Vocational Discernment and Paths of Love

by Therese Ivers, JCL

Is the vocation to the priesthood objectively higher than that to the married state? How do you know if your vocation is to be a priest, a mother, a sister, or a brother? Versatile paper napkins doubled as writing pads for some who needed to quickly scribble a diagram or note and the rattle of dishes and smell of “dorm food” accompanied the discussion a small group of us students had in the cafeteria on different aspects of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. Since this was a college, this was a question worthy of the academic mind and research. It was also a practical question for us as we tried to envision life after graduation from an institution that has an average of at least 10% of its graduates pursuing vocations. We grappled with the idea of different paths in life in twos, threes, or larger groups and shared the fruit of our research with others.

Ten years later, I caught sight of one of the students I had had intellectual tussles with on various subjects including that of vocations. Joseph Bolin was walking down the courtyard of my university in Rome, stopping by for a brief visit to the campus. We caught up with the news of our respective lives and then renewed our discussion on the process of vocational discernment. It was refreshing to hear his views on the process, and they had certainly had been polished over the years to the point where I agreed with much of what he had to say on the matter.

Not long after my encounter with Mr. Bolin, he sent me a copy of his work on discerning vocations that he was preparing for publication called Paths of Love: The Discernment of Vocation According to Aquinas, Ignatius, and Pope John Paul II. I read it and it is a gem of a book. This book synthesizes the thought of St. Ignatius, Pope John Paul II, and St. Thomas Aquinas and their different approaches on vocational discernment and resolves apparent conflicts in the different ways the saints over the centuries have talked about following God’s call in life. At the end, practical advice is given for discerners to consider for their faith journey.

Because this is a website dedicated to helping the discerner make an informed choice, from time to time a book, CD, or DVD will be mentioned that we feel could be helpful. In this case, I believe that this book on vocational discernment is a good one to use as a guide for understanding the thought of some of the most influential spiritual leaders on vocations. That being said, it does take careful reading and will give a deeper and richer knowledge of the discernment process if read well.

As a work on the different answers St. Ignatius, St. Thomas Aquinas, and John Paul II give to the question on how to know your vocation, this book is a gem. It is not, however, an encyclopedia on vocational discernment. Thus, it focuses mostly on different approaches these people have had towards discernment and so there are other aspects of different vocations that are not covered in this book. In addition, the book has the limitation in that the author restricts himself to speaking about vocations to the priesthood, religious life, and marriage. However, one can expand the notion of “priesthood” to “clerical state” and “religious life” to “consecrated life” as there is a call to the diaconate and other forms of consecrated life.

For those who believe that this book may be helpful to them, I recommend you give it a try. I wrote this unsolicited book review because I felt that this book may be beneficial to some of DoIHaveAVocation.com’s readers as I have personally found few books on discernment that are worth reading. This is one of those books which I find worthwhile although not absolutely essential for the Catholic library, and so I hope some of you will find it useful in your faith journey.

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