Life after Epiphany

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on discerning whether one is called to religious life or to marriage

The word discern comes from the Latin word discernere, meaning literally “to separate”.

The trouble is that I think many sincere young people try to look at all their options all jumbled up together and they forget that making sense of their life direction is about separating it out and looking seriously at one thing at a time.

On an online forum that I frequent, I encountered the opinion that “one should not consider dating until one has discerned whether they are called to religious life or marriage”. I have to admit – that one made me scratch my head just a little bit! I believe that the motivation behind it was sincere caution, but I think that perhaps this is just a little over-zealous?

If the idea is to separate out the options and examine one option at a time, then one is faced with a decision: Which option do I begin exploring first?This, to me, is something that is often answered quite simply by the circumstances of life. If the person has an interest in someone in particular that he or she might have met, then it would seem that the possibility of marriage is the natural option to begin with.

If one is single and there is presently not a single member of the opposite sex that stands out as particularly attractive in sight, then perhaps that person would do well to consider religious life seriously as their first option. I think its fair to say that God gets through to us oftentimes through the circumstances of our lives and He expects us to use just a little common sense in figuring out where to begin!

It may be that whichever first option was selected is actually discounted in a very short time, or it may be an exploration that takes years. Sooner or later a person has to decide upon the most likely direction in their circumstances, and follow it wholeheartedly, trusting fully that God will close any doors through which He does not want us to walk if we are generously and sincerely seeking to follow Him.

The reality is, however, that if there is not, at a given point in time, an individual to whom a person may be attracted, then it is silly to attempt to explore the possibility of marriage. Marriage is not a generic abstraction – marriage is a union between two individuals – a man and a woman. If you are called to marriage then you are called to marriage with a specific person, and that person is called to marriage with you.

I think a great many young people put themselves under pressure to figure it all out now… perhaps these young people would arrive at an awareness of God’s call sooner if they steadily and patiently examined one thing at a time and trusted God with all the rest?