A few days ago, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, we heard the story of the Annunciation of the birth of Jesus. As I prayed with this story from the Gospel of Luke (1:26-38), I recognized that this reading really exemplifies the discernment process. Let me share with you how I see this Gospel reading mirroring the key steps in discernment.
Be open to God
We know that Mary received her calling with openness. Who are God’s messengers in your life who help you to be open and responsive to God’s call?
When we are open to God, we may find that God is closer to us than perhaps we imagined. For example, Frederick Buechner wrote that “the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Your desire and God’s desire for you may converge as you listen to how God is calling you.
As we strive to be open to God, we may find that “what we are carrying will make something leap for joy inside the other and that reaction will help draw the Magnificat out of us, and, like Mary, we will want to stay with that other for mutual support,” which Fr. Ron Rolheiser notes in his article, The Visitation Revisited. What then is the message that God is asking you individually to carry out to others that will make something leap for joy in the other and simultaneously bring out your Magnificat?
Pray with the idea and examine your relationship with God
Luke writes that Mary pondered what was being asked of her. Mary was aware of her deepest desire of loving God, yet she prayerfully pondered her gifts and talents, her strengths and weaknesses, her fears and dreams, her values and goals. She pondered and prayed as she discerned the path to follow.
What is God asking of you at this time? How does your prayer life take into account your daily life experiences and bring you closer to God?
Prayer is the key to any discernment process – and prayer works. At the beginning of my own discernment journey, I was very restless. I felt God nudging me, but I didn’t know how to respond. Or was I restless because of the fear of the unknown? Or nwas it because I wanted to cling to things? But the more I prayed about God’s call, the more peaceful I felt. And from that peace came joy, and I realized that living out God’s call brought out my best self. Whenever we are able to give God our worries and are able to be attentive to God’s presence in our lives, we, too, find ourselves rejoicing in God.
In the “Nativity Story” movie, we hear Mary voicing her worries about Joseph: “How is he going to believe this?” Elizabeth responds: “We will pray for guidance.” Are you able to talk to God about your concerns? Are you able to rely on God’s guidance? Reflect on God’s presence in your life. Mary and Elizabeth found reasons to rejoice even in the times of challenges. Make a list how/where you experience God’s presence and God’s grace in your life.
Talk to someone you trust
Mary talked to Elizabeth. Both Mary and Elizabeth were asked to carry out God’s plan: Mary conceived a child before being married, and Elizabeth was bearing a child at an older age. Mary and Elizabeth supported one another as they fulfilled God’s plan.
Becoming a religious Sister is not what most people do. You may have a similar question to what Mary asked, “How could this be?” or you may ponder, “What am I supposed to do?” or “How am I supposed to tell my friends and family?”
We all face difficult decision-making questions – whether it’s about a degree you wish to pursue, or about the call we sense from God about living out God’s love. Our first human reaction might be like Mary’s –questioning and fear. It is normal to have these feelings. But what is most important is that we feel grounded in our faith, like Mary, so that we can ask God our questions. We can also talk with our spiritual directors, our vocation mentors, or our best friend to ask for their feedback on what they see and hear in our story. Although Mary went to help Elizabeth, she also had several conversations with her. Elizabeth, being more “seasoned,” was there for Mary, showing her compassion, patience and offering her peace, or a sense of calmness. You, too, may want to talk to someone you trust so that you can receive feedback and support as you discern God’s call.
Seek information and insights
Mary asked, “How could this be?” (Luke 1:34) I, too, was ready to serve, but I had so many questions. Even in the novitiate, I kept saying: “I have a question…” The novices and directors kept smiling, saying: “Just ask it.” So, yes, I encourage you that whenever you pray about God’s call, be sure to ask your questions as you keep taking steps toward a deeper clarity about what God is calling you to.
It is important that you gather information and insights. Here are some questions that may help you in this step:
- What am I discerning?
- In what part of my life do I long for clarity and direction?
- What question(s) do I have?
- Am I open to God to show me how to proceed?
- When looking at different congregations, what values do I hold dear?
- What is the religious community’s charism?
- What does their prayer life look like?
- What mission do they serve?
You can find some answers to frequently asked questions on our webpage, or you can ask your own questions here. Pay attention to how you feel about the information and insights that you learn in consultation with others.
Make a decision and take action
Both Mary and Elizabeth used their faith in God to respond to God’s call. They made a decision to accept God’s plan for them and their actions led to others receiving many blessings. Also, the joy of the Visitation probably served as a source of energy for them in carrying out their missions. We, too, can turn our challenges into blessings and joys. With faith in God and with Mary’s companionship, we can find courage to face our fears and the unknown, and we can find strength even to rejoice. Give it a try. Take the next step in your discernment journey.
We are all called to be Christ-bearers. How is God calling you to bear and share the Good News of Christ?
If you feel inspired to pray about or want to talk to someone about whether God is calling you to religious life, contact us.