Identifying signs of a vocation to the priesthood and fostering it.
Discernment is one of those “churchy” words that often does not have exact equivalence in the day-to-day experience of most 21st century people. But, it is an important one because one’s whole life and future depend on it. It is different from the more worldly “figuring out what I should do.”
Discernment involves trying to determine what is on the mind of God and His Church. Discernment is trying to hear the whisper of God’s calling for you in life. One does not merely decide that they want to be a priest; rather, one accepts the invitation of the Lord to be a Priest of Jesus Christ.
The saints provide us with some important ways of understanding this process. St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, has some specific advice on this. When he was laid up in bed nursing his war wounds, he trained his mind to be sensitive to his internal feelings. He read books on soldiering, but also on the lives of the saints. He noticed that both subjects held his interest and got him excited. But the feelings he had while reading the war stories left him immediately after he read them. The feelings he got from the lives of the saints intensified even after he put down the book.
For anyone discerning, it is imperative that the decision to respond to a calling not be made at either a low point (I’m out of a job) or a high point (this retreat changed my life). If it is truly a call from God, then it will have “staying power,” as St. Ignatius discovered. You should feel the excitement in you about the thought of Priesthood when you are on a high, when you’re on a low, and most importantly, in the flat plateaus where we spend most of our lives.
A second guide for discernment is the opinion of our family and friends taken on the whole, not simply those who may be pushing you to say yes or those who think the priesthood is a waste of time and talent. Trusted advisors who see you soberly and have a positive faith perspective are needed.
Thirdly, you must remember that the Church must also discern whether you have a vocation. There have been some who were convinced that God was calling them, but they received one “no” after another from orders and dioceses. An aspirant to the priesthood must always remember that the Church is also called to a discernment process regarding an individual and that the approach of anyone to this great vocation needs to be both humble and obedient.
When you continue to feel the call, and trusted people encourage you, it’s time to submit yourself humbly to the judgment of the Church. It is only through this process that you can adequately discern your future in the Lord.