A key task for initiation ministers is that we discern. But discernment is not just a task for those of us who lead people to faith. It is something every Christian is called to do.
At the core, what we are called to do as Christians is to discern God’s will—not just for the catechumens, but for everything in our lives. If we are able to do this, our lives become more peaceful and joyful, even in the midst of hardship.
We’ve all had those moments when we felt like our lives were on track. We felt like God’s hand was on our shoulder, guiding our every step, protecting us from every fall. For many of us, those moments don’t seem to occur often enough, and we grow discouraged, wondering if either God has forgotten about us or we have forgotten how to live as God wants us to.
How discernment helps us
It’s part of the human condition that we go through these ups and downs, sometimes feeling spiritually in sync, sometimes feeling adrift. And that is one reason discernment is so important. We will always be in flux. If we are up one day, we can count on being down sometime in the future. The challenge is to always know if our plans and actions are aligned with God’s will for us. A regular practice of discernment helps us do that. Discernment might not help us feel better, but it will help us feel more confident.
Did I make the wrong decision?
When we lack confidence in our plans and actions, we risk being overtaken by fear and discouragement. Have you ever made a decision in your life that, at the time, you were certain was the correct one? But then as you began to implement the actions associated with that decision, life got difficult. Maybe you started to second guess yourself. Maybe you even started to panic that you had gone through the wrong door and couldn’t go back.
That happened to me when I moved from the Midwest to California 20 years ago. Everything up until the move seemed to confirm that this was the absolute best choice in my life at the time. When I prayed about it, I felt God’s peace and joy. But after I arrived, there were many difficulties. I struggled a lot. I really began to wonder if I had imagined all that peace and joy. I was afraid I had made a huge mistake.
Do not be afraid
A regular practice of discernment helps us manage fear like that. Significant change is almost always hard, even when the change is good. When we are right in the middle of the change, it is difficult to see the benefit. Discernment—listening for God’s will—helps kill the fear and builds up in us a patient spirit as we wait for the full outcome of God’s dream for us to be realized.
Role models for the catechumens
It is important that we discern God’s will so we will be more peaceful and joyful ourselves. But it is also a huge part of the formation process for the catechumens and candidates. We are not “discerning about them” (that is, making decisions about them). We are mentoring them into a lifelong process of discernment. And that starts with discerning their readiness to commit to living a Christian life.
What’s your discernment story?
Have you ever second-guessed a big decision you made? How did you discern it was God’s will? How did you stay faithful to the decision?