Following the Unbeaten Path: My Personal Reflection on the Risk of Discernment

by William A. Petry

At the end of the day, when classes are done, books are closed, and the laptop is charging, I lay on my pillow and exhale a sigh of relief. Lingering yearnings and uncertainties in my heart seem to agitate inside of me. Where am I headed? Is this where I am supposed to be? To what end are my efforts aimed? These fundamental questions pierce to the very core of my being and I am dissatisfied with a simplistic answer involving some sort of professional occupation or career choice. These are questions about discernment, the intermingled relationship of the career choices I elect, and the ultimate fulfillment of my life. 

Discernment, in the Catholic sense, is the prayerful process of judging between alternative options with the objective of accomplishing God’s will, leading to a decision.

There is a distinction that must be made between the processes of discernment and decision-making.Decision-making is the process of choosing between two things. For example, you decide whether you should choose to take the Theology of the Body class or the Philosophy of Love class as your general elective.Discernment, in contrast, is a profound process that transcends an action causing decision. It is a movement toward existential fulfillment that enjoys internal and external congruence. Discernment always includes two good alternatives; one does not discern about doing something wrong.

I want to share with you a reflection on my personal process of discernment which led me to leave the religious life and come to Ave Maria University.

1.) Risk

Tradition has it that the ancient Celts had a difficult time grasping the image of the Holy Spirit as a dove. The tame and gentle symbol of a passive dove seemed contradictory to their personal experiences with the Holy Spirit. For them, the Holy Spirit sounded a lot more like a wild goose than a gentle cooing bird. There is a wildness to the Holy Spirit, an undomesticated nature of the mysterious, third person of the Trinity that resonated with the Celts for centuries.

I think I have to agree with the Celts on this. The unrelenting nature of the Holy Spirit has been an important element in my process of discernment. I have had to break away from the ideology of a controlled and structured path for my life and learn to take the risk of embracing the sporadic and creative movements of the Holy Spirit on this journey.

I entered the religious life when I was 19 years old, joining the congregation of the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, where I spent the most amazing four years of my life as of yet. Discernment (and life) seemed pretty straightforward to me during that time: you were to make an election (marriage, priesthood, religious life etc.) and enjoy living out God’s will. However, I discovered very quickly that in making the initial choice to follow God, I had signed up for an adventure. 

The systematic, formational stages of the priesthood gave me the impression that I knew the concrete path I was walking on. I quickly discovered, though, that there was no path at all. The more I learned about myself and grew in my relationship with God, I realized that I had very little knowledge of where Jesus was leading me. I quickly discovered that love constantly generates new paths and it was my vocation to follow them.

Discernment requires taking the risk of releasing control of your life. It requires surrendering the ideological structures that we hold fast to, and adopting the untamed and loving invitations of God. Only this can lead us to the ultimate fulfillment of our desires and plans. 

2.) Love

Being part of the religious life, I had amazing experiences that helped me to grow in my capacity to love. Living in such a community helped me to enter into profound personal relationships with people from many different backgrounds. The spiritual formation with the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit was the best ground to grow in my relationship with God, especially the daily communitarian adoration and celebration of the Eucharist. The time I spent in ministry to others opened my heart to experience true compassion and solidarity. Through serving the sick in the poorest hospital in Los Angeles, to ministering to the small faith communities in rural Alaska, I grew so much as a person.

So, why did I leave? That’s where the wild goose comes in. 

I remember sitting in the adoration chapel during my fourth year of formation begging the Holy Spirit to leave me alone because it was constantly bugging me to grow even deeper in my capacity to love. I realized that with my personality, my drives, and yearnings, there was a fundamental dissonance in me that clashed with the particular mission of the Congregation. God was calling me to a different vocation; to be immersed in the world, on the front-lines. He called me to serve Him in a different way, and I knew I had to answer.

Discernment is an invitation to remove all of the obstacles in life that hinder us from loving and being loved to the maximum in this life. 

3.) Act

I did not even attempt to figure out how to proceed along this path on my own. Instead, I consulted my formation director at the time, my spiritual director, and my community. Each of these people accompanied me both formally and informally in my process for nearly a year. In addition to this, I consulted a psychologist, a Servite religious woman, who helped me to make sure that these inspirations were not simply unresolved issues from my life that inspired my dissatisfaction. 

With this great team of helpers, I received many confirmations that the inspirations that I felt to leave the congregation were coming from God, which was His way of leading me to a more profound realization of my personal mission here on earth. There were no logical syllogisms that lead to my decision or helped me along the way. Instead, I had to pull away from the limitations of my logic and hold on tightly to God in faith.

Leaving the religious life was the most frightening leap I’ve ever taken, however, God continues to demonstrate His confirmation of decision over and over. This encourages me to keep holding on - to keep trekking on this unbeaten path and to follow closely behind Him. 

Discernment entails congruent actions to the internal motions and inspirations of God, in order to test whether these inspirations indeed come from God and lead to doing His will.

Student Spotlight: Judah Stone

by Maeve Alflen

Orlando native, Judah Stone, whose name means "Thanks and praise", certainly glorifies God with his life. Through his involvement as a member of the football team and Student Government, Judah is a valuable asset to Ave Maria University's Freshman Class. As an Environmental Science major, Judah enjoys being outdoors working with youth, and plans to become a ranger in a State Park after college.

What did you do last summer?

I am a part of a non-profit, Christian, children’s urban sports camp called Kids Across America which is located in Southern Missouri on the border of Arkansas. For the past few years, I have been working maintenance for them, but this year, since I am in college, I am getting moved up to be a counselor. I got the job in 2014, because my sister is a director of the camp there. For the past three years, I was a part of the three year program through KAA called Higher Ground. This year, I am getting my passport so that I can travel with Higher Ground to the Dominican Republic and Belize. I am really excited for that! Kids Across America has camps all across the country, as well as Internationally.

Has your time working for Kids Across America helped you to discover what you would like to do post-graduation? 

It certainly has. The camp life is what I enjoy because it is out in the middle of nowhere. I am very conservative when it comes to our natural resources, so being outdoors is why I picked Environmental Science as my major. I use my time at KAA as an outlet to have fun outside while mentoring youth. I like working with kids because they are the next generation, and on top of that, it allows me to pour into them the energy and passion that I have for Christ.

How do you think technology has impacted the way that kids view the outdoors?

Technology has kept our generation indoors because fun is at the tips of our fingers. When I was little, we were always outside! We would go in the pool, ride bikes, play on the tire swing…we were outside all day! Growing up, the only technology I had was a Nintendo 64, and I didn't get a cell phone until I was 16. Technology really consumes our generation. It is strange that the same thing that connects us to the world, disconnects us as from it as well. 

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 

After graduation, I would love to give back to the community I grew up in. I want to work for the state or county recreational parks. In my free time, I would also really like to volunteer in a recreational center for kids.

What are you doing this year to help you get closer to your goal?

Last semester, I was involved in One-by-One, which is a mentorship program that allows us Ave athletes to go to Immokalee High School and work with the students there. Each time we visit, we are given a theme for the day, which gives me an opportunity to share my faith. I am also studying hard, continuing to go to church, and getting involved, especially with Student Government. It is such a big opportunity that I have [being on SGA] to make a difference in the Ave Maria community. My motto is “Ask not what your school can do for you, but what you can do for your school”. I believe if you are unhappy with your environment, why sit there and complain about it if you are not going to do anything about it?

What do you think your three best qualities are?

Passion, Energy, and Kindness.

If you won a million dollars tomorrow, what would you do with the money?

I would invest a lot of it, buy my parents the house the deserve, get myself a Range Rover, and pay off my student loans. 

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Unlimited endurance

What does success look like to you?

The world says make your money, live the lavish life - that is not success. Just because you are able to have a bunch of material things does not make you successful. Success is accomplishing something that you truly desire in life.

How have your dreams and goals changed throughout your life?

I remember growing up, I wanted to be a vet, I wanted to play in the NFL, I wanted to be a hero, but you know, reality hit me like *boom*. It is for the better, though, because James 1:2-4 says, "Consider your tough times to be a joy, because it only produces fruits." I know that everything I went through helped to build my character and made me who I am. Between football, SGA, school, relationships, and my faith, it has been tough to find balance, but through God’s strength, I am able to do it.

How to Land Your Dream Job

by Anne Marie Schlueter

Spoiler alert: your dream job does not exist. Sorry.

That is, it does not exist if “dream” means “perfect”. There is no job that you are absolutely going to love 100% of the time. It is very common that a person’s idea of their “dream job” is based solely on fantasy and is an unrealistic hobby that they would love to get paid to do…like taste test ice cream all day or play video games for a living. No matter where you work, the alarm will still go off in the morning and, some days, you will hit the snooze button. You will still have meetings that are boring. 

There is no job that will not exhaust you. There is no job that will not take you out of your comfort zone. If “dream” means “easy”, then it definitely does not exist.

However, if we’re talking about “dream job” in terms of being fulfilling and an outlet for you to use your gifts to their full potential, then YES it absolutely exists!

What are you passionate about?

What gets you fired up? What could you talk about for hours? What do you know “way too much” about? When you think of the world, what specific need hits you the hardest? There is a reason that you have seen this need. Maybe it is something lacking in the Church, the business world, the medical field, but whatever it is, you have the capability to satisfy it! God gave you passions in order to drive you toward your vocation. Your talents and passions were formed in such a way that they align. If you are hesitant of the challenges or changes that your talents are leading you towards, you don’t have to go in all at once. Shadow professionals who work in the field that you are interested in and ask questions! Apply for an internship in that area. Take up a temporary position at a company that interests you. You should always evaluate a job before you accept the position, this way, you’ll know if it is really your dream, or just a nightmare. At the risk of sounding like a Disney princess: follow your heart!

What are your talents?

What are you good at? “Nothing” is not a valid answer. You were created wonderfully, fearfully, and intentionally. You have something necessary to bring to this world. Personally, I love to communicate. Whether by writing or speaking, this gift has been validated many times by kind both words from other people, and opportunities that have presented themselves. Think about the compliments that you receive. Think about the classes that you’ve excelled in. You have talents for a reason. You are good at things for a reason. Find an outlet that allows you to put your talents to work and use your gifts to their full potential. 

If you aren’t certain about where your strengths lie, fear not! Maybe you haven’t had the chance to develop and explore them to their full potential. Online resources such as StrengthsQuest and the Myers-Briggs personality test allow you to identify your strongest attributes and turn them into life-skills. Each person is unique and has a skill set that only they can bring to the world. If you allow yourself to pursue the things that you excel in, not only will you find enjoyment in what you do, but you'll be able to do it for a lifetime! 

Where do you see yourself working?

Before you begin applying for jobs, it is of utmost importance that you evaluate your past work experiences. Were there things that you loved about a certain job? Things you hated about another? What tasks in past work experiences made you happy or proud? What was your biggest accomplishment? These seemingly small details should not be ignored! When you acknowledge what qualities make up your ideal workplace, you are more likely to gravitate toward a job that will suit every facet of your personality and introduce you to an environment where you will thrive! 

Once you have determined your strengths, it is so important that you do not limit your career choices based on the path that people with the same degree as you generally take. If you are skilled in the realm of science, for example, you may assume that the only career-path you are suited for is to be a doctor. This could not be further from the truth! As someone who is scientifically skilled, you could be a teacher, a researcher, a lab technician, an astronomer, a member of a drug discovery team, a forensic scientist…the list goes on and on! Keep an open mind until you explore your options and are able to determine for yourself what you like and dislike.

What gives you energy?

What makes you feel the most alive? My roommate is completely changing her major after being in Guatemala for a service trip. She found so much joy working with underprivileged children that she cannot imagine doing anything else for the rest of her life.

Often, the vocation to which we are called is not what is easy. Will there be hard days and hard moments? Always. But you know it is right when not doing it is harder than doing it. A life lived in mediocrity cannot stack up to a life lived excellently. Glorify the Lord by accepting the challenges that He puts in your path so that at the end of your life, you can look back and say, “That wasn’t easy, but it was worth it”. Perseverance brings more peace than giving up.

What is your end goal?

We all have to work, but we often do so for different reasons. What do you desire most from your work? Is it personal fulfillment? Is it to be helpful to others? Is it to gain professional opportunities? Oftentimes, an ideal job will combine some mix of all these traits. Identify the goals that you have for yourself personally and professionally, and choose a career that best helps you reach those goals. For example, if you aspire to be an ambassador to a foreign country in an effort to promote world peace, you probably should not major in Mathematics and look for a job out of college as a elementary math teacher. Instead, major in Politics or International Relations and participate in summer internships working for foreign embassies. Your life is shaped by the decisions you make every single day. Be extraordinary!  

Earning your just rewards

We all have to work, but we often do so for different reasons. What do you desire most from your work? Is it personal fulfillment? Is it to be helpful to others? Is it to gain professional opportunities? Oftentimes, an ideal job will combine some mix of all these traits. Identify the goals that you have for yourself personally and professionally, and choose a career that best helps you reach those goals.

One of the chief end goals for many people is to make a decent living, so it is worth talking about money. Some people choose jobs just for the money, and other people think money is evil, making career choices with a complete disregard for it. It is essential to be wise when planning for your future. While not the end goal of a job, money should be considered a reward for work well done. Money can also be the difference between a hobby and a job; if you take a job where the salary is not enough to live your life in a reasonable manner, the anguish this causes can be extreme, and you may even begin obsessing over it. That should never be the case. Choose a job where you can make a comfortable wage, but also understand that what God calls us to do, He provides for. Whatever we do, we should be using our talents in such a way that we glorify God in all we do and all he has given us. There is a job out there that is going to give you an outlet to do that, you just have to find it!

 

In the pursuit of landing your dream job, take the steps necessary to advance yourself toward the career that excites you! Be proactive in your job search by shadowing professionals, doing your research on the companies that you are interested in, and exploring all of the avenues that appeal to you. Don’t sell yourself short! Meditate on your talents and the unique gifts you have been given in order to determine your vocation. Determine the lifestyle that you would like to lead, and choose a job which will produce the monetary gains that will allow you to live it. Keep striving to listen to God in prayer, and He will lead the way. He is the God of clarity, meaning that you do not have to convince Him to let you in on His plan. He wants you to participate in it! God gave you desires for a reason, and He longs to satisfy them. Trust yourself. Do not be afraid to drastically change your life. Do not be afraid to switch majors or let go of a lesser dream. Do not be afraid to dream big dreams, because God dreams still bigger! You were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness!

Student Spotlight: Ana Franco

by Maeve Alflen

As a graduating senior, Ana Franco is very mindful of the clock that is ticking on her undergraduate career. She frequently refers to the “3 months we have left", but her usage is hopeful, as though she is waiting expectantly for the changes that will occur over that time...and she is preparing for it well. She is a personable, outgoing individual who enjoys speaking with people and makes conversation easily. As she summarizes her goals, it is not hard to believe that this is a young woman will soon leave her mark on the world.  

How did you first come to Ave Maria? 

The first time I visited Ave, it was the day after Spring Formal. At that point in time, I was completely set on going to a state school. My top choice was Northeastern University in Boston. I really, really wanted to go there for Psychology, but God knew what I needed. I can still remember my visit to Northeastern. I went over the summer and I just loved it! However, I did not know what I would be getting myself into. I remember the first time I came to Ave, I left crying! It was not an open house and there were barely any students around. I told my parents, “If you are going to bring me to this school, just read me the Bible, keep me at home, and put me in a long skirt, because that would be the same thing!” I do remember, though, that during that visit, we also came and saw the church and I thought it was so beautiful. I remember sitting in a pew looking up at the cross and saying “You know what God, only you know. If this is the place that you want me to come, bring me back here.” And I visited a second time and I just fell in love with Ave. 

And what are you wearing now? 

*laughing* Not a long skirt! Although I have to admit, I actually like them! And I do read the Bible for fun! So a couple of things came true.  

What did you do last summer? 

Last Summer, I worked with the USCCB – the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops – in their Catholic News Service. They published a lot of different articles and they have a newsletter that they send out. It was really great; I actually stayed within walking distance of where I worked. I only knew about three people that lived in the city, so I was going completely out of my comfort zone when I took that job. I think I took a lot to heart, like where God leads you, you should go. I know that what I learned at USCCB, and the people I came in contact with there, have helped to lead me to know what I want to do next.  

What was something about your internship that surprised you? 

I think one of the biggest challenges was that it was very different from what I expected an internship to be - where you walk in and they have a lot of work predetermined for you to do. They definitely had a lot of work for me to do, but they wouldn’t necessarily tell me—I had to go see what there was to do for myself. Sometimes my supervisor would assign me tasks, but not all the time because they are so busy—they don’t always stop their work for you. I think a lot of people don’t realize that going into an internship; they think it revolves around them and what they’re learning. But I think it is what you learn from these people that you’re working with. One thing I would say to whoever goes into get an internship or a job is to really get to know the people you’re working with, because these people have also had their own experiences and can help you. There was this gentleman, his name was Dennis, and we met because he worked at the computer across from me. We became such good friends. He is an older man with white hair and hipster journalism glasses that I would always make fun of (because I wanted a pair myself), but he was someone who gave me really great advice. He is an amazing editor. I only sent him two pieces in the six weeks that I was there, but from what he corrected in those pieces, I learned so much. 

Were there any struggles during the internship? 

Being here at Ave, we only learn APA and Chicago Manual Style of writing. The USCCB office used AP style, which is the journalistic style. I had to start writing in a completely new way. The thought of that would really have made me kind of nervous before I took this internship. In order to work through this obstacle, I would stay after hours and read through a pamphlet on AP style, or I would take it home and skim it over.  Learning is something we can’t tire of doing - otherwise we just stay stagnant. My supervisor Julie Asher would leave some nights, and I would still be there reading that pamphlet. At the end of the internship, she gave me feedback, which was a really good meeting to have, and she said to me that one of the things she noticed and appreciated about me was how much work I put into my writing, and how much it showed that I cared. She noticed that I would stay after hours and go beyond what was expected of me.I really pursued the work and realized that if this is something I love, I have to put in as much work as I can!  

How did you discover the internship? 

My advisor here, Dr. Hunt, has helped me more than I can say… I remember that before Christmas break of Junior year, she told me to start job-searching, and I decided I would really like to work for a Catholic organization. I put “Catholic news” into Google, and this organization popped up: USCCB Catholic News Service. I saw the name of the person listed, so I called and asked “Do you have internships?” And they said yes!  

Do you think that it is a good strategy for people to employ in their own job or internship search? 

Yes, I think you need to be really proactive in finding jobs and internships because a lot of people who have succeeded in life have been successful because they go looking for opportunities to be successful. If you find something that you want and desire, why not go for it? Get out of your comfort zone and try to discover what you are supposed to do. You can’t just sit around waiting for things to happen. 

What do you want to do when you graduate? 

I would love to go into Marketing, Public Relations, or Event Coordinating. After working for USCCB this summer, I also realized that we all have talents that God gives us, and I really want to put them to good use. I say that without trying to sound pompous or something. It is just so important that whatever job we go into, we use all that we have been given.  

My talents lie not only in my writing, but also in the way that I love people. When I am in a group and have to say a "fun fact" about myself, I always say that I’m a people person. I could just sit and talk with someone for hours about their life and I would be the happiest ever! A way to use both gifts for me would be in Public Relations and Marketing, because I love being with other people and also communicating through written word. I have really loved learning about marketing by interning here at Ave – shout-out to Ave Marketing! 

What do you plan to do this year in order to get you closer to your goal? 

I have already started applying for jobs for next year, and while I do that, I am interning here in Marketing. Doing that has really helped me towards my goal by allowing me to discover my vocation. Over these next three months, I am going to try to really process what I have learned here and how I can apply all of it when I go out into the world. I love our Ave bubble, but I think that one of the things that Tom Monaghan and President Towey want for us is to take what we have learned here, and go out into the world to share it!  

Similarly, where do you see yourself in five years?  

Wow… 

Are you going to be in Boston pursuing your long-lost dream? 

Haha, teaching at Northeastern? That would be hilarious. I’m not sure, I really want to be working somewhere that I feel I am being true to myself and what I have learned. Maybe I will have a family too. I know that is more personal, but it is the truth. What is so great about Ave is that it really tries to make you think about your discernment while you are growing, and I am so grateful for that. Hopefully I end up working for a company that I love, and have a big family. I would love waking up and being a mother but I would also love to go to work everyday. Even though there will be hard days and some “not-so-great” days, ultimately I will be doing what I love. 

Do you have any hobbies or interests that you pursue in your spare time? 

I was actually a ballet dancer for 16 years. I was in Art's Ballet Theatre of Florida, which is a ballet company that I joined when I was 14. I stopped dancing when I came to Ave, so I try to dance when I can! I actually have taught Pilates classes for a year at the Karate School in town, and I really enjoy doing that in my spare time. I also love to run or to have tea with people and talk about life! I am thinking about working to get my Pilates and Barre certifications so that I could do classes for high school and college girls, and be able to give back in that way.  

Who are three people in history that you admire, and why? 

Can they be a saint? I would say Pier Giorgio Frassatti. I think his story is amazing. He wrote about how his parents did not know that he wanted to be Catholic, because I don’t think his family was. He would have someone at 4:30 AM tug on a rope that was attached to his leg, and they would pull it to wake him up so that he would go climb on a mountain and get back in time for 7:30 AM mass. Did you know that? It is amazing. Being a young person myself, and wanting to understand what I am supposed to do, he’s someone I really admire. Also Saint Josemaria is one of my favorites! He really has a beautiful perspective on sanctifying your daily work. Sonia Sotomayor is also someone that I look up to. She was the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice. I cannot even imagine coming from her background and ending up as one of the first Supreme Court Justices in the United States. 

What gives you the most joy? 

I was actually just talking with someone about this yesterday. Contrary to my parents, I really love being in nature. I love being at the foot of a mountain and looking up. I love sunsets and sunrises. I love running here in the fields behind Ave and just looking out over the plains and saying "wow". 

I also really love teaching people. Teaching is beautiful because you are able to see where they started, and celebrate with them when they have learned. Being with people also brings me joy. I am an introvert-extrovert; sometimes I need my space, but having good conversation where people can truly be themselves brings me so much joy. 

What brought you joy when you were a child? Do any of the things you just mentioned differ from when you were a child? 

I think being with family. Also, one thing that brings me so much joy is serving others. My sophomore year I told myself that even if none of my friends were going, I would go and do something as a service project. Service makes you feel so whole. It is so easy to get caught up in yourself and what you want—especially in college—that you forget about others. That is something that we should focus on all of our lives. When I was little, my mom would always go and serve. I think that is another reason it gives me joy. Even though I did not go with her all the time, just seeing that she was going to do that gave me a lot of peace.  

My birthday also brings me joy. My dad always bakes me a cake, called the “Better Almost Impossible” cake, because there is nothing better than that cake. My dad works very hard, but he is always take off time to make me feel special. That is what it reminds me of. The cake is this three-layer chocolate cake with dulce de leche inside, vanilla cream on top, and sprinkles. 

What do your parents do? 

My mom is back in school. She did interior design for a while, then became a stay-at-home mom. My dad he says that he is an entrepreneur... at least that’s what he likes to be called. 

How have your dreams and goals changed through your life? 

I think that once you grow up, you realize that some things are not very easy to achieve. When I was little, I wanted to be a doctor. I even got a First Aid kit for Christmas one year because I wanted to be a doctor so badly! As I started taking classes though, I realized that as much as I loved the idea of being a doctor, it wasn’t something that I would be good at. That was kind of disappointing. After that, I realized that you have to ask yourself “What are the goals I can achieve doing something else? What can I keep striving for"? There are lots of people who have dreams, but they become goals when you realize that you can achieve them. 

What advice have you received that has had an impact on your life

Do you know Fr. Dunn? He was my spiritual director last year and is just an amazing person. One thing he said to me was, “Ana, do not settle. Do what makes you happy.” And I think that, subconsciously, I’ve tried to follow that in my life. 

If you won $1 million tomorrow, what would you do with the money? 

I think that I would donate some of it to Ave...  

Great! How much of it? 

Well let’s see, not half of it… Like three quarters of it! 

Oh, wow you’re so generous! 

I think I would donate to some kind of religious order, like the Missionaries of Charity. I worked with them this summer so they are really dear to me. Also, I would probably donate to orphanages in the United States. I would want to give a lot of it away. 

And some for me obviously, but I would still want to work. I would not want to sit around all day, that’s so boring! I probably would travel as well. Europe is my favorite part of the world, so I would probably travel there.