by Sam Alzheimer
If you’re discerning the priesthood, you have a choice over the next thirty days. You can either bemoan your isolation and put your discernment in “lazy limbo” or you can treat this challenge as an opportunity to dive deep.
Since you’re a man striving to be a better man, you know the second option is best. Here are some ideas to get intentional about your discernment in a time of social isolation.
Set a schedule
You know that hazy feeling you get when you don’t even know what day of the week it is? It may be okay over Christmas break, but it’s not ideal for 30 days of lockdown. Instead, you need a schedule. Get serious about how you’re going to use your time. Wake up at a certain time, plan your prayer and activities for the day—and be specific. As Fr. Brett Brannen says, “Specificity increases accountability.”
You can’t hit the gym, but you can certainly do pushups and jumping jacks. Why is this important? Because physical activity improves your mental headspace. Fight spiritual malaise by getting disciplined about exercise. After all, as St. Thomas says, “grace builds on nature.”
The latest Netflix show may have appeal in the popular culture, but it’s unlikely to help you grow as a man. Have you ever felt more virtuous after scrolling Instagram for two hours? These sorts of things have a way of dampening and dulling the spirit. It’s okay to watch a good film every now and then. But be intentional about it. Don’t choose whatever sludge Hulu recommends. Choose a good film and put it in your daily schedule.
Double your prayer time
If you’re like most people, you suddenly have more time on your hands. Theoretically, this could be used for prayer. You know how theories are proved? By experiments. So try your own. Double whatever prayer time you’ve had in the past. Or, if you’re starting from zero, try thirty minutes of uninterrupted time, with your door closed, your phone turned off, and a good spiritual book in your hands.
Seek solid discernment info
If you’re discerning the priesthood, you need a certain kind of spiritual fuel. Obviously, there’s a ton of good stuff online about living a holy Catholic life. But right now, you need high-octane material on discerning your vocation. For example, read (or re-read) Chapter 5 in To Save a Thousand Souls on “Signs of a Vocation to Priesthood.” Or pick up Fr. Tim Gallagher’s incredible book Discerning the Will of God, which is the best modern interpretation of St. Igantius’ famed discernment methods. These books will help you. Seriously.
Call a priest or vocation director
Guess what? Even priests have more time on their hands right now. Now is the perfect time to pick up the phone and call your local priest or the diocesan Vocation Director. They’ll be happy to hear from you. What to talk about? Say something like this: “I’ve decided to get serious about discerning the priesthood over the next 30 days and I want to share my plan and get advice from you.” That’ll kick off a good conversation.
You are not the first Catholic to live without the sacraments. So as you discern the ministerial priesthood, get deeply in touch with the priesthood you already possess as a baptized believer. Without the grace of the sacraments, there is nonetheless a special grace in this time. When fasting from the Eucharist, feast on scripture. When unable to confess to a priest, repent and do penance on your own. Thousands of Christians throughout the centuries have gone for months or years without the sacraments. So man up, be intentional, and do your best to grow in holiness during this time.