1. What is discernment?
From time to time we find ourselves struggling with difficult decisions, at a loss how to decide. Having more options than ever before, plus living in a radically relativistic word that looks with deep suspicion on any rule of behaviour, has certainly not helped.
Some people go to the fortune teller, others just open the Bible at random and entrust their decision to what they come across. Yet most of us find this not good enough. In these few posts, written around the feast of Pentecost, we will try to present another method that can help us come to a decision: spiritual discernment.
This is a word we often hear nowadays, sometimes presented as a kind of magic wand that will guarantee good decisions without pain. It is obviously much more than that. The latest papal document on marriage and the family suggests this way of deciding when it grapples with the question whether divorced and remarried people can be admitted to receive Holy Communion: the Pope admits this is a weighty decision that cannot be answered with a simple Yes or No, but that each case has to be carefully and wisely discerned.
The scope of this short series of posts is to delve a little deeper in the meaning of discernment, what it entails and what are the requirements for a real discernment. Each post will be accompanied by a Scripture reading and some questions to deepen our reflection, and readers will be given the opportunity to share their thoughts. An electronic contact form is also available for those who would like to seek more guidance or share their thoughts in a confidential manner.
We will also suggest some online resources for those who might be interested to read more.
It’s important to underline the fact that we are dealing here with a spiritual process, that is much more than a method or a skill that is acquired by learning a certain number of steps. The answer to our questions has to be found in ourselves, by seeking to understand and identify what we really desire at the deepest levels of our person, in our heart of hearts.
Discernment is found in the Bible, and there have been many spiritual masters who have developed different ways of understanding and practising it. Here we will follow the intuitions of St Ignatius Loyola, who in his personal struggles to discover God’s will, discovered a way of discerning that he bequeathed to us in his writings.
From God’s word
◦ “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment…” – Philippians 1:9
◦ “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” – James 1:5
- Do you find it difficult to decide?
- Are you facing some tough decisions at the moment?
- How do you usually deal with complicated decisions?
- What do you find helpful?
- Do you see it as a spiritual process, involving your whole person and your openness to God?
- Do you pray for guidance?
I hope you will find this eternally beautiful piece of music by Ennio Morricone conducive to reflection. It is the main theme from the film The Mission, itself a visually stunning epic, which masterfully reflects several related themes including conversion, redemption and the agony of choice. (Starring Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons).