When Sean Hannon was a junior in college, he asked a priest to help him discern whether he was being called to the priesthood. That’s when he learned that the Catholic Church has four vocations — the ordained life, consecrated life, married life and single life.
Through prayer and spiritual direction, God led Sean to his wife, Emily. Parishioners of St. Paul Cathedral, they are now parents and grateful for the guidance.
“My faith used to be limited to attending Mass and CCD class,” Sean said. “I became better formed in the faith in college. Then, when I met Emily, the light went on. We want to help each other get to heaven.”
Marriage is the most common vocation, but many spouses don’t know it is a calling from God. Catholics often think of “vocation” as a synonym for the priesthood. Some men are called to serve the church as ordained deacons.
The consecrated life includes religious sisters, brothers, monks, hermits and consecrated virgins, who are exclusive spouses of Christ. The single life, by choice or circumstance, is perhaps the least known vocation, but also vital.
Discerning God’s will is essential for the life of the person and the church.
“Many people have stopped asking the question, ‘God, what is your plan for me?’” said Father Michael Ackerman, diocesan vocations director. “God hasn’t stopped calling.”
He initially felt called to teach history, but found he enjoyed teaching faith formation more. After much prayer and discernment, he entered the seminary and was ordained in 2014.
“Silence is foreign to us, but it’s the language of God,” Father Ackerman said. “He doesn’t give us quick answers. We need to be patient.”
Sister Geraldine Wodarczyk, delegate for religious in the diocese, agrees with that approach.
“The discernment process takes time, a willingness to stick with it, and humility to relinquish established ideas about our calling so that the Spirit is free to operate in our lives,” she said.
There are many ways to discern God’s loving plan for your life, said Mimika Garesche, diocesan director for spiritual formation. It requires listening through silence, prayer, Scripture reading, Mass, retreats, spiritual direction and journaling.
“Let God tilt you in the direction you’re called to,” Garesche said. “You need at least two choices to discern. If you’re only looking at one, you’re not really open to seeing where God is leading you.”
Tess Keddie discovered that she was led to the single life.
“I have always been given the grace of acceptance in this area,” said Keddie, pastoral associate at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Carnegie. “I really believe God gave me this grace because he wanted me to be single.
“We must be in relationship with God, intimately and constantly,” she added. “Then we can know his will, or at least ‘read’ the messages he sends and follow the path that gives us peace.”
“I try to center my singleness in the heart of Jesus — the single word spoken by the Father,” said Dr. Susan Muto, author of “Celebrating the Single Life: A Spirituality for Single Persons in Today’s World.” “My sense of service and solidarity with others emerges from this solitude.”
“So much of our lives, we fight God’s will and try to make a deal,” Father Ackerman said. “But we need to surrender our will, our successes and failures, and say, ‘Lord, you know what is best for me.’”
Father Ackerman hears from a growing number of young people who are not caught up in the culture, and ask what else is out there. “They say, ‘I want to make a difference, my life matters,’” he said. “That’s when we let God enter in.”