Discernment

Church teaching comes as a “one size fits all” but at the same time, the Church recognises that God calls us as individuals.

Through the sacraments, gospels and prayer, Jesus helps me to discern what is more life-giving and what is less life-giving.

Ignatius of Loyola saw discernment as very important in spiritual life, and he talked about the need to discern between two things that both appear good.

So, what do we discern and how?

Here’s my list. Perhaps you can add to it to make it yours.

Discern what comes from faith and what comes from politics

Politics is not a bad word. It means of or for the people. In the church, it is part of the structure that contains faith, a container that holds valuable content. I respect the container, but if I worship it, I’m missing what it’s all about. To mix metaphors further, I’m staying with the menu and not eating the meal.

I would say that having fish on Friday was good political instruction. It helped impoverished Mediterranean fishermen. But I know people who saw it as a serious article of faith.

Discerning our place of journey with Christ Jesus

What is essential? What is important? What is superficial or peripheral?

What is essential in our faith, is not likely to change.

What is important will probably change as we move to a new stage of formation.

We respect what is superficial or peripheral, because that may be important to someone else, but we find peace in holding it in an open hand.

Discerning what comes from love and what comes from fear

Jesus preached from a love-filled life. Now his love fills us in whatever capacity we have, to receive it. The only enemy love has is fear.

Fear is part of our animal nature. It is attached to our instinct for survival on this planet. We all know how fear works, yet it is never about something actual. Fear is always about what might happen. Sometimes a choice may seem good when in reality, it comes from fear. How do we discern this? We let Jesus’ love be our guide.

Discerning the movements of the heart

We talk about the heart as the spiritual centre, but in this reflection, we are looking at movement in the body. How does the body feel when we are doing something that nurtures us, something that makes us happy? How does the body react when we are in an uncomfortable situation?

What aspects of faith nourish us? Do we feel we are like a great open door to the mystery of the sacraments? Does the heart swell with love for our community? Do we feel the sacred presence in scripture, music, silence?

And where else do we find God? Family? Poetry? Art? Sport? Nature? Being with children? We discern what feeds the heart with spacious love, and we make that a part of our prayer habit.

Discernment is seeing and hearing with the eyes and ears of the heart.

  • Joy Cowley is a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and retreat facilitator.

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