Request: I have been contemplating the consecrated life, but at the same time the marriage route as well. I feel like I am at a fork in the road. I have been praying about it, yet I still feel so lost.
It is funny that when I ask my friends jokingly about if they wanted to join the priesthood, they always reply: “No, thanks! I like girls!” and I am over here like, “And I don’t?”
I have always wondered why the priesthood is an automatic “no” for people. You do not need to be the most devout and perfect Catholic to be a priest. All God asks is for a chance. Maybe it is the no marriage thing that scares them. Oh well.
Anyways, discernment. What is God calling me to?
God has a plan for us even before we were born and it is up to us to find out! How do we find out? It is a very good thing to pray about, but at some point, actions need to be involved.
I find dating to be a very good analogy for discernment. If you are trying to figure out if marriage is for you, you date! But you are not just dating another person for compatibility sake, but to see if being with a person for the rest of your life is something you feel called to do. If you are trying to find out if you are called to the priesthood or consecrated life, you are dating the Catholic Church. Dating the Catholic Church happens in the seminary, monastery, or convent. This means taking formal step in discernment by allowing your curiosity in God’s will for yourself lead you to places where you can more clearly discern your vocation. Dating is an odd analogy for discernment, yes, but what happens in dating is exactly what needs to happen in good and true discernment, that is getting to know the other, getting to know yourself, and getting to God in this particular way of life.
For myself, I am in seminary, obviously. I am studying to see if God is calling me to become a priest for the Roman Catholic Church. I did not come into the seminary certain that I was going to become a priest. I was uncertain, I was not clear about where God was leading me, but I knew he was leading me to the seminary to find out. From first thinking about the priesthood to taking a formal step in discernment by entering seminary, it was about a span of two and a half years. Throughout the two and a half years, I visited Mount Angel Seminary, the seminary I am attending now, I visited a Vietnamese religious order, I prayed about it, and I acted about it. Here I am now in seminary taking a more formal step in my discernment towards the priesthood, but here is the thing that everyone should realize: nothing is certain in the beginning.
I sort of said the same thing in a blog post I wrote earlier titled: “Go to seminary! But don’t come back…”, but it is the idea that nothing is certain in the beginning. I did not come into seminary certain that I was going to be a priest. But the hope of being in seminary is to become certain of whether I am or am not called to be a priest for God in the Roman Catholic Church. If I felt like God was not calling me to be a priest, prayed about it, and found resolve and peace in my discernment, then I can leave the seminary. I have then found that God has not called me to be a priest, but that also does not mean I wasted my time in seminary. By then, I will have strengthened my vocation knowing the priesthood is something I can cross off the list.
For those who are discerning any vocation in life, pray about it, but act about it. If you feel like you are called to marriage, pray about it and act about it! Date someone! Now, don’t go to a random person in the street and ask: “Can we date?” That’s weird… don’t do that. It may take some time to find someone to date, but during that time that you are dating, use that time well. Date well! Because only when you date well is when you are able to find out whether or not this person is the person God has called you to be with for the rest of your life.
If you are trying to discern the consecrated life, ask yourself, “Who am I?” Why? Because once you know yourself, you can find a religious order or charism that you know you are attracted to. Every religious order is not the same. Some are very quiet and contemplative like the Benedictines. Some are very academic like the Jesuits. You will find that every religious order has something about them that separates them from the rest. So ask yourself, “Who am I? What do I like? What are my gifts? How can I use these gifts to glorify God?” and go from there. Visit those religious orders in their “come-and-see” events! Live the life they do for a week or so, or even take the steps to join for a year or so. Remember that nothing is certain in the beginning so even if you attend those “come-and-see” events or join the order, you are not totally committed for the rest of your life. Many religious orders are based on vows. Each vow is taken at a certain point in time during your stay in the order. This really helps both you and the religious order discern whether or not you both are a fit for each other. But then main point is you can leave, but this is crucial, leave with a peaceful heart and mind. Make sure that your time in formal discernment was well worth it and no regrets are left on the table.
You may have expectations put on you by your friends, family, random people you go to church with, but it is important to know that your vocation is between you and God. It is God’s vocation for you, not the vocation others want for you. You will certainly have supporters along the way! Some people may not like at first or at all, but there will always be someone right there with along the way besides Jesus as we all know who is always with us. Archbishop Alexander K. Sample of Portland in Oregon, when telling his vocation story, points out that it took some time for his parents to warm up to the idea of him becoming a priest, but they eventually became his biggest supporters. In my own journey in discernment, other people had expectations for me before I even entered seminary! I appreciate their love and support, especially from the various Vietnamese communities, but I realize this journey in discernment is for God, not for them, and should not be directed by them.
Lastly, in your discernment, I say, “date well!” I really do mean that. I will expose myself a little bit here. My second year, this past year, in seminary was rough. Trying to serve my youth group and trying to discern my vocation was very hard. Too hard, in fact. My heart was split between two places and I did not go anywhere in terms of my discernment. I did not “date” the Church well. So my advice to anyone discerning any vocation is to discern with all your heart and all your mind. Take steps in your discernment seriously. Your results will show how much effort you put in your work, your discernment, your life, etc. In the letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians, Paul says in whatever we do, to do it with all our heart for the Lord. In everything we do in life, school, discernment, work, exercise, etc., go hard because we should not expect anything less from ourselves. Give God your 100 and He will certainly show you 100 back.
Going back to the joke in the beginning about liking girls. If you are called to the consecrated life, it does not mean you do not like boys or girls (depending on who you are). I have been in the seminary for two years and I like girls, naturally. But God takes priority in my life right now and that means taking a step away from my human desire so that I can see where the divine desire is leading me. We are all human. We desire to love and to be loved. That will not change ever, but what we can change is how God is lived out in our lives and that can only be answered by answering this question:
What is God calling you to?
I go for these “mic-drop” moments in the ending so I will take time here to summarize my points. To the person who requested this topic or to those who struggle with the same problem:
- KEEP PRAYING. Praying is your relationship with God and you two need to be in tight-knit communication throughout your life, especially in your discernment.
- TAKE A STEP/TAKE A RISK. You prayed about it and now it is time to act about it. You cannot just pray and have everything come your way. Date! Attend retreats, “come-and-see” events, and other discernment/vocational events that will allow you to give your more of an insight about the consecrated life. It might be scary, yes, but it is worth the journey.
- MAKE IT COUNT. In everything you do, do it with all your heart and mind.
I’ll be praying for you. God bless 🙂