When the first disciples of Jesus asked where he was going, he invited them: “Come and see.” On the weekend of February 14-16, 2016, the Capuchin Franciscans in Denver extend that same invitation to young men discerning their vocation.
Why is it so important to go on a discernment retreat? As a vocation director, one of the biggest mistakes I see discerning young men making is trying to discern in a vacuum. Often these men have been “discerning” for many years, but they have never visited a diocese or religious community. It is impossible to discern an experience which one has never had. In order to truly discern, a person must have some matter for discernment, some concrete experience to take to prayer and spiritual direction.
A second mistake many young men make is automatically assuming that they are called to marriage. While it is true that the majority of people are called to the vocation of marriage, this does not absolve us from truly wrestling with the will of God for our lives. Very often, there is not a felt attraction to the religious life. Ask any young man who is a priest or religious, however, and you will learn that the feelings came and went. They were transitory. God’s will for our lives goes beyond feelings. It is natural to feel “called” to marriage because dating is, so often, fraught with strong emotional experiences. Young men can mistake these strong emotions, and the lackthereof in a call to religious life, as a genuine indicator of God’s will for their lives. But they would be mistaken.
The word discernment comes from the Latin discernere, which means “to separate.” Authentic discernment requires taking concrete steps to experience different possible vocations – different religious communities, dating different women, etc. – and then separating out those which are clearly not for us.
The bottom line is this: we need a variety of experiences for an authentic discernment, experiences which are not necessarily reliant upon strong emotional experiences. If you are serious about coming to know God’s will for your life, be courageous. Get out of your comfort zone and get a wide variety of different experiences. Then, you will truly have something to discern!