Discernment means “to come to know.” In order to come to know the Lord, you’ve got to prepare a proper foundation for your soul to hear what God has to say. The goal is to make Jesus the compelling and motivating force in your life. It takes work to develop virtues. The word “virtue” calls to mind manliness and valor, as well as moral values. Aristotle said virtue is that which makes a thing to be what it is, and to do its work well. This is appropriate in preparing ourselves to accept the Lord. For example: What is the virtue of a knife? Sharpness. A knife needs to be sharp to be used as a tool to cut; the sharper the knife is the better it cuts.
It is the same with you and the Lord. Developing the virtues of Poverty, Chastity, Obedience, Penance, and Prayer will make you a better man. Virtues stabilize the soul in such a way that Jesus becomes the force and focus in your life. That’s what being a strong, Catholic man is all about. Priesthood is all about the Lord, and love for the Lord and His people. When the soul begins to stabilize and strengthen, it’s not so prone to want but is inclined to serve. And thus, we are more able to hear and be receptive to the gentle nudges of the Holy Spirit, directing us in the way that God wants us to go.


Virtues: Regardless of God’s specific plan for you, all people are called to be virtuous. To be virtuous, we must practice virtues. The Catechism of the CatholicChurch says “Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good. The moral virtues are acquired by human effort. They are the fruit and seed of morally good acts; they dispose all the powers of the human being for communion with divine love.” {Section 1804}


Poverty: Poverty of spirit separates us from undue attachment to anything of this world, freeing our will and our soul to seek God first. Poverty is the first beatitude. “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit, the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” The virtue of poverty is about achieving detachment from worldliness, detachment from things, states of affairs, and relationships, so that you do not require any of these things to be happy. St. Ignatius called this “indifference.” The “Ignatian indifference” will help you to become emotionally calmer with regard to any kind of a goal; be it the priesthood or marriage, a career or charitable endeavors. The virtue of Poverty will help you to become emotionally disentangled from the pressures of the material world so you may more clearly and reasonably consider where the Lord is calling you to go.


Chastity: Chastity unifies our body, mind and heart. Sexuality is a beautiful thing given as a gift from the Lord, but it is reserved for married people, where their engagement is sacred. That’s it; it is not for anyone else. Active sexual practice outside of marriage is sinful and should not be a part of a single person’s life. St. Thomas Aquinas said that there are worse sins than sexual sins, but sexual sins most quickly take away the taste for the things of God. Ask yourself, “Are you chaste?” Sexual sins (e.g. fornication, adultery, masturbation, pornography) have a way of ripping apart a person’s soul, while chastity has a real unifying aspect to it. It unifies the body, mind and heart. That is why Chastity is so important. You don’t want to battle being a chaste man while you’re trying to discern priesthood as a vocation. Celibacy is related, of course. Celibacy simply means that you’re not going to enter the married state and can be the biggest decision a man makes in choosing between priesthood and marriage and family life.


Obedience: Obedience frees us from slavery to our fallen nature. Obedience means simply to submit your will to the will of another. You are a wise and obedient man when you have a listening heart. The world is cluttered with choices. Many are offered to you through provocative means intended to convince you this is the best choice for you. Listen for God’s voice and obey what He asks of you and you will find the Lord. If you submit to the will of the Lord and not your own will, then you will go in the right direction. Consider Jesus’ obedience, in the Garden of Gethsemane when He asked the Father to take the cup of suffering and pain of His passion and death but is ready to gladly accept the cup if it is His Father’s will. Jesus’ obedience overturns the disobedience of Adam and Eve, which brought about all of the pain and suffering into the world. Obedience requires patience and humility and leads, ultimately, to satisfaction and freedom


Penance: Penance helps to conquer sinful habits and builds generosity, humility and patience. Are you able to confess your sins? Are you able to get in touch with your shame? Are you able to acknowledge your sinfulness before the Lord? These are key questions for you to consider for improving yourself and building an honest relationship with the Lord. One part of penance is to accept the little and big crosses that come your way, to offer your own suffering in reparation for your sins. The other part of penance relates to forming a detachment from the things of the world allowing you to give up these things as penance for your sins. That’s why the Church has tools like fasting, alms giving and prayer. These things generate concern for the poor.


Prayer: Prayer is communication with God and therefore is essential for growing closer to God. As the Saints remind us, it is through prayer that the Holy Spirit leads us into the Sacred Heart of Jesus. “Am I a man of prayer? Do I spend any time in prayer? Yeah, maybe I get to Mass on Sunday, but do I spend any other time in the morning and the evening just engaging the Lord in some prayer.” Prayer is absolutely essential, because one of the things a priest must be is a man of prayer.