After being blessed with the opportunity to study abroad, I realized I had a lot of prep-work before actually stepping foot in Rome. Before I found myself settled and adjusted to life in Italy, there was much discussion amongst my family and friends about the possibility of leaving home for the semester to do something unknown and probably a little challenging. It involved taking inventory of packed luggage and making sure I had all my paperwork in order – over and over and over again. There were goodbyes to be said and nerves to quell – all for the bigger and extremely beautiful pursuit of this adventure abroad.
Being a student in Rome, with a faith life that begs to be fed with inspiration and experience, I have found myself smiling ear-to-ear both in Saint Peter’s Square as Papa Francesco drove by in the Popemobile and also on my knees, alone in a little chapel that has really become my home-away-from-home. Something that is often on my mind and recently discussed in the Synod is vocational discernment. “Vocational Discernment” is one of those phrases that is often more of an unknown idea rather than a reality being lived. In simple terms, I consider vocational discernment to be an alert willingness to hear and accept God’s will. And now that we have a definition, the next question is: How does one even go about this? I believe the answer is very similar to my process of preparing to study abroad or maybe to that of applying to college or even to searching for a job. However, many – myself included – often find these tasks to be obstacles, not opportunities. I’ve come to learn that discernment can be just as exciting as your next adventure.
I was recently able to attend a youth presentation to the pope in Paul VI Hall. After many dance routines, witness talks, and musical performances, Pope Francis delivered a short speech in which he expressed the following: “You won’t find yourself in a mirror or the screen of your phone, so get up and find beauty in nature, family, friends, and the faith.” One of the most important aspects of discernment is communication. Just as I spent many hours talking to my parents, sister, and best friends about the opportunity to go abroad, I spend quite a bit of time in prayer each day. I use prayer as a way to open my heart to God, sharing desires, fears, hopes, and struggles—just as you would recall your day to your parent or friend over dinner or Snapchat—to seek guidance and advice. And who better to seek answers of clarity from than those who know you best? A huge part of my discernment is actively listening – not only in prayer, but to all those around me. Listen to the girl who sits next to you in your English 101 class or the stranger leading your retreat who could be a potential friend and witness of the faith for you. Paraphrasing the words of Pope John Paul II at his pontifical inauguration: Open wide the doors of your heart—for God and all who are around you—and do not be afraid. Do this, and God will put the right people in your life and guide your heart in the direction it needs to go.
It is through a deep prayer life that you are then able to take a thorough inventory of your spiritual and relational life, often being led to questions you haven’t really asked yourself before. Perhaps you may become aware of a quality you admire in someone else, prompting you to work on it in yourself. Or maybe all those doubts you carry and try to file away in the corner of your mind come front and center, but now with a new understanding of how to face them. After you begin to recognize the good in yourself and acknowledge the things that are holding you back, it is then time to start saying goodbyes. Saying goodbye not in a literal sense, but in attempting to break bad habits, dying to self in pursuit of a greater humility, and in effect allowing more room for God’s love and mercy to calm your fears and erase the sins that hold you back. The more you allow God to work in you, the clearer and easier it will be to feel your faith grow, relationships flourish, and your heart rest.
Like anything, the hardest part of the discernment process is letting go of fear and “What Ifs”—but it is through prayer that God will provide the answers you need to move forward and the courage to live out your calling as authentically and faithfully as possible. As mentioned before, this may require leaving some comforts and pleasures behind, but Jesus assures us today, just as he did his disciples in their time, “Everyone who has given [anything] up… for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more and will inherit eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). Part of my vocational discernment led me to take this opportunity – full of unknowns and challenges – to study abroad in the “Eternal City.” I assure you, vocational discernment is necessary and opens so many doors, or in my case ATAC bus rides, to growth and understanding of God and His will for you.
For more resources on the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, please click here.