and happy through commitment.