If you are considering post-graduate service, you have probably felt some sort of inner calling from God or a desire deep in your heart. Maybe along with that desire, nerves are also in the pit of your stomach.
Tips for Discerning Post-Graduate Service
When I was going through the discernment process myself, I knew I wanted to pursue a year of service, but I was anxious about the sacrifices that a year of service requires.
Surrender and Obedience
Through this process, I learned the first step is surrender and obedience. I recommend giving God your desire to serve. In this way, we can remind ourselves that though we have a desire to serve, first and foremost, we desire the holy will of God. We should allow Him to guide our discernment process and what He wants from us.
The following resources gave me greater peace and greater trust in God’s plan.
- The Surrender Novena by Fr. Dolindo Ruotolo
- The Litany of Trust
- 33 days to Morning Glory by Michael E. Gaitley
- The words of Mary “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be it done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:26-38).
Using Mary, the pinnacle example of trust and obedience as my advocate, I found I had more strength to complete God’s holy will than I originally thought. With your surrender, you will be better able to serve those around you and ultimately God himself. Knowing that I was doing His will instead of my own also gave me peace.
Write + Pray
Discover your story within His.
The second step is to research and decide which program is best for you. With so many good programs, I remember feeling a little overwhelmed as I began. The many different organizations available each have a unique mission to glorify God. I found the Catholic Volunteer Network a great place to start, as it has a list of almost 200 programs.
Some of the most well-known programs attract hundreds of volunteers from around the country. If you feel called to evangelize on a college campus, Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), might be perfect for you. If you want to enter the retreat ministry, NET Ministries could be a great place to start. The Jesuit Volunteer Corps is known for a wide variety of different mission sites both domestic and abroad. If your ministry is in teaching there are well-known teaching programs such as the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance of Catholic Education (ACE), the University of Portland’s Pacific Alliance of Catholic Education (PACE), and Criegthon’s MAGIS, where you can also receive your Masters in teaching.
But the programs I’ve mentioned are only the tip of the iceberg. There are countless smaller volunteer programs.
Once you have found a few programs that interest you, the best method of research is to talk to a current volunteer of your organization.
A current volunteer is the best source of information to learn about daily life and can often ease some of the anxiety related to the unknown. Most of the time, they love their mission and love to talk to prospective volunteers. So don’t be afraid to reach out!
Talk to Jesus about Your Calling and Gifts
Spend time in prayer to allow God to speak to your heart. Know what He is saying to you and in which program you might thrive best.
Here are a few common considerations.
- With what length of volunteer commitment are you comfortable?
- What does your vacation time look like?
- What are you looking for in a volunteer community?
- Do you want to live in a community with many other young people or do you prefer a small group?
- Do you want to live aboard or do you prefer to stay domestic?
- Are you comfortable being sent to any location or do you prefer to decide where you live?
- Are you comfortable being assigned to any sort of job or do you prefer to have some control over where you might work?
- What are the financial benefits and concerns associated with each program?
- Is there fundraising involved, and if so, what type?
- What is the spirituality of the volunteer program?
- Is there access to daily Mass and the Sacraments?
- What groups of people do you feel called to serve? Elementary kids, the elderly, college students, the homeless, the sick, etc?
- Does the mission of the program match the mission in your own heart?
We each have different talents and gifts. Take the time to think about yours and where you might be best able to serve and where God is calling you to grow.
Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching; if one exhorts, in exhortation; if one contributes, in generosity; if one is over others, with diligence; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. -Romans 12:6-8
My mission ended up looking different than my friends’ missions. I wish I would have not compared and been at peace knowing that based on the gifts God has given us, we each have a unique and specific mission that He wants us to fulfill.
Be Ready to Be Changed
Finally, here are some key takeaways that former volunteers told me before I started the mission that helped my mindset.
- Often the organization will decide where you live, your job description, and will have rules and a schedule. As a result, you will learn obedience.
- There will be days of exhaustion, emotional difficulty, and hardship. There will be days when you want nothing more to fulfill your own needs, and you will be required to put the needs of others before your own. As a result, you will learn how to sacrifice.
- Everyone in your community will bring their spirituality to the table. You will be exposed to a variety of spiritual practices. As a result, your spirituality will change.
- You will have a mission. You will join something bigger than yourself. As a result, part of your old self will die.
- In the process, some of your self-centeredness and ego will die as well. You will never be the same, but you will change for the better.
If God has called you to serve Him in this particular way, He will sustain and strengthen you. Do not be afraid to plunge into the deep and complete His mission. Trust Him, He will not let you fail. Go set the world on fire.
Are you discerning post-graduate service? What questions do you have about the process?
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Claire Belén Vietri is a recent Gonzaga graduate from Idaho who is currently volunteering at a children’s home called Amigos de Jesus in Honduras. In her free time, she loves running outside, playing soccer with the kids, reading classics, and most importantly, laughing with family and friends. You can find out more about her here.
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