By MINA AMSO
A young Catholic woman says she had to go through unknown territory two years ago, learning how to discern a decision to serve in a ministry. And she’s only seeing the fruit of it now.
Nicola Lee from East Coast Bays, who is 21, says discernment is about relationship and friendship, but it can make her feel ‘freaked out’ at times.
Back in November, 2020, Ms Lee was asked to be part of the Women’s Dove Ministry team – a Catholic fellowship for Women, who offer personal prayer and reconciliation ministry.
“I was taken aback by it. It was a family thing that my Mum was involved in, that I’ve gone to a few times,” she said.
She was asked if she could commit to two years. She would be the youngest in the team, and would not be hanging out with her friends, there were none her age. She asked:
Ms Lee went away for a week to discern.
“At first I was like ‘I don’t know how to discern’, so I was a bit freaked out. I just talked in prayer a lot and reflected on it. Delved into my insecurities about it. Instead of stewing on those thoughts of ‘I can’t do this’, . . . really sitting on that and going to God’s Word and be like, if he has called me, he’s called me for a reason, and I have to trust in that. And I would bring the insecurities to him.
“And bit by bit, often through people that I talked to, like family friends and friends, they would offer words of advice and help me unpick the securities. And it was lots of little things that came up. Like homilies in Masses, or a sentence that would really just stand out to me, that I would fixate on that was relevant.
Ms Lee said that she hears God best when she is walking on the beach, waiting in the silence to see what he might say. She would get ideas from the Bible, images, homilies that stood out, or things people have said to her.
“Or a song that I would be listening to on a playlist that I’ve heard heaps of times before [that] I never really liked. In this new context, it kind of hit me, like I feel [the Holy] Spirit moving in that, and those lyrics spoke to it.
“And it all got built up till I was pretty sure; okay I think God was saying yes to this.”
She said she was pretty nervous on the way to the Dove prayer meeting, where she knew a decision had to be shared and commitment had to be made. A lyric from the hymn “Be not afraid, I go before you always” was in the back of her mind.
That evening went well, and she was commissioned to the team the next day.
“Since then, I’ve been wrestling with ‘why am I here, what’s my calling in this team?’.
Many young people today struggle with decision-making. Whom should I marry? Where should I live? Am I doing what I am supposed to do?
At an Upper Room event at the Shakespeare tavern in central Auckland on June 28, Auckland Bishop Steve Lowe spoke about discerning life’s toughest questions.
The Upper Room is a new regular event organised by the Catholic Youth Team of Auckland diocese. The evening provides an opportunity for young adults to meet at a pub, grab a drink, and dive into some relevant topics that don’t usually feature in the Sunday Mass homily.
Bishop Lowe shared some practical tips for discernment and how to recognise God’s voice. He said that discernment involves a host of things.
“Discernment is not something that just happens straight away. Discernment is an art. It starts with prayer,” he said.
He said that Ignatian style prayer and retreats are a great place to start. He also said C. S. Lewis’ famous work The Screwtape Letters provides an insight into how the enemy derails one from the way they should go.
Ms Lee said she didn’t know much about the incoming Bishop.
“But he was surprisingly a lot more engaging that I thought. Really personable, actually genuinely interested in young people – [this] really came out, and that was a big thing for me.”
Ms Lee liked what she heard from him that evening, especially when he said that, at times, discernment can be, in a sense, too personal a thing, and people can get isolated whilst in the thick of it. Bishop Lowe talked about keeping conversations going with friends while discerning.
“He talked a bit about relationships. I think we should be talking to each other about it to try and reveal bits of God to each other,” Ms Lee said.
Now, a year and a half after the decision about Dove, Ms Lee said that clarity is only just starting to emerge as to the purpose of her “yes”.
She said that there’s always that initial “yes”, but then there’s the huge waiting period after of not knowing why.
“Now [I’m] seeing the fruits starting to come through as to why he’s calling me to it.”
Ms Lee is still serving on the Dove Fellowship team, and will renew her discernment at the end of this year.
Auckland diocese Ministries to Young People manager, and the organiser of the Upper Room event, Sam Brebner, said that it was a fantastic night seeing young Catholics being enthusiastic about coming for fellowship and formation.
“It’s really exciting to sell out an event, fill the pub with Catholic young adults, especially as we’re coming out of Covid-19 restrictions.”
He said that Bishop Lowe’s talk on discernment had a lot of depth, and he hoped that the new shepherd brings enthusiasm and love for the young Church.
“I know that he has a real history of that in Hamilton where he’s previously ministered, and I think the fact that he’s made time to come to a couple of our young adult events really shows that. It’s exciting to have a bishop who cares deeply about young people and makes time to be with them.”
Photo: Bishop Stephen Lowe with young people at the Upper Room event (Photo: Mina Amso)