Discerning your Vocation

Some definite purpose

Image of the Annunciation from the Seminary ChapelGod has a purpose for each one of us. We are all called, whether we know it or not, to share in the mission of his church in the world in a particular way. This is what we mean by ‘vocation’ or ‘calling’. As Blessed John Henry Newman put it “God has created me to do Him some definite service.”

‘Discernment’ is the task of trying to understand what God wants of us, in order to do it. It is a life-long task, as we try to determine God’s will for us in every individual moment of our lives. The way to discern our unique vocation is prayer – and specifically prayer that listens attentively to God. Being attentive to God’s Word means spending time with the scriptures and sharing in the liturgical and sacramental life of the church.

All of this applies to everyone, whatever they think their calling might be. If, however, you think you might be called to a specific ministry as a Priest, Deacon or Religious in the Church then the best way to explore this is to spend time with those already living this vocation, and talk to them about it. Your diocese will have a Vocations Director who will be able to give you further guidance, and there may well be a group of other ‘enquirers’ who meet from time to time in the diocese. There are also vocations events organised at a national level.

The Formal Discernment Process

Discernment is not merely an individual task; it is also the task of the church, and specifically the bishop to discern who God is calling to ordained ministries in the local church.

A formal selection process is followed to ensure as far as possible that the right decision is made about each candidate and each candidate is treated fairly.

Students are admitted to the college upon the request of a bishop to whom a candidate has made his application. Applicants must be at least 18 years old, though the average is nearer 25. Dioceses who regularly send students to St John’s generally make use of the annual Selection Conference that is held at the Seminary in the spring, and is intended to advise the diocesan bishops of the suitability or otherwise of those who apply to them for pre-ordination training. 

The selection process will normally be initiated by the Diocesan Vocations Director, who is the first person prospective applicants should approach. Each candidate is required to complete application forms and provide a number of references together with a full medical report. He is also required to undergo a full psychological assessment.

During the Selection Conference, which lasts two full days, each candidate is interviewed by a priest member of staff, a layman and a laywoman who each cover a specific area of the candidate’s life: faith, practice and pastoral involvement; family life and relationships; intellectual capacity and academic achievement. The candidates also take part in a small group discussion facilitated by the Seminary students and observed by a consultant psychiatrist.

The selectors then meet together with the Rector (who acts as chairman of the Selection Conference) to discuss the candidates individually, and to make recommendations to the respective bishops. It is then up to the bishop concerned to accept or reject this recommendation, and to decide where to send each student for training. As the bishop is ultimately responsible for the decision he would normally interview the candidate himself at some stage, and he may invite other clergy and lay people to participate in this interview, in addition to the interviews held during the selection conference at the seminary.

The discernment process continues throughout a student’s period of seminary formation, as this longer period of sustained reflection on priesthood and the qualities required should give the student or his bishop a clearer understanding of whether his vocation is to priesthood or something else.

Shadow of the Rood Screen in the Seminary ChapelIn all stages of the discernment process, from initial exploration to ordination, and indeed beyond, attentive prayerfulness and a desire to say ‘not my will, but yours’ are the most crucial elements.

Ask our Lord what he has in mind for you! Ask him for the generosity to say “yes!” Do not be afraid to give yourself totally to Jesus. He will give you the grace you need to fulfil your vocation. – Pope Benedict XVI

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