Couple holding hands

Dating and Discernment

Can you continue to date while exploring a vocation to the priesthood or consecrated life?

Every situation is different. 
Literally hundreds of thousands of people have gone to seminary or entered the religious life without ever having dated, and have lived fulfilling and happy lives as priests and religious sisters or religious brothers. Other men and women will only have peace of mind about a vocation to the priesthood or religious life once they've explored dating. A chaste dating experience can help prepare them to willingly give up the beauty of holy marriage. As one priest put it, “My own dating experience gave me freedom of heart to apply to seminary.”

Discern one vocation at a time. 
One happily married father of five remembers attending Mass with his then-girlfriend. The idea of priesthood would frequently pop into his head, but he knew it was just that—an idea. He realized it was not the same thing as discernment, which is a very deliberate exploration of God's call. In general, it's best to discern one vocation at a time. If you feel called to marriage, then by all means date good Catholic people; and do it in an intentional way. On the other hand, if you feel called to the priesthood or religious life, it's best to discern without any romantic ties, which could easily be an obstacle to good discernment. In every dating relationship there comes a point when the couple chooses to be exclusive and to date only each other. The same is true in looking at the priesthood or religious life: at a certain point it deserves your full attention.  

Date to find your future spouse. 
Ideally, dating is for discerning marriage. The concept of courtship has faded in our society, and even the idea of dating is waning. In its place is the practice of “hooking up.” A Catholic who is striving for virtue needs to be very careful about dating in today's culture. Falling into serious sin is always an obstacle to clear-headed discernment.

Treat each person you date as if they are a child of God who could be your future spouse. Also, avoid dating just to “rule out” the possibility of marriage. This would be using the other person, which is never morally acceptable. Proper dating is about building a relationship with another person, not about just having a relationship for the sake of the experience. Dating should lead us to know more about ourselves and others, ultimately leading us to a more confident and fuller understanding of what God is asking of us. 

It's not “God or Marriage”. 
Don't think of your vocation in terms of “God or marriage,” as though they are at odds with each other. Instead realize that both marriage and the religious life are means toward a fulfilled relationship with God. Choosing to live the vocation God has given to us is not a rejection of other vocations, but rather a beautiful gift meant to fulfill us. What God wants for you is always best—for you. If He calls you to the priesthood or religious life, He will give you the grace to be fulfilled there; if marriage is your path, He will help you to find the right person and flourish in that vocation.

Remember the keys to good discernment apply to all vocations: pray, seek direction, talk to friends and family, and be open to all of God’s options. If you feel God tugging at your heart to consider the priesthood or religious life, at some point you must make the difficult choice to forego dating in order to focus exclusively on God’s call. 

Thank you for taking the time to consider your vocation. Be open with God, and He will bless you greatly! 

If you would like to talk about your vocation, give me a call or send me an email. 

Fr. J.D. Jaffe
Director of the Office of Vocations

This article is from a previous issue of our Discernment Insights e-newsletter. I encourage you to subscribe as well as access the archive for past newsletters on topics like abandonment to God's will, why have a spiritual director, celibacy, and more.