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Discernment groups are an excellent idea: they remind us lay people that we have a vocation too

Let’s hope they put an end to Shine Jesus Shine and X Factor-style retreats

By on Thursday, 3 May 2012

Participants at an Invocation weekend at St Mary's College, Oscott (Photo: Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)

Participants at an Invocation weekend at St Mary's College, Oscott (Photo: Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)

I recently heard about a weekend retreat where young Catholics watched the Jack Nicholson film The Bucket List and were then encouraged to make a list of 10 things they wanted to do before they die. The life ambitions announced to each other included “a candlelit bath with my lover” and “visiting a fortune teller”.

Although I’ve tried to repress most of it, at 25 I still know all the actions to Shine Jesus Shine, and I still associate REM’s pop ballad Everybody Hurts with night prayer at Lourdes during a pilgrimage in my teens. I sometimes grow nervous after Communion, in case a teenage girl will enthusiastically sign an entire hymn, despite the fact that no one in the congregation is deaf.

There is a propensity to regard the teachers and youth workers who champion such methods of prayer and catechesis as sinister but in my experience most were well meaning, however misguided.

But it is excellent news, in principle at least, that the National Office for Vocation is executing a three-year vocations framework to improve discernment for the young. However, its worth will depend on it contents and the approach of the individuals guiding vocations, who have a difficult task ahead of them.

For young people who are used to retreats of the aforementioned ilk, explaining to them that Newman’s prayer – that we all have “some definite service” – in fact does not mean “you’ve got the X Factor”, may seem a heartless or old-fashioned approach.

The irony is, however, that a serious approach to discernment provides profound recognition of each individual’s worth and dignity. I think Catholics often feel that unless they are called to the priesthood, describing medicine or teaching or motherhood as their “vocation” betrays delusions of grandeur. As well as forming new priests and nuns, this initiative will also help to remind lay men and women that each one of them has a specific calling.

I was once told by a woman that I did not understand “women who had a vocation”, and that’s why I was so heartless as not to support the ordination of women priestesses.

However, if the concept of vocation is widened and celebrated perhaps we can even convince hostile secularists that all men and women have a vocation in the eyes of the Church and secular obsession with priestly vocations alone is, dare I say it, narrow-minded.

  • buckingham88

    God has created me to do Him some definite service.He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.I have my mission-I may never know it in this life,but I shall be told it in the next.
    I am a link in a chain,a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good I shall do His word.Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman.
    The problem with vocation is that if you fail to discern it properly you may end up being totally unhappy with your lot.The Church needs to guide people into a proper discernment of all choices,including the role of laity in the real world and how they may cooperate with religious in praying with Christ ‘Thy kingdom come’. This piece is a breath of fresh air C. T.

  • MJCarroll

    Discernment is not easy if you are Catholic.

    Both the trads and liberals have ‘shut out’ the Holy Spirit from the Catholic Church mainly because the perception is that the works of the Holy Spirit have been hijacked by the ‘happy clappy’ charismatic renewal crowd which they do not like. However, it is time to get back to some basic Catholic reality here and realise that faithful orthodox Catholics i.e. all those faithfully following Church teaching (not just the charismatics) have also always been able to use the various gifts of the Holy Spirit and discern effectively.

    It is a lib/trad error that only charismatics brigade have these gifts and it is this error that is choking the Catholic church and makes it near impossible for well meaning Catholics to move on and discern what they are supposed to be doing.

    The Gospel goes so far and then Christ sent the Holy Spirit to guide the whole of the Catholic Church. When He is shut out no wonder we have Catholics in the pews with their heads in their hands wondering what to do.

    Oh yes, and one final thing. Do not expect answer to discernment (or any prayer) if you are not living the Gospel, because it is not going to happen.

  • MJCarroll

    I should have also said that another problem is that -

    After many Christians have become able to see what God wants, they are often not willing to do it.

  • Bart_0117

    I do not know what “trad” churches you are talking about but many trads I know are very acutely in touch with the “Holy Spirit” in their spirituality, not to mention their great understanding of the scriptures.

  • Uche abarikwu

    I often wonder what you mean by trad/librals. To the best of my knowledge there is only one way of being a Catholic and that is by following the teaching of the church handed down by the apostles through to the teaching of the magisteruim and the revelation of the scripture. When we start making division of who is a trad, liberal and charismatic I think we would be missing what discernment is all about. Is either you are a Catholic or you are not

  • Adam

    It worries me somewhat that Catholic youth listed two things which are sinful:  “a candlelit bath with my lover” and “visiting a fortune teller”. The former should be husband or wife, otherwise it’s sinful and the latter is a sin whatever way you have it.

  • MJCarroll

    Greetings Uche,

    You are absolutely right. There is only one way of being Catholic. I do not know if you have been keeping an eye on the Catholic blogosphere lately with Voris et. al. but UK Catholic Churches are filled with Catholics who have not received any real Church teaching for 50 years. This was a consequence of the misinterpretations of Vatican II and the subsequent CBCEW National Pastoral Counsel which set out the Catholic faith in this country for future generations. This counsel decided overwhelmingly on a liberal stance.

    If you notice I have used the words ‘faith orthodox Catholic’. This is now the term used to denote one’s self as a Catholic who follows Catholic teaching. It has really come in to use over the past three years.

    You see, the distinction has to be made is that liberals are liberals, but when you start to get in to conversations with the so called traditionalists you soon find that in fact that they are really not following Church teaching and that they are still (for instance) having sex out side of marriage, not using natural family planning and using contraception within marriage. Of course, there are many sins and despite what I am saying I as bigger sinner as the next person. However, not having sex out side of marriage, using natural family planning instead of using contraception within marriage are a big barometer of whether someone is a ‘faithful orthodox Catholic’.

    There is a move by many Catholic commentators in Britain and especially America to get back to real Catholicism and I guess that the ‘faithful orthodox’ name is being used to demonstrate exactly what needs to now be strived for in the Catholic Church.

    Everyone and their dog has a go at the liberals, but if you want to know why I have had a go at the ‘traditionals’ then it is because these people (who proclaim to be the real Catholics) saw the Catholic Church falling apart in America and Britain and failed to do anything about it.

    It is good to see faithful orthodoxy rising in the Catholic Church once again.

  • MJCarroll

    If you notice I have used the words ‘faith orthodox Catholic’. This
    is now the term used to denote one’s self as a Catholic who follows
    Catholic teaching. It has really come in to use over the past three
    years.

    You see, the distinction has to be made because at the end of the day liberals are liberals, but when you start to get in to conversations with the so called traditionalists you soon find that many in fact are not really following Church teaching and that they are still (for instance) having sex out side of marriage, not using natural family planning and using contraception within marriage.

    Of course, there are many sins and despite what I am saying I am as big a sinner as the next person. However, not having sex out side of marriage, using natural family planning instead of using contraception within marriage are a big barometer of whether someone is a ‘faithful orthodox Catholic’.

    As you probably know there is a move by many Catholic commentators in Britain and America to get back to real Catholicism and I guess that the ‘faithful orthodox’ name is being used to demonstrate exactly what needs to be strived for in the Catholic Church.

  • JabbaPapa

    There’s a lot to agree with in what you say.

  • JabbaPapa

    This time however — spot on !!! :-)

  • Bob Hayes

    A good article – thank you. Two days after we celebrated the St Joseph the Worker it is apt that we consider all the ways in which our lives may reflect the Word and the teachings of Jesus Christ.

  • Adiutricem

    Hmm.. this will never do in America. First, the word “vocations” implies constant work. It sounds too exhausting. Why not change it to “little tasks that can be done in 30 seconds.” I would be willing to bet we in America might even sustain a TweetforJesus hashtag for an hour or two on Twitter. As long as we can play Skyrim at the same time that is.

  • Uche abarikwu

    speaking in tongue is not the totality of the gifts of the holy Spirit. there are other aspects of it which includes discernment, long suffering etc so denying any aspect of it is equally wrong. in as much as speaking in tongues and prophecy is a gift of the holy spirit, it will also be good if we appreciate the fact that of all the gifts, this two can easily be faked and bring confusion in the house of God if it is not well handled and discerned. no wonder St Paul cautioned the early church concerning this two gifts, in fact he made it clear to them that of all the gift, the gift of tongue is the least of all.
    finally I will like to add that in all these there is the human frailty and compulsion which makes us fall into sin and go against the teaching of Christ and his Church. I hate to make division, at least not in the Church of Christ, but no matter where you belong, one can still fall into the sins we have enumerated above because we are still flesh. the sacrament of reconciliation is there for us as long as we are not justifying our sinful actions. 

  • MJCarroll

    I am not really interested in getting in to a discussion about speaking in tongues.

    However, I do want to follow up this point that you say:

    “finally I will like to add that in all these there is the human frailty
    and compulsion which makes us fall into sin and go against the teaching
    of Christ and his Church…..the sacrament of reconciliation is there for us….”.

    You are absolutely correct in what you say but it does not go far enough. This is exactly the liberal ‘half message’ comments that has been pushed on Catholics for 50 years. Yes we are all sinners and yes we can go to confession and be forgiven. However, what they (the bishops and priests) are not saying is that we can actually fight sin and become more converted toward God.

    In other words do not just rely on confession. Why not try and become more Christ like by fighting sin in between confessions.

    I have real issues with Bishop Conry who basically said that confession was basically pointless for some people. However, I hate to say it but he did actually have a point. What he actually said was that there is often never any conversion to wards God between confession and no conversion of heart. As Benedict told us when he came to Britain – all Catholics are called to be saints (not just the few). Yes, confession will help in your steps to salvation but, WE actually have to do something ourselves to become more Christ/saint like. We do this by embracing all aspects of Catholicism including the spiritual. We have to renew our minds daily and as St Paul said train our minds. He certainly did not rest on his laurels.

    “…I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.”

  • Jeff

    I’ve followed this blog and I have no problem agreeing with what was said. However, I do notice that nobody mentions ‘love’. Until we realize that love is the be all of our religion, we’ll be missing the point. I am as Catholic as anyone out there, warts and all, but if you had to follow the teachings of the greatest mystics and saints it’s all about love, else all our efforts are rendered simply religious .., useless. Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not a hippie or new age devotee and the love I’m referring to has nothing to do with their ersatz feel-happy-now brand of love. I’m simply pointing to what Jesus Himself responded when asked about the greatest commandment. No one is saying it’s easy, but it’s love that defines our relationship to Christ, and unless our religion is conceived and lived out in love it is pointless.

  • Lindi

    I think what is not clear is that the Love is sacrificial – not just a vague , fuzzy feeling of bonhomie.  That is the central argument regarding the Mass. Is it a table meal , a get together of fellowship or are we connected in a mysterious way to Christ’s sacrifice at Calvary ? The Last Supper and Calvary are linked at Mass and I think that is not taught strongly enough in modern times.

  • Sister Marianne

    Discernment is necessary at all stages in life – God is always calling us to reflect something new of himself to the world. It is hard to discern the vocation to Religous Life as it is likely that there will be few of your peers on the same track as a youngster. I know when I was discerning it was never even mentioned in school or the parish. It is good for us to highlight all vocations just so people know and are then able to be open to what God may be asking of them.