Discerning a Vocation

What is a Vocation?

Put simply, “vocation” means a call. Within the Christian tradition, we understand the term to be about who God calls us to be with our lives. This normally happens through the day to day events of life and the people we encounter. The grace of our vocation always comes from God, inviting us to discover the true purpose and meaning of our life.

The New Testament presents us with many vocation stories, each with a clear invitation to follow Jesus as a disciple. For Marists, the Annunciation of Mary (Luke 1:26-39) reflects most clearly, how God breaks into everyday life circumstances, inviting a young woman to take up her vocation. Although Mary is surprised by the dramatic entry of God into her life, she comes to peace because her intuition of the presence and love of God for her. Without having all the answers to her questioning, she trusts and commits herself to a God who inspires trust. 

Similarly, Jesus calls his followers, "Come follow me" (Matthew 4:19). Despite their hesitations and feelings of being unworthy, Jesus reassures them, "Do not be afraid" (Matthew 5:10). 

Like Mary and the first disciples, our response to that invitation is always a risk, but nevertheless, a deep act of trust and confidence in knowing that God has given us the strength and courage with which to respond generously.

Through the Sacrament of Baptism, each person is not only anointed into the Christian community of faith, but called by God to know, love and serve him. Individually, we do this in different ways, by choosing between the single, married, consecrated or priestly life.

God gave you the gift of your life. Your invitation is to freely choose how best you can live your one life. Your vocation is the key to finding true joy and purpose in your life.

Discovering and ultimately following your vocation gives the greatest glory and praise to our Creator. It is what we were meant to do.


How can I come to know my Vocation?

There are two helpful indicators that might suggest a vocation to a particular way of living the gospel:

You feel “at home” with the idea of being married, single, a religious brother (or sister), or a priest. This makes sense because that’s where God meant you to be. You may feel relaxed or energised in the company of other like-minded people, or have a sense that something is stirring within you to go further and seek more information.

You feel fearful or unworthy with the idea of living this vocation. Sometimes you may have a sense of feeling uncomfortable or unworthy about living this vocation. That’s ok - you’re in good company, like so many people in the Bible (Moses, Peter, Paul, etc). God always calls us to “be more” and "do more" with our lives than we could ever have imagined. God’s dreams are bigger than our own. We need God’s grace to realise that we can’t do this by ourselves. As you are challenged and stretched, you will need to rely on both human and spiritual strength to live your vocation.

What is Discernment?

  • Discernment is a process by which we are helped to come to a decision. Within our Christian tradition, discernment has been a helpful tool over the centuries in assisting people to come to a decision concerning how they might best live their lives, in loving service to others.

Discernment is more than mere intellectual examination. It is a grace given to us by God to seriously reflect on our life choices, with the help and mediation of others. It is best done within a climate of faith, as we consider God’s action and invitation in our lives.

Good discernment comes before action – in other words, discernment should lead to action, rather than to “fence sitting”. Our lives are gifts to be put to good use, not just pondered on for eternity!

There are many ways that a person considering a religious vocation might undertake discernment. These include attending a discernment retreat, a vocation evening, or joining a discussion group with other young men or women who are also discerning a vocation. It is helpful to talk with a Vocation director or spiritual companion, who can provide some feedback with what the discerner is thinking, feeling or articulating. All these ways are invaluable in helping someone come to greater clarity about God’s call in their life.


Four helpful steps in the process of discernment

1. Become aware

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Has anyone invited me to consider a particular vocation or become actively involved in a ministry?
  • Has anyone recognised and affirmed gifts and talents in me and challenged me to use them for a greater good?
  • Do I acknowledge that these voices could be God’s subtle way of leading me toward my vocation in life?
  • What have others told me about myself and my qualities?
  • How do I sit with these voices in the midst of my busy life? How do I sift through all my thoughts?
  • Do I take these experiences to prayer? How much time do I spend in prayer?
  • Have I asked God’s assistance as I strive to listen for my vocation in life?

2. Gather information and investigate options

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are my gifts?
  • What gives me joy in my life?
  • Where am I best suited to serve?
  • What motives are driving me in my choices?
  • Where am I resisting God’s invitation?

3. Discern what you understand to be God's will (This means acting on some choices!)

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the most loving choice I can make?
  • What is the choice that will help me be most fully myself?

4. Look for confirmation of your choice

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • As I consider each option how do I feel? Is there peace or excitement within me, even in the midst of doubts?
  • What happens when I share my choice with other people? How do they respond?
  • How do I understand negative responses that occur within me? How do I interpret negative responses I receive from family members or friends?
  • Do I find God’s voice in the voices of those who know me and love me?
  • Do I take any criticism or concern as an opportunity to examine my motivations – do I find myself strengthened rather than weakened in my resolve?

Above all, discernment means listening for God’s call, so make sure you:

  • Be Quiet in order to hear the Lord's voice calling.  Take time to pray and meditate in silence about your vocation, especially in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
  • Find a spiritual director or companion - somebody you can be open with, who can help you to develop your relationship with God and to know yourself better.
  • Ask a priest, brother or sister in your parish to put you in touch with a vocation director.
  • Read up on religious and priestly life.  Look at a good periodical on vocations and check out the ads.
  • Write to the communities that interest you.
  • Visit the ones you feel called to.
  • Build a relationship with the one where you have a sense of coming home.  Get involved in its community or ministry programs.  Don't just talk the talk - walk the walk with them as well.
  • Wait for the Lord. Discerning your vocation is a process.  God's timing is always perfect - but seldom seems soon enough!