Recognising that it can often be tricky to discern a vocation to the Cistercian life, we offer here some resources which we hope can help with this process:
BACF Articles on Vocation
Discernment Tools and Models
Reflections in Church Teaching
BACF Articles on Vocation
Gathering our Thoughts on Vocation – Where do we start?
How, where and when does ‘vocation’ happen? What is it, in any case? Why should I feel any necessity to identify vocation in my life? Generally, when we speak of ‘vocation’ as such we are speaking about a call to a way of life which is definitive for us; which expresses…
The Search for Self
One of the fascinating aspects of the examination of the idea of vocation in Sacred Scripture – the writings which are contained in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible – is that it is almost emblematic of the stories which we read there. The entirety of Sacred Scripture, in some way…
Running Away – Jonah
There is one more story for us to consider in this initial overview of vocation accounts. One of the shortest books in Sacred Scripture it has become one of the most memorable, both in its own right and because Christ himself mentions it in a rather disparaging comment on the people of his…
Vocation – One with Christ
There is only one Christ in whom dwells the fullness of the Godhead and indeed the fullness of humanity. Christ is the complete summation of all vocations because he lives the perfect relationship with the Father in the Holy Spirit, and the Father’s relationship with Christ in the Spirit is complete…
Vocation – One with the Church
From the very beginning of her existence the Church has always sought to identify, with joy, the specific services which brothers and sisters give, for building up the Church herself and for preaching the Good New, witnessing to Jesus Christ, in the world. Of course, this is the fundamental expression…
Vocation – Where Do I Fit In?
Odd as it may seem, some of the most beautiful and useful texts for discerning vocation, and seeing where it is I fit into the Church’s life with regards to choosing and living vocation, can be found in the official legislation of the Church, contained primarily in the Code of Canon Law…
Vocation – Two Becoming One
If we haven’t already said it then perhaps we need to be explicit about it now: every vocation is about love. About a search for love; about how to give myself in love; about how to be open enough to receive another in love; about how to let another’s love transform…
Vocation – Called to the Consecrated Life?
The consecrated life. The religious life. The life of the vows. The life of the evangelical counsels. The cloistered life. What is this “other” way of living in the Church as a full expression of one’s baptism which is not married, single, or clerical? It seems that there has always…
One of the most challenging aspects of religious vocation today in the Church is to view the area around sexuality as it is expressed in virginity, celibacy, continence and chastity as a positive choice in life and for life. Very few external supports exist in our societies today which help…
Discernment Tools and Models
How Do I Discern Vocation?
For those who take seriously the reality that God calls us into his service, and that he has had a plan for each of us since before existence was, wrapped up in the mystery of his love, how to discern – how to follow the steps which will lead me to take full possession of that call – is one of life’s most important processes!
Discernment is almost as personal as vocation itself, because it is always about how I listen to what God says to me. In that sense, no two of us will journey in discernment following the same path and steps. That said, it is essential that I be able to outline for myself some basics which will help frame my sense of vocation, to identify what is rumbling deep in my gut, and give it a name. This is not about gaining the right qualifications to access an employment pathway, although that is a critical aspect of all our lives. Vocation tells me about who I am, and not just what I should do. From that point of view it needs time, prayer, someone to listen to me, and an awareness that I have a desire to give myself to God in a specific way.
Below we would like to offer one of the best discernment models which seems to be available. It is detailed, considered, and aims to be deeply personal, as well as resonating in one’s faith context. It is framed in the style of questions which ask to be considered and then answered. The questions, by and large, are open questions, and so, coming from reflection on my own experience, are neither right nor wrong – they are, when received honestly and approached with integrity, simply about me and my journey.
The model is taken from the site of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the full page can be found by clicking here: DISCERNMENT TOOLS
Availability and Openness
- Am I open-hearted to whatever God is calling me?
- Am I disposed and free to respond to that call?
- Do I sense a degree of potential satisfaction, hope, or joy when I consider religious life?
- If it is God’s will, do I trust that it can be fulfilled?
- Is my primary motivation of a spiritual nature, such as serving and loving God and God’s people?
- Would I experience adequate happiness and fulfillment?
- Do I have reasonably good health, emotional stability, social ease, and spiritual-centeredness?
- In a more specific way, there is a rather practical spiritual discernment process which can be a tool or guide to help us determine what God is calling us to. This discernment process combines reflection, prayer, dialogue, and Scripture.
How Does One Begin Discernment?
One way to prepare for discernment is to make a time line of your life story, from your birth to the present day. Reflect upon the following:
Significant Persons in My Life
- Who have been the people in my life?
- What has my relationship been to them?
- How have they influenced me positively and negatively?
- Who has had the most impact on me?
- Reflect on your experience of family
- What have I learned?
- What do I value?
- What do I want to let go of?
- What schools?
- Did I like, dislike, favourite memories, activities, friends, significant events, people?
- What did I learn of life that I want to keep? What gets in the way?
Social and Sexual Development
- What do I enjoy doing with others?
- What do I do just because it’s in?
- What do I find relaxing and renewing?
- Who have I dated, what circumstances?
- What has been my relationship to men?
- What has been my relationship to women?
- Review your sexual history.
- From whom did you first learn about sex?
- What have been your experiences as a child, teen, young adult, now?
- What impact have various relationships had on you?
- Jobs held, how long, where, colleges, preparation for positions, responsibility, initiative.
- What did you learn and what skills did you acquire in each job or preparation process?
- What’s your earliest recollection of God?
- Who taught you about God?
- Who has had the greatest influence in faith development?
- How was church, faith, God in your family?
- What practices do you do to care for your faith life?
- Where did you learn about these practices?
- Who is God in your life?
- Name your experiences of the Divine in your life.
- How did that feel, what impact did these have?
- How do you see God in the everyday circumstances of your life?
- How do you nurture this relationship?
- When did you first think of religious life?
- What has been the pattern in this?
- Why religious life? What about marriage? Or single life?
While this framework may seem long, don’t let it daunt you! It is meant to be taken very slowly, and perhaps also in a forum in which you are accompanied by someone who has experience in vocation discernment, or priestly or religious life. Perhaps it might be used as a guide to your “vocation autobiography” – how helpful it often is to write down our reflections and allow our thoughts to be articulated in that way.
Remember that above all our vocation discernment – whether it is beginning or ongoing – should always happen in the midst of our prayer. The Holy Spirit, after all, is the giver of gifts, and vocation is always a gift, supremely made and received in love, by God to us and, by our living, hopefully, by us back to God through our brothers and sisters in service.
Reflections in Church Teaching
Sometimes the amount of material available to us when we want to investigate the notion of vocation can be bewildering, and a great deal of it next to useless, especially if we are trawling links and sites online. To begin to narrow down the search we would like to offer for your prayerful consideration and reading a few important links and tools, with which you could begin to build a selection of resources.
Probably foremost among the reflections which are given to us by the Church are the messages written by the Pope for each year’s Vocation Sunday. Traditionally – at least for the past 50 years or so – this day of prayer and reflection has been kept on the 4th Sunday in Eastertide, often called “Good Shepherd Sunday”. The Gospel on that day, from John 10, allows us to listen to Jesus’ own teaching on that title as he applies it to himself. The Jews will have been very familiar with the notion of shepherds being appointed by God to guide their people – and all too familiar with the reality of bad shepherds who, in the past, had taken advantage of the very people whom they were supposed to guide safely into pastures. Thus, both the prophet Jeremiah (chapter 23) and the prophet Ezekiel (in chapter 34) have little time for such leaders. Saint Augustine of Hippo masterfully deals with these texts in his own Sermon on the Pastors.
The purpose of Good Shepherd Sunday – Vocation Sunday – is precisely to ask God to awaken in the hearts of his faithful a sense of the call to service after Christ’s example. More broadly than simply vocation to the priesthood, we reflect on that day on vocation to the religious life also, and that dimension of cleaving to Christ above all else.
We offer, for your own consideration, the following link to the messages of Pope Benedict XVI for Vocation Sunday. They are, by and large, short texts which can lead to longer reflection. You might almost treat them as a piece of lectio divina, reading in the same way, slowly and waiting for a word or phrase to strike you, addressed as it will be specifically to you, and then, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, ask how that text reads you in your own situation. This is particularly useful if you consider that God always has something to say to you about your vocation, and wishes that you discover a desire within you to find and follow a call which is personal, made by him to you.
To discuss a possible call to live the Cistercian monastic life, you can contact Fr Aelred Magee OCSO at email@example.com or in writing. You can also contact him via our website.
-Bethlehem Abbey Cistercian Family-