A perspective on Discernment from one of our contributors:
As I finish up my preparation for Ordination, I have had the opportunity to reflect back on my time at the Institute of the Incarnate Word. I left the IVE a few years ago because I saw many issues and problems, many which we discuss on this site. I had a good understanding of the Church's tradition and I spent over a year discerning the priesthood, reading numerous books on its sacrificial nature and many writings from the Doctors of the Church. With this background, all due to God's grace, I was able to recognize the problems with the IVE and act appropriately. Unfortunately, not everyone entering the Institute had the same background and many were unable to recognize the warning signs. I often felt helpless, unable to help the confused and well intentioned young men trying to fulfill God's will while subjected to the Institutes problems. It is to try and prevent others from entering, uninformed, into a similar situation that I write this.
One of the major problems with the IVE is their recruiting. The IVE encourages people to enter who have never attempted to or are still discerning their vocation. They often try and make young men feel special by telling them God may be calling them to the priesthood and they must join the IVE to discern if this is true. Yet the IVE does this with no intention of helping them to discern after entering.
They often take quotes from Saints out of context to pressure one to enter. These quotes must be seen in proper context and they are not presented as they were intended by the Saints. When speaking of the urgency a saint mentions regarding investigating religious life, one must remember that when these words were used it was not possible for one to be enter a religious community one week after beginning an investigation into a vocation (though it is possible with the IVE.) It often took years to enter a religious order during the time period these saints lived. (Remember all The Little Flower went through to enter Carmel!) Those years would allow proper discernment from all parties. Yet with the Institute, one is encouraged to enter right away and not delay. This is not the intent of those quoted.
One must begin discerning God's will right away, but one must not rush to judgment. God's will is too important for a rushed or imprudent decision. One must not confuse a new found love for God with a religious vocation. We are all called to love God with all of our being. God wants us to love Him as He intends and we must discern to determine what He desires from us.
The most important steps in Discernment are:
1st - Convert and give your life to God (this can be done by any state in life.)
2nd - Determine which state in Life God is calling you to.
God's wants one to discern religious/priestly life and there should be time and effort spent in discernment before entering an order. One should already have made an effort to duly and ornately discern a calling to the priesthood before entering religious or priestly formation. When one enters a community he is also looking for confirmation from the community that this is the community God is calling him to.
The problem here occurs if one has never truly discerned priestly/religious life (as is the case with 90% who enter the IVE novitiate.) Discerning a vocation requires much prayer and spiritual direction. If one has failed to do this and still enters a religious community, he must make sure the community is committed to his continued vocational discernment. This is not the model of the Institute. To enter the institute, one should first be absolutely certain of their vocation to the priesthood, because there will be no discernment after entering.
After entrance the Institute does not concern themselves with one's discernment at all - despite what they say. They are only looking to see if the person is a good fit for the Institute, not if the Institute or a priestly vocation is a good for for the individual. As long as they can help the Institute in its needs, they will be told they need to persevere in their vocation.
I do not believe this is not out of malice but out of a mix of pride, ignorance, and misplaced zeal. Many in the IVE believe the Institute is the best or only place for those who desire to be holy priests or religious. They fail to recognize the holiness of other vocations and charisms. They also fail in the grave responsibility of helping someone discern God's call for them.
If they had any real application process or more thorough interview to make sure that people had discerned their vocation well and weren't still looking at a vocation in general, then they wouldn't be responsible for leading them through continued discernment. However, because they take responsibility for these souls in such an early stage of vocational discernment, they have a grave responsibility to make sure they are helping them first to discern their vocation in general, then - if one discerns a religious vocation - to look at all vocations and charisms through which God calls us to holiness.
Even if you have done no real discernment before entering, the IVE acts as though, because you are there, you have a vocation to religious life, with the Institute, until the IVE leadership decides that you don't. Even the Ignatian exercises they give to seminarians do not focus on the state of life, but assume a vocation and simply encourage people to embrace the cross and not leave the Institute. This would be fine if people had a thorough discernment process before entering or a postulancy centered around discernment - yet this is not the case with 90% of those there.
It is true we must all embrace the cross, but it is important to embrace the cross Christ has made for us, individually, from all eternity. Not all crosses are for everybody and a failure to embrace the cross Christ has prepared for us, specifically, endangers our eternal salvation. Embracing the wrong cross is a failure to embrace the right one!
The Institute is not interested in finding out what is best for the individuals that come to them. They assume the Institute is always the best for everyone, until, if one is no longer useful to to them, they cast them aside. Good and Holy souls enter there looking for guidance, but many would be better off in other places. Some would be better off raising a holy family, others in a different community better suited to their gifts and talents. Yet if the Institute can make use of one's gifts they will never give him permission to leave and will tell him his desire to leave is based on an unwillingness to take up his cross and follow Christ.
This statement may be true in some cases, but it should never be used until one has thoroughly discerned his vocation and made sure that it is the correct cross for him. Because the Institute does not insist on thorough discernment before hand and, after entering, treats one as though he has already correctly discerned, this very important step of hearing God's particular call is missed. They encourage many to take up crosses and endure many hardships that may not be those God wants for them. God may have another path to holiness for that individual, yet they are kept from it by those who are supposed to be caring for them.
The IVE is very concerned about growing in numbers and that results in prioritizing growth over the well-being of those in their care. They treat formation as though one has chosen the Institute through a duly and ornate election, yet they know this is not the case. (Some men come to them without even having received all of the sacraments of initiation or with impediments to the priesthood which they - the IVE - never asked about prior to entering.)
Yes God wants you to Know Him, to Love Him and to Serve Him. He wants you to do that without delay. He may want you in religious life and one should not hesitate one second after discerning what God is asking. Yet because vocation is the path by which God is calling one to Heaven, it is too important of a decision to rush through. Take time to make sure that the decision is correct and then run as fast as you can to the path God is calling you to. Rush to the right decision, not to making a decision.