In the process of discernment we can become aware of four voices,and learning to distinguish them from one another helps tremendously in discernment.
The four voices are the Lord’s, our own, the world’s, and the devil’s. By attuning ourselves to the Lord’s we can begin to tell these other voices from each other, which is why steps 1-5 are important. Those steps attune us to the Voice of the Lord. It is not always easy to tell these voices apart from one another, therefore discernment requires time, patience, struggle and perseverance. Confusion, frustration and sometimes even outright rebellion can be part of the discernment process. Nevertheless Jesus tells us, “Be not afraid. I am here.” His love can conquer everything, and if we open ourselves to the power of His grace, we will come to find our vocation. Jesus’ desire to tell us is infinitely greater than our desire to know. We only need confidence in Him.
THE VOICE OF THE LORD
The Lord’s Voice is that which is communicating His constant and unfailing love to us. We hear His Voice in His Divine Revelation, both in Holy Scripture and in Holy Tradition, and in the Magisterium of His Church. We hear His Voice urging us to do good in our actions, to trust in Him, to sacrifice out of love. Discouragement and confusion are never the Voice of Jesus even when we sin. His voice always communicates confidence and hope in Him. His Voice is always saying, “I love you no matter what.” His Voice is also challenging because He is always calling us to a deeper conversion to Him.
With regard to your vocation, you can be sure that He is calling you, as a man, to the vocation of marriage, the priesthood or consecrated life (religious life or consecrated virginity in the world). His Voice is never deceptive, nor does He play games. Therefore, you can be confident that to whichever vocation He calls you, He will also give you the graces to accomplish it and the desire to do it. Sometimes we are tempted to think that Jesus will call us to a life that we do not want or cannot accomplish. This is not the Voice of Jesus. Within His call lies all the graces and desires to live that vocation.
THE VOICE OF ONESELF
Our own voice is expressed in the deep down desires of our heart. Part of growing up is becoming aware of who we are and what are the deep desires of our heart. Hopefully as a young man you have a desire to be heroic, a desire to change the world, a desire to love and serve the Lord Jesus with all that you are. However, it is not always so easy. Sometimes our deepest desires are in conflict. Our own sinfulness, that part of ourselves that is still under the dominion of satan can clamor loudly. Sometimes our voice is in conflict with the Voice of the Lord. Sometimes the conflict can lie in choosing between two good things: “I want to be a priest, and I want to be married.” Our voice always stands in need of more conversion.
Your truest self are those desires which have been placed there by Jesus and are in harmony with the desires that Jesus has for you. One way to become attune to your own voice is to become aware of what you think about when your mind is free. When you have a moment to yourself, what do you think about? Is there something that comes to mind often or even constantly? That is a beginning indication of your own voice. After becoming aware of what you think about during the day, ask Jesus and yourself, “Why do I think about those things? What is the motivation behind those things?”
THE VOICE OF THE WORLD
The voice of the world is a voice that is under the dominion of the devil, and thus could be considered an extension of the voice of satan. The voice of the world calls us to put our trust in the things of this world: prestige, money, fame, relationships, to be a famous rock star, to become important, to get a big house, expensive car, money-making career. It is the voice we hear in advertising, on TV shows, and in much of the music on the radio. The “noise” that is mentioned above is part of the voice of the world. This voice tempts us to forget about Heaven, our salvation and the Lord’s call in our life. It tries to drown out the Voice of Jesus and His love.
THE VOICE OF THE DEVIL
The voice of the devil is that voice that is always trying to lead us away from Jesus and to remain slave to him. His voice always tells us to doubt the Lord’s goodness and not to trust in Him. It is the voice that says that “I know better than He does.” It is the voice that tells us to say “No” to Jesus. The most obvious example of the voice of the devil is the temptation to sin, but he can be very cunning, and as St. Paul says can appear as an angel of light. If the devil cannot get us to listen to sin, he then will try to get us to choose something good, but which is not the good that Jesus wants for us. In other words, the devil’s voice can try to make us choose a lesser good over the greater good that Jesus has for us. Always remember that the devil is a liar and a murderer and can be very cunning. In the discernment process it can be confusing to figure out whose voice is whose. Sometimes there is so much confusion in the heart because we have not yet been able to distinguish the Lord’s voice from one’s own or the devil’s.
Great progress is made in finding your vocation when you can begin to distinguish these four voices with regard to the vocational choice. By turning away from and ruling out the voices of the world and the devil, greater clarity and less confusion are gained. One is ready to make the free choice of the specific vocation when the Voice of the Lord sounds the one vocation and your own voice echoes the same vocation.
I would say that for the most part, we cannot distinguish these voices very well without the help of a spiritual director. You may find that a regular confessor (going to the same priest every time you make your confession) can also help you distinguish the voices. A spiritual director is one (usually a priest) who is familiar with the spiritual life and who also leads a life of conversion and prayer in his vocation. By finding a spiritual director and meeting regularly with him, you can go a long way in recognizing and distinguishing the four voices so that you can choose whatever the Lord’s Voice is saying to you.