Discerning and Dating
by Matthew Maxwell
When I was in high school, I had two thoughts about vocation, either 1) you become holy by being a priest or religious or 2) you get married and are just sort of holy, but not all the way (or at least not as much as a priest or nun). Needless to say, my own discernment process was pretty short-sighted, this internal dramatic struggle between whether or not God was calling me to be a priest and be holy or be a married person and be just okay. Pop quiz time: St. Gianna, Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, St. Monica, St. Thomas More, St. Louis IX, Mary and St. Joseph. What do they all have in common? They were married and they also became saints! And those are only a few. Think of amazing married people in your own life who have witnessed to you the love of Christ. We are all called to make the love of God manifest to the world through the unique and specific vocation He calls us to, whether that is as a priest, religious, married person, or in the generous single life.
In order to discern what that vocation truly is, we have to be open to where He’s calling us, including in dating. I consider myself somewhat of an authority on the subject, not because I did it well, but because I failed so many times (if you are reading this and we dated in high school please forgive me a million times over). So with that said, here’s a hot take. Strap on your seatbelts: dating is discernment of marriage. Full stop. End of story. We desire to date because we desire to love and the height of romantic love with another can only culminate fully in the sacrament of marriage. When this comes to discernment, if you are dating someone do you have to know 100% they are the one? Of course not. But, you do have to be open to that and continually pray that God can open your heart and mind to where He wants you to both to go. When you date, make sure that your prayer life is in check and that you are continually listening to where God is leading your relationship. Make Christ the bedrock of your relationship and seek above all to make that person holier than you.
On another note, if you are reading this and currently discerning the priesthood or religious life, it’s important to know that you can still date people; you have not yet professed evangelical counsels or religious vows. You do, however, have to be humble enough to recognize what God is truly calling you to. If you are dating someone and heavily discerning the priesthood or religious life AND you are pretty confident that is what God is calling you to, it probably isn’t the most respectful thing to try to hang on to your relationship with your boyfriend/girlfriend. It might do some pretty acute emotional damage to that other person and create a lot of confusion for them in their own spiritual lives. That’s hard to do. But, part of the discernment process is being extremely intentional in imitation of God Himself who is intentional in calling you: He isn’t wishy-washy and He doesn’t change His mind. He intentionally calls and we have to be humble enough to open ourselves up and listen to where He is leading.
Whatever state you are in right now, when it comes to discernment and dating trust in the words of St. Paul: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is peace” (2 Corinthians 3:17). Don’t be so conflicted internally, but trust in where the peace of God leads you, knowing that sanctity lies in being exactly who God calls us to be, whether that is as a priest, religious, or married person. When dating, always carry the words of Blessed Chiara Luce Badano close to your heart: “For you Jesus…if it’s want You want, I want it too!”
Matthew Maxwell is the youth minister at Immaculate Conception Parish – Dardenne Prairie. He and his wife, Katie, married in 2017.