‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.’
We all long for the fullness of life and love in our relationships, our work, our vocation… yet we often leave God out of our decision-making, both in daily moments and in serious life choices. Mary teaches us that our heart only experiences true joy when our discernment is rooted in God. The joy she experienced at the Annunciation was the fruit of her Fiat to the Divine Will: ‘let it be done unto me.’
If we are to experience the joy of the Annunciation, our heart is to become an interior Holy House: empty of self, and surrendered in simplicity and humility. Mary said Yes and the Word became flesh; Life was born in her and she gave Life to the world. When we say Yes to the Divine Will with the faith and trust of Mary, we too will experience her joy, and in turn, we will give life to the world and glory to the Trinity.
Our discernment must be Trinitarian: a response to the call of Love, from the Father who created us and knows us better than we know ourselves; according to the Word of God, as revealed in Scripture and explained by the Magisterium of the Church; in the Holy Spirit, who breathed into every cell of our being and every word written in the Bible. Mary is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit and the Annunciation was her own Pentecost.
Discernment of Spirits is a gift of the Holy Spirit that we can pray for. It will give us the power to say Yes to whatever God asks of us in whatever moment of our lives, whether joyful or sorrowful. It is an indispensable weapon to use daily in the spiritual battle.
A series of podcasts on ‘Discerning Hearts’, interviewing experienced retreat-guide and acclaimed author, Fr Timothy Gallagher OMV. The talks discuss in-depth the fourteen rules of St Ignatius as given in the Spiritual Exercises. Topics covered include: tactics of the enemy at different stages of growth in the spiritual life; interior movements of consolation and desolation; reasons for the former and how to respond in each state. Fr Timothy Gallagher equips the reader with St Ignatius’ teaching so that they may “be aware, understand and take action.”
Interior freedom in discernment
We can only make good decisions if we are interiorly free. Mary was immaculately conceived; she was not enslaved to sin as we are. Her Fiat was a wholehearted Yes to God and the joy of the Annunciation witnesses to the fullness of this life and love.
There are many ways to test what our heart truly desires at its deepest level – for our heart’s deepest desire is the revelation of God’s deepest desire for us. God’s will speaks to us through every fibre of our being: through our emotions, thoughts, dreams, needs, imagination and hopes. This page lists a dozen practical methods of discernment that appeal to different personalities. Another page asks several questions for a detailed examination of one’s heart, aimed at deepening interior openness and freedom.
Socrates is quoted to have said: “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Another discernment tool is the Examen prayer, which is an examination of conscience that reflects on the past day. St Ignatius claimed that it is the most important moment of our day and he told the early Jesuits that if they could only do one spiritual exercise, let it be this one. Fr James Martin SJ wrote in ‘The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything’: “Think of it as a movie playing in your head. […] Recall everything: sights, sounds, feelings, tastes, textures, conversations… Each moment offers a window to where God has been in your day.”
A helpful way of praying the daily Examen is given by Fr Herbert Alphonso SJ in his profound book ‘Personal Vocation.’ He describes how each one of us is created with a ‘Name of grace’ that reveals to us who we are to Jesus and who Jesus is to us. It is the key to all our discernment, animating our entire lives and integrating every dimension of our existence. This article by Roslyn Wright on ‘Incarnational Goal-Setting’ guides the reader through the discernment of his or her own Personal Vocation, explaining how it can be used both in the Examen and in goal-setting.
In October 2018, there will be a Synod on ‘Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.’ Pope Francis’ Preparatory Document for the Synod includes a chapter on ‘The Gift of Discernment’, which breaks down the process of discernment into three fundamental steps: ‘Recognising, Interpreting, Choosing.’ A concluding chapter on ‘Mary of Nazareth’ exhorts us to imitate her acceptance of “God’s call to the joy of love and the fullness of life.”
Pope Francis is teaching the Church discernment. His apostolic exhortation on marriage and family life, ‘Amoris Laetitia’, recalls us to the moral reasoning of St Thomas Aquinas, as used in the Catechism. It teaches us that whilst general principles are to be upheld, in pastoral care the nuances of a person’s particular situation must be respected. Pope Francis reinforced this in his private audience with Polish Jesuits during World Youth Day 2016, on the vigil Feast of St Ignatius of Loyola: “We need to truly understand this: in life not all is black on white or white on black. No! The shades of grey prevail in life. We must teach [people] to discern in this grey area.”