As I write this, I am preparing to head out west for a vacation. I’ll be going to the Badlands, on to Yellowstone, then down to Grand Teton National Park, back up through Devil’s Tower, visit Custer State Park and then head home. The trip was supposed to take place in June, but a rather unfortunate encounter with a deer when I was coming back from photographing loons one evening caused a delay. It’s actually a good thing though, as wildlife “action” is far better in fall, and you get the turning leaves.
I was bit by the photography bug about 10 years ago, and quickly fell in love with nature photography. But while I love to photograph, I also love to be out in nature, because it is a place where one can truly encounter God. (Small wonder mountains are so often a part of the Bible where a prophet finds his call or encounters God.). In the silence, or praying alone, I can often feel closer to God, and hear what God is telling me.
This in part was how I discovered my vocation. I had thought about priesthood as a child, and then thought surely I’d want to be married, but towards the end of college was thinking about priesthood again. I remember going to a dinner held at the Archbishop’s residence, and getting there early going to the cathedral. I sat quietly in prayer before the Sacred Heart statue, and felt an overwhelming sense of peace that this was what I was called to do. About 7 years later, I stood in front of that same statue, this time giving my first blessing to people as a priest.
Of course one does not become a priest when entering seminary. The discernment process continues. You study theology, but also get a feel for parish life and the daily life of a priest. And as I entered into the routine of seminary, while there were some challenges as there is in anything we do, there was also a sense of peace and knowing that this is where God was calling me. Following ordination, while there have been again many ups and downs, what there also is is happiness and fulfillment. While I could see myself doing other things like wedding photography or owing a photo studio, or working in the private sector, I would not feel truly happy because I would not have followed my true call.
In the first reading for this weekend, we hear “The Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses.” Now odds are the Lord is not going to speak to you or me in this way, but the Lord is trying to speak to us all. And a big part of that I think is using silence, and discernment so that like Moses we can determine what to do with our vocation but also with other things in our lives.
With respect to the decisions in life, such as “should I volunteer for this” or “how should I handle this situation with this person or family member,” I think silence can be very helpful. It’s one of the reasons someday I’d love to see an adoration chapel at our parish, where people can come and go 24 hours a day to gaze upon our Lord in the monstrance. Just letting God speak to us can give us clarity.
With respect to our vocations though, we can also get clarity through the silence, but action is of course also required once we get a sense of what to do. So how do we discern we “got the message right” whether it’s to handle a work or family situation or enter a seminary?
I think the keys there are looking for happiness, peace and contentment. If, after making a decision, it seems to bring peace, then odds are you made the right decision. Not every day as a priest, a parent, a married person, etc is going to necessarily be an emotional high. But there’s a certain sense of peace in doing what you are doing you are called to do. And if you run from that when you have a bad day or things don’t seem to be going right too quickly, what you’ll find is that contentment is gone.
So in discernment, I think there are four steps:
- Prayer and reflection: listening to what God is calling us to do.
2. Action: Taking the steps. Think of Moses going towards the burning bush. If God is calling you to say try a new job, you apply; or perhaps you feel called to marry someone. You begin dating. Or if you are called to religious life, you apply.
3. Seeing the big picture and not making snap decisions based on emotion. Any vocation is tough; there are good days and bad days. But if this is what God has called you to do, it’s important to stick it out.
4. Happiness. Are you really happy? It’s important to ask if you are considering marrying someone, in a career or considering a change. While I have ups and downs as a priest, I can honestly say I am very happy despite what individual days may bring. If you find that peace, then odds are you are in the right vocation.
If you are considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, please contact me and I’d be happy to help you in the discernment process. Perhaps you might consider diaconate, and we have two wonderful deacons in Steve and Gordon who would be great to talk to.
I remember in seminary I had a professor who commented that some people just drift along like logs going down a river day to day. I like to do that when I’m taking it easy or maybe on a vacation, but in life I know that God has a plan for me. He has a plan for you too, so listen to what He’s calling you to do. He put you here for a reason – so listen to what the plan might be, be patient, and carry it out, never forgetting the difference you can make when you take the time to discern God’s plan for you.