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Online Discernment PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Friday, 24 April 2009 10:04
Awhile back I came across , self-described as "a Religious Careers Placement Service" with one mission: "to assist those who are investigating a call to religious life in the Roman Catholic Church." They schedule and facilitate "retreats for those in the discernment process, with diocesan and monastic" (perhaps they mean religious, I don't know) "vocational directors in the area of their choice."

Part of their service includes a free online Ministry Potential Discerner, consisting of a 39-question survey meant to help a man or woman get an idea of their potential as a priest (for men) or religious (for men and women). The results are scored and you receive an e-mail with your score and an indication of whether you are a likely candidate for priesthood or religious life, or not.

According to their website, the Self-Assessment Survey "is designed to 'sow the seeds' of spiritual enlightenment for the future harvest of potential priestly and religious vocations as well as lay leadership within the Church. It can be used by dioceses, religious communities and other vocational organizations to help identify candidates who have an expressed interest in and aptitude for the priesthood, sisterhood or brotherhood....The MPD Self-Assessment Survey has been tested for its efficiency and reliability and is recognized as a powerful instrument of discernment among Church leaders throughout the United States. This discernment tool is not a psychological test. Rather it is a testing instrument based on the foundational principles of spiritual theology. The survey is primarily designed to be used as a mass testing instrument in schools, CCD programs and youth groups."

The survey was developed in the mid-1980's at Cardinal Muench Seminary in Fargo, N.D., and has been used by many vocation directors and religious communities (including the Western Dominican Province) since. It has been used in elementary and high schools, as well as at National Youth Conventions, where it was given to literally thousands of young people.

The Church in the U.S. has embraced this survey, including the vocation committee of the USCCB in its document Future Full of Hope. It is a simple tool to use by anyone with access to a computer.
The survey is administered online and is appropriate for students in junior high or high school, as well as those of college age or beyond, and can be completed in less than 20 minutes... individual and group results are tabulated and can be sent to vocational contacts. This allows vocation directors, youth ministers, pastors, pastoral associates or others to personally contact the students to extend an explicit invitation for the young person to seriously consider a vocation. Once identified as potential candidates for ministry, young men and women must be explicitly encouraged, invited and asked to consider a life dedicated to God.
This is a laudable attempt to help individuals self-identify a potential cal to a lifestyle vocation, and, like the Catholic Spiritual Gifts Inventory, is not discernment itself, but intended as a first-step, perhaps a tool to raise an awareness of a potential suitability to a vowed life of ministry within the Church.

I gave the website to a young single man who went through a conversion about four years ago. Many people have asked him, "are you going to become a priest?" because he goes to daily Mass, prays daily, talks about God readily, reads the Scriptures and the catechism, doesn't swear, drink or smoke, and lives chastely. Before I give you his reaction to the survey, I'll admit I went and took it, to see what kinds of questions they were asking. I'll also admit I scored high enough that I received information and phone calls from a variety of vocations directors (but no Dominican Provinces!). I do not want to encourage anyone to take the survey just to see the questions, and possibly lead vocations directors astray. Nor do I want to give away the survey, so I'll give you a sample of the statements. Respondents are asked to respond to each one Strongly Agree, Agree, Weakly Agree, Weakly Disagree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree.

I feel small coins, like pennies, nickels and dimes, are not worth much and sometime just throw them away.

I believe its ok to take drugs or alcohol to get high.

I have a special concern for people with sickness, handicaps, or problems.

I am happy about coming from a family that cares about our Catholic faith and beliefs.

I feel strongly that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, and makes a big difference in the way I live.

I do want to find out if God has given me special talents and gifts to be of service to others.

My friends feel that I am generally a happy, positive person.

When the 37-year old fellow I mentioned above took the survey, he score quite high. He's definitely an intentional disciple whose life has been changed by God's love and grace in a very powerful way, and against all odds. He has a high school diploma, and told me he read the first book in his life after his conversion. While with God, all things are possible, priesthood, with its academic demands, seems out of the question. He could possibly have a call to a religious community that could use his charisms and skills. However, what I found stunning was his response to the survey. After taking it, he asked me, "Fr. Mike, how is this going to help me discern a call to priesthood or religious life. Shouldn't every disciple of Jesus score high on this survey?"

He may not have much education, but he has a Godly wisdom. I couldn't agree with him more.

It seems that we have a hard time distinguishing between ordinary discipleship and a call to a particular lifestyle vocation. It's as though we say, "Hmmm. You talk about God, go to church regularly, read the Bible, have high moral standards.... You're not like the rest of us. YOU must have a vocation to priesthood or religious life." Part of the problem with that is it maintains the sense that nominal, cultural Catholicism is normative, rather than intentional discipleship.

That being said, if the ministry potential survey helps identify disciples, that would be a start in the right direction. My question is, what kinds of questions should be asked to help young men identify a possible call to priesthood? What kinds of questions would be suitable for those called to religious life? I think these would be different questions. And our questions will also say a lot about the kind of priests we are looking for.

I would like to think of this some more, and possibly develop some statements that I would like to see on such a survey. I'd be interested in your suggestions as well.

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