7 Practical Tips for Discernment

The following are a few points that one might follow during the discernment process.

Take action. Religious communities welcome discerning guests to stay with them. Make arrangements to visit certain communities for a short period of time (perhaps 4-6 days). They will provide you with food, shelter, water, shower, bathroom - in short, everything you need. All you need to bring is yourself, changes of clothes, and perhaps some work clothes.

Repeat #1. If a man were to approach marriage in the same way that some people approach discerning religious life, then he would remain single all his life. He might read books about relationships, or research dating on the internet, but would never actually spend time with the woman he is to court, to get to know her personality, to see whether she is to be his future wife. In much the same way, discerning religious life requires more than reading or conducting research on the internet. The more exposure one has to religious communities, the better position they will be in to make an informed decision. At the very least, a person should grant the same amount of exposure to discerning a religious vocation, as was granted to past relationships. In the mean time, by pursuing this higher calling and making visits to various communities, a soul will begin to grow in ways that it could not have otherwise. The time spent visiting religious communities, if even a few days at a time, will be of great benefit to the soul, both for its discernment and well-being.

Consecrate yourself to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and ask Her to take you under Her maternal of care. Saint Louis De Montfort stated that a soul that is a devoted child of Mary, is a soul that can easily and quickly attain the highest degrees of perfection possible. Ask Our Lady to take you by the hand on the path that brings the greatest glory to her Son. And do not be surprised when She does. Do not be surprised if, after having continually asked for this grace, you wake up one day and find your heart burning with a new love for Her, eager to respond to Her gentle request; "Will you follow My Son?"

Avoid relationships with those of the opposite gender, and all other potential distractions. At the very least, give primacy of place to time spent discerning religious life. Give the respect due to the higher calling. If God wants you to be married, then He will send the right person in due time, and you can be sure that it was His will, and not your own.

Frequent the Sacraments. Go to confession often, and to daily Mass if possible. Also spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration daily, if possible. It is unimaginable how many graces God grants a soul through Eucharistic Adoration. It is also important to find a competent spiritual director, if possible. Do not trust your feelings, but allow God to direct you under the direction of a wise and learned priest, preferably one who has experience in religious life or ample training in mystical theology.

Try to live the religious life while you are still in the world. Wake up early and spend some time in prayer or spiritual reading. Mortify yourself at meals, stop watching TV. Before going to bed, spend time in prayer and make an examination of conscience for your actions for the day. Fast on bread and water on Fridays. Try to remain recollected while you work. All these examples will help be a test of your vocation.

Remember that there is no commitment. Even if you were to formally enter a community as a postulant, you do not take perpetual vows until 6-8 years into religious life. The postulancy and novitiate periods are considered times of ongoing discernment, and a person is free to leave at any point if they feel God calling them elsewhere.

"To Whom Much is Given, Much will be Expected"
As a final note, it is good to recall that if God has favored a soul with many graces, much will be expected of that soul. This should in no way increase one's pride, however. On the contrary, it should humble the soul even more, for having made so poor use of such favors (and the harsher it will be judged). Let us examine ourselves, to see whether we were granted such grace, despite our unworthiness;

To Baptized into the family of God with an indellible mark on our soul
To be a member of the Catholic Church and to receive Our Lord in His fullness through the Sacrament of Love.
To have been born into a good and loving family
To have shelter over our heads, and relative security.
To be relatively well-adjusted, level headed, not hysteric, neurotic, or pathological.
To love God and want to serve Him.
To already posses certain virtues, such as prudence, temperance, kindness, diligence, fortitude.
To not be self-absorbed; to realize that we are called to a life outside of ourselves
To have an abhorrence for sin, or at least posses a continual desire to conquer one's affection for sin
Padre Pio, Secrets of a Soul, p. 51: "My soul is spurred on by the liveliest gratitude to attest that the Lord grants such grace to my soul without my meriting it. Far be it for me to consider myself superior to other souls for this reason. On the contrary, I believe that of all the people in the world, I am the one who serves the Lord least, and since the Lord gave such clarity to my soul through this grace, I acknowledge myself to be more obliged than any other soul to serve and love the Creator. For my soul, every minute of imperfection I commit is a sword of sorrow that pierces my heart."


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