Discernment: Finding Meaning in the Movements of the Everyday – A Theology on Tap Reflection

Written by M.J. Santa Ana

What is God’s will for my life? How do I know whether the voice I hear, inside me and from others, is of God or not? Where is God leading me and what is He calling me to? These are only some of the weighty questions that are associated with the fascinating topic of discernment.

At last week’s Theology on Tap in downtown Toronto, we were pleased to welcome back Kevin Kelly, SJ to the speaker’s stand. In his talk, Kevin opened up for us many of the fundamental aspects of discernment, including the concepts of consolation and desolation. He also gave us an understanding of discernment itself as not an algorithm we use to find answers already “out there” but rather an awareness and understanding of the often-subtle interior movements that bring us either closer to or further from God. In general, these movements can be identified through a well-developed self-knowledge, the signals our body gives us as to our physical state, the emotions we feel and what we hear from other people around us. While many do come to the practice of discernment to make decisions about a vocation or making a major change in their lives, it is by no means limited only to those situations. Discernment is an activity that those of us seeking to become more connected with God can undertake in and very much through our daily lives.

To see discernment as something occurring in the realm of ordinary life, we may first need to overcome a conception of that it must involve some extraordinary intervention on the part of God. Perhaps we are waiting for God to send some obvious message that will clearly tell us what He wants us to do with our lives. We might feel we can’t be sure whether we are going in the right direction unless we encounter something like the burning bush, an apparition from Jesus or Mary, or be blinded like St. Paul on the road to Damascus to be set on the right path if we are going astray. While in God’s providence He may choose to grant certain individuals such unmistakable grace, He has also inspired others to His service in other ways. An example Kevin shared was that of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. A former soldier bedridden and limited in movement after shattering his leg in war, he resolved to give his life for God after observing the difference in how he felt after occasions on which he imagined himself as a knight winning glory for himself and when he imagined living his life serving God and others. In the former, he felt the initial high of these daydreams but then felt the realization of interior discontent as the effects of the inward turn centred on the self and ego came to pass. In the latter, he experienced a great sense of peace, joy and knowing from this outward reach to live for more than oneself. It is helpful to remember that our faith is not so much our quest for a distant God, but the relentless quest of a God who formed our most inward parts and thus knows how to get in touch with the deepest aspects of our being if we but listen to His promptings. With the awareness that God is working even in the nooks and crannies of our daily existence, we can go to find Him in all things.

Resources for Discernment

Spiritual direction: having a spiritual director to talk to about the interior movements one observes is a vital component to good discernment. Faith Connections is pleased to assist those interested in spiritual direction find a director – please see our page on Spiritual Direction for more information.

During his talk, Kevin mentioned a number of resources as being beneficial for those who would like more information about discernment. For the benefit of those not present at the talk, the list of the mentioned resources is presented for reference (DISCLAIMER: the below are presented for interest only and do not constitute or imply an official endorsement by Faith Connections, Fontbonne Ministries or the Sisters of St. Joseph)

-The Discernment of Spirits by Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV.
-Inner Compass by Margaret Silf

Ignatian spirituality-based resources:
1) Ignatianspirituality.com.
2) St. Ignatius’s 14 Rules of Discernment as outlined in his Spiritual Exercises (313 – 336). These can also be found reproduced in a number of reputable Catholic sources by a quick Google search.
3) Regis College (University of Toronto) hosts discernment talks on a regular basis.
4) Retreat centres such as Loyola House in Guelph and Manresa Jesuit Retreat House in Pickering offer discernment retreats grounded in Ignatian spirituality. Please visit their respective websites for more information.

About the Writer:
M.J. began to fully embrace his faith after a life-changing experience at World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid. An original member of the campus evangelization program at York University, he helped the Chaplaincy blog reach 11,000 people in 60 countries within the first six months of its launch. He is proud to volunteer with Faith Connections, where he feels that he can contribute to helping his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ build a community of faith through enriching events.