Fr. Long’s Tips to Discerning a Vocation
This list is by no means exclusive, but it can capture for you a “discerning outlook.”
The basic rule is this: drive the car. God will steer, but He can’t steer if you’re parked. Don’t just stand there, do something!
(The top three are the most essential.)
1.) Regular Prayer before the Most Blessed Sacrament
Visit the adoration chapel for an hour at least weekly. Then plan to visit a Tabernacle or Adoration daily for a length of time.
The Eucharist is Jesus. When Jesus walked the earth, He affected people. Whether they wanted Him to or not. He can’t not affect you. He is like a particle of enriched uranium.
As your desire for Jesus grows, you may find that the married state will not be enough to satisfy your hunger. At some point, you may also hear Jesus say, “come up higher.” The banquet is all good, regardless of where you sit, but if the head master invites you to a special place at the table, we ought not refuse Him. Then again, you may hunger to get to that head place at the table, but discover the master is not inviting you. This too is a great grace. Either way, you will not know until you spend time with the Eucharist (Jesus).
2.) Serve Mass
There is a difference in participating in Mass as a layman and as a priest (obviously). But being beside the altar with the priest and assisting his work gives you a sense of what that might be like. If you serve regularly and the desire for this type of participation grows, you may have a vocation to be a priest.
3.) Pray the Rosary
Mary is like Jesus. She can’t not affect you. But with her, she adds something else. Mary makes it light-hearted, joyful, and sweet. She is the perfect mom, transforming you slowly and gently without you hardly noticing. Next thing you know, you’re a saint, or overcoming that struggle with purity, or desiring to give yourself away radically. Mary’s intercession will point you in the right direction, always.
Start somewhere. For instance, plan to say a decade of the Rosary daily for this special intention: 7 Hail Mary’s for purity; 3 to know your vocation. Include this “discernment decade” in whatever daily Rosary devotion you already have.
Try doing this for 54 days as a novena.
4.) Hang out with seminarians
Most seminarians are attractive. I don’t mean that in a “bromance” kind of way. I mean their zeal, their commitment, their generosity, and their joy is attractive. Like the marines are attractive, even to those who don’t feel called to join.
Hanging out with them breaks through the stereotypes and helps you to see that these men are normal. It may also help you to envision what it would look like if you were part of their fraternity.
5.) Attend a Vocations Retreat
Find out when the next Quo Vadis Days are scheduled and take off of work to attend. This is a one-stop shop for many important elements: intensive prayer, testimony from priests and seminarians, exposure to seminarians and others discerning, gathering of information, etc.
6.) Find some buddies
It’s unlikely you’re the only one thinking about this. Pray the Lord to show you another pal who’s also curious about his vocation. Start a group – informal. Just hang out every couple of weeks and discuss what’s going on in your thought process. Invite Father to answer questions. It sounds weird, but it’s not unusual that several guys jump in together at the same time. Y’all might even make a plan to…
7.) Visit the Seminary
Like in #4, you will be surprised how attractive it is. It makes you feel like you’re at Hogwarts or the Marines barracks. This will help you make a concrete picture in your head of what it would be like.
In my own time, I had described the experience as follows: it’s like being in college and on retreat at the same time!
8.) Make a general confession
Many saints recommend this as a way to deepen your relationship to Christ, to grow in virtue, and also to discern. St. Francis de Sales recommends you break it into 7 year increments.
A General Confession differs from the normal confession not only in length, but also that you examine your sins as well as your particular graces and growth in virtue. This will help you see visually your life from a 30,000 feet above view, where you can trace God’s providence – His guiding hand over your life thus far. Many guys find this very helpful in deciphering “clues” about where God is leading them.
9.) Get to know the Bishop
Try to attend a few Diocesan events or Masses at the Cathedral when the Bishop is the celebrant. It’s not a fail-safe, but it will give you an idea of the personality and gifts of the Diocese as a whole. Again, it helps to paint a picture in your mind of what it might be like.
10.) Make a Novena to St. Therese
She almost always appears in vocations stories – both to priesthood and marriage. Ask for a rose to confirm where you believe God is leading you in prayer.
*If things get to be serious (By “serious” I mean 5 or more on a scale of 1-10), then…
11.) Take a dating fast
because you can’t discern two vocations at once.
12.) Take a discernment year at Vianney House
talk to Fr. Long about it.