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Discerning for Two

Discerning for Two

By Paul West

(Reprinted with permission from the Eastern Catholic Life)

We may hear, at times, a pregnant woman joyfully exclaim, “Sure, I’ll have an extra little sliver of pie…after all…I am eating for two!” What a joyous feeling! To know that one is nourishing creation within oneself brings awe and wonder, but also a sense of responsibility. “Eating for two” also means that whatever food one eats, the other is eating as well. The same can be said for a man discerning a married vocation to the priesthood.

Seminarian Paul West with wife Alissa and daughter Addie.

Discerning a vocation to ordained ministry is serious business, regardless of whether this discernment involves marriage or celibacy; however, what the married man—or the to-be- married man—must keep in mind is that he is, knowingly or not, “discerning for two.” During the discernment process, a man’s wife is discerning the vocation in the same manner he is. The road to a married priestly vocation is not one that is walked alone. Every step of the way—from the realization that the Holy Spirit is calling, through seminary and throughout priestly ministry—the couple is discerning together. The discerning man must keep constant vigilance in regard to the spiritual food of which he partakes, as his wife and children also partake of the same. It is not a reality and life of one-sided decrees and demands, requirements and edicts, concessions, and sacrifices. The couple, married or engaged, must be in a continuous physical and spiritual dialogue in order that the vocation be nurtured and bear its true fruit. It is not about me. It is not about you. There is no I… only us. As the man grows in his vocation, so does his wife and family. Their concerns belong to each other, as do their prayers, sacrifices, joy, and sorrow. The idea that the couple’s discernment is not mutually exclusive to its individual members affords the couple strength and support, while enlightening all of us to the realization: it is not all about me!

As Christians, we are a people of discernment. What does God want from my life? Do I want to be married or pursue the Christian vocation of a single person? Am I being called to a life of celibacy? Perhaps a monastic calling is where the Holy Spirit is guiding me? Am I living a truly Christian life? These are all questions that have crossed our minds at some point in time. Regardless of how these questions are answered, we must be aware that the Holy Spirit is working within each and every one of us. Bringing our thoughts of discernment from “how does this affect me?” to a broader sense of how our individual life affects the greater community around us gives a new perspective. By expanding our thoughts, we help to keep that ever-pesky ego in check. Married or celibate, young or old, it is always positive to reflect upon the following: am I pursuing this because this is what “I WANT” or am I truly opening myself to the Holy Spirit? Just as the married couple supports one another in the discernment of a priestly vocation, Christ supports us all as we discern how we can best live a life suited to His teaching. Be comforted to know that none of us walk the road of discernment alone. If we keep Christ at the center of our discernment, nourishing the seeds that the Holy Spirit cultivates, we are all “discerning for two.”