What is "Discernment" ?
The word discernment means to “separate apart” so we might distinguish something in order for it to be perceived clearly. It is the way in which we identify God’s will within the context in which we live, in being aware and attentive to God’s movement in our life. Most of us do know God’s will because it has been revealed through the teachings and life of Jesus Christ. However, there are times when God’s will is not so clear and we realize that we need to search for what God is asking of us.
Discernment is an art and it is learned by doing, not just reading about it. It is a function of an individual’s personal relationship with the Lord. When we desire to do God’s will, are willing to be open to God and have a solid knowledge of God, then discernment is possible. Therefore, prayer is an essential component to the process of discernment. To be a truly discerning person, we need to be humble, charitable and courageous. As we become more familiar with the Lord in prayer, we will come to know that the “small still voice” speaks in peace never in turmoil, anxiety or restlessness.
6-point discernment process:
There are six things everyone can and should be doing at all times in order to be able to discern not only a vocation but any decision in life. These are essential practices in living for Christ and discerning his will on a daily basis:
We cannot presume to understand Jesus’ call for our life by just a little prayer. It will take time to get to know him, learn to hear his voice, and open our heart to him with honesty. No one cares more about you and understands more about what will truly make you happy than Christ Jesus! Be assured also that prayer becomes infectious: the more we do it sincerely the more we want to do it and this prepares us to “do whatever he asks” even if we are afraid.
God so desires to be in total communion with us that he actually offers to commune with us through healing, hearing, speaking, and feeding us both spiritually and bodily in the Sacraments. This seems too good to be true, but it is! He wants to become one with you in body and spirit through the Sacraments and particularly in the Eucharist.
Reading and praying with the Scriptures (particularly the Gospels) is indispensable in coming to know the Lord and to understand his call for you. God speaks directly and individually to each of our hearts through the Scriptures. One learns the patterns in the life of Christ on the sacred page through the actions he lived and the actual words he spoke.
We are not made to walk alone in this world. Being vulnerable enough to share our life and our thoughts with others in whom we can trust helps us to confirm our thoughts and sometimes challenges them so we can find greater clarity in our decision making. Parents, family and friends as well as priests, religious brothers and sisters, consecrated men and women and holy people of all types are invaluable in helping us to navigate life and its important decisions.
There are many different ways that we can learn about vocations through written, audio, and visual material. For instance, reading the lives of the saints is vital for any discerning Catholic Christian and can lead us to desire to imitate their vocational calls. Books on spirituality, prayer and discernment are very helpful in the journey to vocation. There are also great resources on the internet which include blogs, websites, and videos highlighting marriage, diocesan priesthood, religious orders, etc. Take advantage of what is good in the world of media.
Finally, one must put thought and word into action in order to truly have a rounded experience which is necessary for good discernment. Taking on ministries at the parish or elsewhere can greatly help one discover a vocation. Going on mission trips or signing up for serious extended mission work can also clarify for some a call to a lifetime of living Christ’s mission as a religious or consecrated person. All self-giving service is a valuable preparation not only for successful discernment but truly for a successful vocation.