Discernment basically means “hearing the call” and trying to figure out where God might be calling you to serve Him. It is a life-long process of growth and listening to how God moves the heart in a new way of service.
Discernment takes place in a number of ways: first in prayer, the conversation with God. In prayer, we begin to listen with the ear of the heart as we feel that call to move deeper into a relationship with Christ. It is the initial response to the Call that Jesus gives: “Come after me, and I will make you Fishers of Men.”
Silence is also important. The example of Jesus himself points this out, as he so often takes time away from the busy-ness of his ministry to stop and pray in a deserted place. Remember, he began his ministry with 40 days of silence in the desert!
Listening: so often today, prayer is asking God for something. “Lord, help me to pass this test! Lord, watch over my parents or Grandparents who are sick. Lord, protect my friend on her journey to Europe.” What has to be kept in mind is that prayer is a two-way conversation; we must silence our hearts and minds and listen to where God wants to lead. If we believe that God created each of us in His image and likeness, while we were still in the womb; we need to trust that He will not lead us astray.
Obedience: in today’s world, this is a four letter word! Obedience is responding in trust to the path that God is leading you towards. Again, it goes back to if we trust that God has what is best for us in mind.
Response: the old joke about praying to God to win the lottery comes in here: to win, first you have to buy the ticket! A vocation requires a response in this world, no matter what the vocation is. The initial response is a deeper participation in the Eucharist, spending time before Christ in the Eucharist. As the call becomes clearer (or to help it become clearer), attendance at discernment retreats and events is helpful. Visitations to the seminary can also be clarifying, and discussing your call with either your pastor or the vocation director also helps.
Finally, the prayer of discernment is the prayer of guidance. Do not be afraid to ask God for an indication of what He is asking you to do.