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How to Discern Your Vocation


In honor of Vocation Awareness Week, Sr. Mara Grace, O.P., Vocations director for the Nashville Dominican Sisters, chats with Father Dave about vocational discernment. 

Sr. Mara Grace begins by explaining what a vocation is. “The word vocation can bring anxiety to people. But vocation is simply the Lord’s calling to lay down our life in a particular way. It’s the stable form of living. There are some main stable forms in the Church — we’re talking about marriage, priesthood, religious life, and consecrated life as a vocation. These are ways in which the Lord invites a person to give themselves in love. This week is focusing primarily on vocations to priesthood and religious life, but of course we’re also praying for good, holy marriages, which are so important in that building of the Church.”

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Father Dave asks for Sr. Mara Grace’s insight on discernment. “In discernment, there can be this scary thought that people will be stuck once they visit a convent or seminary. But no, the goal of it is to help figure out whether or not this is somewhere where they’re going to flourish and be happy. Half of my job is just hosting retreats here and inviting women to come and live our life of faith with us and see if this is somewhere where they can become a saint.”

Sr. Mara shares some tips on discernment and seeking clarity, “I think number one is a great love for the Lord. Some people think everybody who prays must be called and that’s not true. We need very prayerful married couples as well. But prayer would definitely be a constant among those who are discerning. Then, I would say if the Lord is calling, he’s consistent. So it’s something that keeps coming back. God will bring it up in different ways, so I think that that’s a good test of time… Also, I think just a desire to do the Lord’s will is pretty consistent in people who are discerning a vocation.”

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“I have noticed there is a growing trend of openness to religious vocations which wasn’t there when I was discerning. I think that’s positive because it’s less scary to look into [religious life] when you realize you’re not the only one thinking about it. That willingness just to seek out and maybe visit a community, from there, the Lord will help steer…  I think some people are afraid to look into it until they know for sure this is where God is calling, but you can’t know until you at least see and experience the life for yourself. I see this trend working with young women. There’s this fear that if I go in this direction, I could get it wrong. But that’s not how the Lord works. Even if religious life isn’t for someone, God will use that as part of the process. It’s all part of that process of becoming a saint.”

“We think we’re going to be judged on whether or not we found our vocation. I think the goal is love and that’s that’s the goal of life. So if, in discernment, there’s that fear and anxiety of figuring it all out. That’s usually not from the Lord. That’s when we’ve tried to grasp instead of receive. I see grasping as a big trend. It is beautiful to want to do the Lord’s will, don’t get me wrong. But that’s something that’s received as an invitation.”

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Father Dave and Christina have a follow-up discussion on discernment. Christina shares that she discerned religious life in her early 20s and has always found religious life attractive, but ultimately felt called to marriage. Father Dave asks her to describe how that works. “I think it’s kind of the same thing in dating.” Christina responds. “You could find someone attractive, but not be called to be with them. Similarly, I can find being a sister or a nun attractive, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m called to that. So you have to go deeper. Ask yourself, why am I attracted to this and what does it mean? There is beauty in every vocation, so it is easy to find them all attractive. But it is up to you to discern where you are going to be sanctified the most. That really is what vocation is.”

“Even now that I’m engaged, I see a lot of my faults and failures — things that I wasn’t able to see when I was single — and we’re not even married yet. I realize how selfish or how impatient I can be, and it’s because I’m with this other person who I see virtue in, and his virtue makes me feel like I need to work on this myself. If you’re called to religious life, community brings out those aspects of your personality that need work as well. And it’s difficult to see those things when you’re single or living on your own. You might not really be exposed to those faults as much because you’re not rubbing up against other people who are making you uncomfortable. Vocation really challenges you to be accountable and to work on yourself. I really believe that whatever vocation God calls you to, that is where he is going to sanctify you the most. It is going to put you on the path to being the person you were called to be. So, that’s really what we need to discern: Is this vocation marriage or religious life where I am going to become the best version of myself?”

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Christina points out that that vocational discernment is very difficult if you are not carving out the time for it. “It doesn’t mean you need to go visit convents or monasteries every day or, but it means you need to pray. You cannot figure out what God is asking you to do if you don’t ask and try to listen. The word peace is thrown around a lot in vocational discernment, which can be kind of annoying. What does that even mean to have peace? But I do think it is true. The more time you spend discerning and in prayer, there will be more of a tug in one direction, and eventually it becomes easier to walk in that direction. It might not be this perfect peace where you feel perfectly fulfilled, but you’ll at least know, this is where I’m headed, and I feel like I am taking the right step.” (Original Air 11-09-21)