Sunday 2 June 2019

The Holy Spirit and Vocation Discernment

When I was discerning a vocation to the Capuchins I was assigned a friar with whom I met on a monthly basis. This friar acted as spiritual guide for me as I tried to figure out what the Lord was calling me to do. I was still working full-time and traveled from the city centre by bus to meet him. The bus journey was a time for me to think about what I was going to say to him about how things were going. It also gave me a little time and space to move from 'office' mode to 'discernment' mode.

When I arrived he usually had tea made and this was always welcome. We sat down in the friary parlour and talked easily as we drank tea. One day I remember asking him 'What more do I need to do? I mean what do I need to do to help me figure out what I'm supposed to do?' I remember without losing a beat or a breath he said 'you're doing enough, the rest is the work of the Holy Spirit. If you want to do something, move out of the way and let the Spirit do His work!'
On the bus journey back into the city, my head settled on the words 'move out of the way and let the Holy Spirit do His work.'

Over time I came to realise that one of the most important elements of any discernment process involves creating space. When we are discerning God's will in our lives, we are essentially trying to pay attention to a still, small and gentle voice that echoes within a busy and noisy world. To even have a chance at doing this, we need to introduce some silence and stillness into our daily lives. This can be difficult to do - it takes time, practice and patience. However, it is within this space that we experience the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Creating a space in our lives for vocational discernment also takes courage - recall the disciples huddled together in fear before they allowed the Spirit the space necessary to operate and create. One step at a time - one space at a time.

Today I am the Vocation Promotor for the Irish Capuchins and I'm the one often asked this same question - what more do I need to do? This question comes from a well meaning place. We live in a world where we have to be the powerhouse behind getting things done. If we don't put the effort in, then we have only ourselves to blame if things don't work out - right? When it comes to discerning a vocation it's a little different. Of course there are things that we need to do - we need to pray, seek spiritual direction, reach out to others, open our hearts, read certain things and meet certain people. However, behind all of this - driving all of this - is not our power but rather the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. When it comes to vocation discernment - less is very often more!

The Holy Spirit is central to any kind of discernment - we discern things all the time but probably don't use this term. The old phrase is that 'The Holy Spirit is the real Vocation Director' and this is true. The Holy Spirit also works through opportunities, challenges, disappointments and successes. St Bonaventure (The great Franciscan Saint and Doctor of the Church) speaks of this movement of the Spirit as 'desire'. It's not the same desire that we have for pizza or chocolate or whatever - but rather a deep seated longing and yearning for God in our lives. It is in and through this affective action (movement of the heart) that we feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. To feel and to hear this we need to create some time and space to allow ourselves to feel and to hear . If we are caught up in 'doing mode' all the time - we'll miss the good stuff.

As we approach the great feast of Pentecost we are once more presented with the opportunity to reflect on the ways in which we allow the Spirit to work in our lives and the ways in which we prevent the Spirit from working. To aid our reflection we could ask ourselves:

  • In what ways do we remain locked behind our own doors of fear? 
  • In what ways do we have the courage to open these doors and allow the refreshing presence of the Holy Spirit fill our lives? 
  • How can we create a sense of spaciousness in our lives that better allows us to hear and feel the movement of the Holy Spirit? 
  • What must decrease so as to allow the movement of the Spirit increase?
  • In what ways do I notice my desire for God in my life?
  • In what ways do I need to move out of the way of the Holy Spirit to let Him do His work? 

In my own life I often go back to those wise words - you're doing enough, the rest is the work of the Holy Spirit. If you want to do something, move out of the way and let the Spirit do His work!'- and as I do I pray that I have the courage to have a heart open to the possibilities that this brings.

If you would like to find out more about our way of life then email me on


Br Martin OFM Cap.
Vocation Promotor

Come Holy Spirit and fill us with your Love.

Come so that we may have life and bring life.

Come so that the world may be illuminated by Love, Peace and Joy.

Come Spirit of Transformation - so that we may be transformed.


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