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What is discernment? What is a vocation? How can I come to know what God’s will is? This page is only a small introduction to answering questions like these. If you are discerning religious life and are looking to learn more or to connect with someone who can help guide you in your discernment, we recommend joining our Discernment Mentorship Program.
3 Levels of Vocation
A vocation is a call given by God for someone’s life. There are three primary levels of vocation. The first is the vocation to holiness. All people are called to this vocation, no matter what their state of life is. This is known as the “Universal Call to Holiness” and it means God has a plan for your life that will ultimately lead you closer to Him.
The second level of vocation is state of life, and it is what most people think of when they think of the word “vocation”. Different states of life included marriage, priesthood, and consecrated life (which has many forms).
The third level is what is known as personal vocation. This refers to the individual calling God has given you, or the specific part of His plan you have been entrusted with. One example of this would be different members of a religious community. Even though they all are living in the same state of life, they are each called to a unique path within that vocation.
What Discernment Is
A time of discernment is required especially when we are trying to figure out our state of life vocation. Discernment is a kind of sorting or sifting through different options. It is not simply choosing, and it requires a good deal of prayer and effort. Discernment also only takes place between two goods, as it is the presence of more than one good option which prompts us to take these choices to prayer.
Discernment relies most heavily on two pillars: prayer and self-knowledge. Prayer must always be primary because a vocation is a call given by God. Our vocation is not something we earn or figure out. Rather, it is something we receive and respond to.
Self-knowledge plays such a crucial role in this process because God’s plan for your life will lead to your fulfillment. In other words, you will be most yourself when you are living out the vocation God has called you to. Getting to know your gifts, talents, and desires can help you understand what state of life would be a good fit for you.
Stages in Discernment
When considering a vocation to religious life, there are a number of stages which can help someone discover their vocation. These stages do not necessarily happen in the same way or same order for everyone, but they are major points which should be addressed at some point during a time of discernment.
The earliest stages of discernment should be focused on whether or not you feel called to live a life of celibacy. This stage should be deeply rooted in prayer, asking God if He is inviting you to live a life completely given to Him through the profession of vows or ordination. Another helpful step here is learning more about what is means to live a celibate life, and what the theology behind a consecrated vocation is. You can access readings specifically on this topic here.
If you do feel that God is calling you to consider a celibate life, then it is good to begin looking at different expressions of consecrated life. Going on retreats or visiting religious communities can be a helpful step in this stage. You can read more about finding a community here.
If you feel that you have a good sense of where God may be calling you, often the final step is to discern God’s will regarding the timing of when you take this next step. Some people are called to enter a religious community right away, while others may be called to wait a little while. A vocation director or spiritual director can often help guide you in this step, especially if you are already in discussion with a particular community.
Wherever you’re at in your discernment, strengthening your relationship with God is the most important thing to do. During this time, we encourage you to strive to live a life that is:
Sacramental: Engaging and frequenting the Sacraments of the Church, especially Mass and confession
Communal: Seeking the proper aid and counsel from others who can guide you along your journey
Marian: Increasing your devotion to our Blessed Mother
Contemplative: Striving to draw closer to God in prayer and silence
Informed: Gaining a deeper understanding of what religious life is
You can click on the blue links to access full articles written by religious on each of these topics.
If you ever begin to feel stuck in your discernment, sometimes the best thing to do is to take a step forward. This can be contacting a community, sharing about your discernment with someone you trust, going on a retreat, or joining our Discernment Mentorship Program. God has a plan for your life and He wants to reveal it to you, so you won’t be in this stage of discernment forever!