If a vocation is a “calling” from God, then we must attune ourselves to His Voice so that we can hear His call.
Prayer is how we primarily listen to the Lord’s Voice. Oftentimes we know we should pray, but don’t know how or how to even get started. Please “click” on the link to the page which will show you how to start a regular prayer life. If you don’t know how to pray, don’t worry. The Lord longs to be with you in prayer and will help you. He has already helped us through His Church by showing us the primary ingredients to a life of prayer. The first is liturgical prayer. Liturgical prayer is the public prayer of the Church, the greatest expression of which is Holy Mass. All of the Sacraments, like Confession, are liturgical prayer. Other examples of liturgical prayer are the Liturgy of the Hours, sometimes called the “Divine Office” and Eucharistic Adoration. We also need to develop habits of personal prayer, especially meditation (e.g. lectio divina). Prayer which honors Our Blessed Lady is indispensable for finding your vocation. The Church and the saints for centuries have strongly recommended the prayer of the Rosary.
Attuning ourselves to the Voice of the Lord also means becoming aware of the obstacles to hearing His Voice. Sin and noise are the two major obstacles which get in the way of hearing His Voice.
Sin is perhaps the most obvious obstacle because sin means turning away from Him. Thus sin can never be seen as just the breaking of rules. Sin harms and can even destroy our relationship with the God who created us, hung on the Cross for us, and who is calling us to our mission. In discernment, sin is like mud that gets in our spiritual eyes and ears making us blind and deaf to the Lord.
To answer God’s call in life we must be free, and being free to say “Yes” entails being freed from our sins. We are not born free nor can we become free on our own. Only Jesus can free us. Freedom from sins is accomplished primarily through the Sacrament of Confession. You will never know your vocation and be able to respond generously and freely to God without receiving the Sacrament of Confession regularly. It is strongly recommended that during discernment you should go to confession at least every two weeks and never less often than once a month. Not only does this great Sacrament forgive sin but it also pours sanctifying grace into your soul. This sanctifying grace is Jesus’ own divine life. Being saturated with sanctifying grace will go a long way in discovering your vocation.
A very good exercise during discernment is a General Confession. Making a General Confession can greatly aid the acceptance of forgiveness and allowing Jesus to help us put the past to rest. This practice is especially recommended by one of the Church’s greatest spiritual directors, St. Francis de Sales, and is entirely distinct from “general absolution”. A General Confession is a spiritual exercise in which one goes through his entire life and confesses every sin he can remember. The purpose is not to re-forgive those sins or beat oneself up about them. (Once a sin is forgiven it is always forgiven.) Rather the exercise helps one to let go of the past and to trust Jesus even more deeply. It usually takes about an hour and so it is advisable to set up an appointment with one’s confessor in advance.
After we have allowed Him to free us from mortal or serious sins, then we have the ongoing work of dealing with venial sins and our attachments to sin. Attachments to sin are those desires to sin even if we don’t follow through on the evil act. It’s wishing you could get away with it. St. Francis de Sales likens attachment to sin as the Israelites in the desert who sometimes longed for the life of Egypt (especially the melons and “flesh pots”, that is, decent food) even though it was the place of their slavery. Those attachments, even if they don’t spawn sin, keep us back spiritually. Those things though seemingly small, keep us from being totally attached to Jesus and His beautiful will.
Noise is another obvious obstacle. We live in a world of noise. Often when we come to discern we are already immersed in noise: habits of watching a lot of television, idle conversations with others, video or computer games, listening to music all the time, etc. Rarely do we have silence (exterior or interior) in our day. In fact when we are silent we can start to get fidgety or even begin to freak out. St. Ignatius of Loyola, the spiritual master of discernment, said “It’s true that the voice of God, having once fully penetrated the heart, becomes strong as the tempest and loud as the thunder, but before reaching the heart it is as weak as a light breath which scarcely agitates the air. It shrinks from noise, and is silent amid agitation.” Therefore, if you want to know your vocation, begin to develop habits of silence. The first way to develop silence is to limit our time on television, video and computer games, the Internet, and using music as incessant background noise. I think a good rule of thumb is that one should not spend more than two hours a day total on those activities. The only way to do this is TURN IT OFF. Those things are not evil in themselves, but without using them with the virtue of moderation, they create spiritual static in our hearts and dull our spiritual sensitivity. The second way to develop silence is to develop habits of quiet prayer, reading (especially the works of our spiritual tradition), and just thinking and pondering.