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Speaking Out: Finding discernment at Madonna House

By  Mary French, Youth Speak News
  • September 18, 2019

It’s easy to seek an answer and to call your search for it “discernment.” It is much harder to allow that search to become an unrelenting desire to accept God’s will in your life.

Often, it is scary to think of what your life will become if you discern poorly. For hundreds of youth each year, a small religious community in rural Ontario is their choice to go for clarity in their discernment process.

Madonna House is a religious community dedicated to serving God and the poor and to creating a community of love and prayer in ordinary working life. Branches of this apostolate can be found across the world, but its main house is located in Combermere, Ont., about two hours west of Ottawa. From washing dishes, to working in the gift shop, to planting trees or helping on the farm, working guests of all ages share in this simple life with the consecrated men, women and priests of the community.

It may be hard, at first, to find correlation between washing dishes and discerning your vocation in life. Yet immersed in a prayerful environment, the two draw closer together. If we can find Him in the ordinary, which is the very work of Madonna House, then perhaps we can find Him also in our future vocations. Even Christ, in the first 30 years before His ministry, did just that. He lived an ordinary life.

Here is what I believe is so valuable about that prayerful, monotonous life: the silence. The opinions of neighbours and acquaintances, the messages of media and busy schedule of our lives collectively can make a noise that drowns out our own internal voice. Consequently, our ability to listen is also forfeited.

Silence devoted to God can help us look into our deepest, and sometimes hidden, reality of who we are. It hurts, but it is far more detrimental to our happiness to do otherwise. If I never pushed myself beyond comfortability, I would never be able to grow. Choosing to remain blind to who we are and living with desperation for our desires makes our lives miserable. 

I recently had a conversation with a youth visitor to Madonna House, who explained how his stay helped him form the habit of continually saying yes to God in each present moment. The gradual detachment from his own power to choose gave him a feeling of extraordinary freedom. 

This is a transformational view of discernment. Surrendering our will into God’s enables discernment that isn’t based on our own desires, intentions and reason, but an all-encompassing communication with God’s living will.

The Catechism iterates how our vocation is first and foremost our identity as a religious being, and that a fulfilling life means living by our bond with God. To fall in love with God is the climax of life. Religion becomes so much more than something you do when you pray. It becomes life and your every breath. When we ground ourselves in our true identity, which is itself relationship with God, discernment can suddenly become more of a desperation for God than for answers.

I first came across Madonna House nearly a year ago and later joined their working guest program. I often think of Madonna House as the place where I saw God in everything. The incredible faith and joy of Madonna House members in living completely ordinary lives showed me how prayer and work can be folded into one living conversation with God. I realized God is not present in our future plans, but rather the small things we do each moment.

Every year, hundreds of young people visit lay apostolates, convents and seminaries. 

Perhaps moments of singlehood and discernment are more than a grey waiting room. Rather, they can be an opportunity to fruitfully prepare for our future vocations. By simply finding God in the present moment, we can build our relationship with Christ, which inevitably can help to bring clarity to our future. 

(French, 21, is a third-year liberal arts student at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Barry’s Bay, Ont.)

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