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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Vocational Discernment


I've spoken many times about Vocational Discernment, and I stand by everything I've said in the past. But not everyone is going to go through my archives, so I find it necessary to discuss these same issues again, for the benefit of, well...anyone who might benefit.

For some reason, if a man says that he is discerning the priesthood or a woman says she is discerning religious life, the revelation sets off a flurry of pitter-patting hearts already planning on atteding the Ordination or Vows. The very mention of discernment "locks the deal" and certain people become so excitedly agitated at the prospect of a new Priest or Religious that they turn themselves inside-out with joyous expectation.

And I ask this REASONABLE???

After all, if a man or woman comes to you and announces they, respectively, found a girlfriend or a boyfriend, do you immediately go into "wedding organizer" mode and order taffeta and polyester and reserve the Taj Mahal for the party?

For some reason, the very mention of Vocational discernment causes some people to completely lose their minds and assign themselves a role of "Personal Dictator" on behalf of the discerning soul, who can of course seem to hear God's call but apparently doesn't have as much hearing as the person desiring Vocations thinks they should have.

And the Personal Dictator, of course, knows best and appoints themself into the timekeeper's role so as to tell the Discerning Soul what they need to do and when, for if they fail in that role they'll be disappointing the PD, and therefore, God.

Right. We all know the type.

Experienced Dictatorship

I have a friend, a good friend, who has discerned her Vocation and has come to realize that God is indeed calling her to be Single. (Don't mention Consecrated Virgin...she doesn't qualify. The "Virgin" part of that Vocation is quite literal. Please note: it IS possible to destroy your Vocation.)

She is, now, a very holy person, and has a lot of experience and knowledge, but seems sometimes to be lacking in are we ALL. This friend, upon learning of my discernment, proceeded to give me advice about who to listen to, how many people and to have them put me on a particular schedule. Because that's what her people did for her and had they not, she would never have done what she needed to do in order to fulfill her discernment obligations. She'd still be in limbo.

While her advice, on the surface, is good advice, I also know her well enough to realize that she was placed on a schedule and under obedience for a particular reason: she's the biggest procrastinator and maybe, in some ways, the flightiest person I have ever known. She knows obedience, and it was that virtue that forced her to a schedule. She also knows the Holy Spirit, but without something tangible, she would put the Holy Spirit off as she went after other various "shiny objects" in her life.

But she gave me this advice, which I took with a grain of salt, and just said "I have my people", over and over again. Maybe she thinks that she should be one of "my people" but in this case...she isn't. Because she's no different than the people who, a few years ago, put me on THIER schedule, and not God's.

One of the things I've learned in past years is to listen to God, and to follow that interior voice no matter what the World says. I don't have a Spirtual Director, but over time God has helped me to hear His voice, and it is that gift that has saved me a lot of money and grief. Were it not for that gift, I'm certain that I would not be considering my Vocation now.

A few years ago, there were communities I wanted to visit, but it never worked out for me. I couldn't get anyone to watch my dog, I couldn't afford to put her up somewhwere, I looked for a way to go a few states away...but something didn't press me to do it. I could get time off...but something was wrong. So I didn't take action. I didn't go on the retreats.

And my friends upbraided me for letting Satan put blocks in my path, saying I wasn't trying hard enough, I had to go to Serra or this or that or something else. They became quite offended when I explained that I was listening to God and not them, and that I saw the roadblocks as a sign of God's will.

I've since learned that the blocks were indeed the gentle hand of God and not the attacks of Satan. I'm grateful I did not listen to my friends, but chose to hear the small voice I was only then learning to discern. For we cannot discern a Vocation if we have not first learned to listen to the voice of God amid all the chaos of people who have our best interests at heart.

Yes, my friends wanted the best for me, but they did not understand that they were looking at Vocational Discernment in the world's terms, and not God's. They were already married or comfortable in their lifestyles, and their desire for more Religious made them mad in their zeal. Thus, they felt I needed a "schedule" according to THEIR terms, similar to someone who is unemployed and needs a counselor to help them find a job.

A Vocation is NOT a "Job".

It is LIFE itself.

We are called into being, from eternity, to fulfill a certain Vocation; as Married, as a Priest, or as a Religious. And today, maybe as a Single who dedicates one's life to the affairs of God.

One does not approach the affairs of God as one would a mere employer. One does not enter a Vocation as one does a job, which one holds at will. Vocations, indeed, are at will...but they are forever. They are vows to and before God, in response to a specific Call.

We don't fall all over ourselves when someone is called to Marriage...why do we do so when someone is called to serve God alone?

I think some of the hysteria actually DETERS Vocations. It's that hysteria that makes people want to take control of someone's discernment, which is akin to the same hysteria of a mother-in-law over the desire for grandchildren. For some reason, we ALL think we need to be in control of something, and we think that OUR desires are what is important; and in this desire, we forget entirely about God and what HE has Willed and what HE desires.

Personally, I am thankful for the people in my life who, upon learning of my discernment, have kept it low-key. They don't "bug" me about "where I am" or "what I've decided". They don't demand I meet certain goals according to their schedule.

Rather, they let me know they are praying, they let me bring the topic up, and, most importantly...they let God take the lead.

No one can properly discern when there's pressure. No one can hear God's voice...while someone in the background is harping for them to hearken to THEIR vocalizations. No one can be sure they've really discovered God's will for them when all they've followed is the shrill directions of the neighborhood Vocation Nazi.

Discernment is all about learning to listen to and follow GOD'S WILL. A Vocation to the Priesthood or Religious life is no different than Marriage. In our world, Marriage is expected (as little as it seems to happen these days), but Vocations are considered to be extraordinary. They aren't. We are ALL called to something, and all according to God's designs for us. We need people to follow the Call for each Vocation; were it not so, society would not function.

So tone down the hysteria, step up the prayers, and use your "indoor voice" when someone tells you they are discerning.

And don't forget...those who are discerning need more than prayers...they need travel funds, dogsitters, rides to the airport and back, Spiritual Directors (as in people trained for that), and sometimes, just a listening ear that doesn't need to project their own desires upon the one doing the discernment.

Oh, I can go on...but maybe now is a good time to stop lest this post turn into a book.


Joe of St. Thérèse said...

I'll be the first to buy your book ;)

Mark said...

As someone currently engaged in the discernment process, I found your post very helpful and thought-provoking (not least because, just as you've been providentially held back in the past by the lack of dogsitters, I've been providentially held back by the lack of catsitters!).

Adoro said...

Joe ~ an autographed copy for you, my friend! (Hmmm...maybe that'll be my fundraiser; publish my blog as a book, selected posts. AFter all, I have more than enough to compile an anthology!)

No, I don't know if I'm serious.

Mark ~ Ahh...catsitters! Back when I was petless and not discerning (barely Catholic), I often checked in on a friend's cats when she went out of town. Cats are easier as they can be left alone typically. But they stil need care!

So...for you is it priesthood or religious life, if you don't mind my asking?

Laura The Crazy Mama said...

Your post made me laugh because it reminds me of a bad joke I made last Sunday. We had a seminarian talking about vocations and how they are being encouraged (or discouraged...I wasn't listening very well) and I was terribly distracted by my kids. At the end of Mass, he stood in the "gathering space" and I walked by him holding the baby, toddler hanging on to my hand, other chidlren trying not to get lost all around me and hubs bringing up the rear. As I passed him I doubled back a little and smiled and said, "Hey, I think I might have calling...(here I looked around at this mass of bodies that travels with me)...maybe not?"

He just looked at me like I was crazy (hahahaha). I thought it was a good joke but sometimes...I'm not even kidding!

You're right. VOCATION is LIFE! It's what happens while you're trying to decide what your vocation is. I don't think I'll really know until I'm at the end of it looking back.

I can't watch your dog or pay for your travel, but I'll pray for you to see God's will in your life anyway.


Mark said...

Adoro - I'm thinking in terms of a religious vocation, probably Benedictine, probably the kind of monastery that has an involvement in the world of acadmic theology.

What sort of a vocation are you exploring?

Adoro said...

Laura ~ I got the joke! lol! You probably just took him by surprise. Or maybe he's the more literal type of person...they often miss the drier humor.

Mark ~ Oh, I'm gonna be a Priest!


KIDDING! I'm looking at religious life, been agonizing for a long time. In Spirituality, I'm convinced that I'm Dominican but may not end up there...unless I do end up single and then I'll become a Lay Domincan. And Dominicans follow the Augustinian Rule, as do many communities.

I have a good friend who entered a Benedictine Cloister last June. It's a beautiful life!

Terry Nelson said...

Of course I still love - just because I don't pick on you doesn't mean I don't love you.

Anonymous said...

Discernment is extremely difficult. I know, for the past few months I have been attending the third order Carmelites. On the one hand, it feels as if God is calling me to a "higher" spirituality, but on the other hand the meetings are on Sundays--which--for the past 32 years has been the day me and my hubby have devoted entirely to spending time with each other.

So should I continue to attend the meetings or go back to spending Sunday's with Jim? Are the Carmelites going to help increase my spirituality, or not? I already do many of the things they do--reading the office daily, praying and studying.

Oh, would it not be nice if God just said, Adoro--do ... Tara--do... Why does he make us struggle trying to determine His Will?--because, that's really what we both want to do--His Will. Oh, sigh--I'll pray for a "clear" answer for you :)

Anonymous said...

Tara ~ He does it so that we will grow in virtue and learn self-knowledge. To purify our desires and kill self-love so that we learn to share in His Will.

And I already know the answer, but even the knowledge doesn't make discernment only takes it to the next level.

Melody K said...

"A Vocation is NOT a "Job".
It is LIFE itself." I think we could all frame that quote and hang it on our walls!
Your mention of many of us not being eligible for the vocation of "consecrated virgin" made me think of my old missal. In it there were Masses for categories of saints; such as Virgin Martyr, Confessor Not a Bishop, Several Martyrs, and my favorite, Holy Woman Not a Martyr. I can try with Gods grace, to be this last category.
As for people going into "wedding organizer" mode when someone mentions they have a boyfriend or girlfriend; I've seen it happen. Not pretty!

Adoro said...

I've seen people go into "wedding' mode, too. Those people are the few and the desperate..and oddly enough, they tend also to be the kind of people to actively DISCOURAGE vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

And then some people are just overly-exuberant about everything that comes their way. lol!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the beautiful post. I really enjoyed it. I will post a response on my own.

God bless you for your writings!

Brother Juniper

Adoro said...

Thanks, Brother Juniper!

Banshee said...

I think my vocation must be Consecrated Schlub.

"Yes, I'm a schlub, but I'm a schlub for Jesus!" :)

Hidden One said...

*And there was silence*

That one bit of Fishers of Men narrated by a woman certainly doesn't apply less to women's vocations than men's vocations.

Anonymous said...

I think the greater reaction to hearing that someone is discerning a vocation to the religious life or priesthood is sometimes due to thinking that these are the only "real" vocations. And it is true that they are vocations of a special sort. Yet it's important to situate all vocations in light of the universal vocation to love, which so to speak, "equalizes" all vocations.