“Put your trust in Him, I beg you, and your heart’s desire will be fulfilled.” – Vincent de Paul, CCD: Vol. 1, 184.
As a faithful Catholic, the process of discerning any large life decision is, and should be, difficult. It requires us to embrace all of the more difficult aspects of our faith: slowing down, not having immediate answers, praying in a way that is consistent contemplative, listening to the Lord’s plan, and potentially rejecting our own plans. Discerning a specifically Vincentian vocation is to take those difficult actions and embrace them fully.
A Vincentian process of discernment takes into account the mission of Vincentians and the calls of St. Vincent himself, and can be broken into three steps: an exercise in imitating Christ, a plunge into unrestricted readiness, and an analysis of the significance of events.
- Imitation of Christ is the process of asking, as St. Vincent did, if there was an action he could take that would mirror that of Jesus who was the servant of the poor and loved God and neighbor before Himself. With the many demands and goings on in life, clarity can be found by asking how would a selfless servant such as Jesus respond? How can you best imitate Jesus in service to others?
- Unrestricted readiness is arguably the hardest step of the process suggested here, because it means you give up total control, preconceived notions of your life and how it should look, and even all the stress surrounding the discernment process. We are conditioned and influenced by family, friends, our environment, the culture at large, and by many other forces to expect or strive for certain things in life. This step of the discernment process asks am I willing to let go of my own bias and preconceived plans? Am I willing to give up control and accept a “yes” or a “no”?
- The significance of events is the following step in this discernment process, one that hones in on events and people that reveal God’s will. Prayerfully examine the events occurring, who is involved, the situation, its affects, etc. to determine how God’s will may be presenting itself. Seeking counsel of knowledgeable, wise, and trustworthy mentors is also important when trying to analyze events. St. Vincent was guided by the needs of the poor around him, as well as many other objective facts and truths of his time. What is objective truth around me, and in reaction what subjective feelings do I have? How is God speaking to me through events and people?
A fourth step is the actual decision. After you have done your best and made considerable efforts to discern, it is wise to make a decision in firmness and move forward. Asking questions like these are helpful when making your final decision: Is the decision reasonably clear? Am I at peace with this decision? Is the decision just and compassionate? In a similar vein to the “unrestricted readiness” step, St. Vincent urged those discerning to trust in God’s time, not your own. In an article on discernment, Fr. Tom McKenna, C.M. brings up important words of Jesus to remember: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain…” (John 15:16). When discerning, realize that God is the one calling you to a certain path, and it is not you making a decision but He who has created the path before you— and all for your good!
Discernment is difficult, but continual use of a good discernment process in any decision strengthens your relationship with God and ability to discern when it comes to the tougher decisions.
“The Spirit of God incites us gently to do the good we can reasonably do so that good might be done effectively and for a long time.” St Vincent de Paul, CCD : Vol. 1, 92.
Works consulted: “Vincentian Discernment and Decision Making” by Sr. Loretto Gettemeier, D.C. published in Vincentian Heritage Journal, Volume 19, Issue 1, Article 2, Spring 1998, pp. 23-27.