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   Give the Gift of Discernment

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Discernment 101

Have you felt a certain stirring in your heart that you know you must investigate further? Has someone told you, "Have you ever thought about being a priest" or "Have you ever thought about being a nun"? You want to put God first in your life and find out what his plan is for you but you don't know where to begin. The below outline will help you to take the first step in discerning God's will and give you some additional insight into your true vocation.

First, look at Christ's love and see what that stirs in your heart. When you  stop and think about his sacrifice, are there times you want to follow him,  to be totally his and give yourself to him without reserve, and to put  everything you have into bringing him to others?

Second, take a good look at all he has given you: the gift of life, the gift of faith, your health, the opportunities you have had, possibly your conversion. See if there are some things that might point in the direction of a vocation, like the difference between the way you look on life to the way your friends do…

Third, get some advice from a good priest in Confession. Go over your life with him and be frank about the good and bad you see there, and ask him if he believes anything in your past might be a definitive obstacle to your having a vocation. If he doesn't, it is one more reason to look more closely at the vocation.

Fourth, visit a seminary or community that attracts you and see what God stirs in your heart while you are there. That would also be a good time to have an in-depth talk with the vocation director, similar to the one you had in Confession. See if based upon what you tell him he recommends that you take a further step. If both he and your confessor encourage you to follow up on it, these as well as the interior attraction you feel would be the main signs pointing toward a vocation.

Fifth, some advice regarding your feelings: they are fickle, they change on the shortest notice with or without warning. One day they can be so positive that you find it impossible to doubt a thing, and the next they can be so negative that you can see nothing for sure. Your response to a vocation can't ride on that roller-coaster; it has to be on the level of your will and not your feelings. This means basing it on reasons and motives that are more solid and lasting, more based on reality (supernatural reality-grace, God's love, god's fidelity, the needs of souls…) Christ's love was not based on feelings, even though positive feelings can help to begin the journey. But the journey has to bring us to the level of love, of total surrender out of love. That is what a priestly or consecrated vocation is
about.

Parallel to taking these steps, you will need to develop and follow a program of spiritual growth. It will be a great help to have a spiritual director for this. Our spiritual progress depends upon God's grace, and any program we set for ourselves is simply a plan based on our self-knowledge to remove any obstacles to God's grace and put in place those actions that can help it bear fruit.  Some points to include are:

1. Daily personal prayer (A daily "quiet time" or meditation time, rosary or a part of the rosary, evening examination of conscience, etc. Be realistic, don't overload but do include these elements.)

2.  Increased attendance at Mass and reception of the Eucharist (Communion) and of the sacrament of Confession

3. Attention to your duties (study, family, work, etc.),

4. Involvement in evangelization Some examples: helping start a  discussion group, a prayer group or a Bible study, helping in a youth group,  doing door-to-door evangelization (www.ytm.org might  give you some ideas) helping in pro-life work, etc.

5. A key virtue or two that you need to work on, depending on what you realize is your weak point. (For example: patience, responsibility, charity, self-control etc.) Choose just one! We all need to work on all the virtues, but choosing one actually helps us to work on all of them, almost without realizing it.

6. A healthy social life; avoiding of course friendships or atmospheres that go against Christian values.

The true key to discerning through all this is of course listening to Christ and telling him that you trust him totally and simply want to do whatever he asks of you. Insist on this in your prayer. Tell him often that you love him. Strive to bring him to others more and more each day. Little by little things will begin to get clearer, and you will be preparing yourself in this way for whatever he has in mind for you.

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