Discernment - A Personal Decision

By Sami Helewa, S.J
Chaplain at Campion College, University of Regina

Discernment is a key word in the life of a pray-er. Discernment is not simply a decision making process, but proper discernment leads to a personal decision made with confidence rooted in prayer. The pre-supposition for discernment is God's involvement in our history and present time. God calls for justice and peace, hence, the subject matter of discernment is the love of neighbour that is selfless enough to praise God in all things. Having this goal of praising God, discernment is paying attention to one's desires, passions, interior movements to determine how best to praise God. 

Discernment requires the right environment. It starts with a person's desire for a personal and open commitment to God. It is an environment that allows for a flourishing relationship with God. For example, Jesus' open commitment to the Father determined everything in his life, his teaching and other aspects of his public ministry. Openness to God is not a matter of exercising piety and attending Sunday liturgies, rather an openness to God who is nothing less than love. This relationship is the experiential knowledge of God; it is to grow knowing God as opposed to knowing about God. The context of prayer is always friendship with a loving God and the role of discernment is to bring prayer to action. We live by faith, not by a clear insight, and we discern to move into the light of action and commitment. 

In addition to openness to God, the pray-er has to have a generosity of offering himself/herself to the love of neighbour. He/she is slow to judge others, and discerns in the concrete situation in the here and now. This is the first hand data. Where you are matters and that is the starting point of discernment. The pray-er is a person of courage and who is willing to take a risk of faith. Reason helps us to discern, but discernment requires ultimately a leap of faith. This faith assures us that God speaks in peace, not restlessness. The experience of gentle peace during discernment and the affirmation of personal choice is the spiritual movement of consolation that affirms one's discernment in union with God's will.

Consolation is a spiritual interior movement of peace. However, a certain precaution has to be exercised, for not all consolations are necessarily from God. The litmus test of consolation as gift from God is its goal: is it leading to praising God or to satisfying a selfish end? The evil spirit can twist the initial open generosity of the pray-er to God and the well being of neighbour, into a selfish end. This ultimately leads to desolation and absence of God's peace. Hence, when there is a consolation with cause, one has to determine if it leads to God. In other words, what leads to God essentially comes from God. There are circumstances, where consolation is without cause, and this is a free gift from God to the beloved sinner. 

The interior experience of desolation is equally a gift to the discerning person. Desolation is not a bad experience but it is unpleasant. Doubt often feeds desolation. In desolation, it is good for the pray-er to remember the grace(s) received during periods of God's consolation, and to remain faithfully open to the loving God. It is essential to ask for the grace of endurance of faith in such times. During desolation it is essential to sift personal priorities, values and to examine any personal laxity in the spiritual pursuit. Desolation has causes. At times, it is darkness the pray-er discovers for not knowing what God is labouring within his or her interior life. It is challenge of living out the spiritual gifts of hope, faith and love in the face of spiritual dryness. In desolation a pray-er feels a strong absence of God, yet God is hiddenly present. It is a period of waiting and refraining from making a decision or altering a prior major decision made in consolation. The gift of desolation could be a test of one's faith to live out a personal commitment made already in consolation. Many saints had grown through desolation and they gained spiritual strength.

Discernment brings forth a spiritual benefit to every human experience; besides, there is nothing on earth that God cannot tackle and heal. In this way, discernment is living out faith that enlightens us as we labour for God's justice and peace in a troubled world. 

"How do I know God is calling me?"

by Sr. Marie Redig SSND

God Calls Each One

First of all, let it be clear that God calls each one of us.

  • People who choose to marry are answering God's call in response to each other just as truly as a person who enters consecrated life or the priesthood.
  • People who choose the single state are responding to God's call and, contrary to the opinion of some, not just waiting or hoping for a lifetime partner.
  • Those who may be wondering about a call to religious life or the priesthood might be asking "How do I know God is calling me?"


God's invitation is gentle and persistent. God is like a challenging and growing friend. God's first call is only the beginning of what can grow into a deep and lasting relationship.

When a friend keeps arranging for a time together, you have no doubt about that friend's interest in you. When you are aware of thoughts over and over that suggest giving your life to God in a special way, that is God's invite to follow. The more frequent and persistent the thoughts are, the more you can be sure of God's part in them.


Basically and usually, God works through the principle of attraction. You may feel drawn to consecrated life in one way while someone else experiences the pull in a totally different way. God uses many avenues to attract, but you respond according to your unique personality and gifts. One person finds the lifestyle of community very inviting. Another finds delight in meeting and knowing people who live the religious life and wishes to model on them. Someone else becomes absorbed in the ideals and purpose of a group through a study of its founder(ess), special work and charism for the church. Still another independently desires to give of self to God more fully in serving God's people. Ultimately, all of these attractions become a part of the whole in one who answers God's call.


Often there will be initial resistance to a vocation. You may be afraid or reluctant to leave behind what you know. You like what you have and feel secure in what is yours. And yet, God with persistence, gently tugs at your heart and urges you to let go until you trust enough to put your hand into God's and take the first step into the unknown.

You may feel uncertain about a vocation to consecrated life because you thoroughly enjoy friendships with the opposite sex and, perhaps, you'd like to be a parent someday. What you need to understand is that friendships with both sexes are a normal and healthy part of life and necessary for a well balanced consecrated life.

The person committed to God must have the same qualifications that make a good parent. The ideals of self-donation are basically the same but the means are different.

  • God's desire for you is always one of fulfillment, peace, and joy

  • God and the things of God's heart must be the attractions drawing your heart.

  • God invites you to communicate within a prayerful relationship, to lovingly relate with other people, to concern yourself with the poor, to give yourself in dedicated service to the church, and to have constant readiness to listen and carry on God's plan of creation as spoken in the signs of our times.

How do you know God is calling you? It happens over a period of time, gently and persistently. Your heart turns toward God and you search for what God is saying. If you listen and hear, the message comes clearer and you know.

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