The Latest Catholic Fashion Trend: Discernment


Photo Credit: ©Kyley Drach

Since discernment became fashionable, no one has made a decision since  – the late Fr. Bob Bedard, CC

Since I’m a young Catholic man who takes his faith seriously, ever since I became Catholic (a story for another time), people have thrown the words “discernment” and “vocation” to me quite often. We’ve been told to discern God’s will for us, His vocation for us.

This is where the problem lies in most young adult Catholics

It’s not that we don’t know the beauty of each vocation but we’ve been conditioned to believe that before we do anything, we must discern. This isn’t a false idea, but we’ve taken it to a point where we’re discerning about discerning. It is plaguing our generation and preventing us from truly following God’s will for our lives. We’re so worried about not following God’s will, that we have to think about deciding, to think about deciding to do something.

It’s a spirit of passivity disguised as “discernment”.

Actively passive.

I work for NET Ministries of Canada as the Recruiter, along with my co-recruiter Emma Fradd. Our job is to recruit and assist the young adults who want to do missionary work with NET through the application process. My job is to help young adults discern God’s calling for them to give a year of their life to evangelizing youth all across Canada. I talk to a lot of people and one of the most common things I hear from people who are hesitant about applying to NET is, “I think NET is something that I want to do but I think I need to discern about applying”. GAHHHH!!!

Young Catholic adults are missing the point about discerning (I know because I am one!). In this particular case, they’re discerning about applying to NET when the real discernment happens with ACTUALLY applying to NET. As an applicant you don’t even know if NET is actually going to accept you or not, so how can you properly discern a path when you haven’t even taken the first step? It’s the same of discerning Priesthood or Religious Life: the actual discernment happens once you’re in the seminary (or convent). It’s no surprise that there is a decline of vocation to the Priesthood in Canada, and we have an increase of priests from overseas (God bless them for saying yes to His will!) leading our congregations.


Yes. Yes you are being passive.

For the vocation of marriage, dating is supposed to be the discernment process but how many of us Catholics take such a long time to discern about dating someone (I plead guilty) that our end goal becomes dating and not marriage? If you’re dating someone, marriage should never be a “possibility” it should be definite. It should be the pinnacle of the journey that the couple takes when they start dating. The finish line to the dating “race” that leads to the marathon of marriage.

So what should we do?

We need to be more bold. There’s a difference between being rash and being bold. I don’t mean that we should be spontaneously taking every opportunity presented to us at face value. We need to discern if the action that we want to take is truly God’s will, but be bold enough to know when to take action.

We also need to place our trust in Christ. We need to trust that if we take a path that is not what God wanted for us, He will (because He IS omnipotent) redirect us back to His will.

A priest that I know once told me that discernment doesn’t start when you take the first step on a path but when you take the second step. It is at that moment when God will allow us to keep going or turn us around to lead us on to His path.

Do you feel a calling to the Priesthood so you have been discerning about entering the seminary for years? ENTER THE SEMINARY. Is He calling you to Religious Life and so you’ve been spending 3 nights a week volunteering at the soup kitchen that the Missionaries of Charity work at just to see what it’d be like to be a Sister? GO TO A CONVENT. Have you felt called to marriage and so you’ve been discerning about dating Suzy down the street, who you’ve pictured walking down the aisle towards you for the last 4 years? DATE HER. Is the desire to do mission work tugging at your heart so you’ve been looking on the NET Canada (or insert any other Catholic missionary organizations here) website and following every Instagram, Facebook and Twitter update? APPLY TO NET (or of course other organizations such as CCO, Scarboro Missions or Crossroads).

Friends, let us be bold enough to take action, prudent enough to make the right decision, and trusting enough to know that Christ can do all things.

P.S. If you discern about listening to what I said or not, I will flip a table.

Table Flip


39 thoughts on “The Latest Catholic Fashion Trend: Discernment

  1. Pingback: The Unchanging Goodness | Verso L'alto
  2. Hey John! This is great! I was actually just talking about this with a religious sister recently. I might be interested in sharing this on Imagine Sisters, maybe we could be in touch? For me too, I came across this at the perfect moment. Blessings!

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  4. this is exactly what i needed to hear – i’m like the person you described who spends all her time with sister trying to figure out if she should maybe be a sister. thanks for letting the holy spirit work through you!!

  5. This article reads like it was written solely for people who would agree with its presuppositions. In other words, it’s “preaching to the converted.”

    • I guess so! My article presupposes many things:
      First, that they understand the concept of discernment from a Catholic stand point.
      Second, that they have been discerning for a long time, to the point where it is excessive and that they have not made any further actions toward one way or another even though there is nothing holding them from taking the next step.

      Someone who doesn’t understand discernment from the Catholic perspective won’t see this perpetual discernment as a problem. They’d have to agree with the premise of discernment of God’s will. Plus we need to talk to the converted! Pope Benedict encouraged us to with the New Evangelization: It is the re-evangelization of the baptized. There’s nothing wrong with “preaching to the converted”. Unless you mean something different by that.

  6. This is great! Thank you!
    But I think I want to add something: (most of the times) our vocation is born within what we do!!
    Again, most of the times, it is the recognition of the path on which God has put us on.

    Discernment is the act of recognizing it (the ability to give it a name, a face, a place) and not a well-structured vocational plan, something like: spend 3 weeks in a Dominican monastery and then three in a Franciscan house and finally three more in a Benedictine abbey and during the breaks date here and there a nice gal… and finally discern your own vocation

  7. John, very well written and a great exhortation to youth! As a student at Franciscan University, I know just how abused that term is; as a student in the Priestly Discernment Program, I know just how incredible that word is.

    My one issue: discernment is indeed a step-by-step process, but it’s not a step-by-leap one. Those men who are discerning priesthood ought to take a handful of steps before lunging out at Holy Orders. Those men and women who are either dating or “discerning to date,”* ought to do so by taking the necessary steps. When a man asks a woman out on a date, it shouldn’t be a big deal– let alone a life commitment and expectation for marriage… immediately. Dating is its own process and marriage a subsequent one. In your life and for those to whom you may advise on different topics, overstressing the activity of discernment is also a perversion of discernment. Our current laziness and passivity is murderous to an authentic relationship with the Spirit; the difference is that it leaves plenty of room for the Spirit to move, while a spontaneous and underthought rush pushes Him out. I know you agree, but in this article you seem to lean too far liberally. ‘All things in Moderation’ – Aquinas.

    I whole-heartedly encourage you to spur on your brothers and sisters into actively discerning, into seizing the day (Carpe diem!), and into openly pursuing God’s will. I myself don’t have everything together, far from it; but what I do know is that discernment is a journey and God has been guiding you your whole life. Discernment is about posing questions and letting God answer them.
    1) Who am I? – this is a most profound and vital question. God will work with whom you are, not whom you think you ought to be. If you’re caught in sin, He wants to work with you there; if you’re the Cure of Ars, He wants to work with you there.
    2) Where am I going? – knowing where you want to go helps you be docile to where God wants you to go.
    3) Where am I coming from? – knowing where God has brought you from will show you the straight path He has set for you.
    4) What does God want from me today? – the essence of sanctity

    * FUS is undergoing a sort of dating crisis/upheaval/chaos due to a new thing called NoFearNovember, so its a touchy subject.

    • I can see where you read him this way, but I’m pretty sure those to whom he’s speaking (the choir, as noted above) know those questions and, if anything, allow them to gnaw and send them in a spiral further and further into themselves. Perhaps at a place like FU NoFearNovember is a good idea. But then again, YOLO should have been a reminder of our mortality instead of a rejection of it. Maybe memes aren’t the best way to grow in holiness. 😉

  8. This was very good and I wish I had come across this during my discernment process; it woulda been easier! But now happily married with baby #4 on the way, I can testify to God turning you around when you listen.

    God is the perfect father. And what fallen father doesn’t turn his toddler around the other way when he starts to wander off?

  9. Pingback: The Latest Catholic Fashion Trend: Discernment | Motley Musings
  10. Loved the piece!! And yes, I totally agree. I’m a first-year seminarian with the Companions of the Cross and took the step of joining the seminary after about a decade of thinking about it (I can just see you shaking your head in disapproval).

    • Hahaha no way man! You must have discerned a lot if it’s been 10 years. Congrats for taking the next step in your discernment for the priesthood! I will pray for you!

  11. I hadn’t thought of it this way before. Thank you for the insight. The only annoying thing is that the applications to seminaries here in Ireland can take 3 years! It probably makes sense that we have so little priests.

  12. Excellent article John! As a religious myself, I definitely fell into this seemingly perpetual discernment. I eventually realized that if I didn’t at least try religious life while still in my 20s, I probably never would have. I’m so glad I finally took the plunge to enter the monastery, and I couldn’t be happier!

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  15. Holy moly yes!!! Thanks for this. So glad someone has written a blog about this and is getting the word out. Love it!!

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  17. Entering the seminary is easy in our country but we have not been spared by this drought in vocations/generosity/boldness. I don’t know about you but entering the seminary with a chance that I won’t eventually become a priest is scary!

    I’m not sure if this is true also in other places but here we have a grave sense of shame that applies even to discernment just as we would be ashamed when we get rejected in a job or a school that we applied for or not getting regularized in our first job. Just imagine that feeling when we recall the fact that only 10% of seminarians become priests. Don’t we see it as some kind of a sickness or a lack of generosity, of rampant promiscuity/immorality or even as a support to the claim of some that celibacy is outdated! Being called an ex-seminarian is not far from being called an ex-convict.

    I am ashamed probably of what others would think of me or what I would think of myself. The judgement of someone, even erroneous ones, tend to affect those of the others until your entire reputation is destroyed and so is your future. (Here I can’t hep but imagine Jean Valjean.) Of course I do realize that the stakes are higher when discerning one’s vocation – my ultimate happiness and those of many others depend on it – but I wish we are more entitled to discretion. Family, friends and even classmates and co-workers seem to be nosy-er these days.

    This is probably just one of the reasons why we put a lot of emphasis on discerning every decision. If only we can see beyond this world every moment of our (miserable) lives… Dear Mother, turn your eyes of mercy to us and show us the fruit of your womb!

  18. Pingback: The art of discernment part 1 | The Art of Discernment
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  20. I just got accepted to serve with NET (USA) next year and the seminary rejected me last year! There really is a problem with people Indifferently stagnating their lives in the name of “waiting for the call”, though. Great article. God bless you. Please pray for my (active) discernment!

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  22. Excellent article. Cardinal Goerge Pell, the Prefect for the Secretariat for the Economy in the Vatican said that there are many peope who belong to a Religious Order who have “OPD” after their name. It stands for “Order of Perpetual Discerners.” St Ignatius of Loyola, who is well known for his tired and tested insights on discernment said that the process of disernment has not finished until a decision has been made.

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