How do I even begin?
“Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity.
Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
― Pope John Paul II
Feeling a call from God is a scary reality. Why is that? Why do we immediately feel fear and anxiety when we even think about the possibility that God is calling us into a life as a priest or consecrated religious?
The simple answer is that we are weak, living our life as a fallen human being. It is so much easier to just live as the world does - serving self, living from one high or rush to the next. Fallen human nature will always tend toward the fallen path. But God is calling us to something greater, to a more dignified and honorable path. That path is the way of the cross - that is why we fear.
You have taken that first step - you have cracked your heart open in search of answers. You are looking for the source of that little whisper in the depth of your soul. That is God who says to you, "My son, my daughter - I LOVE YOU! I am glad you are here, remain in my love."
Discernment - or probing the heart for truth - is the journey you are embarking on. Let the fact that 1.2 billion Catholics are praying for you right now assure you that you are not alone. Let the fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary has taken you by the hand to lead you to her Son assure you that you don't have to figure it all out in a vacuum. Be not afraid, venture into the deep and let the Lord Jesus reveal to you his deepest desire for you in this life.
Jesus Christ - the heart of discernment
The only way we can know what God is calling us to is if we go to Him and ask. Prayer is essential to probing the mystery of our vocation, the mystery of who we are. Daily prayer is the cornerstone to proper discernment. Attend Mass, every Sunday of course, but daily if possible. Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament - most especially Eucharistic Adoration - is life changing. Devotionals, novenas, Sacred Scripture - these are other essential prayers for the discerner.
It is important in this phase to begin regular spiritual direction with a competent and authorized spiritual director. The role of a director is to help you wade through the many movements of the heart. In this time everything seems like a legitimate whisper of God. The evil one knows of your vulnerability in this time as well. A director can help you recognize God's true voice amid the many others that you are or will be hearing.
Visit a seminary or convent
The vocations office leads several visits to both seminaries and convents throughout the year. It is very important to experience what it is like to be at a house of formation. We can read all we want, but human beings are very tangible creatures - we need to experience things as well. Set up a time through the vocations office to make a visit.
Be active at the parish
This is always a good policy. We are called to be fully, actively and conscious participators in the liturgical life of the Church. Everything - all activity in the Christian life - has its source at the altar of sacrifice and everything flows back to the altar of sacrifice as its true aim and purpose (source and summit). That oft quoted line from the Second Vatican Council directs the Catholic faithful to live the entirety of their lives in the reality that all comes from the Pashcal Mystery and all should find its aim and goal in union with the Paschal Mystery. Volunteer in the parish to help with not only lector and greeter at Mass, but feeding the poor, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned. One called by God to a life of service cannot properly answer that call if they are not willing to serve even now.
Model of a listening heart
STEPS OF DISCERNMENT
1. Listen for the deepest desire of your heart
In prayer, let your heart speak to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Within each human heart are desires - sometimes we have desires for multiple vocations. Pretty much every priest had a desire to be a husband and father. Every religious sister had a desire to be a wife and mother. What we search for as we discern God's particular call for us is the deepest desire of our heart. We find out where that intersects with the greatest need in the world. The point that those two things intersect is our vocation.
Model of perfect gift of self
2. The test of time
We must really reflect - is this just a fleeting idea? Or is this something that is long enduring in my heart. God will continue to knock on your heart - over and over He will knock. Allow the call time to rest on your heart. There is no rush - the life of faith is not a sprint, it is a marathon. Time - in prayer, direction, adoration, conversation with friends, on retreats - will help clarify the deepest desire of your heart. A fisherman must learn to be patient, otherwise he will never eat.
3. Reality check
Always keep in mind that a vocation is a call from another, a call from God. This call comes through the intended spouse: Holy Mother Church, a religious community, or a particular man or woman. We might think we have figured out God's intentions, but the other may have discerned something all together different. This reality check - that it is not about me but the other - is a good reminder for us in discernment. Answering a call from God is about submission to the Father's will, not about pleasing me. Remember, Christ learned obedience through His suffering - Christ followed the will of the Father perfectly in His espousal to humanity on the cross. A true call is always about the other, always about glorifying God by submitting to His will.