Discerning vocations

Q: Should I discern a vocation?

A: By vocation you either mean something you have already been called to or something you are being called to in the future. As a married man, for example, it’s important for me to discern my vocation to marriage i.e. to see the consolations, difficulties, rewards and pains of marriage as willed by God. As a teacher, it’s important for me to discern the same things as willed by God in my teaching.

Q: But what about your future vocation? If I’m a single guy, should I try to discern a vocation to some other state?

A: Why do you think you should?

Q: Because God has a plan for everyone’s life, and by discernment I should be able to figure it out.

A: God has a plan for your life but much of it is indiscernible. Providence acts through both your own free choices and sheerly fortuitous and chance events, and none of these can be discerned by us in advance. The role of chance is not an accidental or insignificant past of providence either: it is hard not to see God acting more significantly in fortune and strokes of luck than in most things that happen according to our plans.

Q: But shouldn’t we strive to know God’s will? What possible christianity could there be without this?

A: We should strive to know God’s will so far as we can know it, and we can’t know what it is years in advance before we are in a position to decide things one way or another. Your desire for discernment is more a desire for prophetic knowledge than for prudence, i.e. the virtue that acts well in the face of uncertainty. The desire for prophetic clarity is, in fact, a sort of vice against prudence so far as it has an immoderate aversion to the intrinsic uncertainty of life.

Q: What is the point of all this discernment I’ve been told to do?

A: Much of it is probably just temptation. As soon as the devil sees you advancing in the spiritual life he will pester you to come up with answers to insoluble questions and try to convince you the answers are relevant to your relationship with God. The point is to generate anxiety and rob you of the joy of the Holy Spirit. It’s the same tactic he uses when he causes scruples.

%d bloggers like this: