Understanding Discernment

So a regular reader of mine, a friend looking into the diaconate asked a great question today that I thought deserved more than a quick pat answer. Here is his question.

“Seriously – what resources did you find helpful during your discernment process prior to Aspirancy and what has helped you on your way through that phase as well as your current journey toward ordination?

Thanks SO MUCH! for all of the candid comments. This journey is both exciting and scary!” -Tom

This is a great question, and I’m not sure I really have the answer, but I’m willing to explore how this has played out for me personally.

I really already knew that I had to at least explore this option. This was not something I had ever really questioned. The real question has been regarding my worth. I had to deal with the fact that I am simply not a good enough man to deserve to be ordained. That I felt called wasn’t really the issue, it was more the issue of knowing that what I felt called to be, was and is more than I currently am.

There are a couple of big points here. One is the realization that I am lame. I don’t want to be lame, I want to be awesome. I want to be the hero, the knight in shining armor. When I actually look at myself in the mirror though, instead of a saint I see a quickly aging man who doesn’t really have much going for him. I am balding, I don’t pray enough. I am not very successful and I feel emasculated by my inability to have more children. My life is frankly still a work in progress on so many levels that the mirror image I see is just not the image I have of what a clerical man should be.

The second issue is of course all of your responses to the above paragraph. (As so many of you exceed me in holiness) God deals with the imperfect, and makes great things come from it. God takes losers like me and makes saints out of them. Just look at Peter, he is frankly a bit of a dolt, but his encounter with the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit changes him completely into a man of great articulation, a man who can stand before crowds and speak with them logically and persuasively. A man who can turn his tush around and follow Christ back into Rome to the cheers of the Colosseum. Maybe he can take this worthless dolt and fix him too.

So that’s what goes on in my head, and it is still going on. I’m not sure I can ever meet my own expectations, all I can do is continue to move forward in hope that Jesus is walking with me, and carrying me past the obstacles of my own idiocy.

The other thing I have to deal with constantly is fear. I’m really scared of becoming a deacon. I am terrified of standing up at the pulpit and telling all my friends and loved ones that the birth control (fill in any other hot issue here) they are using is evil. I just know how that is going to play out, and I know the cost is going to be ever so high for me and my family. To set myself with the Church is to set myself against the world, especially in my county where we have the only city in the nation with a Green Party majority. When I say I am setting myself up to be a soldier for Christ, I’m really not playing around. I’m really scared of the social ramifications, and I have an honest fear that at some point I will come home to find my tires slashed and windows broken in.

At the same time, all of these reasons are also reasons I continue to move forward. The truth MUST be preached, and I know that is something I am called to do. I just rue the day when they realize that I am calling the kettle black, and tear my glass house to the ground.

As for resources for helping you in your discernment, there are plenty of books out there, read them if you must, but to be honest they just confuse things. The process will bring plenty of words on its own for you to read.

Focus on the people who are calling you, most importantly if you are married, your wife. How does she feel about this? Does she know you need to follow this path more than you do? I’m willing to bet she is the one who truly knows, just trust her. Also look to other clergy you know, are they too suggestive that you should be in this process? Trust them. If it’s not right, you will find out in the process, I promise. Don’t forget other lay ministers in the parish you work with. Listen to their responses and feelings, they too have great wisdom and experience.

Don’t be afraid you won’t know, and will be moving in circles you do not belong. We have men who are called, but leave because the timing is not right for them, and others who realize they simply aren’t called. We have men who have come back after leaving the program years before. The process is so long, and your thoughts so overwhelming that you really can’t screw it up. If you aren’t meant to be there, you’ll just find out, really.

If you are ever worried you are overstepping your bounds, remember that a vocation goes two ways. The Church has to call you too, and you can’t fake that. If the Church says you are the man, and you still feel that way too, then you’ll know.

Please help more people find this blog, and share!

5 thoughts on “Understanding Discernment”

  1. WOW! (what an honor for you to answer my question as a dedicated blog post – it’s like I influenced the whole universe (okay just the internet) for a day ! kinda what YOU will be doing henceforth!!)

    Thanks for the thoughts/ideas. I agree with you that the scary part (if this continues) is the day when people see the pot calling the kettle black. We have GOT TO get some shudders for the glass house……….

    Actually that doesn’t bother me that much. I am totally surrendered to Him as a soldier. I have committed to serving Him without counting the cost (Ignatian Exercises were REALLY helpful here). So, I am excited to serve – if that is where He wants me to be/serve. If not, I’m SURE He will correct my course to get me back on the path I need to be on.

    On this journey of 1,000 miles, I have taken just a few steps. The journey IS LONG. I know that – it’s a marathon not a sprint. I am VERY excited about learning from some of the very best teachers – there is so much I don’t know.

    I am still in the “interview” stage of the Inquiry process and it’s lonely in the waiting. If I am selected for Aspirancy, that will start in the Fall. I know that once that starts, I will feel more connected and the process will seem more real.

    For now, its waiting. patiently. Like Jesus in desert. Like Moses tending sheep. Like Paul wandering for 3 years after being knocked off his horse. on the one hand it feels like I am wasting time – but I know its really just a quiet phase where I am looking for God in all things. I. just. go. on.

    Incidentally, Peter is my hero too! I see lots of him in me – the impetutousness and yet the passion to do something and serve God.

    BTW – SORRY for the long post……

    1. Yes, the journey is unbelievably long. The reality is, I’m really not much further along then you in this process. I have completed my Aspirancy year, and half a year as a Candidate. In fact, I’m not actually a Candidate yet either, as we have not been able to schedule our psyche evals yet due to language issues. (¿Hablo Castellano?) So you have five years I’m guessing, I have three and a half. Of course I assume this will be my last year, as they will most definitely kick me out of the program when the shrink realizes that I am not entirely sane.

      I realize that it is frustrating now while you are just thinking about this stuff on your own, but those frustrations will diminish greatly once you have other men in the same process to chat with about it.

      You know, that is the one thing I missed mentioning. The real thing that will help you through this process is the other aspirants. I won’t lie, I am constantly frustrated by the material that we have to cover in our classes. Much of it seems so darn irrelevant, and much of it causes great confrontation within the class. The real deal is the men and their wives that you travel with. My group has become so close that we depend on each other constantly. Even though many of us travel immense distances to get to class, we still find ways to talk and be present for each other. The spirit of camaraderie runs very deep, and is an inestimable value to the journey. It is awesome to spend so much time with folks who are just as passionate as you are.

      Keep me informed as to how it’s going, and let me know when your classes start. I was serious about you writing a few guest posts, I would love to have some other folks share their journey as it unfolds.

  2. a great post!

    a suggestion…REALLY try to ‘take advantage’ of this time of formation….it is like engagement…you just want to get to the wedding, but there are good things about being in this in-between phase. Really open yourself to many experiences…introduce yourself to priests (maybe Eastern ones?!) and learn from many different people. Once a week, go to a supplemental Mass where you don’t have responsibility and use that as spiritual food.

    and PRAY for my husband! he will celebrate 10 years as a priest at the end of this month (almost 2 years as a deacon- so he loves you guys!)

    1. You are so right. I totally have this tendency to look forward without really appreciating the present. Thanks for the reminder.

      I would just love to have the opportunity to spend more time with some of our Eastern brethren, but alas, we are so very far from any Eastern Church. I remember when I was coming into the Church, I was rather disappointed, as I wanted to become an Eastern Catholic, but due to geography only had to option to become Roman. Not that I don’t love who and what I am now, but it was a great sadness for me.

      Congratulations to you and your husband! May God continue to bless your family and his ministry. 10 Years is very wow indeed!

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