and it will decide everything.” (attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ)
In college, discernment was easy. “Discernment” meant prayer and discussing possible vocations with friends and spiritual guides. The experiences cemented friendships and built spiritual foundations that will hold me throughout life. However, I found that discernment is truly practiced when we make a decision and carry it out. At the end of my undergraduate career, the time came to make important decisions about what to do after graduation. At the moment of making a big decision, I looked back at the small decisions made in the past few years. How did I choose groups of friends, extracurricular activities, or even classes? To my mind came the prayer quoted at the beginning of the post. To quote it in full:
“Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
This time, my discernment led me to conclude three things with which I have come to love in a quite absolute, final way: God, service, and math. My schedule consistently prioritized these three, and throughout my senior year, I saw that God opened doors for me. I had options, but this also meant I had to make a decision. Through the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program at the University of Notre Dame, I made my way to sunny Jacksonville, Florida where I am teaching high school mathematics.
Denial in discernment was comfortable because it allows us to remove the panging doubts that come with making decisions: How will I know if I made the right one? One message that is clear from the Gospels is that God is always with us, and He will let us know when we are on the right track. Jesus says, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,” (Jn 15:12). My first confirmation that God chose ACE for me was the moment I found out I was accepted. As I read through the email, joy and excitement came bursting out in a series of shouts, hollers, and jumps. Looking back, that extreme emotion did not have its source in me or an email but solely in God. Other signs came, but from that moment of acceptance I had confirmation that I was putting my feet on the correct path.
Now, with a year of teaching under my belt, I can list the further confirmations that this is God’s plan for me. As I read through the prayer above, I think of how teaching mathematics in a Catholic school has seized my life. I get out of bed to meet with the student who needs to review before a test, and I choose to spend many evenings and weekends excitedly planning my lessons or meeting the grim realities in grading. My free time is consumed by reading over teaching blogs or swapping lesson plans with colleagues. Now what breaks my heart is the student who has barely passed his previous math courses and continues to flounder in mine despite his best efforts. Now I am amazed in gratitude when a student is able to lead the class in prayer.
Though I still have a year of teaching left with ACE, I know the time for more decisions will be here soon. This realization has led me to more fully understand another essential nature of discernment: it never ends. Fortunately, we can take part in continual discernment because we have a God who continually acts. What is He making me notice today? What seized my attention this week? Where have I felt moments of great joy this year? “Fall in Love, stay in Love, and it will decide everything.”
Tim McEvoy is a teacher through the Alliance for Catholic Education in Jacksonville, FL.