In most Catholic communities, “discernment” is a buzz word. Normally when I hear this word, my mind automatically connects it with another word: vocation. To be honest, this word used to frighten me. Every time I would hear the word at Mass or at another gathering, anxiety would soon follow. The following thoughts would stream through my mind: “They’re not talking to me, they can’t possibly be talking to me. Just relax, they’re not singling you out. Deep breaths, you don’t need to panic. Just trust.” Looking back this reaction is kind of amusing, but at the time, I grew to despise the words “discernment” and “vocation.”
Every so often today I still revert back to the old fears, but for the most part, I am now able to hear these two words and to use them in conversation. It took a lot of therapy, but I’m now fully rehabilitated from the trauma.
My point in bringing up this topic is not actually to talk about religious vocations. Hear me out….
In Mark 7, the Lord exhorts us to cultivate a spirit of discernment in our lives. In the beginning of this chapter, Jesus reprimands the Pharisees for being consumed with following human precepts over the divine.
The message about discernment here is specifically focused on discerning the difference between human and divine precepts. Jesus says to the Pharisees, “You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” The Lord is not criticizing the dedication of the Pharisees, but rather, their exclusive focus on the laws and human traditions. It’s almost as if they have stopped discerning the voice of God. They have stopped listening to what God wants because they think they already have it figured out.
Part of my “rehabilitation” with regards to the word discernment had to do with learning that the word “discernment “is not solely linked to the words “religious vocation.” Discernment is an important and essential aspect of the Christian life. No matter our calling in life, we each need to learn to listen more closely to the voice of the Lord and to decide what He is calling us to do.
In the spiritual life there needs to be a constant discernment of whether we are doing what the Lord wants us to do or whether we are following what we want to do (because, like the Pharisees, we might think we have God figured out). To be fair, what God wants and what we want are not always in opposition to one another. The deeper we go with the Lord, the more the two come together. However, in our human weakness we are prone thinking that we have it all figured out. We can never escape that initial sin in the Garden, when Adam and Eve grasped at what they wanted.
The call of the Gospels is essentially a call to a deeper relationship with the Lord. Our lives are a process of constant discernment and constant listening. The more fully we submit to the Lord’s will, trusting that He wants all that is good for us, the more deeply we are able to discern where we are being led in life. It is in the silence that we can hear the small still voice of the Lord directing us to along the path to eternal joy and fulfillment!
May God be praised!