The Two Halves of Discernment

The term “discernment” comes from the word meaning “to sift.”  It involves sifting through the different voices that call to us, in order to listen to God’s voice.  It also means sifting through our own thoughts, feelings, desires, and motivations to discover where God is leading us.  Discernment isn’t simply a thought exercise, though!  It is first and foremost about seeking not an answer, but a Person, the One who is the Answer.  Discernment requires a relationship with God that is watered constantly through prayer.  That prayer then leads us to take steps to respond to what the Lord is inviting us to.  Prayer naturally leads to action, then--and that action leads back to prayer.  A good discernment will always have both of these elements.

What is prayer?

Prayer is the lifeblood of a relationship with God. The Catechism speaks of prayer as fundamentally an encounter. In prayer, we encounter the God who seeks us out first and always takes the first step toward us, the God who “tirelessly calls each person,” and who “thirsts that we may thirst for Him” (2567, 2560). Discernment is impossible without a prayer life in which I encounter the God who knows me and loves me. The more we learn to receive from the Lord in prayer, the more our hearts will be changed so that we begin to desire what He desires. Then discernment becomes less about  finding out what God wants me to do, and more about discovering who I am. Once I discover who I am and learn to draw my identity more and more from the Lord, then the mission He has for my life becomes clear.

How do I pray?

Since prayer is fundamentally a relationship with God, it will look different for everyone. What is important in discernment, though, is to pray in a way that is truly relational--a way that allows me to bring my heart to the Lord and receive from His Heart. Even when I am using formal prayers (like the Lord’s Prayer or the Rosary), the goal should be to allow that prayer to draw me into relationship.

Styles of prayer

Below, you'll find some examples of ways you can pray. This isn't an exhaustive list of styles but you should be able to find something to get you started. Don't be afraid to tweak or combine prayer styles (i.e. praying lectio divina with the readings before Mass, etc.)

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A diligent discernment must involve prayer, but it cannot stop there. The more we grow in intimacy with God in prayer, the more we will begin to feel the desire to do something to respond to the grace God is giving us. We have to take active steps to allow God to confirm the direction we feel He’s leading us in… or to lead us in a different direction. One of those steps is learning about the different vocations you may be called to: you’ll find that information on the men’s and women’s pages of this site. Below are several other important ways to put your discernment into action.


Every Christian vocation is a call to serve. We are each called from our baptism to give ourselves away in love, to learn to live for others, not for ourselves. St. John puts it this way: “The way we came to know love was that he [Jesus] laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 Jn 3:16). Thus, when we are discerning our vocation, it’s important to find some way to serve. A liturgical ministry like lectoring or being an altar server can be an obvious choice for someone discerning priesthood or religious life, but there is also a great need for catechists and volunteers to work with youth. Ministries in our Diocese that serve the homeless (like Mobile Loaves and Fishes or Feed My People) are always looking for more volunteers. Visiting the elderly and homebound is another way to bring the compassion of Christ to those on the margins. Prison ministry requires a longer screening and training process, but it is so important for the inmates.  Talk to your pastor to find out what’s going on in your parish, or check out one of the links above.

Spiritual Direction

God speaks not only to the individual’s heart, but also through the community of the Church. One of the most important ways to seek clarity of God’s call in your life is to talk to someone about it. A trusted friend, someone whose faith you admire, your parish priest: all of these can help you to understand the call you are feeling and respond to the way God is calling you to serve.


A spiritual director can also be a valuable resource in discernment. Spiritual direction is a relationship of trust in which the director helps the directee to notice, understand, and respond to what God is doing in his or her life. The spiritual director is not a counselor, a mentor, a life coach, or one who tells you what to do. His or her job is to listen to what is happening in your prayer and your sense of how God is active in your life, and to help you to see where God is at work. Spiritual direction will only be helpful for those who are committed to daily prayer. The director may be a priest or religious, but there are many trained laypeople in our Diocese who serve as directors as well. For help in finding a spiritual director, contact Fr. Jonathan.

Borromeo House

A Discernment House for Men

Dive into Community

God has saved us not merely as individuals, but by making us members of the Church, the Body of Christ. That means that we discover the meaning of our lives in relationship with others. Few things are more important in discernment than healthy friendships. Our friends teach us how to love and remind us of who we are. No one can walk the Christian life alone, so it is essential to seek out friends who will encourage, support, and challenge us to grow in holiness. If you don’t have good Catholic friends, ask God to help you find some! Check out a youth or young adult event at your parish. You can also check out this list of young adult ministries throughout the diocese.

One of the advantages of attending a discernment event, besides clarity in your vocational discernment, is the opportunity to meet others who are also seeking holiness and discerning how Jesus is calling them to give their lives for others. When we talk with others who are in the same boat, so to speak, we discover we are not alone--others have similar fears and challenges. And the joy of being a disciple is amplified when we share the journey with others.