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Perhaps you have felt an interest in, a yearning for, a calling to the diaconate.
After spending some time getting yourself to a place of openness and inner freedom you can begin a method of discerning; then choose a place of quiet in which you can “listen” to the movement of the Holy Spirit.
1. Create one focus statement.
Define very clearly and succinctly the matter you wish to discern. For example: “I will begin inquiry into the permanent diaconate.”
2. Gather relevant information.
Read about the life and service of deacons. Speak with priests or brothers. Speak with as many deacons as you can find. Ask them about their lives and their vocation stories.
3. Use your imagination.
Imagine yourself as a deacon. Imagine yourself in ministry, serving the poor or teaching the faith or attending at the altar. Notice how you respond on an affective level. Does it feel like it fits? Stay with it for a few days or weeks imagining yourself as a deacon. Then after some time, imagine your life remaining as a lay person, working in the Church in other capacities.
4. Stay open to all possibilities.
Is there any possibility you have not yet considered, given your talents, background, experience, and interests, other pursuits? Brainstorm and notice the ideas that come up.
5. Pay attention to what God is saying throughout each step of the process.
Is God speaking through other people, through the Scriptures, through events in my life? Keep a journal to record your daily experiences, over time you will begin to see that themes or ideas recur.
6. Look at both sides of the issue in a prayerful context.
List the pros and cons of your decisions. Start by listing the cons. What are the disadvantages of you becoming a permanent deacon? Spend a few days continuing the cons list. Notice what you experience internally as you consider them. Pray with them.
After some time passes, a few days or weeks, start to list all of the advantages for dedicating your life in this way. What are the pros of making this choice? Again, take note of your experience; give yourself several days to ponder and to add to your list.
Throughout the process keep checking in with your heart. Where do you experience peace? Real life? Hints of joy? Possibility? Energy? Hope? Stay with the experience where you felt the most consolation. In all of this process a good spiritual director can be invaluable; a trusted guide with whom you can process your feeling, thoughts, and insights.
7. Come to a tentative decision.
Talk to your spiritual director about your experiences of exploring the pros and cons. Through this consultation and prayer, come to a tentative decision. For a few weeks, or a suitable period of time, test the decision where you felt the most peace by living with it.
As you live as though you had definitely gone with your decision, observe what you experience. Confirmation comes with the experience of peace. If there are serious reservations and disturbance, then an alternate decision needs to be explored.
Part of the confirmation of your decision should be that things fall into place. You get accepted into the program of your choice, you receive encouragement from unexpected sources, your excitement and enthusiasm over a diaconal vocation is heightened. The opposite experience would be a sign to reconsider your decision.
If the confirmation period affirms that your decisions is spiritually healthy, then do not look back. There may be some initial panic or fear when you realize what lies before you, but this is a normal reaction and not an indication that the discernment was poor.
Adapted from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, nn. 328-336.
Thanks also to the Vocations Office and Fr. Jeff Eirvin.
Lord, my God and my loving Father, you have made me to know you, to love you, to serve you, and thereby to find and to fulfill my deepest longings. I know that you are in all things, and that every path can lead to you.
But of them all, there is one path especially by which you want me to come to you. Since I will do what you want of me, I pray you, send your Holy Spirit to me: into my mind, to show me what you want of me; into my heart, to give me the determination to do it, and to do it with all my love, with all my mind, and with all of my strength right to the end. Jesus, I trust in you. Amen.