DISCERNMENT ARTICLES

Dating and discernment

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There are lots of charming Catholic women who want to get married to a good Catholic man. The problem is, when a man feels called to marriage, all these women go into hiding. But when a young man begins to discern a vocation to the priesthood, lots of wonderful Catholic women suddenly become available — and they would all love to date him!

Of course, that’s an exaggeration, but there is an element of truth. Many seminarians meet the woman of their dreams at a most inopportune time — like the summer before they begin seminary!

So what’s a guy to do about dating and discernment? Here are some points to consider.

Every situation is different.

Literally hundreds of thousands of men have gone to seminary and been ordained without ever having dated, and have lived fulfilling and happy lives. Other men will only have peace of mind about a vocation to the priesthood once they’ve explored dating. Should they enter seminary later, a chaste dating experience can help prepare them to willingly give up the beauty of marriage. As one priest put it, “My own dating experience gave me freedom of heart to apply to seminary.”

Discern one vocation at a time.

One happily married father of five remembers attending Mass with his then-girlfriend. The idea of priesthood would frequently pop into his head, but he knew it was just that — an idea. He knew it was not the same thing as discernment, which is a very deliberate exploration of God’s call. In general, it’s best to discern one vocation at a time. If you feel called to marriage, by all means get to know some good Catholic women. On the other hand, if you feel called to the priesthood, it’s best to discern without any romantic ties, which would likely be an obstacle to good discernment of a priestly vocation.

Date for marriage.

Ideally, dating is for discerning marriage. As mentioned above, some men need to discern marriage before they discern the priesthood. But a man who feels called to the priesthood should be very careful about dating just to “rule out” the possibility of marriage. This would be using the other person, which is never morally acceptable.

Think about it from a different perspective: If you were dating a woman who thought that she should seriously consider marrying a different man, wouldn’t it be disingenuous for her to continue dating you?

It’s not “God or the girl”.

Don’t think of your vocation in terms of “God or the girl.” A vocation isn’t just a rejection of other possibilities. It is, more importantly, an embrace of the best option. What God wants for you is always best—for you, for “the girl,” and for His plan. A marriage which is contrary to God’s best plan for you may well lead to an unhappy situation. The same goes for a priest who was originally called to marriage.

Avoid the hook-up culture.

The concept of courtship has faded in our society, and even the idea of dating is waning. In its place is the practice of “hooking up.” A Catholic man who is striving for virtue needs to be very careful about dating in today’s culture. Falling into serious sin is always an obstacle to clear-headed discernment.

When a man feels God tugging at his heart to consider the priesthood, at some point he must make the difficult choice to forgo dating, or else risk not listening to God’s call. However, as you may have experienced in your own life, some of the best results come from the most difficult decisions. This is especially true with a vocation. Sometimes, especially for such an important matter, God requires that you make a difficult choice in order to gain a greater reward.