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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ground Rules on Discernment

I've been writing about discernment, both my own, and in general from experience for a few years now.  And I'm reminded of why most people in my life don't know about this. 

I've written before on the "do's" and the "what not to do's" with regard to discernment.  Not directed towards those who are discerning, but to those who think they're being helpful.   

I have some new readers, peolpe who haven't not been "present" for most of my discernment, and so I can very clearly see what's coming based on prior experience.   If I am going to continue to be write about this topic on my blog, there has to be some ground rules.  If you think this is about's not.  This is the same thing I say to people in real life who are tempted to want to take charge and offer directions. I'm just putting this up so that I can continue to write about my discernment without having to explain myself over and over again.  


1.  I've been discerning/exploring religious life off and on for a few years now.  Therefore, I don't need advice on how to do it.  If I need advice, I will ask specifically, usually of someone even MORE specific to the situation, and it won't be something I publish.  

2.  The fact that I am writing about one community should not be taken to infer I have not looked at every other religious Order, community, and congregation in America, and some outside of our borders.  

3.  Discernment is difficult enough.  Please don't send me every link you find to some very cool religious community.  Yes, I agree they are cool.  But if I don't bring them up, it could be because I'm not interested in them.  It gets really tiring repeating to people that I'm not interested in their favorite community, and some people actually take that personally. It's not. It's between me n' God.   
  ***  If you have a relative in a community and want to share that link, the above Rule does not apply.  Please feel free to share with all of us those you know who have been called by God and chose to say Yes to Him.  :-)  

4.  I like Dominicans, and that is my default position. I fully believe that I have Dominican spirituality, although not all of my very focused search includes Dominicans.  I'm also considering the Cistercians.  Really. No, they're not Dominican, they follow the Benedictine Rule.  It doesn't make sense, but God's ideas don't usually make sense to us. 

5.  Dominican, Benedictine, Carmelite, Augustinian, and Franciscan communities are all very different, as each has a different spirituality.  All are wonderful, all are beautiful, and the Church needs them all.  However, those who are discerning may first need to figure out which spirituality calls to them.  I, for one, know that I am not Carmelite or Franciscan.   That does not mean I don't like them, only that they aren't appealing to me because God has given me a different spiritual approach.   Now that I know that approach, it also means I can eliminate many communities from the radar screen. 

6.  I currently have a plan in place and am in contact with Vocation Directors at 2 different communities.  Yes, I am going to go visit them, when the time comes. It hasn't come yet for a myriad of reasons.  One community is sending me information and has told me to contact them again when I've gone over it, and then we can talk about a retreat.   Please don't send me emails and comments ordering me to "JUST GO!"   I can't "just go".  There is a schedule to follow and it isn't just set by me and the demands of my life and work, but by Vocation Directors at the respective communities.   Again...I'll go when it's time and that time is coming, hopefully soon.   

7.  The fact that I am putting my thoughts out there should not be taken to mean that I'm "dragging my feet".  Far from it.  See  #6.    I write because I HAVE to write, and I do receive emails from other people in discernment who tell me that it's helpful to them as they have similar thoughts.  See the Rules below...I am not on your time schedule, but at God's will.    

Thank you.  


People in your life may be discerning the priesthood or religious life, and they MAY be doing so because you suggested it to them.  AWESOME!  Keep encouraging people to see if God is calling them!   The following are the Do Not's and the Do's.  I'm ending on a positive note so that you know what you can and SHOULD do to help!  


1.  Do not overwhelm a new discerner with every cool site you come across.   Given this age of technology where everything is on the web, it can be very scary and overwhelming. 

2.  You are not the discernment police.  Do not hold a stopwatch and demand that the discerner take certain actions and do certain things according to your preferred schedule.  

3. What's happening to a soul in discernment is between them and God.  If they share something with you, count it as a privilege and ONLY offer advice if it is asked.   Otherwise, if they have found a Spiritual Director, take it as a matter of course that all advice will be covered.    If they don't have a Spiritual Director, do not assume that role.   

4.  Don't force your own preferences upon that person, i.e. habit vs. no habit, Franciscans vs Carmelites, etc.  

Now, on to the postive steps!  


1. Offer prayer and encouragement

2.  If the discerner has a pet, if you can, offer to "pet-sit" or help find someone who can.  Kennels are expensive, and completely impractical if the discerner is going on a lengthy visit.  The discerner does not want to give up a dear companion in order to question a life they may not be called to live.   

3.  If the discerner has a house, they may need someone to check on things or stay there while they are away.   

4.  If the discerner needs a ride to the airport and back, can you help them find willing people to fulfill that simple role, if you can't do it yourself?   

5.  If the discerner doesn't have the money to purchase a plane ticket and the community is a few thousand miles away, you may be able to help them either raise the money, find donors (ie through the Serra Club, etc.)   If they don't have the cash, they can't go.  Airlines require payment and won't take IOU's from God.   

6.  Pray that God's will be done.  People in discernment need lots of prayers, it can be a confusing time, and spiritual battles can really heighten.  Just knowing that you're praying is often enough.  If you have experience, share your own experience and how you came to your own decision.  

7.  Remember always that it's between the soul and God. 

There will be more added to these "Rules", but that's the stuff off the top of my head for now.  

If you're interested, here is a much longer post I wrote some time ago explaining WHY these groundrules are necessary.  Also, if you click on the "Vocations" or "Discernment" tags at the bottom of the post, you'll be taken to a page showing every post I've done on these topics. Some are inane, some are more specific, but it's all there.   

Some of my readers are ALSO in discernment...please offer your own rules, your own do's and don'ts, etc.  in the combox.  I'd LOVE your input!  


Anonymous said...

Sometimes you must simply jump into the darkness of the future and trust Jesus will catch you.

For what it's worth, I think we too often think too hard about these things. As the old saying goes - analysis, paralysis. Fundamentally, we KNOW our vocation because it has been revealed in Jesus - to love as we we are loved.
After that, we are given, I think, an awful lot of latitude by our good and gracious Father above. As our man from Hippo said -
"Love, then do what you will!"


Adoro said...

Anon ~ Did you want that added to the rules? Maybe a list of rules for discerners specifically, as opposed to my list which is directed towards our "helpers"?

MJ said...

Great post. As the mother of a son in discernment,I have had to learn to just step back. As a mom you always want to guide and give advice, always with the best interest of your child. However as you said and he has told me, it is between him and God. It is hard to "let go and let God" in your own life and even harder with your child. I just keep praying!

Adoro said...

MJ ~ Thanks for your input. As a mother, and your experience, your comment carries a certain kind of authority. :-)

Keep praying for him! :-)

Anonymous said...

I did not convert to the Catholic Church until long after I was married. If I was single, I might also be looking at religious life. I'm very excited for you and my thoughts and prayers go with you. God give you the grace to do what you need to do!

Anonymous said...

I went through 3-1/2 years of discernment because of an incredible pull that would not stop. Often I shared this with people and much of what I heard could not be possible for me. My personal rule was to thank them and to thank God that he had me surrounded by people who cared enough to care.

Adoro said...

Reynardine ~ Thanks! You could consider lay communities if you still have a sense of something unfulfilled, but you may not be pulled that way.

Anon ~ How did it turn out for you?

I also love and appreciate those people in my life, and I most often will simply say "thank you", but there's not a lot of people in my real life who know about this right now. Those who do know the Rules better than I do. The first time around...that's when I learned about the need for Rules. I had one friend in particular who wanted me on her schedule. Long story.

But people who want to help often WANT to know the boundaries. They don't want to offend, or provide useless info. So I'm hoping this post helps them know what does and doesn't work for most of us.

I need to find a way to really synthesize all my discernment posts into about 1

John_and_Dawna said...


I feel for you. This is a very personal matter, and your blogging about it is not an invitation for advice. I’m appalled that people can’t help themselves and have to overwhelm you with unsolicited advice.

I want to buttress your statement by offering the obvious; it is deeply insulting for some to presume that this is okay. I think it’s a sign of the inordinate opinion people have of their own advice. They are clueless. And I’m sorry you’re being put through this.

The best way to rid yourself of this scourge is to speed up your discernment. I would recommend a pilgrimage to the Grotto Shrine in Portland, OR. Begin a novena to St. Thomas Aquinas prior to your arrival, and fast for three days beforehand. Arrive on a Saturday, and only bring enough money to last for a day. Then vow not to return until you have your answer. I’m certain that this will provide the desired results.

Something that also might help is not narrowing down your options to strictly Dominicans. Have you ever considered the Carmelite order? They are wonderful, and they produce saints like crazy. Edith Stein, the Little Flower, Bernadette, Simon Stock, Elijah (I just found out about him this morning)… Hey, they are doing something right. Think about it. Well, unless you don’t like them.

If you’re still stuck on Dominicans, here’s an awesome community that you might have missed:
Those nuns are really cool. How could anyone not feel at home there. The best part is, they don’t have habits, except for getting arrested. Wouldn’t it be a whole lot more comfortable if you didn’t have to wear those heavy, itchy habits in the summer time?

Anyway, I want to be the first to wish you well on your pilgrimage, and good luck finding a kennel and house-watcher while you’re gone.

PS – As you might have noticed, my kids LOVE dogs. Their parents do, too. We’ve dog-sat before.

Adoro said...

ROFL! I'm going to publish your comment in its own post!

Unknown said...

an I steal your do's and dont's and pit them on cards to pass out?

Unknown said...

Ok, apparently from not having regular computer access since mine died my fingers have atrophied. That comment was supposed to read: "Can I steal your do's and Don'ts and put them on cards to pass out?


Adoro said...

Kat ~ If it helps! lol

Lillian Marie said...

MJ - I'm seeing the same thing with my mom. She is very supportive yet to a degree, she does not want to 'let me go'.

Adoro - Another rule - once the discerner has made the decision - DON'T continue to give them information on other Orders! This is happening to me!

Also, Do - Once a decision has been made, MEGA prayers are needed for the discerner as they move from the secular world into the Order. This is when patience is needed - both with the discerner and family/friends.

DON'T keep asking WHEN will you enter? When will you enter? When will you enter? We don't know! It's in God's time, not ours. It gets very frustrating having to keep telling people, I don't know. When we know something, we'll definitely let you know.

DO - write! And sometimes write often! This is one of the saving graces for me. There are so many emotions and thoughts during this time that it is often difficult to get them on paper. Sometimes I feel like St. Paul - he had so many thoughts going through his head at one time. However, he had the mega education to help him. For me, trying to capture all of these thoughts is like trying to catch a tse-tse fly with chop sticks!

This is where my blog helps - as well as my private journal. (and yes, you should have at least the private journal).

Anonymous said...

My former babysitter is a Sister of Life, and I currently have been discering a a call to religious life seriously for 3 years. The call has been in the back of my mind for 7 years. Here's a tidbit for anyone going as slowly as me-don't tell anyone that you wouldn't trust. When I first told my friends two years ago, they freaked out. One was especially afraid she would not see me again if I entered.

Melody K said...

Here is another one for the "don't" list. A well-intentioned speaker from the Serra Club was talking at a weekend Mass in our parish. He told the congregation, "If you sense that a young man whom you know may be a good candidate for the priesthood, turn his name in to the diocesan vocations director." I wanted to yell, "No! you'll freak the poor kid out." Just pray for him. If you know him really, really, well; maybe approach the subject in private, carefully, after praying about it. Same could be true of a young woman who may be called to the religious life. But I feel that to do as this speaker suggested is intrusive and may just drive any desire that is there right out the window.

Anonymous said...


Hee, hee, hee...

Are those the rules according to God? :)

As a side note, our Sunday rosary group got a new member. A young, single, very spiritual guy.

I got an urge to make him a rosary, and put St. John Vianney in the center (patron saint of priests).

Subtle and sneaky.

Adoro said...

LM ~ Awesome additions, thanks!

Grace ~ Great point - some peole DON'T take it well. Same reason I haven't told my Mom or brother. Mom will obsess, brother...well, not sure what he'd do, actually.

Melody ~ Well, it depends. I think our Archd. takes names but they'll just send out invites to stuff, taking a low-key approach. I don't think it's really a "mailing list" because everyone hates junk mail, maybe just a one-time contact, or maybe they just contact the Pastor at the person's parish and lets the Pastor figure it out. So it CAN be a good idea, but it depends on how it's handled.

Personally, I think a more direct personal approach is better. People that are known versus some random people thinking, "hey, that guy looks holy, he should be a priest!" Never mind the fact that said "holy single guy" actually left the seminary the year before and is about to get married. Etc.

Tony ~ Actually...yeah. Are you aware that even a person's Spiritual Director should not "push" someone towards a particular Vocation? I may write on this later, but I know a Sister who was in direction for a long time. Finally one day she mused to her SD..."Huh. I think I'm supposed to be a religious sister." The priest's reaction. "FINALLY!"

If even an SD who realizes where the soul is headed takes such a cautious approach, who are the rest of us to be overbearing in what we do?