A vocation is a call from God the Father to conform yourself to the Son in a particular way according to the gifts given you by the Spirit (cf. Rom 12:4-8), for the building up of the Body of Christ (cf. Eph 4:12), which is the Church (cf. 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 5). Generally, and above all, our calling as the baptized is to be holy, and this means to love. For to be holy is to love, and to love is to be holy. Truly, our vocation is to love in such a way that we give of ourselves, even unto death, so that others may have life - this is a eucharistic love, a paschal love, a love that is the death and Resurrection of the Lord. For as the head has suffered and risen from the dead for the salvation of all, so must the body (cf. Ephesians 5:25).
We are members of the Body of Christ by our Baptism, and we are given different functions within the Body by the Spirit. The Spirit also provides gifts for the fulfillment of these functions. One would never expect a heart to reach out and grab a cup of tea - it isn't suited or equipped for it. In the same way, only a fool would expect the hand to pump blood throughout the body. A vocation is similar; some are called to be Apostles, others teachers, still others workers. All are needed for the Body of Christ to function as it should (Cf. 1 Corinthians 12). The question then becomes: How do you know what part of the Body you are called to be?
Discernment is the process by which we listen and respond to the Father’s call, seeking to do His will. One of our friars once said that it is a special grace even to be seeking to do the will of God. This voice does not usually manifest itself loudly but as a still small voice within the caverns of your heart (Cf. 1 Kings 19:11-14). Therefore, the foundation of discernment must be prayer, for it is in prayer that we are able to listen to that still small voice. Through prayer you can learn the ways that God speaks to you and then listen accordingly - does he speak to you through friends or through the wise and holy people whom you respect? Consider their words, consider what you hear in prayer, and proceed.
Also, keep in mind throughout the process that you should know yourself well enough to know your strengths and weaknesses. Often the two can be sides of the same coin. For example, someone who is strong willed and determined might also be very stubborn. The Lord is likely to call you somewhere that will confirm your strengths and purify your weaknesses. As one of our friars also said: “It is important to count the crosses of a vocation alongside the blessings.”
It is of special importance, also, to keep in mind that discernment is an active process — actions must be taken. If one thinks the Lord may be calling him to the priesthood, one discerns by talking with the vocation director of their diocese. If one thinks they’re called to marriage, they should discern by dating. If one thinks they are called to consecrated life, one discerns by contacting the vocation director and visiting a religious community (I myself visited four before applying to the Franciscan TORs). Always keep in mind that discernment is a mutual process between you, the other party (diocese, person, community), and God. Additionally, keep in mind that every step of the process is a time of discernment.
My first phase is ending, as I move toward the next phase of formation and discernment with the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regular (TOR), Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. I have discerned, with the community, that God is calling me to be a novice, and to discern if He is calling me to take vows.
We are a community of men consecrated to live out the Gospel through vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, with the charism of continual conversion and penance. The first stage of entry into this community is called postulancy. The word comes from “postulate”, which has a twofold meaning: to ask for admittance, and to assume a truth a