Tag Archive: discernment


AMDG   Homily Given at the Holy Name, Manchester  on Sun 18th Jan 2015

spamWe live in an age of spam – no matter what form of communication is invented – the postal service. Phones, emails, texting, tweeting, messaging – sooner or later someone will start to use it to bombard us with unsought for invitations….  Win a car… Lose Weight…. Make Money etc etc…. and it doesn’t matter what spam filter is invented to counter this… some always sneak through.  And so we waste time deleting things, clearing our inboxes etc…. and during Exam Time you don’t need to be reminded how precious time is!  That’s why I’ll keep this homily Short….

So in an age of spam – in an age of an incredible volume of communication- what seems like infinite opportunities it is important to develop a skill we Jesuits call Discernment…..   On a superficial level discernment is the ability to know what voices bring us life, and what voices lead us deeper into death…..  Who should we listen to – what invitations should we respond to – What is spiritual spam and where is the genuine voice of God.

Eli_and_SamuelThe First reading – Story of Samuel – is a lovely example – the Child who hears of the voice of the Lord but doesn’t understand. The Master Eli who patiently coaches him in the way of the Lord …..  It is the voice of Lord that brings us abundance of Life, a life, a joy, a freedom that is without limits – I have come so that you may have fullness of life…..   So often we can’t discern the voice of the Lord on our own – and in many religious traditions you can see how beginners in the faith often search for someone wiser, often older, to accompany them.  Here at the chaplaincy we have over 60 students now who come for ‘spiritual direction’ every so often – many to Fr Ian – but also to the other priests, and other trained spiritual directors – you are welcome to come and see me if you are interested in finding out more….   It is this accompaniment in the spiritual life that often sharpens our skills of discernment and leads us to fullness of life.

In the Gospel we see that when we discern God’s voice and when respond to the Lords invitation to come and see….  When we find the messiah…. A future that we had never dreamed of opens up before us.  And the message of the Lord is counter- cultural – we are told in the Second Reading that ‘our bodies are not our own’ but rather Temples of the Holy Spirit …..  if we really believed that, if we lived that, we wouldn’t care if we were not the right shape, we would be freed from the oppression of hyper-sexuality, we wouldn’t waste our time and happiness on chasing an elusive dream – but discover a life of freedom and joy.  So let us be like Eli, and Simon Peter, and Andrew and try and discern his voice amongst all the noise that surrounds us, so that we can respond, we can go and see and say’ speak Lord your servant is listening’ …. And remember we can’t do it on our own……

 

AMDG

images (3)At the heart of the Second Week of the Exercises – is making an ‘election’ – i.e. answering the question how should I lead my life.  This can be a formal election, e.g. shall I marry this person, shall I make this career change, shall I enter religious life, or an informal election – shall I recommit myself to my work, shall I tweak this or tweak that i.e. should we be more focused on the poor etc.  The type and gravity of the election will dictate the time spent on it.   We can learn a lot from this process about decision making in general, even the day to day decision we make about what we invest our time and energy in.   What is brilliant about the exercises is that it creates the conditions of inner freedom and attentiveness that allow these decisions to be made on a sound footing.

Recent discoveries about how we make decisions – for good and for bad –  are fascinating but also echo certain movements already there in the exercises, which perhaps explaining how Ignatian Spirituality is growing in popularity and seems so relevant to so many people.   For instance the research of Nobel Prize winning Economist Daniel Kahneman is fascinating.  Counter intuitively Kahneman points out how so much of decision making process is not – rational.  For instance he talks about the difference between our remembering self and our experiencing self.  For instance we may enjoy a wonderful holiday for 12 days and then something happens at the end, a big blow up row with a companion,  a delay at the airport, an accident that ruins that last couple of days is what we remember.  So ignoring our experiencing self  ’12 days of happiness and relaxation’, we write the holiday off as a disaster.  Worryingly Kahnemann says that it is our remembering self that makes future decisions.

booksSimilarly when faced with a choice to make about the future, surprisingly maybe, fear seems to operate more effectively than hope. Specifically aversion to loss seems to operates much more strongly than the benefits that can accrue if we change. This is a significant barrier to inner freedom,  and can tie us down to the past, and it works even more strongly at an institutional level than it does at an individual level.   This ‘loss aversion’ – that the disadvantages of change loom larger than the advantages of change –  and the significance of our remembering self explain why Ignatius puts such a premium on ‘magnanimity’ and generosity of spirit as we enter the Exercises.  The disposition days are precisely to allow this inner freedom to grow before the retreat formally starts.  Remembering with gratitude is particularly important, and a grace that we pray for, knowing that we cannot do it on our own.

 

Discernment

AMDG

All of the contemplations & meditations of the Second Week are leading up to a climax in the second week – what Ignatius calls an election.  For many Jesuits the election is made about a state of life – i.e. I am prepared to follow Jesus as a Religious, in a vowed life under the obedience of my superiors in the Society of Jesus.  Others make an ‘election’ retreat before a big decision in their life – change of career, marriage etc …

The idea is that how do we make a response in love to all that we discovered about God and ourselves over the past couple of weeks in the Exercises.  This decision making is called Discernment.  Ignatius has some very good practical advice about this – thanks to Warren Sazama SJ.

Seven Practical Discernment Techniques
(Spiritual Exercises, [178-187])

1. Ignatius suggests that we start the decision-making process by putting before our mind what it is we want to decide about. For example, we might be trying to decide whether or nor to enter a specific religious community.

2. He then asks us to pray for the grace to “try to be like a balance at equilibrium, without leaning to either side” (Spiritual Exercises, [179]).  In other words, we should try to the extent possible not to prefer one option to the other but only desire to do God’s will. To help us maintain focus and perspective, he asks us to keep the ultimate end and goal of our existence clearly before us.

3. Then we pray for God to enlighten and move us to seek only what is most conducive to God’s service and praise.

4. One suggestion Ignatius makes is to imagine a person we never met who seeks our help in how to respond to God’s call in the same decision we are considering.  We then observe what advice we give this person and follow it ourselves. This is helpful since most of us are better at giving others advice than at figuring out what we should do.

5.  Another suggestion is that we imagine ourselves at the end of our lives either on our deathbed or after our death standing before Christ our Judge.  How would we feel about our decision then? What would we say to Christ about the decision we have just made?  We should choose now the course of action that would give us happiness and joy in looking back on it from our deathbed and in presenting it to Christ on the day of our judgment.

6. When we do not experience inner clarity about the correct decision to be made, Ignatius suggests that we use our reason to weigh the matter carefully to attempt to come to a decision in line with our living out God’s will in our lives. To do this we should, bearing in mind our ultimate goal, list and weigh the advantages and disadvantages for us of the decision at hand, for example, the reasons for and against entering religious life or a specific religious community. We are then to consider which alternatives seem more reasonable and decide according to the more weighty motives – not from our selfish inclinations. Looking over our list of “pros” and “cons” for the decision at hand, we should notice if any of the reasons listed stand out from the others and why and see which way this might point us. This technique can help us move from inner confusion to greater clarity at least as to the issues that need to be attended to and help separate out which are more significant.

7. Having come to a decision, we turn again to God and beg for signs of God’s confirmation that the decision is leading us toward God’s service and praise.  The usual sign of this confirmation from God is an experience of peacefulness about the decision. The confirmed decision has a feeling of “rightness” about it, and we feel a sense of God’s presence, blessing, and love.  This is a very important step, since the feeling of rightness, peace, and joy about a decision is a positive indicator that we have made the right decision whereas feelings of anxiety, heaviness, sadness, and darkness often indicate the opposite.

Please leave comments – but don’e expect an instant response – I won’t be on-line till December.  This post was written and  automatically scheduled before I entered my month of silence!