The men who are considering entering seminary, along with the seminarians who are currently in studies for the priesthood, are all asking the same basic questions: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” “Do you want me to be a priest?” The asking of these questions is the basis for what is called “discernment,” the discovering of God’s will for a man’s life. Discernment is for anyone seeking to do what God wants, and it begins by listening.
God, in His great love, always speaks to us. God wants us to know Him and be close to Him. God wants to tell us the vocation He created us for. One would think that a man praying about priesthood would readily hear God’s voice telling him to go to the seminary. The vast majority of us, though, don’t hear God’s voice unless we really take the time to listen in the stillness and quietness of prayer. Psalm 46 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” This is important for men discerning priesthood, as it is difficult to hear God speaking due to all the distractions and noise around them, especially from electronics. Discerning requires turning off the computer, radio, television, cell phone and all other distractions, then listening to the silence.
To find a quiet place to listen in prayer and to turn off distractions is a great start to discerning priesthood. From that point, a man is now able to spend time with the Lord and grow in friendship with Jesus. Building a relationship with Jesus is helped with the assistance of a spiritual director, who teaches a man to listen to the voice of Jesus over all the other noise and voices around him. A spiritual director is able to point out passages of Scripture that are helpful for the man to spend time with in prayer, and is able to help get the man back on track whenever his prayer is weak. A director helps the man discern in quiet prayer and in friendship with Jesus to learn the Father’s will for his life. In addition to a director, we also encourage a man to attend various discernment retreats where he is able to be around priests, seminarians and other men like himself who are asking the question, “Lord, what do you want me to do?”
Discernment for priesthood takes several years, and nothing is ever rushed. When a man is serious about being a priest, he now makes visits to seminaries to test the fit of seminary life. If, after a significant time, he feels called and has the qualities necessary for priesthood, he then meets with Bishop William Patrick Callahan and the Seminary Admissions Board of the diocese. They help him discern if this call to the priesthood is authentic. Discernment then moves to the wider church, helping the man hear God’s will for his life. The seminary formation staff are constantly evaluating if the man has the qualities necessary to be a priest and share their discernment with the bishop and vocation director.
Discernment for priesthood is a long process that requires a man to make himself vulnerable in prayer before the Lord, helped by his spiritual director. Discernment requires he be open and transparent in truth before his formators, bishop and vocation director. Most of all, discernment means a man must listen as God speaks in the quiet stillness of prayer.
Father Alan Wierzba, Director of Vocations