cleveland catholic priesthood

Seminary Vocation Office

Diocese of Cleveland

28700 Euclid Avenue
Wickliffe, OH 44092

P: 440-943-7660

Seven Steps for a Diligent Discernment

From To Save a Thousand Souls, Ch. 9, by Fr. Brett A. Brannen


Stage 1: The Initial Call

At this stage, a man is drawn to the idea of becoming a priest. This may happen in childhood because of the influence of family or an exemplary priest. As an adult, the attraction may results from attending Mass, following a retreat, or having a spiritual experience. A man typically views the vocation as mysterious at first, since he has little or no information about the priesthood.


Stage 2: Latency Period

In this stage, the man has continually thought about priesthood for an extended period of time, typically for a year or two. He discovers information about the priesthood on his own and prays about the possibility of his vocation from time to time. Often this stage involves a period of denial, in which the man hopes he will marry and forget about the priesthood, or questions why he’s still thinking about it.


Stage 3: Assessment Period

The man in this stage realizes that his attraction to the priesthood has not gone away and is therefore serious. He also realizes that he is not the origin of his attraction to the priesthood. He may seek help in discernment from a spiritual director, read books and articles on discernment, go on retreats and contact the vocation director. He may still be dating, questioning if the priesthood is in God’s plan for him, and trying to assess if he could live a chaste, celibate life. The fear and denial experienced in the first two stages changes to comfort, possibly even excitement.


Stage 4: Discernment Shift

In this stage a man has grown in his willingness to surrender to God’s will.  The vocation director and/or spiritual director have said that he shows the signs and qualifications of a candidate for the priesthood. He decides to no longer date women until he decides if God is truly calling him. He concludes that to properly discern he will go to the seminary, and although he may still feel anxieties, the call is persistent and he is more at peace with it. In Fr. Brannen’s words, “The essential element of Stage 4 is the knowledge that discernment cannot proceed any further outside of seminary. He is just spinning his wheels. He knows that he must shift his discernment from the ordinary world to a seminary environment. He understands that going to seminary is not a final decision to become a priest, but only the next required step in the process.”


Questions related to Stage 4 include:

  1. Do we believe that God is an incarnational God in helping us with our discernment? Is it through human, holy conversations, through everyday events, and through our prayer that we tangibly sense God’s invitation?
  2. Have you found that these everyday incarnational events have introduced or proposed the possibility of seminary and priestly life? Does that result in more thoughts, feelings, desires?
  3. Do you believe that giving God the time and space to allow him to reveal more of what he has already shown you would bring you clarity and confidence? If so, then the time is one year and the space is the seminary.


Stage 5: Seminary Discernment

In stage 5, the man has been accepted as a seminarian. He is developing a spiritual plan of life: going to Mass every day, praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and seriously studying the faith. He knows the seminary is where he belongs, discerning the call with other men, even if he isn’t sure if he will become a priest. There exists a normal mix of discouraging/encouraging and consoling/desolating moments.


Stage 6: Consistent Peace

After a few years in seminary, the man has matured as a person and in his faith. His relationship with Jesus has deepened, and he spends time praying daily. He has had several summer assignments and pastoral assignments in parishes and has had positive experiences working in a parish. He is confident that he can fulfill the duties of a priest, and knows that it is very likely he is going to become a priest. His feelings are affirmed by the seminary formation team, the vocation director and the bishop. He is looking forward to ordination.


Stage 7: Moral Certitude

This is the end of discernment; the man is moving away from understanding and is acting and planning on how to live out what he has concluded. This man is asking God to help him to become a good, holy priest, while also not having many fears left about becoming a priest. He continues confidently on this path, knowing that with the grace of Jesus Christ and seminary formation,that he can become a priest and carry out the duties of a priest.