Everyone faces a multitude of choices in daily life. As Christians, we have an extremely helpful gift called discernment that can help us make choices with joy and freedom.
In 2018, Pope Francis wrote a letter to you and me called Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice & Be Glad). In it, he underlined the urgency of understanding discernment:
“The gift of discernment has become all the more necessary today, since contemporary life offers immense possibilities for action and distraction, and the world presents all of them as valid and good. […] Without the wisdom of discernment, we can easily become prey to every passing trend.” (pp. 167)
The basic aim of discernment is living with a freedom from discouragement and deception – two obstacles that we all encounter.
Jesus Said It Best
Jesus summed this up;
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18).
Jesus’ mission statement is one of bringing joy and freedom, removing whatever blinds or oppresses us.
That is what Christianity is about, and discernment helps us get there!
Discernment helps us to receive what Jesus wants to give us, and learn how to share that joy and freedom with others.
The ability to discern well is a gift of the Holy Spirit for which we should ask. Jesus assured his followers,
“When he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth” (John 16:13).
“If we ask with confidence that the Holy Spirit grant us this gift,” Pope Francis encourages us, “and then seek to develop it through prayer, reflection, reading and good counsel, then surely we will grow in this spiritual endowment” (GE 166).
How Does Discernment Work?
We begin by loving God and trusting in God’s love for us, in God’s knowledge, and in God’s good will for us.
To help, St. Ignatius of Loyola recommends that we receive the sacraments frequently. We can rest assured that intimacy with Jesus through the sacraments makes possible whatever it is in our lives that we can do only with his help.
Next, we practice ‘interior awareness’. Consider:
- What is going on right now within me?
- What distracts me?
- What agitates me?
- When am I at peace, even in unhappy circumstances?
Once we are aware, we must understand which spiritual movements within us are of God and which are not from God – perhaps a temptation of our enemy, Satan. Ignatius also teaches that other spiritual movements may come from disordered egoism, or from placing our senses in the wrong order of importance, or perhaps from the influence of other people, society, past trauma, etc. This process of understanding ourselves requires grace, guidance, and practice.
It should be noted that we distinguish between spiritual vs. nonspiritual movements within us. (Nonspiritual movements such as hunger, clinical depression, etc., require their own proper counsel.)
Sometimes, what’s going on inside us spiritually is clear. Then, we can move forward; by accepting what is from God and properly addressing a spiritual movement within us that is not from God, such as discouragement.
Other times, we find ourselves in a confusing mess or just feel blank. This is why Ignatius wrote Rules for the Discernment of Spirits. He recognized that we need guideposts in such situations. Seek a retreat or trusted resource on Ignatius’ Discernment of Spirits to help you grasp these extremely helpful guideposts.
How and When Can I Start?
However, you can start right now; by trusting that you are known and loved by God. Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance and the gift of discernment. Renew your relationship with Jesus through the sacraments.
Maintain interior awareness: What is my relationship with God? What’s going on inside of me right now?
Prayerfully practice interior reflection:
- What are my true motivations for wanting to think or act this way?
- Is God calling ME to act this way?
- What are my weak points?
- Do I tend to want the last word, or judge according to stereotypes, etc.?
- Am I holding onto an opinion due to a wound in my life or my family’s life?
Proper guidance will help you sort through it all.
Encouragement From a Role Model of Faith
St. Catherine of Siena once wrote in a letter to someone,
“Be who you are, and you will set all of Italy ablaze!”
Through discernment, we can come to see ourselves in God’s eyes – our true selves; and live abundantly.
We don’t have to worry about the future. We have the Holy Spirit to guide us into the truth of how we are called to live right now, as our truest selves.
Answering Christ’s call, Pilgrim Center of Hope guides people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life.
Angela Sealana is Media Coordinator for Pilgrim Center of Hope, having served at the apostolate since 2010. She also serves on the PCH Speaker Team.