Ignatian Discernment

Discernment is the process by which we discover God’s Will in our lives. Discernment is not unique to the Ignatian tradition, though it is fully developed in Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. So, oftentimes when people refer to ‘discernment’ they speak of it within that tradition.

Discernment presumes that those who discern 1) have an active prayer life, 2) a reflective spirit, and 3) are interiorly free to genuinely seek God’s Will.

Discernment can be both individual and communal. Not every decision requires discernment. Rather, discernment is opportune when we face competing and equivalent goods among which we must choose, one or the other (e.g. a vocation to marriage vs. the religious or priestly life, or whether to stay in a current job/profession or to change careers, or a host of other decisions, etc.). Confirmation of God’s Will, after the process, is evidenced by a spirit of consolation or peace.

In the Ignatian tradition, the goal of discernment is always the same, i.e. to choose that which is most conducive to the greater honor and glory of God (Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam or AMDG). We believe that God knows us better than we know ourselves and that God’s Will is directed to our ultimate good and happiness, even though the choice may be initially difficult.

Within the larger framework of discerning God’s Will, Ignatius also develops a theory of discerning different “spirits.” These are the good or Holy Spirit and the evil spirit. The latter spirit Ignatius describes as the “enemy of our human nature,” that is, it works against our best selves.

The good spirit always leads to a greater love of God and neighbor, while the evil spirit tries to prevent such development. Ignatius describes many of the finer points of these different spirits and their distinct strategies in the Spiritual Exercises. Such a discernment is also implicit to the Examen Prayer.

Briefly, the process for discernment is:

  1. Pray for light, direction and freedom.
  2. Prayerfully gather the necessary evidence, pro and con, over a course of days.
  3. Based upon the end or purpose (AMDG), which of the alternative choices seems most appropriate? Why? What do I feel when I consider the choice?
  4. Decide and live with the decision for a few days while
  5. Seeking confirmation (consolation and peace)

Once confirmation is experienced, the decision made is evidence of God’s Will at this moment in our lives.

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