Recognizing God's Call

Brother David Henley, Glenmary vocation director

May 2014

How does a person know if God is calling him?

In the Book of Exodus, we read that God appeared to Moses in a burning bush: "Now, go! I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt." (Ex 3:10) While praying, St. Francis of Assisi heard a voice telling him, "Go and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin." In an apparition, the Virgin Mary commissioned St. Juan Diego to carry a message to the bishop regarding the building of a church on the Hill of Tepeyac in Mexico.

These, of course, are just three of many outstanding examples of individuals who have received calls and have followed those calls despite the difficulties and challenges involved. As powerful as the callings were for these men, they had doubts, uncertainties, misunderstandings and hardships in responding.

Moses questioned God, asking "Who am I...?" and doubting his own ability despite the fact he was seeing God in a burning bush. Francis mistakenly thought his call was to rebuild the church of San Damiano using stone and mortar. Juan Diego pleaded with Mary, telling her to "entrust the delivery of your message to someone of importance, well known, respected, and esteemed, so that they may believe in him; because I am a nobody...."

As vocation director for Glenmary Home Missioners, I have yet to speak with someone who had an experience as dramatic as any of these. But I've spoken with many men who have felt they were being called by God for something. Their calls may not come from burning bushes or in visions or apparitions, but each of these men has experienced a call, a restlessness, a gentle urge within, a drive to live more deeply, a desire to serve. This calling inevitably leads to other questions: Who am I? Why am I being called? How can I serve God and where?

It takes time to find the answers to these questions and the others that are certain to follow. Searching for these answers is a process often called discernment. Discernment is the process of discovering, largely through prayer, the answers to how God calls us to live and love him.

Prayer is the most essential way of discovering who we are and why God is calling us. Prayer takes many forms: community prayer, such as regular and frequent participation in Mass and the sacraments; and personal prayer, such as eucharistic adoration, praying the rosary, praying the liturgy of the hours, and meditating on scripture. Reading books about the lives of the saints may allow a reader to recognize similar feelings in his own life. And discussing such feelings with a priest, brother or sister who probably felt a similar call might help the individual interpret the implications of his own call.

The discernment process may turn a person's life upside down. He may feel uncertainty and not know which way to go. His original plan may be changed because God is calling him to a different, unexpected life. But the process can also be an uplifting time when many possibilities open up. Prayerful discernment may help guide his other decisions such as what classes to take when he enters college, may lead him into a service project, may open him to a parish leadership position, or may help him to realize what gifts he has to offer to God and his neighbors. In addition, this process will probably allow him to meet others who have experienced the same type of calling.

A healthy discernment process will help the individual grow more comfortable with himself. And most notably, this process allows him to grow closer to God and feel God's love in his life.

At some point, if you are the discerner, your question will not be "How do I know IF God is calling me?" but instead "HOW is God calling me?"

You can also read previous columns by Brother David on the Glenmary Web site.