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   Give the Gift of Discernment

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Should I start discerning my vocation before running off to the university?

Phil asks:

I have left the question about becoming a priest or religious open for a little while, but I always thought that I was expected to go to college to gain life experience before applying for the seminary. I'll be a senior in high school this year and I was wondering what I should do. Should I go to college first or should I start discerning my vocation before running off to the university? I would also appreciate it if you could give some advice on discernment.


Dear Phil,

It is not essential to go to college before entering the seminary. There may be some individuals for whom it might be good and even necessary to do college first, but my experience is that they seem to be the exception.

Nevertheless, there are seminaries and religious orders that for their own reasons require potential candidates to do college before entering. They usually provide some sort of support program for their candidates who are doing college.

So, to answer your question: don't just plan on going to college and figuring out your vocation later. Try to use your senior year to get an answer and make a decision.

You seem to be thinking of a vocation, or at least are open to it, and you express yourself well, so presuming everything else in your life is as normal, I would be inclined to think that you may be dealing with a vocation here. So, to answer your question, what should you do?

Use your senior year to take major steps in your openness to God. Keep up your prayer life; ask God to help you always to put him at the center and to look at your life in terms of what you can do for him and for others.

Use your senior year also to get information. Start from where you are right now. Are you initially attracted to diocesan priesthood or to religious life? Is there any particular diocese or religious order you know about that attracts you? Start off by getting in contact with them, and see where it leads.

Find yourself a spiritual director. He will help you sort through and tell the difference between reality and feelings, and he will give you light if you get confused with too much information on too many seminaries.

If at the end of the year you have seen you may have a vocation, and are pretty sure of where you should go, you will have solved the question of college. If the diocese or order you want to join accepts you straight out of high school and your spiritual director does not see overriding reasons not to take the step, then go ahead and start in seminary without going to college first. If the diocese or order prefers you do college first, then do college, try to resolve the financial implications, and keep your focus on the priesthood. This will save you from wasting your time in college and from getting sidetracked from your vocation.

A final word as regards life experience: The real experience we want to gain from life is to form the strength of character we need to be true to our convictions. Any other experience is more harmful than helpful.

You do not have to go to college in order to gain this positive maturity, you can get it in the seminary too and a good seminary will place a priority on your human maturing. Matter of fact, given that we are weak and are easily influenced by others, the experience the unwary accumulate in college is often of the harmful type that is better done without.

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