Monday, August 10, 2009
Practice of Discernment in Retreats
In our personal retreats there is often a need to discern to make a decision. Fr. John Meehan used his knowledge on directing retreats to explain a procedure which he left us in his writings. I have taken the liberty of changing some parts.
1) Discernment with the aid of the Holy Spirit. The entire context is prayer.
2) Discuss the question to make clear choices.
3) Understand the background.
4) State the reality clearly.
5) Study the word of God and learn what it says about the attitudes of Christ which relate to my discernment.
St. Ignatius of Loyola used and developed a method of discernment which he gathered from his reading of the Scriptures and his experience. Today through the continued development of the method , especially by the Society of Jesus, this discernment prayer has become even more powerful as a Christian prayer for decision making.
Ignatius added to the prayer a way of testing the inspiration of the choice made. This test is a major part of the prayer as is his other addition of beginning with a prayer to achieve holy indifference or openness to what ever choice the Spirit of God leads one into making. Since discernment prayer is important it often takes a long time. The time involved is directly related to the importance of the decision to be made. Minor decisions take little time, major ones can last for months.
Stage I : Prayer for complete openness
In my experience both with myself and others, the initial prayer for indifference to the outcome is often the most difficult one. To enter into this prayer I need first to look clearly at the options that I have and attempt to reduce them to two major ones .For example: a young man or woman can use this prayer to decide whether their calling or vocation is to a life of married love or to one of celibate love.
To begin the process of discerning, I need to pray for a full and deep understanding of both options as very good choices and as leading to a life of happiness and blessing. When I can honestly say that I am open to answering either option I know this prayer has been answered. Once this state is reached I am ready for the discernment proper.
Stage II: Discernment Prayer for Decision Making
1) The reasons why celibacy is a good choice for me.
2) The reasons why marriage is a good choice for me.
3) Why celibacy is not a good choice for me.
4) Why marriage is not a good choice for me.
All prayer begins best by calling upon the Holy Spirit to be with me and continue to help in my discernment. Included in my reasons are all those that I can think of which come from God's word in Scripture. I look carefully at the elements of my own character which point toward the ability to lead a celibate life. I need to look at my own interests, likes and dislikes, preferences in life style, ways of thinking, strength of my prayer life, ability to love others deeply, self discipline, love of self, others and God. The help of a spiritual friend is often very important in this prayer. When I am not able to find other reasons this prayer comes to an end.
I will spend a day checking through each set to discover whether I have missed anything of importance.Then with the help of the Spirit I enter into the process of making a choice and a decision.
Stage III: Prayer to test the Discernment.
St. Ignatius moved by the words of Scripture: IJohn 4:1-3, Mat 7:17, Gal 6:4,
searched the scriptures and discovered for himself a good test for the presence or absence of the Spirit. St. Paul provided the test for the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22: "The fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness," Ignatius learned this and started to use it in his own prayer. I need to use it in my own discernment.
If the Spirit of God has been involved in my prayer and decision, these fruits will be present, in the depths of my spirit, soul or heart. Our spirit is like the ocean, very deep and teeming with life. As with the ocean, the surface will very often be in turmoil
while the depths are quiet. It is in these depths of my spirit that I need to test for the fruits of the spirit. Of all these fruits the one that is easiest to detect is that of peace. So peace becomes the test.
If the Holy Spirit has been with me in my discernment, I will discover peace with the decision. If I find peace there, my prayer is finished and I have decided with the Spirit.
On the other hand if down deep I am in turmoil upset, anxious or not at peace with the decision, then I have to begin again and continue my discernment prayer until a decision is made that leaves me at peace down deep.