Discernment 101: Father Mike Schmitz Tackles Decision-Making in Light of God’s Will

BOOK PICK: How to Make Great Decisions

(photo: Register Files)


By Father Mike Schmitz

Wellspring, 2019

56 pages, $17.95

To order: amazon.com


Discernment. It’s a word that’s both Catholic and trendy, with a spark of wonderment and a dose of mystery.

It’s more than decision-making, certainly, but … how do we know? Do you dabble in some prayer and call it good?

Enter Father Mike Schmitz, a priest for the Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota, who runs the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and is also the director of youth and young adult ministry for the diocese.

Father Schmitz jumps into the topic of discernment in his new book How to Make Great Decisions: “When it comes to any type of discernment, it’s really important to understand what it is that we’re discerning.” And from that starting point, in 56 pages, Father Schmitz demystifies the art of discernment.

“True discernment is more than just thinking about something,” he writes. “Discernment involves action. It also involves a decision. And the very first decision is whether it’s about my life and my vocation or whether it’s about God’s will for my life and my vocation.”

He starts with a discussion of individualism and why that’s ruined how people approach discernment and how it’s given them a way out of actually making a decision. The remedy is vocation, because vocation is oriented toward others, to sacrifice and to self-gift.

Vocation, by the way, isn’t just about being married or being a priest. Father Schmitz outlines three levels of vocation: the universal call to holiness; the call to priesthood, married life, consecrated single life, or religious life; and the tasks God’s calling us to do in our everyday life.

“The first level of vocation never changes. The second level only changes once or twice. But this third level of vocation changes moment by moment.” Therein lies the challenge, and Father Schmitz doesn’t shy away from it. “When my will conforms to God’s will, that’s sanctity — that’s holiness. That’s the highest form of self-donation. It’s way beyond self-expression.”

“A lot of times,” Father Schmitz writes, “I don’t really want to do God’s will — I just don’t want to be nervous anymore. I don’t really want to know God’s will — I just want to know. Then I’ll be done with it. And not only that — I want to know what God wants so that I don’t have to make a decision.

“Not wanting to make a decision is one of the key reasons we have to step back and realize something about discernment: God always speaks in clarity.”

Sigh of relief, and not just from me, I’ll bet. “God has already revealed his will on these kinds of things — through the Commandments. Through the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit. Through Scripture.” Father Schmitz points out — in a way that had me face-palming because it makes so much sense and should be so obvious — that we aren’t going to know the future. That’s not what discernment is.

Take the next step. That’s the part you know. That’s the part you control. The next step. “We can’t know the grand plan, but we can know the next step,” he writes. “That doesn’t mean that we’ll know the second step or the third step after that. None of us can know the future.”

Every day, Father Schmitz proposes you ask yourself three questions:

Am I in a state of grace?

Am I performing my daily duties?

Did I pray today?

Like everything about this book, these questions get right to the heart of the matter. If you’re not in a state of grace, take care of that. Go to confession, make things right, and repair the communication gap that exists between you and God. Doing your daily duties is a way of saying, “Yes!” to God. He is present, after all, in the tasks you have to complete and do each day. And prayer isn’t optional. “When you don’t take the time to pray, suddenly you realize that you’re just going through the motions. You’ll start to feel like you’re serving God the CEO of God, Inc., rather than working with your dad.”

Making a decision, Father Schmitz concludes, is like facing a door. He has four simple questions as you look at that door: Is this a good door? Is this an open door? Is this a wise door? Is this a door I want to walk through?

“Sometimes we’re too afraid of making a wrong decision,” Father Schmitz writes. “We think if we make a wrong decision, we won’t be the best. We won’t me maximally fulfilled. Or maybe it will wreck everything. It’s rare that a decision wrecks everything, but it happens. Remember, though, that first sense of vocation can’t be wrecked. At any moment, we can come to our senses and say, ‘God, what am I doing? I’m going to go home.’”

Sarah Reinhard is online at SnoringScholar.com and NCRegister.com.