In June of 2003 I went on my first discernment retreat, a getaway to consider whether God might be calling me to the priesthood. I had only been a Catholic for two months at that point, and like anyone discerning, I wanted a “sign” that I was at least on the right track. I knew that the Holy Spirit alighted on our Lord in the form of a dove, and so while out for a walk, I wanted that sign, I prayed and prayed, and yet no dove. As I was nearing the end of my walk, a seagull came down and landed in my vicinity and I just took that as a sign, thinking to myself “good enough”. This little anecdote is a true story, and I don’t share it to make light of the seriousness of what Jesus’ message to us today must be. I couldn’t articulate it then, and certainly if I hadn’t moved past it by the time I was seriously discerning my vocation two years later, I hope that my Vocation Director would have challenged me – but as we consider living as Disciples of Christ, and most especially discerning our vocation we must realize that the signs are before us and with us. We ought not go look for other things. We must be honest with ourselves.
I challenge any of the men I work with when they imply that discernment of priesthood is a sign given by God because they never met the right person. I hear them out (because there might be something significant in doing so) but I challenge this because Priesthood, Marriage, Religious Life, the Generous Single Life in Christ; none of these vocations are a “fallback plan” a sign because nothing else worked out. There are plenty of men who discern priesthood who may never have had a girlfriend or met the right person but if they are going to seriously discern they need to have a deeper sense of self-awareness, a realization that God may have been calling them to other things.
Viewing things in this way right now is also not a sign that you don’t have a vocation to a particular vocation; I would not want to imply that either. It’s simply the job of a Vocation Director, a Spiritual Director as well as others to try to guide a faithful man or woman to see beyond these earthly signs to deeper, more divine signs. We have our ways of helping people to grow in this way, to come to discover true signs the Lord has revealed already. Signs that help us live the call He has already given us.
The greatest Sign is the Lord Himself. We can never go wrong turning to Him. We must know how much we are loved by Him, created by Him, in His beautiful image and likeness, be comfortable with that person. That is the greatest sign, and if we stay close to Him and to His Church – realize that whatever is we have been put here on this earth to do, He is with us in that role, for that purpose. And we seek to do it. We ought not to wait for anything else, another task another purpose. We must be open to the Holy Spirit – the Holy Spirit that is present and active in you by way of your baptism, enlivened at your confirmation and we must realize that the Lord is calling us…you…to Come, Follow Him.