A matter of love

Is vocational discernment simply about checking a bunch of boxes?

As a seminarian, I’m often asked questions in which the recipient wants a magic formula or box to check to receive answers from God. What’s the response when you ask a married couple what steps they took to fall in love? Normally, “None: we met, became friends, fell in love and decided to get married.” Similarly, there aren’t specific steps to discover whether God is calling someone to enter the seminary or convent. Rather, it is a matter of love, and knowing that someone — Jesus Christ — calls us to a personal relationship in which we find our happiness.

Pope Benedict XVI explains this beautifully in his encyclical Deus Caritas est: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (No.1). All Christians, whether single, married, priest or religious, share a similar vocation story to those we see in the Gospels: a call to be with Jesus. We are all invited to encounter “Him who we know loves us” (St. Teresa of Avila).

Some of us may hear a further invitation to “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt 4:19). For this reason, we can say that to start a discernment process is simply a continuation of the love that Christ offers to all of us. Even though discernment is this interior response to love, there is an objective process that will help us all discern God’s will more clearly.

First, when you look at a married couple, their initial encounter with each other had to take place in the same location and at the same time (even if it’s the same dating website). This place, when speaking of the encounter with Christ, is the life of prayer, which is the most critical step in any discernment.

Second, this encounter must extend to others. When someone falls in love, they want their friends and family to know their beloved. The same thing occurs with Christ: once we encounter him, we desire to share him with others, usually through some sort of apostolic work like CCD or RCIA, or the parish choir (at least this was my discernment experience).

Third, after some time together, the couple seeks out guidance of other people who have more experience. When a young man or woman is wondering if God could be calling them to dedicate their whole life to him and his church, they ask someone with more experience in this area for guidance. Church tradition calls this step of talking with someone more experienced in the spiritual life for help to interpret God’s direction along their journey spiritual direction.

These ordinary means of Christian life: prayer, apostolic work, some form of spiritual direction, are really the boxes we check to grow in our relationship with the Lord. Through them our relationship with Jesus grows and he will reveal his will more clearly to us.

Portillo, who is from St. John the Beloved Church in McLean, is in his first year of theology studies at the Universidad Eclesiástica San Dámaso in Madrid, Spain.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018