Discernment is an art and it is learned by doing, not just by reading about it. It is a function of an individual’s personal relationship with the Lord. When we desire to do God’s will, are willing to be open to God and have a solid knowledge of God, then discernment is possible. Therefore, prayer is an essential component to the process of discernment. To be a truly discerning person, we need to be humble, charitable and courageous. As we become more familiar with the Lord in prayer, we will come to know that the “still, small voice” speaks in peace, never in turmoil, anxiety or restlessness.
Some practical suggestions which will help you discern God’s call are:
1) Daily Mass - To discern God’s call, you are encouraged to participate in the daily celebration of Mass so that you can grow in your relationship with the Lord through frequent reception of the Blessed Sacrament.
2) Sacrament of Reconciliation - The celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the way in which one attempts to live a more holy life, through the frequent confession of sins and reception of the merciful grace of God. Regular use of this sacrament will guide you to a deeper understanding of where your greatest struggles are in life and will provide you with God’s grace to gain mastery over those weaknesses. Perhaps begin by receiving the sacrament monthly. Many of the holiest people of our time went to weekly confession, including Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa.
3) Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament - The body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ are substantially present in Holy Eucharist. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is a powerful way to grow in love with the Eucharistic Lord and to grow in the spiritual life. Many churches now have regular times each week when the Holy Eucharist is exposed in a monstrance, but even if you cannot find or attend exposition, you can still pray before the tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament is kept. Bring a rosary, a favored book of prayers and/or a book about Adoration, such as one of the books in the Praying in the Presence of Our Lord series by Fr. Benedict Groeschel.
4) Daily Prayer - This is time set aside for God alone, usually in a quiet place at a specific time each day. This prayer time might consist of talking to the Lord in one’s own words, or praying the Sacred Scriptures, especially the Gospels. Developing a daily habit and pattern of prayer will help one to hear more clearly the call of the Lord. Consider praying Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer from the “Divine Office,” which is a set of prayers said each day by priests and religious across the world. Compact forms of the “Divine Office” are provided in the book Shorter Christian Prayer or in the monthly magazine Magnificat. The books Prayer Primer: Igniting a Fire Within and Seeking Spiritual Direction: How to Grow the Divine Within by Fr. Thomas Dubay are wonderful guides for deepening one’s prayer life.
5) Devotion to the Blessed Mother - Pray the rosary daily, or at least pray some Hail Marys. Seeking the powerful intercession of the Blessed Mother is especially recommended in the discernment process.
6) Get Involved - In Matthew Chapter 25, our Lord welcomes into paradise those that have put their faith into action by helping people in need (the hungry, homeless, etc). Get involved in some form of service with the Church. There are many ways to get involved including outreach to the poor (e.g. St. Vincent De Paul Society), helping with Parish School Religion (PSR) programs & youth groups, lectoring at Mass and visiting the sick or elderly. These are all ways to get a taste of “ministry” and may increase your desire for ministry and service.
7) Read Good Books - Learn more about God, your faith, your Church, and how to grow in holiness by reading good books. Obviously, the most important book is the Bible. Get a good Catholic translation of the Bible such as the Revised Standard Version Ignatius Bible and begin with the Gospels. The Navarre Bible and the new Ignatius Study Bible are versions published book by book with extensive notes and commentaries that help us understand Christ’s teaching. After the Holy Bible, the next critical book is The Catechism of the Catholic Church. This is the primary source for official Church teaching on just about every issue you will face in your day to day life. Finally, read works written by great saints. The more you get to know them from their own words, the more “real” they will become to you. You will realize that your struggles are not very different from their struggles. Some good ones to begin with include John Paul II’s Gift and Mystery: On the Fiftieth Anniversary of My Priestly Ordination, St. Augustine’s Confessions, St. Francis De Sales’ Philothea: Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Teresa of Avila’s The Way of Perfection, and The Life of Teresa of Avila, St. Alphonsus Ligouri’s The Duties and Dignity of the Priest and The Passion and Death of Jesus Christ and finally, St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s Story of a Soul.
Click here for a listing recommended reading
8) Spiritual Direction - Speaking with a priest (or qualified person) who is trained in spiritual direction about one’s prayer life and seeking advice from this person on a regular basis can be very helpful as one discerns their vocation. Be very selective in whom you approach for spiritual direction. Pray fervently to the Holy Spirit to guide you to the best director possible and find out as much as you can about the spiritual maturity of potential directors. Seek someone who is deeply prayerful, loves the Church, loves their own vocation and has a mature understanding of the struggles involved in moving closer to God.
9) Discernment Programs - Attend discernment retreats at seminaries or other discernment events hosted by your diocesan vocations office. Visit seminaries and meet the priests and other seminarians. These are valuable activities that will give greater clarity to God’s call. A list of these events can be found under the Retreats/Events menu item on this website.
10) Vocation Director - In order to obtain further information about seminary and priestly life, contact the Vocation Director for your diocese. Regular meetings/discussions with the director may also help you uncover God’s will for your life. In the diocese of Sioux City, contact Father Brad Pelzel at (712) 233-7522, or
(adapted from USCCB Fishers of Men, 2005)