Ignatian spirituality is all about discerning God’s activity in your life, and where the Holy Spirit is leading you. In that sense, it is deeply practical — focused on what’s happening at specific moments in your life, and what ought to be done in light of those everyday events. This is also the spiritual path that a person takes in discovering he has a calling to Jesuit ministry.
Vocational discernment is something anyone can do. That’s simply because everyone has a vocation — a calling in life. Through its schools, parishes, retreat centers, and other ministries, the Society of Jesus has centuries of experience helping men and women decide what their vocation is. Whatever it is.
For those with thoughts of a Jesuit vocation, the discernment follows a particular course. First point of contact for many is the vocation director of a Jesuit province.
The director initiates an informal conversation or helps arrange a meeting with a local Jesuit. After a period of reflection and further conversation, he may invite the man to begin a formal process of discernment. At that point, the discerner becomes what the province may refer to as a Jesuit “candidate.”
Jesuits often speak of “stages of discernment.” Here are five common stages, beginning even before that first vocational conversation with a Jesuit:
Attraction or InterestA person feels drawn in some way to the possibility of serving God as a priest or religious. He looks into pursuing this vocation, and identifies the Society of Jesus as a community where he might want to live such a life.
InquiryThis is where the man reaches out to a Jesuit he knows or to a vocation director. That begins the conversation about Jesuit life and work.
Information GatheringA person will spend months or even years learning about the Society of Jesus. And he will gather this information from a wide breadth of sources, ranging from books and web sites to visits with Jesuits and their ministries. Observing Jesuit community life becomes essential. This means being present for celebrations, prayer, worship, first and final vows, ordinations, and other significant moments of religious life, including apostolic work.
Spiritual DiscoveryThe man enters into a formal process of prayer and consideration, under the careful guidance of the vocation director. This stage, too, can last for years. At a certain point, a spiritual director enters the picture and helps the prospective Jesuit with his prayer life. That is the key to effective discernment. It is crucial to both deepening the relationship with Jesus and discovering what that relationship means for this critical decision. Some men will make themselves more available to the Holy Spirit, more deeply engaged in the spiritual life and better practiced in techniques of prayer. As this becomes clear in their interactions with others, the vocation director may invite them to become Jesuit candidates.
ConfirmationWith a growing sense that he is called to Jesuit life, the candidate seeks greater certainty about this call. Together with the vocation director, he creates a timeframe for reaching clarity about whether to seek entry into the Society of Jesus.