Tag Archive: Discernment


AMDG

We may have met people who have had a powerful ‘conversion’ experience.  They feel as though they have been chosen by God, who has acted in their life in a decisive way.  A classic example is an alcoholic who reaches rock bottom, and then calls out for help and is touched in some way which leads to this conversion of life etc. George W Bush is a classic example – often the person feels like God has touched them especially and their personal theology, as a result, is more exclusive, although in his case Billy Graham gave a  helping hand. Perhaps this explains how language such as his ‘axis of evil’ upset so many liberals in Europe.  In Saint Ignatius’ rules for discernment, he talks about how the Holy Spirit can work in this way – like water hitting a stone – like a ‘spiritual’ intervention.   It all depends on the direction of someone’s life, if you wake up at the age of 40, like ‘Dubya’ after a wild weekend and you see your life slipping away a because you are drinking too much,  and in this reality check you are given a cold sharp clarity that makes you realise you have to stop.  Whereas if your orientation is the other way, i.e. if you are already seeking God and becoming growingly sensitive to the interior life then the spirit works more softly – ‘suavemente’ in the original Spanish – like water hitting a sponge.

The general orientation of a person’s life is key here because it can work either way, the spirits have the opposite effects depending on your general orientation. A person moving from good to better can suddenly be faced with a not-so-subtle temptation that could knock them of course, MP’s expenses come to mind. However, if a person’s life is disintegrating for whatever reason, and they are in the grip of an addictive vice, such as online gambling – the soft movement is from the ‘bad spirit’.  One more subtle temptation here, one more rationalisation there…. like water hitting a sponge.  Whereas the good spirit will come in clashing – like water hitting a stone in this case – a sudden sting of conscience, or a sober realization that all my credit cards are maxed out. We all have these ‘turning points’ in our lives, and this is where it pays off to have a spiritual director to help understand what their significance is.

Second Week Rules for Discernment – Rule 7 

In those who go on from good to better, the good Angel touches such soul sweetly, lightly and gently, like a drop of water which enters into a sponge; and the evil touches it sharply and with noise and disquiet, as when the drop of water falls on the stone. And the above-said spirits touch in a contrary way those who go on from bad to worse. The reason of this is that the disposition of the soul is contrary or like to the said Angels. Because, when it is contrary, they enter perceptibly with clatter and noise; and when it is like, they enter with silence as into their own home, through the open door.

AMDG

Definition of afterglow

1a glow remaining where a light has disappeared
2a pleasant effect or feeling that lingers after something is done, experienced, or achieved
      ” basking in the afterglow of success”

We all have experienced ‘the afterglow’ of a sunset when the sun has dipped below the horizon and the sky lights up in vivid colours.  Equally after a great experience, a wedding or a party we might bask in the afterglow of friendship and love.  If you are football fan like me, you might experience the afterglow of your team’s success, winning a trophy or an exciting game (like beating Man City 3-2, or Tottenham’s 2-0 victory over Utd).  St Ignatius also had a helpful insight about the afterglow of a religious experience.  Occasionally, or perhaps more frequently in life we might have a direct experience of God, which Ignatius calls ‘Consolation without Cause’.  There is also a type of ‘spiritual afterglow’ after this type of experience. Often we are so gripped by it that we start making plans for the future, getting married,  changing career direction,  or maybe start developing a project and imagining all the good it’s going to do….  Ignatius wisely warns us to be careful and to test these plans with someone wise who knows us, or if we are lucky enough –  a spiritual director.  He specifically mentions this in his rules for discernment of the second week. Here is David Flemings contemporary translation:

Eighth Rule.  When a consolation experience in our life comes directly from God there can be no deception in it.  Although a delight and a peace will be found in such an experience, a spiritual person should be very careful to distinguish the actual moment of this consolation-in-God from the following, the afterglow which may be exhilirating and joyful for some period of time. It is in this second period of time that we begin to reason out plans or to make resolutions that cannot be attributed as directly to God as the initial experience which is non-conceptual in nature. Because human reasoning and other influences are now coming into the total picture of this consolation period, a vey careful process of discerning the good and evil spirits should be undertaken, according to the previous guidelines, before any resolution or plan of action is adopted.

Decisions and projects that are formed in the afterglow can overstep the evidence of the experience of consolation. Over time they can lead to frustration, to losing motivation and momentum (often seen in Founders Syndrome).  It can also be spiritually undermining and leading us to doubting the original and genuine experience from God.  It can even more poisonous in that we begin to mistrust God in any future experiences. There are obvious parallels in political power often described as hubris e.g.  Tony Blair and Iraq, David Cameron and the Brexit referendum. Both successful leaders, effecting change until they reached too far.  If only they had an Ignatian Director accompanying them!

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……