What is discernment?

Throughout the ages, God has called men and women individually and collectively to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him through serving each other. Now, He is calling you…

“Consider the eternal love which God had for you. Already before our Lord Jesus Christ, as man suffered for you on the Cross, His divine Majesty thought of you in His sovereign goodness and loved you infinitely. But when did He begin to love you? He began when He began to be God. When did He begin to be God? Never, for He has always been God, without beginning and without end. Also, He has loved you from all eternity. That is why He was preparing for you the graces and favours He has bestowed on you. He says it through the Prophet Jeremiah (31:3): “I have loved you (he speaks to you as though there is no one else) with an everlasting love: therefore have I drawn you, taking pity on you.” Hence, among other things He thought of leading you to make your deliberate decisions to serve Him.” St Francis de Sales, “Introduction to a devout life” (Vth Part, Ch. 14)

Throughout your life thus far, in various ways, and whether you’ve always been aware of it or not, you have felt the love of God from all eternity drawing you to Himself. Perhaps you have already answered His invitation to serve Him through love in the present situation and circumstances of your life? Perhaps you have been called to holy Matrimony, parenthood, perhaps you have been called to utilise your talents, skills and abilities in a fulfilling career…  Perhaps you have been or are engaged in vocational work e.g. medicine, teaching, professional childcare, counselling or charity work… Perhaps you are already serving Him in ancillary church ministries e.g. music, altar serving, sacristy or administrative work… Perhaps you have already offered for yourself for licensed or ordained ministry or are considering doing so?

Discernment is about discovering, recognising and realising God’s will for you in the present moment, with hindsight and for your life. Although God is always with us, around us and available to us, due to the constraints of our physical existence and the preoccupations of our minds to daily tasks and distractions, it is often difficult for us to recognise His calling to us. Only by taking “time out” to reflect upon the journey and circumstances of our life thus far, may we begin to recognise and realise not only God’s abiding presence throughout our life and His demonstrable love for us, but also His will for us.

If truth be told, even those who pray, may not always hear God speaking to them, words and formulas, thoughts and intentions can actually cloud our minds or obfuscate the purpose of our spiritual conversation with God, which is what “prayer” is… we forget that it is a conversation i.e. a two-way dialogue. Though we may be faithful in our duty to pray “the prayer of the Church” or to offer intercessions for others who have asked us to pray, we don’t often spend enough time in prayer for ourselves nor allow ourselves time and space to listen, to God. Indeed, we can be so preoccupied that we miss what often become later, obvious and clear signs and pointers to God’s purpose for our lives!

They key to discernment then, is to allow our love of God to manifest itself in not only seeking but desiring His will. In other words, by surrendering ourselves to obeying the first of the two Great Commandments [cf Matthew 22:36-40] and put God first in our mind and heart, to seek to serve Him in love through every word, thought, deed and action of our own, making them His own, offering them to Him. Only then can we truly hope to serve i.e. love others, when we first truly love God.

Developing a prayer life…

The Church recognizes many different kinds of prayer, which can be grouped together under three general categories: vocal prayer, mental prayer, and contemplative prayer.

Vocal prayer consists in reciting, either out loud or to oneself, the words of previously composed prayers, and aligning one’s thoughts and desires to their meanings.

Mental prayer combines personal reflection on a text from the Bible or from some other spiritual work with words of one’s own, spoken to God in a heart-to-heart conversation. Mental prayer is also commonly known as Christian meditation.

Contemplative prayer brings the soul into more direct contact with God, often without words or ideas; it is the prayer of being in the presence of God, loving him and knowing you are loved by him.

Prayer has as its ultimate goal to praise God and to receive his grace, to deepen our personal communion with God and strengthen the Church. The time we spend in prayer should awaken in our hearts attitudes of adoration, wonder, gratitude, petition, and contrition.

How to Pray…

We learn to pray by praying. The single most important factor in our life of prayer is our decision to make prayer an integral part of our life. If God matters to me, I will make time for prayer. If he doesn’t, I won’t.

Prayer, conversation with God, should accompany us throughout our entire day. We should invite God to be a part of all our joys and sorrows, our struggles and concerns, our projects and decisions. He is a loving Father who longs to be “let in” to his children’s lives.

Nevertheless, the hectic pace of life requires us to set aside some time to be alone with God. We need to “tune in” to him frequently each day, so that our activities don’t end up crowding him out, so that we recognize his action in our daily lives, and so we never impede the grace that he wants to give others through us.

To maintain a healthy prayer life, and therefore a healthy relationship with God, experience has shown the following prayer commitments to be helpful:

– Starting the day with a morning offering

– Ending the day with a brief prayerful reflection on how the day went

– Dedicating 10-15 minutes each day to mental prayer

– Praying the Angelus

– Praying a decade of the rosary sometime during the day

– Regular confession (every month or every two weeks)

– Going to Mass during the week in addition to Sundays

– Praying before meals

– Visiting Christ in the Eucharist

No prayer book, however, can pray for you. God will never force his way into our lives; what kind of friend would? Each one of us has to decide, every day, how much God matters to us, and pray accordingly.