With so many communities to choose from how do I know the one to which I am being called?
Vocational decisions are made through a process called discernment. Vocational discernment applies to all walks of life including marriage and dedicated single life. So what does it really mean to "discern your vocation?" I like to think of it as PLOTting your future. Let me explain.
P is for Prayer. Prayer must be the basis for all the decisions in every life no matter what the vocation to which you are called. This prayer includes participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, seeking direction through private prayer with Jesus, and using the Sacrament of Penance as well as reading and praying the Scriptures.
L is for Listen. When you pray, you must listen to what God has to say. Don't just ask God and then pay no attention to what He has to say. When someone asks you a question, you expect him to be attentive to your response. So does God and He does respond. Our Lord speaks in your heart but He also speaks through others. Having a personal spiritual director who can help you to reflect on what God is telling you is of invaluable assistance.
O is for Openness. Be open to what you hear God telling you. Docility is a necessary quality for anyone who seeks God's will, who wishes to develop a relationship with another, and who wants to seek perfection on the path to eternal life. God speaks in many ways but it is all wasted if you are not open to what you hear.
T is for Trust. Trust that what you have heard is from God. God has a plan for you and that plan includes fulfillment and happiness. Trust so that you will be able to act in accordance with God's will.
This PLOTting must continue throughout your life, but in vocational discernment you would like to have some assurance that what you are doing is God's will. You really want insurance for your vocational choice. God does offer this to you. This assurance comes in marriage, priesthood, and consecrated life because there is a mutual discernment between you and others, namely, your potential spouse, diocese, or congregation. Let's call this insurance AAFFLAC. (Not to be confused with any commercial insurance company.)
AA is for Awareness and Attraction. As in any situation you must know your options and be aware that a decision must be made. In this awareness you will find that there is a personal attraction to one or the other vocation, congregation, or, in the case of marriage, to one particular person. This attraction leads you to seek out more specific information and to build a relationship with a particular vocation, community, or person.
FF is for Familiarity and Formation. In discernment for marriage, familiarity grows through dating, engagement, and marriage preparation. In the priesthood, this familiarity grows in the seminary and in consecrated life it grows in the postulancy, novitiate, and a period of temporary vows. All of these are periods of formation for deepening your relationship with God and with community members, with other seminarians and priests or with your future spouse.
L is for Love. This process of growth at some point develops into a relationship of love, love of the other person, the congregation, or the priesthood. You become aware of exactly how you fit into this life. Love of God and love of the Church are assumed and necessary for all vocations.
A is for Acceptance. Your personal acceptance of this life is not the only acceptance necessary in vocational discernment. You must be accepted by your potential spouse, congregation, or bishop. If your personal acceptance and theirs are not both present, then that is a sign that this is either not your vocation or it is not the proper person to marry, congregation to join, or diocese in which to minister.
C is for Commitment. When all of these steps have taken place and you are truly at peace in your heart, it is time for the big "C" : Commitment, Holy Matrimony, Holy Orders, the profession of vows or consecration completes this period of vocational discernment. Without permanent commitment, all of these labors are incomplete. Each different commitment ensures the grace of God which helps you to live the life to the full all of your days. It brings fulfillment and happiness, And more importantly it brings holiness, the path to eternal life with God.
So be not afraid to PLOT your life and use AAFFLAC to assure that you are making the right decision Place your life in God's hands. He is the only insurance you have.