MCNEILLIE: Surrendering is the first and last step in discerning a vocation

May 26, 2020

On June 6, as the Church sings the Litany of the Saints, transitional deacons Thuc Nguyen and Mark Hebert will lie face-down on the sanctuary floor of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. It will literally be the last thing they do before they are ordained a priest: lie there motionless, in utter surrender, while the Church prays for them.

In a similar way, every life-committing vocation, such as marriage or consecrated life, starts like this — with a complete surrender of one’s self before God. What people may not realize is that discernment, indeed, every vocational discernment, begins like this too.

When people come to the Office of Vocations trying to find God’s plan for their life, whatever that may be, they are usually looking for a procedure. They’re thinking something like: “tell me what I have to do to find my vocation.” While there is a discernment process — some activities that people have to do to find their vocation — that is not the first step. In fact, it is not even the most important step in finding God’s will. Instead, the first step, the most important step, is surrendering to God. 

God wants to tell people their vocation. In fact, the word “vocation,” from the Latin for “to call,” already implies that God is actively telling people or “calling” people to their vocation. 

Since God is pretty smart, the challenge of finding one’s vocation is not in God’s revealing, or even in your listening; it’s in your being open to listening. Again, God isn’t going to struggle with figuring out a way to tell you. Nor is it a big struggle to figure out how to listen to your Creator, who knows inter-personal communication better than you do. The biggest struggle is: “do I want to listen to what God has to say?” Or again, “Am I willing to drop all my plans to receive God’s plans?”

This openness to listen to God — this readiness to receive God’s will — requires surrender. Discernment is a process, at times even a difficult process, and most of the work is in this first step of surrender. 

Once someone is ready to listen and receive, God will certainly find a way to communicate and reveal. Finally, this surrender, which began the process of discernment, is manifested at the end of the discernment process when the person lays down their life in marriage, ordination, or consecration.

As painful as it can be, surrendering to God and losing one’s plans brings us closer to finding God’s plans, which can never be lost or fail. To see a good example of this, we need not look any further than June 6. 

As those two seminarians lay down their lives in an obvious way, we remember that many years ago, they began this journey in the same way — surrendering to God. They gave up a lot to be ordained priests; they gave up other plans. But they would both tell you that God’s plan was better.

To learn more about Transitional Deacons Thuc Nguyen and Mark Hebert and vocations, visit†

Father Richard McNeillie is the director of the Archdiocesan Office of Vocations.