The practice of discernment

By Father Chris Thomas

As I wrote last month, we are all called to love. Within that call to love, God has a plan for us. One of the ways of discerning it is through the spirituality of Saint Ignatius of Loyola.

Ignatius was a soldier who was badly wounded in battle and taken to recover to his brother's castle in Loyola, northern Spain. During his rehabilitation he had two vivid daydreams, both of which were pleasurable. In one he dreamt of doing great acts of bravery and winning a lady's favour. The second set of dreams was about giving his life to Jesus.
He became aware that at the end of the dreams he had two different experiences. After the first, he was generally just out of sorts. After the second he was left with a sense of deep contentment. He decided that the dreams of following Jesus were inspired by God and the other dreams by other realities and so his journey into God had begun.
He then went to live near Montserrat where he spent time in prayer which changed him deeply. He wrote down what happened and these notes became the Spiritual Exercises. These exercises have presuppositions. Ignatius believed that God wants a personal relationship with us and that every moment of our existence is an encounter with God. He knew from his own experience that the journey is never smooth and he knew that for anyone taking discernment seriously there was a need to have someone to accompany you as you seek God's will for your life.
Ignatius discovered that God has hopes and dreams for all of us and will make known these hopes and dreams during times of prayer and reflection and conversation. He invites us to look at our motivation and our responses to what we think God may be saying.

The Spiritual Exercises help people come to decisions about what to do in life. The process involves us becoming more sensitive and aware of the action of God in our lives, trusting ourselves and our feelings. The peace and joy of God only comes when we trust ourselves and trust God working in and through our emotional life. Much of the prayer and reflection in Ignatian decision-making has to do with achieving the detachment necessary to choose freely.

The process of discernment requires work. It asks that we make every effort to discover God's will, weighing all the circumstances and likely outcomes. This demands a real commitment to prayer, listening and responding. When we have finished making a choice this way, we should feel comfortable and consoled with the final decision.

God is at work in our lives leading us more closely into the mystery of His plan for us. Ultimately we are called to love and in every decision we make, we are called to more love because love brings us life in its fullness.